Youth and Cultural Competency: It's not about the skin color anymore...

Cultural competency is the new understated code to thrive in society and the world in general; it could be defined as a set of behaviors and attitudes which form a system, a group or a society; this includes but is not limited by personal beliefs, languages, communications, actions, values, religious beliefs, social groups, and ethic perceptions.

Whenever there is a new kid on the block that has never been in one's circle of friends or acquaintances, it is no longer appropriate to "box" the person in a category based on their skin color, country of origin, physical appearance or even socio-economic status but it is critical to figure out rather quickly with meaningful questions/conversations who it is you are interacting with and how they have defined themselves based on their cultural background.

I am compelled to touch on the subject because, more than once, many who meet me for the first time box me in a category I would not necessarily envision for myself.

To better explain my perspective, I will briefly touch on my own background as an example: born in Africa, from a father who obtained a doctorate degree in Law and a masters degree in Accounting in France and a mother who was serious about African customs, I was therefore brought up with a mixture of French and African customs. After high school, I lived in Europe for almost a decade to pursue a medical degree, and spent my summers in Paris, Montreal, Tokyo and Seoul, exposing myself to various other cultures. I immigrated to the USA right after medical school with my husband and integrated the American society while embracing its culture; and while the classification on my ethnicity is "black" I don't necessarily fit the stereotype associated with having a darker skin color because I am the sum of my experiences as a highly educated African-born woman with American citizenship and Afro-Euro-Asian-Western cultural exposures therefore not quite African-American nor just African and that's a dilemma many youth face daily especially children who have biracial parents and have to choose one ethnicity over the other to define themselves especially if the focus is the skin color.

Nowadays, people travel the world and are exposed to different foods, customs, religions, attitudes that help expand their knowledge of others and hopefully acceptance of the many cultural differences that exist around the world.

Groups of people that are labeled as "minority" or targeted for one thing or another are actually being "boxed" in a category based on stereotypes that may not necessarily match their personal beliefs or culture. For example, if we focus on the skin color alone, a black person could be from Latino culture (Honduras, Cuba..), African culture (Cameroon, Nigeria..), African-American culture (USA) or biracial; but how would one classify a person of Indian descent who is actually from Asia but has a dark skin tone?

Former 44th USA President Barack Obama (2009-2017) although had a darker skin color, was from a household of biracial parents and is probably considered black by ethnicity, nevertheless, his exposures, experiences and achievements are well beyond the scope of his skin color. Billionaire woman Oprah Winfrey, despite humble beginnings, evolved to the highest ranks of financial achievement ever done by a female of black ethnicity, once again, her belief system, not her skin color might be the secret behind her success.

I would like to encourage all, especially parents, educators, lawmakers, mentors and anyone working with youth, to learn more about being culturally competent; this will help foster an approach to other human beings that values understanding and respect of one's beliefs and behaviors while avoiding stereotypes. In so doing, we will build a better world for the next generation.

Suzanne Belibi, M.D.

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