How To Discuss Diversity Issues
Diversity is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas; [and] the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization.” The United States of America is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. So knowing how to discuss diversity issues is important. No matter where you are in America, whether it’s at school, church, work, a restaurant, the movies, grocery store, and beyond, you will encounter someone with a background different from yours. Here’s what the experts say on how to discuss diversity.
The National Association of Social Workers writes about the “need for “cultural competence”— understanding the specific cultural, language, social and economic nuances of particular people and families.” They mention the civil rights movement in the 1950s and the immigration influx of today as factors in the increased diversity in America. Differences in language, clothing, diet, social life, and other things can make understanding others all the more difficult but critical. The best way to engage others is through education. “It can be persuasively argued,” notes the NASW, “that effective care is impossible without a working knowledge and understanding of a person’s or group’s culture and background. As we move into an ever more pluralistic and multicultural society, social workers are among those best-equipped to deliver that care and to empower people from all backgrounds to lead connected, healthy lives.” Not only social workers but others who are in similar positions are able to connect well to others, and can be good leaders for outside groups.
Set some rules
The American Association of Colleges and Universities has developed a standard for talking about diversity between faculty and students. They use Lynne Weber Cannon’s ground rules:
- Acknowledge that racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, and other institutionalized forms of oppression exist.
- Acknowledge that one mechanism of institutionalized racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, and the like is that we are all systematically misinformed about our own group and about members of other groups.
- Agree not to blame ourselves or others for such misinformation, but accept responsibility for not repeating such misinformation.
- Agree not to blame victims.
- Assume that people do the best they can.
- Pursue information about our own group and others.
- Share information about our group with other members of the class.
- Agree to combat stereotypes about our groups and other groups so that we can break down the walls that prohibit group cooperation and success.
- Create a safe atmosphere for open discussion.
Acknowledge diversity for what it is
Know that wherever you are, you will encounter diversity. Black, white, young, old, German, Spanish, short or tall. Each one of us is different and each one of us has distinct capabilities. Embrace your own diversity and encourage others to do the same. When you think about what others can offer and what you can offer them, you just might learn something along the way.