The Six States of the Cultural Competence Continuum

An Overview of the Six States of the Cultural Competence Continuum


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First is cultural destructiveness, which is, of course, at the negative end of the continuum; it is characterized by cultural destructiveness. Organizations or individuals in this stage view cultural differences as a problem and participate in activities that purposely attempt to destroy a culture. Examples of destructive actions include denying people of color access to their natural helpers or healers, removing children of color from their families on the basis of race, and risking the well-being of minority individuals by involving them in social or medical experiments without their knowledge or consent. Organizations and individuals at this extreme operate on the assumption that one race is superior and that it should eradicate “lesser” cultures.


Second is cultural incapacity, which is a point where organizations and personnel lack the basic ability to aid diverse communities due to inherent beliefs that their own racial or ethnic group is superior or more entitled than are other groups. The organizations have a paternalistic character toward other groups perceived as being of “lesser” intelligence, education, affluence, and so forth. Such agencies may reinforce social oppression by enforcing racist policies and maintaining stereotypes. Employment practices of organizations in this stage of the continuum are discriminatory.


Third is cultural blindness, which marks the point where agency personnel tend to operate as if race or culture makes no difference and that all people are the same. Individuals at this stage may view themselves as unbiased and believe that they address cultural needs. In fact, people who are culturally blind do not perceive, and therefore cannot benefit from, the valuable differences among diverse groups. Services or programs created by organizations at this stage are virtually useless to address the needs of diverse groups.


The fourth stage is cultural pre-competence, where agencies and individual practitioners operate in a manner that is culturally sensitive and, on occasion, centers on aspects of competency. This is usually due to leadership in the agency promulgating some type of formal training initiative and/or agency announcement. Such agencies, along with individual administrators and ground-level practitioners, will likely realize weaknesses in their attempts to serve various cultures and make some efforts to improve the services offered to diverse populations. These agencies will actively seek to hire staff from the cultures they serve, involve people of different cultures on their boards of directors or advisory committees, and provide at least rudimentary training in cultural differences. One potential drawback is the possibility of agency tokenism, where the organization may hire personnel from a racial or ethnic group to meet numerical specifications and, in the process, operate as if this, alone, ensures agency cultural competence.


The point of cultural competence occurs in agencies when personnel routinely accept and respect differences while, simultaneously, engaging in continued self-assessment regarding culture. Because the definition of cultural competence was provided in our previous subsection, we will not further belabor the point here. Needless to say, agencies that are culturally competent will strive to hire unbiased personnel and will be open to commentary on racial and cultural issues related to agency operations. In subsequent subsections, we will discuss in more detail how agencies can foster and maintain cultural competence through training and other forms of implementation.


Lastly, culturally proficient agencies will hold diversity as one of its highest ideals. Such agencies will seek to add to the base of knowledge on culturally competent practices through research, development of operations to enhance response to diverse populations, and publishing demonstration projects that hold the agency accountable for this agenda. The agency will have staff who are cultural experts in research and development of these agency practices. This is the highest and most difficult ideal to achieve in an agency.

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