Cultural IQ: Cop Nearly Gives Black Woman Heart Attack

It is very difficult to build trust when there is a history of perceived injustice. Any attempt by the police to show a good gesture to people in the black community is commendable. But it requires cultural competence. One white American’s offer to a black American woman a good example of poor Cultural IQ. It was caught on video.

cultural iq

The young man narrating the video points out the officer’s cultural competency gap. Because he was being good hearted and the gesture would make him feel good, the officer thought it was a good idea. He failed to consider the recipient’s initial reaction to being stopped by the police. Notice in the video that the driver adjusted her initial answer to the officer’s question to add “sir”? She was very nervous and it lingered even after she realized that it was an act of kindness. It was at once a surprise, a relief, and unsettling. Had it been someone with poor health, it could have led to a heart attack.

What is Cultural IQ?

Cultural Intelligence, or Cultural IQ, is the ability to successfully navigate cultural differences with superior social problem solving skills. We train participants in the Diversity Executive Leadership Academy program to develop their Cultural IQ with focus on achieving high mindfulness, empathy, curiosity, and people skills (see Some of us come into the world with the ability, but too many of us suffer from low Cultural IQ. The good news is that it can be learned.

Community Policing Skills

This is a valuable lesson about what is needed to improve community policing competence. What do you think the officer could have done differently to get his point across while reducing the initial stress of the people he approached?


Diversity And Inclusion: Creating cultural competence in a diverse world. Michelle Maldonado interviews Dr. Billy Vaughn, PhD CDP.



  1. Very interesting. There are multiple ways to look at this, Billie. Being “pranked” is very much part of American culture, and has counterparts in other countries and cultures. It’s been around for ages, as far back as the Alan Funt “Candid Camera” days of the 1960s and from there to today’s iconic shows like “Scare Tactics” and MTV’s “Pranked.”

    The interesting thing is that pranking in this American culture is considered something that friends set up their closest friends for, sometimes even to help them. Good police do consider themselves friends of the public, even the African American public. Many a pranked victim has come close to a heart attack, but lived to tell about it, and for the most part, their friendships remained intact.

    Rather than view the incident as ‘cultural incompetence,’ why not try to view it as a sincere attempt to break through a horrible stigma around the “traffic stop,” perhaps one of Americans’ most fear-charged incidents.

    • Interesting response, Rob. I did not come to the conclusion about his cultural competence shortcomings lightly. It is a prank, but does that make it okay to not take into consideration the stress it may cause the target when you are a police officer approaching an African American? African Americans do not view police officers as “fair and just” compared to whites ( That means we can predict that they are more fearful.

      It depends on whose point of view you take whether or not the prank is considered insensitive and cultural incompetent. Given that the police officer is the perpetrator, I indicated the merits of his actions while at the same time wonder why he did not take the point of view of his target. After all, his prank (or media stunt) was clearly in response to the tension in the neighborhood. Don’t you think he could have made a similar point by handing out ice cream as cars stopped at a signal and without making it a prank? How would you respond to this by seriously taking the young woman’s point of view?

      • Importantly, Billie, it must be a two-way street. Both cultures have cultural perceptions created by a minority of members on both sides. The culture competence of both Blue and Black must find ground that provides for impartiality in situational awareness/assessment. We can argue that the ice cream traffic stop wasn’t an individual decision by one officer. The Police Captain was present. It was a Department program most assuredly sanctioned at the very least all the way up to the Mayor’s Office. What we see in the video is no more an individual competence issue/decision than the tragic questionable killings we’ve seen in Blue on Black videos. It is a squad of at least two officers acting on a decision made by multiple members, most likely clear up to the top of the organization. The video can be viewed myopically as a a dyadic interaction, one excessively fearful and the other sensitivity deficient. However, when we analyze it from above rather than from our place within those two cultures, we can see multiple cultural forces acting and interacting in complex ways to collide at that moment, with no ill-intent on either side. Frankly, Dr. Vaughn, I’ve looked out of my driver’s side window into the wrong end of shaking police guns enough times in my life to know that driving away from a PD Prank with complimentary ice cream and a fake on my face wouldn’t feel like a cause for complaint…even if my hands were still shaking from the adrenaline as I fled the scene.

        • You are absolute correct. Under ideal circumstances each party would have to be responsible for their own work and there are institutional factors. Better relationships between the black community and the police must start with the one on one encounters. It is clear that the police officer nearly always has the upper hand in the encounters. It is not a level playing field. When you couple that with the very small likelihood that an officer will be exonerated if she or he took your life, that means one person in the encounter is in a better position to reduce tension than the other. If the officer is not in a mood for kind words – no matter how cultural competent the words are framed, there is nothing the target can do about it. The power differential trumps both parties being responsible for cultural competence under the circumstances. How do you make the playing field level so that each party is held accountable?

          • There’s a lot of “ifs” in all that. I don’t want to get lost in the diversity sauce here, Billie. Each Black&Blue encounter has to be assayed after the fact, and judged based on the real difference between intentions and outcomes, regardless of power distance and/or inherent inequalities. Although I disagree that one-on-ones are the ideal starting point, there is little doubt that the tragic and sensational one-on-ones are driving the media frenzy and the cultural tectonics, not the vast majority of encounters which are routine and “successful” in the eyes of the wielders of power. The inevitable failed encounters, which can go south based on the intentions and actions on either side, or both sides, aren’t going to be avoided by negative critiques of cultural competence in response to the best of intentions, regardless of the clumsy cultural tectonics at work in many Black&Blue binary conflict scenarios. The one-on-one Black&Blue encounter is the peak in a long chain of events that neither starts nor ends with that encounter. The most disturbing thing is that the chain of custody for accountability is being weakened, even broken by D&I professionals selling the voodoo accounting of unconscious bias effect on Police performance. But that’s another story.

            As a response to your final question, I’ve been developing a series of posts, beginning with this one:


            Up to installment six or seven. If you’ve not been following it, please do. And feel free to comment or question.

      • “fake smile” is what I meant to say.

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