The Big Buy-In: How cultural competency and cultural humility wins elections | Ana White

January 10, 2021 6:30 am

Voters line up at a polling place on Election Day. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

How important will the Black vote be in 2021 for the mayoral other key stakeholder positions? Depends on who you ask.

Ana White (Capital-Star file)

According to the 2018 Census Bureau, Harrisburg is 51. 8 percent Black or African American. The balance of the city’s population is 22.6  percent White, 21.8 percent, Latino, 5.4 percent Asian, and 0.4 percent Native American.

With a majority African American City, it’s a reasonable assumption that issues affecting Black and Brown communities would be prioritized or at best, strongly considered.

But with this past year’s rallies and opinions voiced during City Council meetings, the sentiment appeared to be the complete opposite.

After years of unheard grievances and unearned merits, it appears the city’s minority community has grown exhausted from assuming the city’s representatives have done their due diligence in knowing, acknowledging, or caring about minority issues.

This past year, more communities and stakeholders realized the power of cultural competency in increasing collective impact while also acknowledging the role that it plays in progressing societies filled with disparities. The issue of race aside, many saw the value in leadership, no matter their racial makeup, truly grasping the concept of culture, multiculturalism, cultural competence, and cultural humility.

Far too often used as ‘clickbait’ issues across social mediums and within societies, what most candidates described as multiculturalism, cultural competency, and tolerance has shown itself to be void of the true understanding needed to implement change around those ideas. In short, many have utilized the idea of diversity and difference to gain votes but have not fully emerged as fully realized candidates in those spaces.

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So how does that play into politics? Simple. A person who knows that most of their population is simply seeking to be heard or understood may use those catchphrases to seek validation or support from the largest targeted group of voters.

Strategies are built around how to convince an entire population or pure intentions surrounding race. If asked, inner city citizens will recall countless number of political hopefuls that have created an avatar of a culturally competent and knowledgeable candidate, only to be lead by tone deaf, culturally incompetent, diversity void policy driven leader which has resulted in lackluster voter turnout in spaces that feel unheard, manipulated, and exploited every political season.

But the formula seems to be the same: Gain interest in inner city communities through the perception of cultural competency and a desire to improve conditions for the voiceless. However, the next wave of politics will see a new audience, one much harder to convince at face value about one’s ability to understand culture and how to best utilize that knowledge to lead a diverse city.

As a result of George Floyd and many other tragedies in 2020, political hopefuls are met with a new audience, a mixture of exhausted African Americans and newly awakened Allies who collectively work to bring true cultural humility to the forefront.

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But how, one asks, does cultural competency differ from cultural humility? While cultural competency focuses on behaviors, attitudes, and practices that reflect cultural understanding with the goal of working effectively around those differences, cultural humility is the continuous process of reflecting and critiquing one’s own cultural identity to increase one’s ability to reflect and critique on the culture of others. In short, cultural competency is the product of cultural humility.

One must be able to see and examine themselves within their own culture, privilege, and society to be able to fully create spaces with culturally competent components.

The challenge in obtaining votes, specifically from areas with a large minority population, will always lie in how well a person feels their candidate is connected to their issues, their struggles, and their cause. For many candidates, specifically our traditionally majority white candidates, this is always an uphill battle.

With the increase in social acknowledgement of racial issues, it will be all but impossible for any candidate to not have, and declare, a position on culture, race, and plans to address disparities in a much deeper way than ever before. But a candidate’s toughest challenge will be in how they manage and navigate that journey in themselves first. Self-reflection is what drives cultural humility.

For straight, white candidates, it comes with accepting privilege and how dominant culture and gender roles leaves them at a large disadvantage for truly knowing the struggles of their most vulnerable population. A candidate will have to present themselves with some understanding of these challenges but be humble in declaring their challenges in being all knowing.

For this space in their race, they’ll have to navigate their ignorance and design spaces for educating themselves, while also pushing to collaborate in spaces where subject experts reside. This means outsourcing and contracting subject experts in minority issues.

This means designing policies with clear incorporations of minority disparities in mind. This looks like a salad bowl approach to multiculturalism, and not a sustained melting pot approach that comforts dominant cultures while oppressing the cultural relevance of others.

This year’s candidates will have to become clear navigators in their own limitations while holding up strong partnerships with respected culturally knowledgeable stakeholders.

In a city where every vote counts, and in a nation where minority votes can dramatically sway the outcome of anyone’s win, candidates will have to learn to navigate culture in a totally different way if they expect a favorable outcome.

Opinion contributor Ana White, of Harrisburg, is the owner of Way With Words Consulting Services, LLC., which specializes in diversity and inclusion professional development training. She also works in mental health services in the Harrisburg area. Her work appears weekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. 

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