Multicultural Competency


The term ‘cultural competency’ has become controversial within the racial equity field. Work around cultural competency generally was connected to helping people (often white people, or middle and upper class people) provide effective services to other people (patients, so-called welfare clients, recent immigrants and refugees, so-called ‘grassroots’ community residents, students) because those people were generally from different racial/ethnic and class groups than the people providing the service. Some of the work done under the guise of cultural competency reflected dominant culture ideas and some did not. However, the term itself came to be associated with dominant culture thinking.

Paul Kivel, uses the term multicultural competency, notes that this is a lifelong process ( that includes: “…realizing the limits of your understanding. It should make you less arrogant and more humble. It should provide you with skills for promoting the leadership of those from the cultures in which you are competent. As we become more multiculturally competent, we increase our effectiveness in working with diverse populations, but we cannot substitute for people who are experts in their own culture.”

Multicultural competency can include changing the practices of institutions (for example, health care practices) so that they are more inclusive and equitable for a wider variety of groups, or for a specific group. Multicultural competence strategies also need to begin with the recognition that there is as much difference within any group as there is across groups.

Thus, multicultural competence strategies are best when they reflect deep and nuanced understandings of cultural experiences, preferences and differences. This helps to avoid over generalizing and reinforcing stereotypes.



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