We live in an area that in the last two decades or so has become very diverse, as people from all over the world discovered our little piece of heaven and decided to call it home. Some came here by choice, others by circumstances- but we all make a rich tapestry of multilingual, multicultural people in this community. We all want the same thing, to help this community thrive, and we all deserve a voice, and to participate in the day to day life of it.
I've lived here since 2007, so I know how it feels to come to a new place and be different, and how it feels to be singled out by great people that didn't even know their words made me realize how far from home, and how different I am. Well intentioned people sometimes said hurtful things and didn't even realize it too. So when I had children, I decided I was going to raise them to be inclusive, to speak for the ones that won't be heard, to befriend and welcome those that needed it most. To use their privilege for good.
After a lot of research and reading, I've compiled a list of 7 ways you can be more inclusive in your own life. The journey to be an ally is not an easy one, as we all have biases we need to work on. Even people of color.
1. Mind what you say, and how you say it
Sometimes we can hurt people and not even know it. Being respectful of other people's cultures and ways to do things different to your own, is a must. Curiosity is a good thing, asking respectfully is good too. The problem is when people, thinking they are being friendly, start making comments about your culture, your food, or the way you dress as if they were weird, sometimes even expressing negative feelings about them in a patronizing way. I had someone tell me one time that they didn't like my country of origin because people there "eat monkeys". We don't have monkeys in the island, and we don't eat them- but if we did, it would be normal for us- just because you happen to like an animal doesn't mean someone somewhere didn't consider that type of animal as food. When I tried to correct this person, they dismissed me by stating that they were sure because their son had gone there for a week. At an office I used to work, a coworker asked me to not bring food because my Dominican spices smelled "funny" and the microwave would be unusable by others. I never ate there again.
The idea is to be interested, but respectful. It is perfectly ok for you to not like what I made, or how I present myself to the world, but it's not ok to assume that the only correct way to do things is your way. The same goes for the use of pronouns, or accepting other people's identity. It doesn't take much to be respectful- just treat others the way you'd like to be treated.
2. Be aware, and challenge, stereotypes you may have- recognize your biases
We all have biases. Some we can recognize right away, like the fact that I think that my children are the best and the most awesome kids in the world, and couldn't possible do that thing I know they did. But most of those biases are so deep inside our brains, that we only figure them out when we react to them. And that's why we need to figure them out, and be humble and open to learn how to challenge ourselves on them. It's not an easy task, and plenty of times you may have to apologize, or correct yourself, but it's worth it in the long run.
We need to learn and teach our children that no culture is a monolith, that one person doesn't represent their whole race, and be proactive about calling others out on their stereotypes and biases as well.
3. Do not make assumptions
I get it, you once went on a mission's trip to my home country, or read a book about our life there, or went on holiday and only saw a fraction of the culture, but that doesn't mean everyone coming here is going to behave, or react, or even have the same circumstances and upbringing as those people you met. Do not assume a person is less educated because they come from a different country, or speak a different language to yours. Don't assume they want your help without asking. Don't assume that their difference in culture is a hindrance in itself. Don't assume they are better or worse at something because they might do it differently. Don't assume they are any different to you, just because they love differently than you do. We all bring good things to the table, allow people to show their gifts to you, what they know, and the depth of their knowledge might surprise you. I've had people explain the most simple tasks as if I was a toddler, just because they assumed that people in my home culture wouldn't know. Well meaning people, who love me, have done that. By all means, if you don't know something about someone, don't assume- ask questions. Nobody likes to feel small, or inadequate. Be respectful.
4. If you're not sure, ask questions- both to yourself and others, and actively seek for answers. Educate yourself
If you don't know about a topic, research it. We have an ocean of information on our hands. Ask questions, be informed. Read about the challenges other people face. Seek to have real answers from people you trust. Curiosity, contrary to popular sayings, does not kill the cat. It makes the cat better at understanding where the other person is coming from, more empathetic even. I tend to model how my children approach people that are different to them, they usually ask them questions to start. My 9 year old loves animals, so her leading questions are usually if they have a cat or a dog. Having common ground with people, and being sincerely interested in what they want to say, is a great way of showing them that we think they belong.
5. Check your privilege, and be aware of it
This one is a difficult subject for some people, as they don't want to recognize that the way we look, where we were born, and the circumstances of our life, affords us a degree of privilege that others aren't as lucky to have. Having said privilege doesn't mean that you didn't work hard for what you've accomplished, or that you've never had to struggle. It means that your starting point might be a bit ahead than others, by pure chance. We can not choose where we are born, or the color of our skin, or who we are attracted to, so being aware of the privilege you have, and using it to help others that didn't have the same level as you, should be something we all do. Speak out when you see people being mistreated, as people are more likely to listen to the ones that look and behave like them. Use that privilege to help others. Insist on diversity in the workplace, and in government. Be aware of how you can use that privilege to improve how others are treated or seen.
6. Stay open to mistakes, and other ways so see things
Stay humble and open. We all make mistakes. Apologize, ask what you can do to rectify and really listen, correct the behavior and move on. Learn to walk a mile in a person's shoes, and try to understand where they are coming from. Don't be afraid to include others, just because you don't understand them.
7. Reach out to people
Make friends with people of other cultures, and other walks of life different to yours. Smile at people in the park. Compliment them when you feel like it. Include them in your life. If you notice a person is not being heard, include them in the conversation. Invite the neighbors to your bbq. Ask the new coworker to join you for coffee. Be friendly and open, and respectful to others. Some people won't want the interaction, and that's ok- but making an effort to make sure everyone has a chance at being included, at feeling like they belong, important and heard, is a good way to live in my opinion. Try that new food, dance to that music- no one cares if you don't know the steps, learn words in their language and laugh with them when you inevitably mispronounce them. Show interest in their lives, learn to pronounce their name, and they will return the favor. Connect with, and include people in, the fabric of your life, not as a curiosity or abnormal thing, but in love and as something we all should do. And encourage others to try and do that too.
Being open to diversity is good, but we need to actively strive for inclusion. We all benefit when everyone has a seat at the table, but we also need those sitting to have their voices heard and considered important. And we all have a role in making sure that happens.