Each year, at this time, we are inspired by the possibilities of yet another beginning. Yet, if we have not learned from our past, then we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. It has now been over thirty-five years that I have been doing diversity work and making films on racial and gender issues. And so, the most asked question still remains: What changes, if any, have I observed?
The answer is not as simple nor as complex as it appears. Like most diversity trainers, I know that the changes are not always noticeable nor measurable. At any given moment in my workshops, you can often witness an emotional transformation taking place. But, has that been enough to instill the desire for change? I’m not sure. Even after all these years, I am amazed at how unaware and naive so many workplaces still are when it comes to truly understanding and practicing diversity. Why after so many years and billions of dollars invested into diversity trainings are we still so slow in making the needed changes? Why are there still so many discrimination lawsuits and seemingly endless stories of BIPOC and women still feeling unheard, underpaid and underestimated? Why after so many years are white women still the major benefactors of affirmative action and not BIPOC?
The truth lies not in finding blame with one particular group, but in the very premise of diversity itself. For too many years now, we have been indoctrinated to believe that diversity is meant to simply respect and understand each other. To many, that has become a mantra without any accountability or need for change. More recently I have been asking much more penetrating questions: “When you say that you understand, tell me what is it that you understand. When you say that you respect all people, tell me what it is that you respect in them.” And in the same tenor, “What don’t you understand? What don’t you respect?” You see, I think that these types of questions need to be asked and the answers that come from them need to be heard and discussed as an essential part of a dialogue on diversity. To me, we have been a nation of “don’t ask and don’t tell” for the past five hundred years and the time has come to truly be more authentic and direct with each other. In other words: let’s get real.
Not so long ago, a black Bermudan interrupted my workshop and asked a very poignant question: “Why would whites ever want to give up racism? They benefit every day and in every way.” I shared with him that I could see why he was very upset, but that I was the wrong person to be answering his question. I told him that the most appropriate folks to answering this were the whites who were here today. And so, I called on all the white Bermudans to come up on the stage to answer his questions. What took place was an incredible dialogue that rocked the audience and brought about a greater honesty and understanding than anyone had ever witnessed before.
You see, it would have been easier for me to answer his question, but that is what we do all the time as facilitators and diversity trainers – providing answers and fun exercises, but not necessarily facilitating nor supporting in an authentic and much needed dialogue between folks who are afraid or angry towards each other. Diversity needs to be practiced with the very people we have been taught to see as inferior or dangerous. We need to look at where we learned our prejudices from and how it has affected us in our daily interactions and inactions. And finally, how willing are we to be held accountable for taking personal responsibility for changing the world around us and ourselves?
For me, that is the challenge and the hope for this coming year of 2022. Will it truly be a “new year” or simply the same old rhetoric? The Buddhists say that to get to a different place, we must take a different path. Shall we?