Part I: More Questions than Answers
In the summer of 2018, my family and I made an unplanned trip to Montgomery, Alabama to see the Equal Justice Initiative’s (EJI) newly installed Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The profound interactive archive and memorial of racial inequality left me breathless as I considered my nation’s history laid bare for all the world to see. I contemplated the inhumanity that took place many years ago and the injustices that continue today, all with the permission of our legal system. A brief conversation about reparations with one of the docents at the memorial and a photo’s contemplative caption at the end of my museum visit impacted me deeply. It stopped me in my tracks as I read:
Should The U.S. Supreme Court formally acknowledge its role in authorizing and sustaining the enslavement of black people and apologize for overtly racist rulings? (The Legacy Museum, 2018)
I pondered the dissonance between contemporary conversations surrounding race and the idea that policy makers profoundly influence the intercultural capacity landscape of our nation. A seed was planted.
Little did I know within a month, destiny planned to lead me to the DMV (D.C./Maryland/Virginia) area where opportunities, experiences, conversations, and observations allowed this seed to germinate. More questions arose regarding the intersection of intercultural competence (ICC), the field of policy making, and the practitioners who influence public and foreign policy. Is it true? Has the Supreme Court never apologized for one of the most heinous systems of oppression permitted in our country? Isn’t a meaningful apology the beginning of healing? If those we appoint to positions of power never take responsibility for crimes against humanity, if they never acknowledge regret, will we ever learn or change collectively? How does forgiveness and repentance take place, or how does it impact a nation’s collective intercultural competence even at the highest national and international levels?
After moving to the DMV area, these questions, ideas, and concepts only deepened. I’ve often read Luke 6:45, which says, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of ” (New International Version). I thought to myself, the same might also be said of a good or evil country and that out of the nation’s policies, the heart of the country speaks. So what do past policies say about the historical heart of a nation, and what do current policies say about We the People now?
Surely the U.S must be good, right? After all, we strongly promote a human rights based intercultural education. ICC continues to gain increased value in today’s global economy, and foreign policy, diplomacy, peace and security sectors emphasize ICC values through key communication and initiatives. The Department of State once used the tagline “Diplomacy Embraces Difference.” The U.S. Department of Education issued a framework for developing global and cultural competencies that starts with early learning and continues through elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education (The United States Department of Education, 2018). Goals for curriculum include developing empathy, cultural understanding, and other collaborative skills. The U.S. clearly highlights ICC as an essential competency, and military academies build it into their curriculum infrastructure as a competency essential in mitigating war.
However, just as I observed the challenge for undergraduates to translate intercultural gains locally after returning from a study abroad experience (Pengelly, 2018), I notice the ideals of diplomacy, justice, and security did not always translate into everyday conversations, decisions, interactions, and relationships among even those in the highest levels of policy fields. Intercultural deficiencies and their adverse impacts became ever so evident in the U.S. in 2020, which I like to call the year of reckoning. As a nation, we began to see the disparate effects carried on the backs of communities of color and all their vulnerabilities emphasized and ravaged by the pandemic. Hairline fractures caused by racial tensions became chasms in the wake of the brutal deaths of unarmed black and brown men and women such as Daniel Prude, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and too many others who died at the hands of law enforcement.
Such disparities exposed unjust healthcare, education, economic, law enforcement, housing, labor, and immigration policies. These fractures were of no surprise to the most vulnerable in our country (the elderly, people of color, Native American, immigrants, etc.). Policy making requires intercultural attitudes, knowledge, and skills like empathy, humility, kindness, self-awareness, curiosity. Special attention needs to be given to the nation’s vulnerable. These super power soft skills should be expected of and developed among those in positions of power so they may better understand societal divides. For the U.S., policy makers seem sharply at odds on issues that disproportionately affect communities of color. Other countries might need to review policies related to religious, class, tribal, linguistic, and other differences that cause conflict or exasperate their vulnerable populations. One person said it well in an interview with James Baldwin, “Well, if one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected — those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most! ” (Baldwin, 2007).
It is time to move intercultural development beyond the walls of the classroom and study abroad programs and out into communities, among the workforce, and toward better models of intercultural leadership at every level. Don’t get me wrong, the educational benefits from intercultural endeavours in academia prove imperative, but there remains a desperate need for ICC in every professional field, most notably public policy. It is time for national healing that comes from a long and meaningful apology that begins in the halls of justice, as well as diplomatic, defense, legislative, and executive offices worldwide. It begins with intercultural policies and, more importantly, with policy makers who value and practice intercultural competence. This takes time, commitment, development, and constant dialogue.
As I think about whether or not the Supreme Court should or should not formally acknowledge its role in authorizing and sustaining the enslavement of black people and apologize for overtly racist rulings (The Legacy Museum, 2018), other questions begin to swim around in my mind. I look forward to plunging deeper into this idea of intercultural policy in the new year. I’ll attempt to dive deeper to look for sunken answers to questions that remain: What does intercultural courage look like among national leaders? Why are women of color in defense, diplomacy, foreign, and public policy spaces experiencing overt and covert racism in these sectors? Who are the intercultural role models in these sectors? What does a meaningful apology look like, and what impact does it have if it never comes from a national institution? Answers to these questions are worth the plunge.
Ater, R. (May 29,2020). In Memoriam: I Can’t Breath [Blog]. Retrieved from https://www.someaddress.com/full/url/
Baldwin, J. (2007). No name in the street. Vintage.
Chughtai, A. (2020). Know Their Names: Black People Killed by the Police in the U.S. [Illustrated Interactive]. Retrieved from https://interactive.aljazeera.com/aje/2020/know-their-names/index.html
Pengelly, K. A. (2018). Loving neighbor as self: Translating the study abroad experience into intercultural friendships on the home campus. Journal of International Students, 8(2), 1108-1128.
The Legacy Museum. (2018). Contemplation questions. Montgomery, Alabama: Equal Justice Initiative.
The United States Department of Education. (2018, November). Framework for developing global and cultural competencies to advance equity, excellence and economic competitiveness.