Okay, now I’ve said it, so what’s next? Traditional diversity trainings and rules of political correctness dictate you should suppress that instinct to notice race or be declared a racist. The fact is that categorization is an innate survival response dating back to the era of the hunter/gatherer: Edible, non-edible? Male-female? Friend-foe? Rather than suppress the instinct to label, what happens if you acknowledge it, even embrace it as the doorway to moving beyond it and onto the path of true intercultural appreciation?
Particularly in the case of the impending election, the US is involved in two wars, we have a disastrous economy, and we face a natural environment in peril. It’s not that we are colorblind and race doesn’t matter, it’s that mere blackness or whiteness alone won’t solve these problems. Experience, intelligence, strategy, networks of experts, researched positions on important issues and empathy for multiple perspectives will help. To think that all African Americans will vote for Obama simply because he is black or that all women will automatically support the McCain-Palin ticket is counter-intuitive and is not supported by the overall numbers in the polls.
My guess is that if you listen to your sub-conscious voice you label every person you meet or pass on the street. If you try to suppress it, you may find yourself thinking “he has an accent. He’s Hispanic. I’m not supposed to notice he’s Hispanic. What if I slip up and tell him he’s Hispanic and I have nothing in common with Hispanic people and oh my goodness this is too hard and how can I disengage from this conversation?” While you sit there getting nervous and beginning to sweat, it seems a lot easier to simply acknowledge your label, give it a little smile and then set it aside, so you can really listen and participate in your interaction. Certainly for marketers wanting to know more about what a particular ethnic group is looking for in a product-they listen. They ask questions. They say “ah-ha, what a great idea, I wouldn’t have thought of that, I’m so glad I engaged with you.”
This election has prompted more Americans to talk about race, and that is a gift. But for diversity training, multicultural marketing and intercultural communications to have long lasting, meaningful impact, they need to be built on the tenets of anti-racism: a striving for equality, civil rights, and an acknowledgement/dismantling of majority advantage (aka White privilege.) Remembering a list of “do’s and don’t’s” might effect public behavior for the short term, but it is practice in daily life, both outside and inside the home (take that, Bradley Effect!), that leads to lasting change.
So temporarily turn off the valve from mind to mouth and silently shout “Hello Mr. White Man,” “Hello, Mr. Black Man, or “Hello, Ms. Asian Woman of unknown national origin” on your next encounter, and then immediately follow it with “he/she may bring a different perspective from my own, I better listen more closely.”