Your Unique Cultural Lens: A Guide To Cultural Competence

Layer 2: Expression – Example 2


I was born in Durham, North Carolina and shortly thereafter my family move to Richmond, Virginia. We lived in the suburbs in the larger metropolitan area.

I grew up with close friends with ingrained Southern etiquette. I would respond to my friends’ parents by adding  “ma’am” or “sir”. This culture did not promote blunt truths that could be perceived as offensive; rather, one always erred on the side of politeness. I quickly learned behavior that I could adapt and fit in, and realizing that politeness was often more highly valued than truth. I grew up learning how to keep one foot in the regional culture and one foot out. This was new for me, as my parents not being from this region, did not identify with this culture. I grew up learning how to adapt to this regional culture while not being immersed totally in it.



As part of the highly valued etiquette of the South that does not condone blunt or direct statements to others, I learned that indirect or subtle observations were more acceptable than my sometimes more honest feelings. I developed a sense of mistrust when given a compliment, as I could never tell if people were being honest or it was just an insult veiled with a “bless your heart”. I also learned not to ask directly for what was wanted or needed, as it was considered to be rude. I took what was given and said thank you.


Context Setting:

Richmond, Virginia, is one of the oldest major cities of the United States. It is steeped in history. It is home to St. James Church where Patrick Henry gave his famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech that gave momentum to the American Revolution. Richmond is perhaps best known for its designation as the Capital of the Confederacy during the United States’ Civil War. Its citizens take pride in their history, and there are numerous landmarks detailing its historical past.

There were regular school projects and field trips that exposed me to the deep-rooted history and culture of the region and instilled a sense of pride. Our history classes always had a slant towards the South and its role in the Civil War as a side that was “just trying to protect history and traditions”. The role of the Confederacy in upholding slavery and other hateful and inhumane traditions was often glossed over or romanticized.



This was in a direct conflict to the values that I was learning at home, and I could not hold these two conflicting points of view simultaneously.



I have often wondered if being raised in Richmond has impacted my view of diversity of race, culture, religion, etc. and inclusion. While today’s Richmond perhaps takes pride in being ethnically diverse, its role in upholding slavery as the Capital of the Confederacy cannot be overlooked. Throughout my childhood, I was exposed to racist comments against African Americans that were cloaked in the context of history, tradition, and often, a “white savior complex”. This being seemingly normalized in this city, it took me longer to recognize just how ingrained and deep-rooted racism is in traditional Southern culture. I once again struggled to hold conflicting points of view between racism and the inclusive values modeled for me at home

I was raised in a home where English was the dominant language, though my father (a native Arabic speaker) would drop occasional Arabic phrases and my mother (Norwegian-German by heritage) would shout out “oof-da” as the situation warranted. I did not grow up with a traditional Southern accent, though I have been known to say “y’all” and drop “-ings” suffixes at the end of words, much to my mother’s chagrin.

My parents placed a premium on diligence to our education, and it shows in the manner in which I speak. My brothers and I called my mother the “grammar police”, as she would frequently correct us. Slang was not acceptable and we were encouraged to use appropriate words that often expanded our vocabulary. My education, social class and social etiquette are evidenced in my confidence to be able to clearly articulate my point. The professional work I do in the corporate business world is apparent by the professional jargon that tints the way I talk.



Although I was raised in a city of traditional Southern culture, I had the gift of exposure to multiple cultures during my childhood. My mother was raised in the rural Midwestern culture, with little or no pretense and a value on neighborliness. My father embodied the generous culture of the Middle East where humility and humor took pride of place. These regional cultures have been part of my basis of growth in valuing diversity and inclusion—and the beauty that can be created when various cultures meld together. These imbued cultures have helped make me who I am and through my journey of self-acceptance, I have found freedom in not having to identify with just one culture.