Maybe it is a curse or maybe a blessing, but I sure do think about diversity a lot of the time. This makes me perpetually aware of comments, relationships, and anything that has to do with how diverse people are getting along.
Of course this drives my friends and colleagues crazy, but it is even worse when I do it to myself. This happened some weeks ago when I went to dinner with a new acquaintance -- an African-American woman who was new in town and whom I was anxious to make feel welcome. We met at a local restaurant and proceeded to have a great time talking “girl talk,” being silly, comparing notes on the best shopping malls in town, and, most fun, trying to figure out how we were going to get her involved in the dating scene.
After about an hour of light conversation, we began to talk about my work and that led to what promised to be a most informative discussion about diversity. Unfortunately, that promise was an empty one. You see, once the subject turned to race, it was as if we became different people. Gone was the play and shared interests, instead we became two women who were just a little bit too self-conscious to have any kind of an honest conversation.
I don’t know whose fault it was. I don’t know if I got defensive or if she did the same or if – as is most likely -- it was both of us. I do know one thing. I failed to call attention to the change in tone. I failed even to try to find out what went wrong. I also know that because of that failure, I missed a prime opportunity to learn more about the complexities of human difference and how to make them work.
Sondra Thiederman is a speaker and author on diversity, bias-reduction, and cross-cultural issues. She is the author of Making Diversity Work: Seven Steps for Defeating Bias in the Workplace (Chicago: Dearborn Press, 2003) which is available at her web site or at www.Amazon.com. She can be contacted at:
Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D.
4585 48th Street
San Diego, CA 92115
Phones: 619-583-4478 / 800-858-4478
www.Thiederman.com / STPhD@Thiederman.com
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