Delving into cultural competency sparks strong emotions
March 15th, 2008The flu knocked me out for a few days . . . now I'm back in action!
Nothing seems to spark a reaction like race. And now that cultural competency is taking center stage as a process to embrace diversity and to embrace differences. Understanding cultural differences is critical! As a person whose core values were developed primarily during the tumultuous sixties with a loving family that honored having an open mind, I have been always been eager to learn more about people and their backgrounds. It is an insatiable journey.
We have been delving into our individual and group's understanding of all cultures and backgrounds as staff of this Foundation. First and foremost we are focusing on how we interact with one another as well as the entire community. This isn't just one event. It is an ongoing process.
We ask all of the nonprofits we fund to report on their diversity in terms of staff, board members and either the people being served or the people who participate in the organization. If a grantee organization does not demonstrate its commitment to being open to all, then we do identify contingencies designed to help them. If they do not try and ultimately show positive progress, then we will not be inclined to provide funding.
This may be totally blown out of proportion by the recipient organization as they make arguments about this issue or they may use it as a good way to improve on their outreach and understand how they may be perceived in various communities.
Recently one of our staff and I invited some members of our Resource Committee (the group that makes grant decisions) to visit an organization that did not follow through on a promise they had made a few years ago that would help them be more welcoming to the many diverse cultures in our community and a contingency had been developed. The meeting was difficult as it became clear that the leadership was defending its record in spite of the fact that one of our volunteers pointed out that while representational diversity was noted in their publications, the sense she got from our conversation and their other external pieces reaching out to the community, that they couldn't see "what face" they may have been projecting. There was the reference to "we tried and we couldn't attract people" so what else do you expect us to do.
The Resource Committee member noting the concern is African American and she pointed out that the representation of diversity in one of their brochures was laudable but that the manner of presenting their programs to all persons still needed work. Her comment was if her daughters were still of an age to take advantage of this organization's offerings, she would have a difficult time sending them there. The response from the board leadership was immediate and sharp - "look at the faces noted in our brochure. What else do you expect?"
Our volunteer very calmly and carefully stated the following: "What you have just done to me is ignore my statement and the cumulative effect of ignoring and discounting my opinions and comments is something referred to as a micro-inequity or micro-aggression."
I personally had never heard of this concept before and wanted to learn more.
But back to the meeting. It definitely ended without the understanding needed to make change. In fact, we have since received a letter from the organization's board chair who stated that they would not be following our recommendations even though we released the balance of their grant with the hope that they would try. The result will likely not be positive as the next time they do come to us for funding, we will have to either refuse them or ask them to help us with understanding what they have done to address the issues we raised. And then their supporters, board members and ultimately their patrons will never know what was at the core of this issue.
The upside is that we learned about a concept regarding not being heard or ignored- it has a name and further study is being done to help us in our journey. It is time for all of us to listen and learn for understanding especially me and especially this Foundation.