This is the third of my three-part series on multiculturalism, diversity, and cross-cultural relationships. In my first article: https://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/series-on-multiculturalism-cross-cultural-relationships-and-diversity/ I shared with my readers how and when I became impassioned with this topic. In my second article: https://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/series-on-multiculturalism-diversity-and-cross-cultural-relationships/ I elaborated on the importance of exposure to multiculturalism and diversity. My definition of diversity includes people with all types of differences: race, religion, philosophy, age, gender, sexual orientation, physical health, mental health, socioeconomic, intelligence, genetic attributes, etc. In my third and last article I present some of the challenges that we face in dealing with diversity and share ideas on ways to increase our exposure to diversity and multiculturalism.
The Challenges and Taking Action
How do we engage people in the conversation of diversity? You see the moment we use the term “diversity” we isolate those who we most want to invite to the table, the non-minorities. Sadly, these non-minorities assume that any topic around diversity is just for the minorities and that it does not involve or affect them. But the truth is that it affects all of us. If for example we consider one aspect of diversity, race, the population of the world is becoming more and more intermingled. The United States estimates that by 2050, 62% of the nation’s children will be the minorities. The United Kingdom estimates that by 2050, ethnic minorities will make up one-third of Britain’s melting pot. We will see the majority becoming the minority and suddenly the conversation of diversity will become relevant to those that ignored it earlier. The dialogue needs to begin today because understanding and acknowledging the basic rights of all human beings regardless of who they are is relevant to all of us.
It is in our human nature to protect ourselves and in many ways maintain the status quo if that ensures our survival. Therefore, initiating change or going through change can be a very arduous process if it challenges what we once thought of as the norm. One way to initiate change is to do it in small steps whether we are the person changing or the person effecting the change. Sometimes we have to be the one to take the first step, because if we wait around for someone else to do it, it may never get done. We also know that people’s value systems are different and what appears to be righteous to one group may completely contradict another’s beliefs. I do find it very difficult to reconcile in my heart and brain how people can use things like religion or politics as a legitimate excuse to discriminate or mistreat people. But that’s a whole other topic for another day.
I invite you to be the catalyst and to help initiate change. Below is a list of suggestions of how we can increase our exposure to multiculturalism and diversity.
Types of Exposure and what you can do:
- Read, listen to, and watch both domestic and international sources of information and news media on relevant topics
- Further your education: take courses, attend workshops, do research
- Travel: within your own country and abroad
- Visit museums, learn history
- Try ethnic restaurants, try new foods (even if they don’t look good)
- Try your hand at international cooking and share with family and friends
- Listen to international music
- Try new things
- Join an international organization or one that supports specific causes.
- Volunteer in organizations that support specific causes
- Reach out, make new friends
- Put yourself in uncomfortable situations, become the minority
- Challenge your existing value system. Just because you were taught certain things at home does not necessarily make them right.
- Allow yourself to improve your value system
- Learn to recognize prejudices. Prejudices come in all shapes and sizes.
- Reexamine your friendships and associations
- Seek out minority role models for yourself and your children
- Write articles, share your views
- Organize international cultural events
- Organize awareness building events
- Practice Mindfulness. For further reading: https://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/mindfulness-and-living-a-mindful-life/
- Refrain from judging
- Listen to others
- Remain open-minded
- Be patient
- Be tolerant
- Be compassionate and kind
- Become a mentor
- Lead by example
- Seek out the opportunities where you can engineer change.
One of my role models growing up was my Girl Scout leader, Mrs. Marshall, an African-American neighbor who lived in my building. Among other things, she inspired me to become a Girl Scout leader. I have always been a huge supporter of Girl Scouts of America because they are an “inclusionary” organization. As a Girl Scout leader I took the opportunity to share my passion for multiculturalism with my Daisies and Brownies. For one project I found a great website that offered international paper doll cutouts which the girls placed on individual poster boards that read, “ There are Girl Scouts all around the world. We may look and sound different but we are all sisters. We respect ourselves for who we are. We respect others for who they are”.
We also participated annually in World Thinking Day, a day honoring Girl Scouts and Girl Guides from other countries. World Thinking Day was a very well-organized town event with every troop representing a different country and creating a display, activities, and projects for the other girls to participate in.
When my children attended The American School in London, ASL, I became involved with the International Community Committee, ICC, which was part of the parent’s association. Although the school is American there were students from approximately 42 different countries attending. The ICC hosts a Global Festival every two years. The festival celebrates all of the countries represented by the student body. The festival has cultural and educational components. Guests attending the festival get to enjoy music, dances, costumes, games, crafts and food from around the world. In the 2012 Global Festival I helped organize the food segment of the festival with a friend. We worked with 42 country representatives and helped coordinate their food displays culminating in a delicious gourmet extravaganza. The Global Festival is always a very well attended school community event drawing between 1200 – 1500 guests all in one day.
These are two examples of activities that I have been part of. My quest continues, to make the great divide between us a little smaller, one relationship at a time. About a year ago I received an email, which had at the end a very powerful quote by Maya Angelou.
If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.
For further interesting exploration:
Patricia Gurin Ph.D.: Her research is focused on social identity, the role of social identity in political attitudes and behavior, motivation and cognition in achievement settings, and the role of social structure in intergroup relations. Her latest book is Dialogue Across Difference, highlighting the importance of engaging diversity now more than ever.
A must watch:
Ted Talk with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single story. She emphasizes the need to fully understand a situation or a person before passing judgment.
An article by Liz Ryan about how business approaches diversity the wrong way in the Harvard Business Review
An article by Nina Terrero speaking of the lack of children’s books celebrating diversity