Lesson 2: On Cultural Humility

How are you thinking about your professional career services practice after Lesson 1? Has anything shifted for you? Are you more aware of how culture creates your expectations of others? Was the process of learning about yourself as a cultural being easy or difficult for you?

 A question: Which of your cultural identities did you choose?

   In fact, take 5 minutes and write a response to this question in your journal.

    Looking at my own response to this query, I did not choose:

  • the year of my birth (1971);
  • the family in which I was raised (my biological parents, younger brother, extended biological family)
  • my sex (male)
  • the community in which my family had lived since 1752 (rural, Pennsylvania, USA);
  • the culture of my community (Appalachian);
  • my sexual orientation (“straight”);
  • the school in which I learned (Juniata Valley Elementary and Jr/Sr. High School);
  • the religion of my family (Methodist);
  • my genetic predispositions for health (one inherited genetic disorder I am aware of);
  • my genetic predispositions cognitive ability (have always been considered “smart” for my family);
  • the career history of my family and community (agricultural, working class, non-educated – I am a first-generation college student).
  • Finally, I did not choose my race (White or Caucasian) or ethnicity (I am unsure how this can be described).

The reality is that the societies in which I live and work have created expectations based on many of these unchosen identities. Currently (because we know these expectations and prejudices will change over time), being born in 1971 as a White, straight, male (among other advantageous identities) residing in the United States provides me with more positive expectations and opportunities than most other identities. This is because recent history (hundreds of years) has been dominated by humans with these identities too.

It is important to remember, I did not choose these identities nor did I choose the preceding history that created the expectations and privileges I derive from them.

Knowing that I did not choose these identities, and knowing this history is an important contextual F.R.A.M.E. that if understood makes me feel great cultural humility.

Lesson 2 will use the identities of race & ethnicity to explore cultural humility. Let’s begin with a video from Crash Course describing the sociological differences between race & ethnicity. I would like to note again that I have searched for videos from non-Western (particularly U.S.A. in this video) and diverse perspectives but still find Crash Course the best course of sociological explanations and remain open to other options.

View the 10:58 video here.


Hopefully that got your brain juices flowing! Remember from Lesson 1 that culture (the non-material variety that we are focused on in this course) creates expectations based on our interpretation of symbols, values, beliefs, and norms. We then transmit our culture in our interactions with others. Failing to pay attention to our assumptions or expectations of others, we might transmit unfair expectations OR demonstrate unfair bias which is detrimental to cross-cultural relationships.

At the interpersonal level, these unfair expectations and biases can be called microaggressions. At a broader social level, unfair expectations can be called systemic racism or oppression with extreme manifestations leading to racial slavery, genocide, and other forms of brutality. Of course, race/ ethnicity has NEVER been the only cultural identity by which prejudice has been organized.

Let’s listen to a career specific, and nuanced, example of ethnic identity and career development from national sportscaster Anish Shroff, a first generation Indian-American.
View the video lasting 11:47 below.


Anish does an excellent job of describing a career goal, to help clients arrive at the liminal space of career decision. A liminal space can be described as the “time” between “what was” and “next.” It is a threshold between where you have worked to come from and where it is that you will go. Cultural bias of any type, including ethnic bias, keeps people from arriving at the liminal space where the choices are theirs and the lives they are living are theirs as well.

What can you do as a career services professional to demonstrate cultural humility with clients? How can you acknowledge and mediate the cultural biases towards race/ ethnicity that exists in the world-of-work? Or, as Anish asks: Why do we not help all people “get to the threshold where I can fail or succeed?”

Let’s explore these questions further in the dialogue for Lesson 2. View the 10:11 dialogue below:


To end, I would like to bring your thinking about cultural humility back to where we began with a focus on race/ethnicity. The reality is that we don’t know with a great sense of accuracy how race/ethnicity play out in the current world-of-work. Much of our knowledge is from more than 10 years ago, before the 4th Industrial Revolution really accelerated to impact work everywhere. Furthermore, the intersectionality of others factors with race/ethnicity make it difficult to make definitive statements about the work experience. Let’s with great intellectual humility read about a recent study that exemplifies the complexity of career development as it pertains to race/ ethnicity.

  Read this article.

In this Lesson 2 we learned about cultural humility, how it undergirds cross-cultural skill development, and its relationship to what we learn from gratitude. In Class 3 we will tie this directly into cultural empathy development and working.

Now that you have finished with Lesson 2, answer questions 4-6 on your worksheet. Mark this lesson complete and then you can go to Lesson 3!