Building your Cultural Competency Armour

First off, thank you to all the guest bloggers who shared their stories and their two cents. The amount of direct messages we received about this blog series just shows that we need to keep talking about cultural competency. For now, I'll end this sucker with a little guide (take it as you will) to help allllll of us be better. 

Building your cultural competency armour first requires you to fully understand the following:

1) It is nobody’s responsibility to educate you BUT YOU

2) Nobody owes anyone anything

3) Ignorance is not bliss (for everyone else)

If you’ve made it this far, THANK YOU for being open to hearing about our experiences as “creatures” in the crazy bar scene world. The intention of this series is to bring some insight and drop some knowledge. It is absolutely possible to build your cultural competency armor regardless of your race and culture. I think the most important thing to understand is that we all have our truths. Our truths are absolutely relative and unique because they are composed of our own thoughts, experiences, and emotions that make us who we are today. Our truths also allow us to form our opinions based on what we’ve seen or felt before. If you are not a dark skin girl, you will never know what it’s like to be a dark skin girl at a bar. But, you can try and understand by being culturally competent. How might one do that you ask?! Well…

1. First things first and you’ll never guess what it is! …………. RESPECT. Who would have thought right? Ok but in all seriousness, how often do we forget or fail to sincerely respect one another? In my humble opinion, respect is the gateway to actually seeing each other as humans who so happen to make mistakes, and get caught up in the moment. Humans who also don’t look like a like, and speak different languages. Arethra Franklin made a song about it for a reason guys!

2. BUT LINDA LISTEN. LISTEN LINDA. Are you listening? Sometimes we think that we get it. But, we actually don’t because we’re not listening to the personal narrative of culture from the individuals themself. For example, people who see me and assume that I’m from India (which is correct, I’m half East Indian) and then assume I can speak Hindi and name all the Indian curries (which is incorrect) are NOT LISTENING to me. Here’s a great real life example. When I used to serve back back in the day, I had a table of 2 men say, “Hey! You’re Indian!” and I asked how they knew that. Their response, “because you have dark skin and you’re wearing red lipstick” Instead of asking me about ME they’ve have made up their own story about my life. Don’t be that person, because you will come across the “BUT DID YOU ASK??” face, which is embarrassing to get and disappointing to give. My point? Let people speak their truth because when you actively listen you become aware and then you ARE culturally competent.

3. LINDA, listen to yourself! We all need to listen to our own cultural narratives. This point may be the most important because all those biases come from YOU. It is OUR responsibility to become aware of our own biases that have come from our truths and culture. And then when you’ve gathered your opinions and biases use your logic and awareness to filter what is appropriate, relevant and true. Some of us may not even realize the biases we hold towards others, which is why it’s so important to catch your presumptuous thoughts from taking over your ability to understand and reason.

This is a guide, not the cultural competency manifesto so please don’t start World War III over this.

Longevity: Becoming aware and mindful of what we’re putting out into the universe can only result in progress. If we can understand what it means to be culturally competent, so will our kids, and their kids after. WIN, WIN, WIN.

The Lesson: We’ve all gone through our share of cultural turmoil. Some of us have gone through more hardship than others, which means we have a long ways to go. The lesson I’ve taken from all of this is that it is so easy to play the blame game, but we kind of need to look at this from a glass half full perspective or else we’re going nowhere fast. So, go on with ya Succulent Babe self and send light and love like you do. And when your friend or someone you know tells you about a shitty story about someone being culturally incompetent be empathetic, listen and validate them.



Alaine & Lesley
Part 4: Cultural Competency in the Bar Scene

“ Oh my God, you speak so well!” …. (Oh boy…)

“ You have have, like, no accent at all!”….. (Here it comes…)

“ You’re like Aziz Anzari”…. (*Cue DJ Khalid’s voice over*- “ And Another one”)

If I had a dollar for every time this opener was used on me at a bar, I’d have enough money to dump a notable amount on a certain Netflix executive’s desk, to convince them to hire me as the  new lead in Master’s of None….or at the very least, start my own “Ignorant Bar Encounters Dating Game Show”. Maybe I exhume a sense of passiveness when I talk to people, or maybe people are actually that ignorant, that they think its ok to drop some pretty offensive bombs right off the bat, and know that I wont immediately cut into them. To avoid making a scene, I never do call them out- which I guess really makes me an integral part of the problem here- but I mean, sometimes you can’t really blame an ignorant person for being ignorant, the same way you cant blame a toddler for shitting themselves 15 minutes after you’ve changed them….you just hope they grow out of it, and that its just “a phase”. The problem is, I don’t think this is something that people will grow out of at all…whats even more concerning, is that I feel like this is something people have grown INTO over time.

Growing up in Calgary’s North West, I was one of a handful of kids who wasn’t caucasian…in fact we were so sparse, like grains of pepper in a salt shaker, that I sometimes forgot that I was East Indian at all. The thing here, is that not once during any interaction in my childhood, did I ever feel singled out, did I ever experience blatant ignorance, nor did anyone ask me where I was from (largely due to the fact that I’ve grown up a few blocks from everyone I went to school with, and they all knew exactly where I was from…Calgary…likely born in the same hospital). This childhood innocence and ability to look past colour, to focus in on the person in front of them, and their values, was lost by the time I hit university (along with people’s love for Pokemon…except for that brief period of world peace a few years ago when Pokemon Go dropped…but that’s another topic altogether). For whatever reason, once we hit the bar scene, the majority of people lost all sense of what’s socially acceptable/appropriate to say to someone. I partly blame the loud music, and inability to hold a deeper conversation- but there was a shift from caring about what makes a person tick, to trying to gauge everything about a person based on stereotypes derived from their outward physical appearance. Everything about this is wrong. (One glance at me, and you’d assume I loved Bollywood music- when in fact I’m more of a Blues/Funk kind of guy, who has never even once, seen a Bollywood movie in his life).

But what can we do about this? Trying to immediately educate people on social tact when they accost you at a bar is definitely one method to curb ignorance- but lets be real- under the veil of alcohol, hardly any of these ignoramuses really give a shit about whats right or wrong, or what is or isn’t socially acceptable to someone. As jaded as it sounds- its almost a futile task to tackle. Personally I opt for stepping out of that bar scene altogether, and seek out events/places/parties that cultivate meaningful conversation (generally a place where the music is less than 200bmp, and at a level where you can still hear the person 1 foot away from your face)- largely because its those types of scenes that draw a more culturally aware crowd. Instead of commenting on how well I articulate my words, or asking me where I’m from, we can talk about the most exciting thing you’ve done in the last 3 months, so I can get to know you as a person, and what makes you tick. This city is full of these kinds of social gatherings- and I firmly believe that if we start making an effort to make these more inclusive/open events flourish with our support, we can draw more culturally aware people into the fold, and more and more people would want to be a part of that community. A community that fosters an appreciation for one another on a deeper level through common interests, arts and music- rather than getting excited about talking to someone who talks like “Aziz Anzari". 

Pardeep Sooch

-(Not Aziz Anzari)

Part of “One Big JAM” 

(Alaine here, if you haven't heard of One Big Jam you seriously need to check out their events. That is, ONLY if you like being fully entertained. See, now you have to check it out because there is no way you said no to that.) 

Part 3: Cultural Competency in the Bar Scene as a Succulent Babe

“Oh baby, I’ve got jungle fever tonight!”

Did your skin crawl? Did you just get a little nauseous? Did you eye roll so hard that you've developed an eyestrain? I know YOU know why this is so heinous. However, for those of you that have had the privilege to never deal with this, and/or feel that there isn’t anything thaattttt bad with that pick up line - keep on readin’ to get an inside scoop.

Although I’ve grown up and live in large multicultural Canadian cities, I’m typically The Only One. The only black person in the class, the only black person in the office, the only black person in the friend group and so on and so forth. I won’t go into the struggles of being the token one, but I do want to point out that I understand the “novelty” perspective. However, this is a slippery slope to fetishizing. Making it clear that you're only interested in me because of my "booty" is fetishizing. Solely complimenting me on my "chocolate skin" is fetishizing. While this may appear like pleasant things to say, it doesn't acknowledge me as a whole person and simply perpetuates micro-aggressions.

So, here's the bad news - unfortunately, since our world is still striving for social justice, we ("the others") are going to suffer more gripes. Here's the GREAT news - we do NOT have to accept it. At. All. In fact, when I decided to own my culture, my ethnicity and who I am as a person, I attracted my real deal ride or die.

I know, I know, there's already so much self-love we have to do - about our bodies, our faces, our hair, etc. Yep, we have to do some more self-lovin'. But isn't that fucking great? Please take the time right this second to find a mirror and tell yourself loudly and proudly that you love YOU! Loving yourself results in increased resilience to all the culturally incompetent assholes you will inevitably encounter. Loving yourself results gives you the power to stand up and say a big fat nope to the culturally insensitive words and actions happening in your environment. Loving yourself results in the law of attraction working for you in a positive way! I promise on all that is holy that loving yourself will be the best thing that you ever do, not only for yourself but also for society at large. Can you imagine a world where every last individual is walking around loving themselves? Think of all the issues that would be resolved!  

To those of you who have the aforementioned privilege, I want to make it abundantly clear - it is not our job to educate you. That onus is on YOU! The sole responsibility that marginalized people have in terms of social justice is to live our best lives. Maybe out of the goodness of our hearts, we'll take the time and effort to tell you what's up (yo, and be super grateful if and when this happens!) but at the end of the day, you have to do your part too.

The Lesson: Knowledge is power!



Alaine & Lesley
Part 2: Cultural Competency in the bar scene as a Succulent Babe

Just because you guessed my ethnicity does not mean you get to make out with me.

Now, I would like to start this story off by saying that I am a Canadian born Sri Lankan person. I fully understand why people see me and wonder where I’m from. They've usually already guessed South Indian or Fijian because in Calgary especially there’s a small percentage of Lankans around.

So, I believe that there is a polite way to ask people where they’re from. However, some of the things I’ve experienced are the following:

1. Wow you’re so dark are you African?  Nothing tells you more about someone’s education level than them asking if you’re from an entire continent. Not to mention the preface of noting my skin colour.

2. Oh Sri Lanka! Isn’t that part of India? Shockingly I’m not trying to play games when I’m telling you I’m from the independent country of Sri Lanka... which was never part of India.

3. Oh weird so like is your dad going to kill you for talking to a [insert ethnic background]?

Just eye-roll.

Anyways, on the other side of this I've also had positive experiences of telling people I’m Sri Lankan. Such as asking me to place it on a map or telling me a fond memory of their Sri Lankan friend (who I often end up knowing).

This below story is of a guy who knew I was Sri Lankan and truly was one of the weirdest experiences of my life at the bar:

Alaine and I are two extremes most of the time. Either we are eating pho in bed or going to the bar and tearing up the dance floor. When we go out, Alaine channels her inner Karrueche and looks fine AF and I channel my inner daily Alaine to also look fine. One thing we both, albiet somewhat guiltily do, is count the number of times people ask us about our ethnicity. It’s just strange that it’s the most commonly asked question when we are both accomplished girls, but I guess people are just basing their actions on looks.

One night at National Patio, I had one interaction where I had a male come up to me. This was the following conversation. We'll call him Mike for the purposes of this blog and no word of a lie I’m probably downplaying what happened:

Mike: *Taps me on the shoulder* “ Hey! Uhh I’ve been wanting to talk to you all night”

Sam *okay doesn’t look like a serial killer – also flattered*: “Oh wow, that’s nice! Hi, I’m Sam.”

Sam extends hand out for handshake.

Mike *shakes hand*: “Yeah I saw you across the room and thought I have to talk to her- “

Sam: “Oh wow that’s really nice of yo-“

Mike: “I really like dark girls.”

….. *shocked face*

Mike: “Oh sorry is that rude?”

Sam: “well, uhh”

Mike: “I mean no I’m like educated- I’ve watched all the Netflix documentaries”

Sam: “uhm so that makes you educated? What does that have to do with me being dark?”

Mike: “Oh see you must be Sri Lankan!”

Sam: “Uh yeah, well yeah you’re right”

Mike: *smiles*: “Yeah! See!*




Mike: “Oh weird, too soon?”

(Alaine here, I would just like to say that this was one of the most stressful nights of my life... at National's Patio. And the exclamation marks in that conversation are no joke.)

At this point I’m trying to get out of his strong hold on my shoulders. I start looking around to see if anyone else sees this interaction, and I see a man who is laughing at us. 

Mike noticed that I looked at him.

Mike: “I hate that guy”

Sam: “What? Why?”

Mike: “Because I bet you wish you were talking to him because he’s black.”


If I wasn’t over talking to Mike before, I was REALLY over talking to him now. My conversation with Mike extended a little longer which I won’t get into but was just as bad. I was a little concerned about aggressively pushing him away, because I didn’t want to cause a scene nor did I want him to do anything else. When he finally loosened his grip, I was able to shake him off. I found Alaine and quickly told him that her and I had to go to the bathroom. 

Truly, the worst part was that this man kept a strong grip on my shoulders and when I tried to shake them off he wouldn’t have it.  So, I had to politely wait for him to chill out.

The lesson: Don’t get me wrong it’s fine that you have a type you’re into. But, can we be a little more polite? I don’t see any men going up to women saying “I really like pale girls.”


Sam (Owner of XX Balm) 

Alaine & Lesley