Cultural Competency Never Asks Us to Be Color Blind

Reviewing the recent article by Elijah Forde from the February Issue of NW Lawyer served as a good reminder that cultural competency never requires us to ignore race, color, or origin. Cultural competency saves us from the traps of treating others as if their color and origin do not exist – which at best is a self-imposed lack of awareness, and at worst is race erasure.

One of the key tensions in the debate over a multicultural society is between claims that diversity efforts are forced “political correctness” and the politics of self-identity. What casual observers sometimes miss in this tension is that race is a social construct at its core that is largely defined by racism, while white identity is largely undefined, having no essential state of being. This dichotomy also obscures the intersections of race, gender, and sexual orientation that creates even more discreet but invisible elements of identity that never get confronted in the same way as race.

In this context, does a claim of political correctness become a shield for masking privilege? Is diversity fatigue a problem, or is it a symptom of privilege push back? Is the “invisibility” of race really just the new model of the “invisible knapsack” of privilege described by Peggy McIntosh in the 80’s?

As we continue to discuss these issues, I challenge the community to start talking about what they see and do not see. As we continue with guest writers this year, we are also going to start talking more about the intersections of minority status and the effect they have on erasing portions of our identity that are not readily apparent, as well as the effect of belonging to minority groups that are less “visible,” such as certain disabilities, sexual orientations, gender identities, and other classifications that are not always visible to the eye.

My thanks to Elijah for taking on a difficult topic with thoughtfulness and grace. And my thanks to all the commentators who have picked up on this discourse and supported what we are doing, including our Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

One thought on “Cultural Competency Never Asks Us to Be Color Blind

  1. Laura Anglin

    Good piece. I was at the UW law school friday and was really struck by pieces of paper taped to the wall tagged “Your UW Classmate,” containing incredibly painful things people had overheard in class. At least, it was painful to read. I think they were collected here:

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