Diversity is a word that packs such emotional power that it can shut down an agreeable conversation faster than we can say: Why can't we all just get along?
While it would be fun to blame the anti-diversity backlash on the conservatives, it would be unfair. This word developed a poor reputation in wide circles because a misguided few have used it as a weapon to force others to adopt their views. Diversity, oddly enough, became linked to political correctness, which is, in reality, an anti-diversity movement.
Oh, well. We all make mistakes. They only hold us back if we refuse to acknowledge them and study the lessons. Lately, there have been a multitude of cultural missteps around us, which provides us with teachable moments. After all, culturally competent folk don't need to step in mud to figure out detours may be advisable. Below are a few errors we may wish to ponder:
•People often use the words "racist" and "biased" interchangeably, even though these words have different meanings. We can be biased without being a racist. Our cultural lenses prompt us to make automatic assumptions about people, which demonstrate a bias. But biases can be managed, with practice.
•We seek consensus from racial dialogues rather than insights into another's perspectives. Freedom does not require conformity; rather, it requires the skills to disagree productively and a belief that, in the end, things will turn out all right.
•We fail to perform regular cultural audits to determine if our actions are aligned with our deeds. We say one thing, but fail to support our words by making the tough choices. Our actions speak for us.
•We make ourselves more important by claiming to speak for lots of people we don't know. Recently, a reader wrote me to explain how members of his cultural group feel about an issue. I can't speak for my African-American family, and I should not believe anyone who attempts to persuade me that he or she has that ability.
•We let our fears control us. Many of us have racial or religious concerns and issues, but we lack the communication and conflict resolution skills that allow us to have fruitful dialogues. It is possible to express cultural or religious concerns: we need to stick to our feelings, and refrain from attacking or blaming other groups.
•We grant ourselves immunity whenever critics make accusations. Instead, listen to diverse advisers, and take time to perform a cultural audit. When we angrily shrug off remarks, we shut the door on growth. OK, criticism stings. We tend to resist it even more when race is involved. One day a college professor tells us we are not fully prepared for class. Do we rise and say, "How dare you say that to me?" Or, do we stop and reflect upon his or her words? People who actively seek to stay the same unintentionally shut the door on knowledge and progress. Culturally competent people view mistakes as a gateway to opportunity.