Cultural differences and barriers affect all of our lives, every day. Here in Tucson, a majority minority community for the last eight years, many residents are particularly involved in issues and initiatives around cross-cultural communication, discrimination, and cooperation. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tucson strives to acknowledge, respect, and embrace our differences, and to represent the diverse community that we serve.
Many youth of minority ethnicities experience racial discrimination from adults. This fact, combined with high-profile media reports of police and civilians exhibiting violence toward youth of color, provide sufficient reason for these youth to, in some cases, feel mistrustful of people who are outside their ethnic group.
While cultural mistrust may sometimes benefit youth by helping them prepare to face bias in their interactions with other people, it can also be a barrier to the development of healthy mentoring relationships, “particularly between white mentors and mentees of color.” A pilot study conducted by Dr. Bernadette Sanchez of DePaul University and her colleagues in 2009 found that “adolescent girls of color with more cultural mistrust also had poorer quality mentoring relationships with their white female mentors.”
Since we know that some children may have cultural mistrust, how can mentors with this knowledge work to overcome this barrier?
Recent research that has focused on African American girls in educational settings provides some answers. In a 2013 study, a teacher gave students feedback on essays they had written. The control group received basic feedback on their essay, while the intervention group received this feedback, as well as “wise feedback,” in which the teacher stated that s/he held the student to a high standard and that s/he believed the child could achieve the standard. The study found that students who received “wise feedback” were more likely to submit a revised essay, and that their final drafts improved compared to students in the control group.
This study suggests that mentors who hope to improve the academic achievements and outcomes of their mentees should strive to provide “wise feedback” – i.e., by saying something like, “I have high expectations for you, and I believe you can meet those expectations.” This feedback would be helpful to any child, but may be even more important for youth of color who have cultural mistrust.
Mentors can take stock of their own level of cultural competency with the Cross-Cultural Mentoring Inventory.