In Order to be Culturally Aware...You First Have to Be Aware.
March 29 Update: On the same day that I posted this article, NASM and AFAA immediately responded by removing the article from all digital publications. The Editor of the Magazine also reached out to personally connect and we are collaboratively working together to find ways in which to ensure future publications are in fact, culturally aware. I appreciate the quick and thorough response to my post.
All, this week, I read an article that really disappointed and frustrated me as a Black Leader in the Fitness Space.
In wanting to keep my commitment to be transparent and open when it comes to my stance on dialogues, related to diversity and inclusion, I am sharing the exact response I sent to them today:
This week, I received your newsletter in my inbox, which I look forward to reading as an AFAA Certified Instructor who is always looking to grow and expand the depth of my own knowledge.
Upon opening the email, the lead article, “ The Importance of Cultural Awareness”, caught my immediate attention as I think this is a meaningful topic that quite frankly isn’t discussed enough in our space. So, I opened the article, preparing to read your perspective on how to build cultural awareness and was immediately appalled to find that the article not only did not actually address cultural awareness in a meaningful way, it instead turned its full attention to focus solely on Black Women, statistics on obesity related to Black Women, and in many ways, criticized Black Women for having a Body Mass Index (BMI) that is higher than the average woman...or should I say white women as the statistics used references that focused on black women comparative to white women.
It took me a couple of days to write this note because I was so frustrated by the lack of objectivity, thoroughness, and focus in this article that I needed some time to decide what to flag concerns on because so many came up for me, as a Black Female Professional who IS committed to ensuring all fitness spaces are inclusive, culturally aware, and are taking time to meaningful learn what this actually looks like.
On a high-level, some of the concerns I have with the article include:
...concerns regarding overall body positivity messaging and the tone that having a variant BMI than the average is somehow a negative thing.
….many of the suggestions noted on how to be more “culturally aware” in your classes were based on extrinsic motivators/factors and not intrinsic motivators.
But today, I’m writing to focus on the biggest issue, in my opinion: the lack of culture awareness in an article written about cultural awareness.
Being “culturally aware” is a process which involves building the ability to be able to step back from oneself, become aware of your own beliefs, values, and perceptions, and understand how these can impact how you perceive groups that are not like you (based on assumptions you make on what is and is not like you). Once you are aware, the next step is to understand what your own biases may be and understand how to check these at the door so that you have awareness of how varying groups will perceive different things in varying environment including in a fitness class which may include non-technical verbal cueing. It does NOT, however, involve citing being culturally aware and then targeting one particular group based on what you have read through studies and it certainly does NOT involve determining what is right for one particular group in terms of what they need….especially if that said identified group has not been ASKED for their opinion.
Four things that struck me while reading this article:
1. The article made several assumptions about Black Women based on statistics without actually asking Black Women to share our perspectives of what would be appropriate if one wanted to demonstrate that they were “culturally aware”.
2. By only targeting Black Women, the article itself failed to be inclusive and culturally aware... because there are many other diverse cultures to consider and NONE of them were represented nor mentioned.
3. The article made several generalizations on Black Women and how we approach our health, opinions on BMI, and how we should be treated in order to feel included. We are NOT all the same; we do not all have the same opinions nor do we want to be treated the same. We are individuals with varying cultural experiences and perspectives and to encourage cultural awareness activities that do NOT acknowledge this is a critical missing piece that should not have been overlooked.
4. The article is written primarily based on statistics regarding Body Mass Index (BMI) without acknowledging that further research since these sources cited has begun to question BMI in relation to ethnicities Non-White and it actually discriminates against individuals who are non-white and have a higher BMI that the national average. There are also no references of speaking to Black Women to gather their perspectives on being culturally aware and the article itself is written by a white woman. For an article written about black women with suggestions about how to teach black women in group fitness, I find it fascinating that the voice that’s missing? is a Black Woman’s.
As noted, there are many other concerns that I could mention but the biggest is this lack of inclusivity and awareness. There are three actions that I would suggest happen going forward to ensure there is inclusivity in future publications.
Be Culturally Aware: I’m not saying this to be completely sarcastic but I think it is important that publications are reviewed to ensure they actually are inclusive instead of exclusive or targeted towards a particular group.
Interview First-Hand Sources: Data is great but is does not typically reflect the full story behind the numbers. Be mindful that that there are credible sources that could share more insight into the story behind the numbers and allow for future notes to have additional supporting evidence.
The third action is that I would ask that this article be retracted from all current and future digital and print publications and/or immediately revised, with consideration to all the above mentioned concerns. AFAA and NASM have an incredibly Diverse Certified Instructor group and I think it would be irresponsible and not culturally aware of your member base to continue to publish and promote an article that fails to be inclusive.
I appreciate your time and look forward to receiving a response from you regarding this. Please note that I will also be sharing these concerns publicly as this article has been shared broadly and I think it is equally important to share my personal perspective on it publicly as well.
A note to Everyone: Let’s be culturally aware...but let’s start by simply being aware first.