WACO, Texas (July 20, 2020) – As individuals and institutions across the country consider necessary changes to effectively fight racism, two terms are gaining familiarity: cultural humility and antiracism.
Kerri Fisher, LCSW, an expert in cultural humility training and lecturer in Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, defines those terms and shares five tips to help people cultivate cultural humility and antiracism in their personal and corporate lives.
“We are all impacted by the supremacist cultures that socialize us,” Fisher said, “so while we are not responsible for our first thought, we are responsible for our second thought and our first action. This means we must be brave enough to admit when our brain, body and behaviors are exhibiting racist reactions.”
Fisher serves as chair of the Garland School of Social Work’s diversity initiative and has a passion for teaching, particularly in the areas of diversity, inclusion and anti-oppressive practices. Prior to coming to Baylor in 2015, she served as director of field education and associate professor at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. She is the co-host of the podcast On Ramp, which is a beginning tool for Christians starting to think about race and racism for the first time.
“Cultural humility is defined by physicians Melanie Tervalon and Jann Murray-Garcia as a lifelong process of learning and critical self-reflection with regard to cultural
differences,” Fisher said. “This reflective process should result in recognizing and challenging institutional power imbalances, creating institutional accountability and developing respectful partnerships with marginalized communities.
“It is evident then that true cultural humility should ultimately result in antiracism, which is the practice of identifying, challenging and changing the values, structures and behaviors that perpetuate systemic racism.”
True cultural humility, Fisher said, includes lifelong learning, but also redresses power imbalances and holds institutions accountable for their actions and inactions.
She offered the following five action steps for people to consider as they move toward cultural humility.
Read, watch and listen to content created by people of color to help cultivate counterintuitive solidarity. This means choosing to listen to the individual and collective voices of marginalized people even when they articulate experiences that are foreign to your own. All of history is littered with examples of privileged and powerful people failing to sense injustice all around them. This is why it is so crucial to take in content not simply about people of color but by people of color. Other ways to engage difference might include attending special events and in interpersonal relationships.
Remember these important caveats: With regard to special events, one must not invade spaces, one must be invited into spaces. In interpersonal relationships, one must have consent, participation which is ongoing, willing, capable and enthusiastic.
Once you have engaged new content/experiences/relationships, practice carefully examining your reactions. What is your brain telling you? Do you find yourself making counternarratives, judgments, excuses when a person of color is talking? What is your body doing? Do you find yourself experiencing a racing heart? Sweating? Nausea? What are your behaviors suggesting? Do you stop reading that book about racial inequality because it is “too heavy?” Do you make fun of or dismiss the people of color hosting the podcast you have been listening to?
When we find racism in our thoughts and actions repentance is required. Make a 180-degree turn. This might happen through sincere apology, extinguishing the concerning behavior, and/or continuing to engage and examine until counterintuitive solidarity becomes intuitive solidarity.
Consider using a resource such as Tema Okun’s characteristics of white supremacy culture, Derald Wing Sue’s microaggressions, and/or Suzanne Pharr’s mechanisms of oppression as guides for honest assessment of your thinking, feeling and doing.
4. Enact & Educate
According to Melanie Tervalon and Jann Murray-Garcia, the physicians who coined the term cultural humility, true cultural humility not only practices lifelong learning, but also redresses power imbalances and holds institutions accountable for their actions (and inactions). Once you have engaged, examined and evaluated in your own life, it is time to practice interpersonal and systemic advocacy in the relationships and places in which you have influence. Speak up when you hear racist language or sentiments. Review and revise policies that have negative impacts on people of color. Vote for people and programs that have anti-oppression at the heart of their agenda.
Consider this video resource: “Cultural Humility: People, Principles and Practices.”
One of the issues with a cultural competence model, as opposed to a cultural humility model, is that competence is often inaccurately presumed to be a fixed state of understanding. Example: “I read a book about race 10 years ago, so I am culturally competent.” Remember that language, people and times change. In the words of Maya Angelou, when we know better, we do better. Let us all keep learning so that we might keep living lives that “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.”
ABOUT KERRI FISHER, LCSW
Kerri Fisher has been a full-time lecturer in Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work since 2015. She is the chair of the School’s diversity initiative and has a passion for teaching, particularly in the areas of diversity, inclusion and anti-oppressive practices. She is the co-host of the podcast On Ramp
, which is a beginning tool for Christians starting to think about race and racism for the first time. Prior to her time at Baylor, she served as the director of field education and associate professor at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. As a clinical practitioner, Fisher provided school social work services to children and families at the University of Texas Elementary School in Austin, Texas. When she is not teaching or preparing to teach, she writes creative non-fiction that explores race, identity and spirituality.