Cultural Humility & Meeting People Where They Are

Recognizing the disparate impact that COVID-19 has on people based on their past experiences or their current circumstances is foundational for effective communication. Practicing cultural humility as you approach conversations around COVID-19 includes bearing witness to a person's lived experience, recognizing the unique elements of someone’s personal experiences based on their background and culture, and acknowledging the authority that each person has over their experiences and story. Practicing cultural humility requires looking beyond one’s own experience and approaching the experiences of others without judgment.

Thought Question:

  • Think of 2-3 ways in which someone’s past experiences could impact their receptiveness or response to a conversation about COVID-19.

If you need help brainstorming, consider the following circumstances or review the ways in which this pandemic may further inequity from this summary by the NAACP (published April 2020):

  • A person who has previously been quarantined for a prior outbreak (e.g. SARS, Ebola).

  • A person who has been the target of racism related to the pandemic.

  • A person who is incarcerated and concerned about their risk of exposure.

  • A person without health insurance who is concerned about the cost of potential healthcare needs.

  • A person who lives paycheck-to-paycheck who is concerned about their inability to work during mandatory quarantine and ability to buy basic needs.

  • A person who distrusts the medical establishment because of prior experiences.

  • Persons with disabilities who rely on personal care assistants to do their grocery shopping and to pick up their medications.

In recent months, fear has bred more xenophobia and racism. How can you respond when you see these remarks waged against others or yourself? We can look towards research on microaggressions–defined as verbal, behavioral, or institutional actions that communicate hostility or prejudice towards marginalized groups–for suggestions on how to react. One framework on how to respond to perpetrators of microaggressions (or macroaggressions) is modified from (Sue et al., Am Psych 2019):

  • Make the invisible visible. Ask for clarification. Try to see where they’re coming from.

  • Disarm the microaggression. Express disagreement, state your limit, or redirect the conversation.

  • Educate the offender. Point out bias, discuss the impact of their statements, and promote empathy.

  • Seek external support. Reach out to sources of support, discuss experiences with others, and report the statements if appropriate.