Thoughts on Cultural Diversity

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I was pondering on the notion of what cultural diversity is about, needless to say as someone who works in the cultural diversity training space, this is a question I continue to ask and seek answers to. Of course, the very nature of the question could, for some, imply an inquisitive eagerness to understand what ‘cultural diversity’ means and more importantly it’s impact on societies or for some it could suggest an ignorance of the fact that we live in a world characterised by diversity, as a part of the human experience, diversity is something intrinsic within humanity. If you belong to a minority group as I do, perhaps questions of cultural diversity can become tiresome due to the never ending emotional exhaustion of having to always ‘prove’ one’s self as capable (of whatever) or as a spokesperson for your race or cultural group.

There seems to be an unspoken misnomer that there are groups in society that are ‘culturally diverse’ and everyone else outside of that mold is somehow ‘exempt’ or ‘neutral’ when in actual fact diversity is made possible by the existence of all groups that are unique from one another in various ways, be it through physical or linguistic differences among many more. I am very aware that I am about to express thoughts and ideas pertaining to cultural diversity at a very surface level without delving deep into questions of race and racialised identities which characterises, although unspoken, the ways in which we understand and engage with questions of cultural and religious diversity and inclusion in society, but hey that post is for another day. I am speaking about these issues with a deep awareness of the historical context which has shaped and continues to shape the current state of affairs as it relates to this topic.

When I first arrived in Australia as a child, without the knowledge of the history, I was somewhat robbed of the opportunity to fully understand cultural diversity in an Australia context. What I was able to make sense of as a child was that my visibility makes me different from the majority of the population and as time went by, I began to experience how this difference in visibility can be used as a point of excluding or othering. My experience as a very visible racial minority in Australia whose migration journey has been one characterised by questions of belonging, identity and integration have also shaped the lens with which I see and engage with notions of cultural or religious diversity. In the Australian context, I would be remiss to talk about the cultural diversity without at the very least acknowledging that challenges that surround questions of cultural diversity and inclusion (or exclusion) have their roots of discomfort firmly in Australia’s dark early history. As a country whose very formation was based on the displacement of the first nation people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Australia has not fully reconciled with her history, news flash. The mix of cultural and religious diversity added to the mix through migration only makes for a complex and interesting experience.

The backdrop of the world’s current affairs on matters of cultural and religious diversity and inclusion is of course, although an ever-changing landscape, impacting on how topics of diversity and inclusion are discussed in both private and public spaces in Australia and indeed across the globe. I have observed, through the rise of nationalism that seems to be rippling across the West (Brexit, America’s Trump and the rise of One Nation in Australia to name just a few familiar ones), the world seems to be gradually moving to a post inclusion era where questions of diversity and inclusion are approached with a hostility that suggests these are concepts and ideas to do away with. I was watching… on Netflix the other night, a factual look at the worlds current affairs in a manner that uses humour, and was disappointed to learn about a lawsuit against Harvard’s diversity quota as disadvantaging ‘other’, in wait for it, Asian (or what may be termed as ‘culturally diverse’) students. What angered me was the fact that this entire saga, of course Trump is loving it, is fueled by an attempt by a few very disgruntled wealthy Asian fathers whose children were rejected from the ivy league institution and felt that the reason for this was the university’s policies of increasing cultural diversity in its admission, never mind that the far majority of those who dominate admissions are children from predominantly wealthy white families, the lawsuit if successful, could see the complete dismantling of affirmative action whose very foundation was to create equity in educational institutions that have historically, and in many ways continue to, perpetuate exclusive practices that act to disadvantage minority groups.

Aside from the American drama, the question of diversity is presently approached with hesitation. We live in a world that likes to celebrate the vibrancy of material culture; of exotic cuisine, dance, art and music but rarely engages in dialogue that gets to the heart of issues of diversity and inclusion to foster a safer world for all. As I continue to reflect, sometimes the state of the world’s affairs can be daunting. News unfolding daily that shows that “the more things change, the more they stay the same”, can present as trialing for even the most optimistic of us.

I rest in the fact that, through respectful and honest dialogue, which can happen at the community level when we are willing to be comfortable being uncomfortable, we can begin to get to the heart of matters and see changes in individuals, families and communities. I’m a firm believer in paying attention to our circles of influence, the friends, loved ones and colleagues who respect us enough to be impacted by our ideas and beliefs, that through these personal networks and connections, we can create ripples that lead to mass positive change. Just like all revolutions in history start with one individual who makes a conscious decision that they will exert all efforts to effect change, so too can we influence people around us and the impact continue just as the ripple in the ocean travels far. These are the thoughts, beliefs and ideas that can help us maintain a sense of optimism that can act as a source of encouragement against the backdrop of current state of affairs on matters of diversity and inclusion.
That’s all from me for this week.

Best,
Elizabeth