There’s no doubt that cultural awareness is important. It allows individuals to better connect and empathize with one another. It promotes a greater appreciation of difference. It recognizes the importance of the global community in which we live. But what exactly does it mean to be “culturally aware”?
Defining cultural awareness, though initially appears simple, may be more than meets the eye. According to Collins dictionary, cultural awareness is defined as an individual's “understanding of the differences between themselves and people from other countries or other backgrounds, especially differences in attitudes and values.” While this definition gets the conversation started, is it really possible for someone to truly ‘understand’ a culture that is different from their own?
Through further consideration, perhaps a more appropriate definition of cultural awareness may need to rid itself from the word ‘understand’. Assuming that someone can easily understand another’s culture may be problematic. Cultures are vast and limitless, so it may not be possible to accurately or fully comprehend another person’s culture. Instead, replacing “understanding” with “recognizing” can provide a more accurate definition. While the distinction between understanding and recognizing seems small, recognizing as opposed to claiming an “understanding” of another’s culture seems to be more realistic.
Therefore, cultural awareness can be defined as: Recognizing that cultural differences do exist, and being respectful of those differences that may expand beyond one’s own lived experiences.
Considering this definition of cultural awareness, here are some practical ways to practice it within your organization.
1) Be Self-Reflective
Practicing self-reflection is beneficial in so many different ways and contexts. When considering cultural awareness, self reflecting on your own position in the world and how it relates to others is key. Those in your organization can ask themselves questions such as “How do my experiences and history relate to others?” and “How does my cultural identity fit into the global world within the contexts of power, privilege and oppression?”
2.) Don’t Make Assumptions
Making quick assumptions or stereotyping about other cultures is problematic because it groups people into inaccurate representations that do not offer room for the many nuances and individual specifics of a group or a person. Keep an open mind when learning about new cultures or experiences that are different from your own.
3.) Recognize Historical Trauma
Being trauma informed is another way to further develop your cultural awareness in your organization. Historical trauma can be defined as the “cumulative emotional and psychological wounds that are carried across generations.” Watch this YouTube video to learn more about the effects of historical trauma on collective communities and cultures so that you can be more aware of them within the context of your organization.
While there is no exact way to be fully “culturally aware” of another’s culture, one can make an effort by considering these ways to practice cultural awareness within their organization or--even more broadly--within their everyday lives. Cultural awareness should always remain an ongoing conversation and reflection of one’s position in relation to others in the world.
Did you know MCS Chicago offers a variety of diversity training opportunities for companies and organizations? Learn more here: http://bit.ly/2Ged6DY
Contributing Writer: Brittany A. Hamilton
Photo Credit: @lisatrano