About Cultural Competency in Nevada (342)Page 6 of 18

5. Assumptions and Myths

It is (an individual’s) health views, needs, and experiences that matter when making an informed decision, not a patient’s ethnicity, race, or social status.

Togioka et al, 2022
Diversity and Discrimination in Healthcare

To provide culturally responsive healthcare services, clinical staff, and organizations need to become aware of their own attitudes, beliefs, biases, assumptions, and myths about others. Providers must learn about the cultural backgrounds of the populations they serve and obtain specific cultural knowledge as it relates to help-seeking, treatment, and recovery (SAMHSA, 2016).

Graphic: Hands; Many Skin Tones

Source: NIH, public domain.

Assuming an understanding of other people and cultures can lead to stereotyping a person based on your lack of knowledge about cultural differences. Cultural competence training can shine a light on the assumptions and myths we hold about marginalized peoples and unfamiliar cultures.

5.1 Common Myths About Marginalized People

Myths, stereotypes, racism, and sexism are closely linked. Throughout human history, myths and stereotypes have stigmatized marginal groups. Stereotypes and myths differ somewhat: as discussed earlier, stereotypes are fixed, oversimplified beliefs about a particular group or culture while a myth is a foundational belief, something that is not true but is shared by many people.

Years of discrimination, lack of teaching about the true history of marginalized communities, and films and media that perpetuate stereotypes have led many people to have commonly held myths about unfamiliar cultures and peoples.

Myths are usually based on stereotypes. For example, there is a pervasive belief that Asian Americans are good at math and music, they are generally more law-abiding and polite than other people, and that their moms force their children to work harder than other children.

Women often face myths and stereotypes that affect their ability to make independent choices about their lives. Myths and stereotypes affect how women live in the world, their ability to own property, hold jobs, and make decisions about child-bearing family planning. Common, incorrect myths about women state that they are irrational, not good at math, not good leaders, and invite sexual advances by dressing inappropriately.

In the United States, myths related to Native Americans abound. One overriding belief is the Native people are all the same, are all wealthy because of casinos, or contradictorily, are primitive and lack cultural laws and values. All these statements are myths based on ignorance and lack of cultural understanding.

In the United States, there are currently 574 federally recognized Indian Nations. Approximately 229 of these ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse nations are located in Alaska; the other federally recognized tribes are located in 35 other states. Additionally, there are state recognized tribes located throughout the United States recognized by their respective state governments (NCAI, 2020).

People of Asian descent are often lumped into one group that erases Asian peoples’ vast diversity and cultural richness. The so-called “model minority myth” places pressure on children and adults to behave in a certain way and accomplish certain goals. It also perpetuates the myth of Asian Americans are foreigners in their own land.

For immigrants, certain myths are pervasive. As with Native Americans, many people believe that all immigrants are the same. A common myth is that all immigrants are in the U.S. illegally, don’t want to learn English, take jobs from U.S. citizens, and don’t pay taxes.

All these statements are false. Click here to learn more about these myths and stereotypes. To learn about overcoming myths and stereotypes, see section 13.9 Overcoming Perceptions (in this course).

Consider the following stereotypes and myths:

  • Women are irrational.
  • Women encourage sexual advances and rape by not dressing modestly.
  • Girls and women are not good at math.
  • Women are not good leaders.