National Center for Cultural Competence

ethnic: Of or relating to large groups of people classed according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background.

ethnicity: The Institute on Medicine (IOM), in a 1999 report edited by Haynes and Smedley, defines ethnicity as how one sees oneself and how one is seen by others as part of a group on the basis of presumed ancestry and sharing a common destiny Common threads that may tie one to an ethnic group include skin color, religion, language, customs, ancestry, and occupational or regional features. In addition, persons belonging to the same ethnic group share a unique history different from that of other ethnic groups. Usually a combination of these features identifies an ethnic group. For example, physical appearance alone does not consistently identify one as belonging to a particular ethnic group.

linguistic competence: Linguistic competence is the capacity of an organization and its personnel to communicate effectively and to convey information in a manner that is easily understood by diverse audiences. Such audiences include persons of limited English proficiency, those who have low literacy skills or are not literate, and individuals with disabilities. The organization must have policy, structures, practices, procedures, and dedicated resources to support this capacity (Goode & Jones, 2003).

race: There is an array of different beliefs about the definition of race and what race means within social, political, and biological contexts. The following definitions are representative of these perspectives:

  • Race is a tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock; a division of humankind possessing traits that are transmissible by descent and sufficient to characterize it as a distinctive human type;
  • Race is a social construct used to separate the worlds peoples. There is only one race, the human race, comprising individuals with characteristics that are more or less similar to others.
  • Evidence from the Human Genome project indicates that the genetic code for all human beings is 99.9% identical; more differences exist within groups (or races) than across groups.
  • The IOM report (Haynes & Smedley, Eds., 1999) states that in all instances race is a social and cultural construct. Specifically a “construct of human variability based on perceived differences in biology, physical appearance, and behavior. The IOM adds that
    the traditional conception of race rests on the false premise that natural distinctions grounded in significant biological and behavioral differences can be drawn between groups.

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