Thoughts on the Evolution of Cultural Awareness

The boys were 2 and 4, and we had been going to that indoor gym for months and had never encountered any problems until that day. We found it to be a very nifty destination for us because, even though it was cold outside, there, they could burn off their extra energy by running, biking and bouncing. ​​ On this particular day, I was just hanging out by the slides watching Little Bro climb and slide away his wiggles. I smiled and nodded to the mothers around me and to one in particular who was staring a little too hard.

"Hi", I ventured, trying to break the awkwardness of being stared down in the middle of a little tots gym.

"How do you feel being here?" she asked.

"Oh we love it," I replied, ​​ "Isn't it a relief to have somewhere to take the kids when it's this cold outside?"

She shook her head, "No, I mean how do you feel being the only colored person in here?"

Honestly, you could have knocked me over with a feather! Firstly, I was shocked that she could ask me that as coolly as if she was asking if I came there often. I pretty much just wallowed in shock for a few seconds and then told her that we had been going to that gym for months and the demographics of the occupants therein had been the same as it was that day. I then told her that that day was the first time I would feel uncomfortable at that gym and I had her to thank for it.

"How do you feel about that?"I asked her pointedly.

As I drove home that day, I thought it strange that the demographics at that gym had never bothered me until the moment that lady asked me about my possible reaction to it. I suppose it is because sometimes we don’t seriously consider a thing until it stares us in the face and affects us in a personal way.

For example, my background is quite diverse. My childhood involved movement from one country to another and  ​​​​ I am originally from a country of 250 ethnic groups and over 500 indigenous languages yet I wasn't intuitively culturally-aware when I landed in America all those years ago. Most people I knew back home were black and Nigerian and I really seriously started thinking about cultural awareness the year I arrived in the US. That was the year that diversity became more meaningful to me. It was in that same year I started nursing school and cultural competence was all the rage.

Cultural Competence involves the knowledge cultivation of different cultural practices of various people groups and we had to be culturally competent as nurses because it would help us provide more patient-centered care.

We even had a book that listed common cultural practices and tendencies for different cultures. ​​ It would highlight the opinion that this culture would have this tendency and that culture will have that tendency. And so the phenomenon of cultural competence essentially put different cultures into neat little boxes. One of the limitations of cultural competence as a cultural awareness model is that it can easily give rise to prejudices and stereotypes. And really, is it possible to be competently knowledgeable about a culture that isn't your own without making broad generalizations? I doubt it.

And so I found that as the years rolled on I began to see workplace workshops about culture evolve from the expectations of cultural competence to that of cultural sensitivity.

Cultural Sensitivity involves awareness, acceptance, tolerance, and understanding of different cultures while engaging with them in society.


So with cultural sensitivity, we were encouraged as nurses to respect and value the uniqueness of other cultures without making broad generalizations about any culture. But even with cultural sensitivity, it is not always possible to fully understand another culture even though we can respect their practices. Also, there was a need to evolve from merely accepting or tolerating different cultures to being culturally intelligent.

Cultural Intelligence or Cultural Quotient (CQ) is the ability to function collaboratively and effectively in culturally diverse situations.

And so CQ takes cultural awareness a step further looks at the ability to work effectively across cultures we may not fully understand or be competently knowledgeable about. I have written about fostering cultural intelligence in kids and you can find that here.

So over the years I have seen the evolution from cultural competence to cultural sensitivity ​​ and now to cultural intelligence and these are some lessons this evolution has taught me:

  • I cannot be competently knowledgeable about other cultures without making sweeping generalizations about them.

  • I cannot claim to fully understand another culture, different from my own without sounding patronizing or condescending.

  • I can, however, experience different cultures through travel, books and other media.

  • I can respect other cultures and this doesn't mean I need to agree with every cultural practice I encounter.

  • I can function collaboratively within other cultures even though I may not fully understand everything about those cultures.

All in all, culture is a complex organism that really can't be harnessed, tamed, or sliced into neat little packages. But I do believe we can channel its unique beauty in our everyday lives.

How have you seen cultural awareness evolve in your own life or in that of your kids? Let me know in the comments below. Until then,

Best Regards and talk to you soon!



About Bunmi

Bunmi is the creator of the EthnicMotherhood blog. She is a motivational blogger and a Masters-prepared Registered Nurse. She is also married with three children and lives in the Midwestern part of the United States with her family.

22 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Evolution of Cultural Awareness

  1. Whoa, I’m sorry you had to experience such an awful person! I can’t imagine someone would ask you that. I make it a point to raise my 7 year old as a global citizen and be accepting of every single human she comes across. I wish adults would learn to be more sensitive to those around them!

  2. One of my biggest focuses as a parent has been to teach my daughter cultural competence and social equality. We’re always talking about it and have a lot of books that help. I love the discussions you spark.
    Also, how rude of that mom. You’re there to focus on your kids…

    1. Thank you Lindsey! Yes, my goal for EthnicMotherhood is to present a platform to spark many discussions such as this. We are moms who go through fire and water for our kids, so we shouldn’t be reluctant to talk about the hard stuff. I say let’s bring it on and come back soon ?

  3. This is a wonderful, thought provoking article. I believe it’s impossible to be completely knowledgeable in the vast world of different cultures. But, I agree that with culture sensitivity, comes culture awareness. To me, it’s normal to not know the ins and outs of a person’s culture but it’s not okay to pass judgement on what they present to us: appearance, education, roles within the household, vocabulary, and more. I believe a person should educate themselves from research instead of relying on someone to explain their culture.

    I’m sorry that someone felt that they had the right to ask you that. It’s really sad on the amount of people that continue to have no sensitivity or awareness and respect for others.

    1. That is awful that you went through that. Some people really surprise me. We try to teach our children that we treat everyone the same. It’s a shame no one taught her that.

  4. I think its so important for parents to raise their children as a global citizen. One reason to avoid situations like this in the future. No one should have to be asked the question you were asked this day.

    1. Chelsae, I agree! Every parent should be culturally intelligent and raised kids that have that worldview. It does take some conscious effort and some intentional parenting.Thanks for your comment, stop by again soon.

  5. Wow!!! I need to be reminded of this when I am at work. I am approached many times and it feels uncomfortable to be black and a professor that looks 25. I love your article.

    1. Thank you Amanda! It can be very disheartening interacting with people who are obviously not working on their cultural intelligence. Sorry you feel uncomfortable at work and I hope EthnicMotherhood can be platform where we can talk about hard issues like this….its a start.

  6. Wow that’s so crazy how someone would be so racist. My son is half Mexican and half White, and no one has commented on that yet, but I think people need to see that skin color does not define people.

  7. You might heard about reverse culture shock depression so its not culture mostly the people we get around makes our character. We all are different and it’s the most beautiful thing in this world. Imagine everyone of same skin, same religion, the world wil be boring. Isn’t it? That’s what I say without judging others when my kids ask me about culture difference. Different people, different religion, different faith, all of this makes a world special and we all should try to respect other’s faith and do own our duties as a human be.

    1. Yes Arti I am familiar with the nature vs. nurture perspective surrounding reverse culture shock. Because, we are all inherently self-centered we tend to believe that our own value system is the best. It takes a conscious effort and systematic intentionality to imbibe and show forth the cultural intelligence worldview. It takes another set of skills to teach it to our children.
      Thanks for your comment and pls stop by again.

  8. My children are half Puerto Rican and Half Dutch. From the looks they look white and I clearly look Hispanic as a mother.

    I have been asked before if they are mine. I also have experienced women thinking I am white so avoiding me until they see me encourage my kids to play with theirs.

    Then I engage the mother who usually is shocked when I open my mouth. Lol

    But over all my kids don’t see color lines. At least I hope my efforts are working and they don’t. Because they biologically are living two worlds.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this Lisa! I must congratulate you on raising your kids to embrace diversity. Raising children to be culturally intelligent is the only way to prevent the calamity of ethnocentrism in their lives.

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