The call for social justice now resonates strongly within our communities. The clarion call is also widespread, from not just one group or another, but from many who have felt the chill of neglect or experienced a life limited by mistreatment.
This rise in concern for greater justice is connected to our newer levels of visibility into more corners of our world through the influences of social media and the prevalence of smartphones. As people become more interconnected, our definition of diversity expands as does the discourse addressing social inequity or inequality specific to race, gender, sexuality, religion, and other oppressed groups. In a way, our interconnectedness brings to light our injustices. The issue then becomes how do we address them?
As a licensed social worker and pastor, I believe we can achieve the greatest success in creating social justice change by learning the meaning and practice of cultural humility.
There is an old misnomer that attaining knowledge about a specific culture, race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation will make one an expert, and that expert knowledge can be a transformative catalyst in how we react to others who differ from us. However, emerging research supports a more complicated picture: that knowledge attainment by itself is not enough and can often even lead to the development of assumptions and stereotypes. That is simply counter-productive.
To address our social justice issues, it is critical that we move beyond sympathetic responses and practice deeper, transformative empathy. We must transcend from cultural competence, or the “knowing of another,” and strive to practice cultural humility, or the “experiencing another.”
Experts such as social-work educator Peter V. Nguyen and his fellow researchers define cultural humility as an understanding of potential blind spots that can interfere with other-oriented perspectives. In a sense, cultural humility triggers a paradigm shift from awareness to experience; from thinking to being; and from externalization to internalization. While awareness prompts us to become sympathetic to the plight and oppression of others, it is empathy that touches the heart.
The awareness of inequity or inequality allows for one to step into the shared space of emotional connectedness. Affective empathy elicits a compassion that believes it is no longer a “they” problem, it becomes an “us” problem as we are all created in the image of God.
It is through humility, we experience humanity. It is in our humanity, that we can practice the precepts found in Ephesians 4:2: “Be completely humble and gentle; patient and bearing with one another in love.”
- Cultural humility requires continual self-reflection and bias assessment. Authentic self-examination is key to identifying how worldviews and behaviors are shaped by biases and highlights assumptions that lead to oppressive behaviors toward others.
- Embrace the paradigm shift from self- to others-oriented. Courageously practice diversity awareness, as this is the first step toward encounters and is required to generate new experiences.
- Practice empathic action, which further allows for the co-creating of experiences. Commit to stepping into the space of shared emotional connectedness and exchange compassion and togetherness. We must remember that it is not always about fixing, solving, or offering advice, but the intentional act of being vulnerable in the shared experience and crafting a unifying response that honors humanity as a whole.