Staff Perspective: From Racial Ignorance to Striving for Cultural Humility - My Story

Staff Perspective: From Racial Ignorance to Striving for Cultural Humility - My Story

Race was not on my radar growing up because I was surrounded by people who mostly looked just like me. As a White female growing up in a place so small it was technically a village, the most salient aspects of identity for me were around gender and socioeconomic status (SES). In my family, traditional gender roles prescribed the expectations of me and what I could do. I was to be quiet and “nice,” and my way of helping our family was to do the female identified “inside chores.” These tasks included vacuuming and washing dishes, while my brother was expected to help care for the male identified “outdoor tasks” like mowing the lawn and taking out the garbage. I never liked that there were forces at play that I didn’t understand and that seemed to be blocking me from speaking my mind and doing the chores I preferred (the outside ones). SES was also intimately woven into our family experience because my dad worked in an automobile factory, which meant that when work was plentiful, we lived a middle SES lifestyle, but during periods of layoffs we dropped down into a low SES household. There were plenty of stressful life experiences growing up, but because I am White, race wasn’t one of them, and therefore, it didn’t cross my mind.

Over time in both my personal and professional life, my worldview has expanded as I have had contact and built relationships with people from diverse backgrounds. Through education and direct experience, I began exploring my own identity, as well as gaining a better overall understanding of racial/ethnic identity. I, in no way, consider myself to be an expert, but I am passionate about continuing to understand myself and others from the lens of identity. My passion around diversity and inclusion grew alongside the growth of my personal connections to individuals who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). Being married to a Black man and having a biracial daughter, the importance of racial diversity and pursuit of cultural humility are priorities in my life. As a clinical psychologist, the exploration of diversity and inclusion directly relates to the work I do.

In my pursuit for self-exploration at the professional level, a colleague introduced me to an outstanding resource from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services called Improving Cultural Competency for Behavioral Health Providers. This foundational training intends to help behavioral health professionals increase their cultural and linguistic competency. Within the training, there are four courses: 1) An introduction to cultural and linguistic competency, 2) Know thyself- Increasing self-awareness, 3) Knowing others- Increasing awareness of your client’s cultural identity, and 4) Culturally and linguistically appropriate interventions and services. The training is on-demand so it can be completed all at once or in parts. The estimated time to complete all four courses is 4-5.5 hours, and clinicians can earn up to 5.5 free CEs for completing the course.

What I particularly enjoyed about the training is that it offers an in-depth examination of diversity issues in behavioral health, and provides additional resources for even more opportunities to continue exploration. I found myself saying “yeah, this is so good” or messaging a colleague during the training to say “everyone in our field should take this training.” I sincerely hope that each behavioral health clinician reading this blog will click the link and start the, don’t wait (ok, maybe open it up, finish reading my blog, and then start the training). As behavioral health providers, everything about us and our client impacts the therapeutic relationship and process, so having awareness of and skills to address cultural and linguistic identity is paramount to psychotherapy. In our field, you might be noticing a shift in language as more professionals are moving away from cultural competence and toward cultural humility. The National Institutes of Health defines cultural humility as “a lifelong process of self-reflection and self-critique whereby the individual not only learns about another’s culture, but one starts with an examination of her/his own beliefs and cultural identities.” The shift in our field toward cultural humility fits well with my values and how I strive to show up in the world.

In my role as a wife and mother, I believe it is vital to be fully aware of all aspects of my identity including my racial identity. As my toddler continues to grow into a beautiful young biracial woman, I hope that her father and I can be a source of information and comfort as she experiences challenges that will come her way. For her, ignorance about race will not be an option. So as parents, we will talk about race, ensure she is surrounded by a diverse group of adults and peers, and support her as she explores her own racial identity.

The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.

Erin Frick, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist and Military Behavioral Health Psychologist at the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.

Greene-Moton, E., & Minkler, M. (2020). Cultural competence or cultural humility? Moving beyond the debate. Health Promotion Practice, 21(1), 142–145.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Improving cultural competency for behavioral health providers.

Warner, R. (2020, Nov 29). How to talk about race in the workplace. Psychology Today.

Yeager, K. A., & Bauer-Wu, S. (2013). Cultural humility: Essential foundation for clinical researchers. Applied Nursing Research, 26(4): 251-256. doi: 10.1016/j.apnr.2013.06.008.