My Culturally Competent Mindset Journey…where it began!

On my kindergarten playground, a boy at my school started taunting and screaming at me, “your mother is white, your mother is white!” His loud and angry voice wasn’t lost on me.   My beautiful mother, my favorite person in the world, walked me to school every morning. Until that moment, I don’t remember registering the color of my mother’s skin, only its warmth, and lovely smell. Returning home that day, as I ran into the kitchen, I too began screaming while stomping my feet and through tears, demanding,  “why didn’t you tell me you were white, why didn’t you tell me?” Shocked, taken aback, and as her eyes also welled up with tears, she sat me on her lap. She proceeded to explain to me how Black people in the United States could have “white” skin.  That day was supposed to be like any other, on my mother’s lap, in our living room, with the smell of chicken baking in the oven. However, that day, I listened to my first history lesson about the abomination called chattel slavery.  I was five years old.

I suppose that was the first day of my journey to understand issues of race, privilege, and oppression.  What binds us as human beings?  What do we all have in common?  What nuances make us different, what do those differences mean, and to whom?

These questions continued through college and influenced my major in cultural anthropology.  After deciding to pursue a medical career, these issues followed into medical school, where caring for patients was influenced by biases and the ability to pay.  I’m not sure why I was so surprised but I quickly realized that the altruistic arena of medicine was not immune to the vagaries of our larger society.  After finishing my degrees and moving into academic medicine, I carved out a niche in developing curriculum and teaching cultural competence to students and colleagues.