World Trust

Cultural Diversity: Do White People Need Help "Assimilating"?

Posted by Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong on October 9, 2014

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You may be dealing with white people in your organization who think of diversity education as a drag – something tedious but necessary to make people of color feel more comfortable in the mainstream environments where they work and live. But what if “mainstream” shifted dramatically – so much that diversity became about including white people in a multicultural reality?

People Of Color Move Between Cultures
Cultural competency is the ability to understand and succeed in a culture different from your own. The ability to move between cultures that individuals of color develop naturally, given the pressure to acculturate to predominantly white-led environments, can reveal itself as a strength for people of any ethnic background.

White People Can Lack This Skill
However, this competency is denied to white people whose neighborhoods, families, and places of worship feature only those who look and think like them. Not only is it unsurprising that this isolation leads to difficulties when these people go to school or work in more diverse environments: the isolation itself is a vanishing way of life in this country.

Rather than white people helping people of color feel more comfortable, what if we began to think of diversity education as the process by which we help individuals develop cultural competency that allows them to appreciate and engage with a wide variety of cultures - even when those individuals are white?

Mono-ethnic Way of Life is Vanishing
Over half of Americans are now in community with people of other ethnicities. Ethnifacts’s Interethnicity Proximity Index projected that August 2014 marked the tipping point when a majority of individuals in the nation met their definition of multicultural. A recent Latino USA episode spoke with Guy Garcia, founder of Ethnifacts to expand on this phenomenon.

According to scholar William Gibson, “The future is here: it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”  Those that are still living in mono-ethnic enclaves are being left out in a country undergoing rapid change.

Help White People Catch Up
Guy Garcia of Ethnifacts refers to these white people as "the new immigrants" - the people who may need help (including multicultural education) acclimating to living in a new America. These individuals need the ability to be in dialogue with those from other cultures. They also need to understand how systemic inequity works in order to adequately assess their own unconscious biases, and they need to come away feeling empowered - and accountable - to thrive in community.

When diversity training is presented as skill-building – suddenly it’s not just another discussion about representational quotas. The discovery, reclaiming, celebration and awareness that can happen in diversity training can become a powerful tool for “assimilation” and success in a multicultural environment.

World Trust's work engages all people in racial equity education using film, dialogue, and framing the system of inequity. To learn more about the system, click here.