Mummy, are Muslims bad? This is the question my 12-year-old asked me a few weeks ago. Was I surprised? Of course! While one side of my brain was systematically cataloguing the event for a future deep-dive, the other side was frantically building a 2-minute masterclass (this is our current attention time-span!) on tolerance, compassion, justice, equity and understanding for a pre-teen. For context, my daughter currently has four BFFs, two of whom are new additions (story for another day) and Muslim. At the end of my spot speech and as I watched her walk away with renewed assurance, I could not help but be grateful for the gift of this teachable moment.
Unfortunately, not all conversations on this or similar subjects end in this manner. I was 16 when I had my first rodeo with inequality and injustice. A university professor in my small town was planning to abandon his family – an uneducated, unwed woman and six young kids – to legally marry a female student. It was gut wrenching. Following several passionate and heated conversations throughout my community, enough dust was raised to annul the ceremony. A short-lived victory however, as the professor moved his wedding plans to the next town and successfully wedded his bride.
Over twenty-five years later, this story is still not unusual. We live in a world where women are often considered second-class citizens in many areas. Ethnic, racial, xenophobic, homophobic, class and disability-based discrimination are still rife in everyday life. How do we build a world that works for everyone? A world where people are fair, just, tolerant and actively practice conscious inclusion.
I firmly believe that if we desire change, the first step is internal; a mind-set shift from prior, potentially biased conditioning, or as with my daughter, a first step to courageous education. It will require a “diversicrat” mindset that enables one to see and acknowledge all sides of the curtain, the willingness to face our existing biases, the courage to stand up for others and the tact to transform expectations into reality with speed. It will neither be easy, nor will it be swift. It will be a consistent journey but one that we can all make together, so that the next twenty-five years can be different…and better.
As we celebrate global diversity month this October, let’s be open to the possibility that we can acknowledge and understand the value of each human being, regardless of their nationality, age, color, disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or language….because if truth be told, how extremely unintriguing would the world be, if we were all the same?
P.S – You can take the Harvard test today to check your unconscious bias and feel free to share any biases you have recently overcome!
Anne is the Communications Director for GE’s Gas Power business for Sub-Saharan Africa.