It's not surprising that after the recent U.S. Election results, my friends are talking about their fears for the future. Many Canadians are rethinking trips to the U.S. - some as their way of taking a stand against what they feel the results stood for...the acknowledgement and support of bigotry, sexism, misogyny, racism; others, because they are afraid of their own treatment as members of targeted groups.
I tried to explain how much more difficult things could potentially be for a person of colour or an immigrant, like me, and my many 'white' friends were quick to try to assuage my fears. "We've never considered your colour Priya. You are just a beautiful person inside and that's all that matters. We've never seen you or judged you for it." They meant it as a compliment.
I have to admit that there was a large period in my life when assimilation mattered. It's the reason I didn't retain my heritage language (Hindi) and worked hard to look, dress and sound like all of my friends. Success to me meant being just like them. I didn't want them to see my colour or gender, I just wanted them to see the strong, confident, passionate person I was on the inside and judge me by my accomplishments. I didn't argue when my family converted to Catholicism (my stepfather is Catholic) ; I became a Canadian citizen; I married a white man (whom I love dearly and is my better half); I moved into a mostly white neighbourhood; I led organizations and teams locally, nationally and globally noticing that I was often the only person of colour at the table. I considered it a privilege to do so DESPITE my gender, colour and background.
I was often accepted because, for the most part.... I was just like them. Unlike many people who are obviously immigrants...I didn't express my heritage out loud and this was seen as a good thing. As long as I kept my differences behind closed doors, and tried to be just like them, and work really hard, people were comfortable.
But things are changing today. Minority groups have been building a voice and wearing their differences proudly. They are no longer hiding and trying to assimilate. Something has triggered a movement. There has been a realization that trying to play nice, act like everyone else, work extra hard, accomplish more as individuals, while we quietly wait for our chance, has resulted in inequality - in pay, in consideration, and in treatment - and anxiety for our groups.
It might explain what is causing the tension we have seen growing in society recently. Gay people are getting married and holding hands in public; Transgender is suddenly cool; Muslims are wearing niqhabs and hijabs; Blacks are marching in the streets saying 'Black Lives Matter;" women are running countries and some of the world's biggest corporations. It's a little unsettling for some and when economies are under pressure, many look for someone to blame.
We've seen it in our very own Canadian election where our former Prime Minister used fear tactics aimed at Muslims; the BREXIT results influenced by older generations and locals living outside of urban areas who feared immigration; and yesterday's election that was the result of fear and prejudice against blacks, muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ, women-in-power, people with disabilities...to name a few. Many voted for change...but the change they were seeking, was one that would take them back to the "good old days." The days when these 'other' groups knew their place in a white, and/or male dominated world.
Many of those who have influenced those votes live in rural versus urban areas; are not adventurous with their food; rarely travel outside of their countries or even their specific part of their country. When they do travel, they don't understand why everyone can't just speak English or why they just can't get plain food. The same people who tell immigrants to assimilate are the ones who refuse to do so when they are in a foreign country. It's a bit of a funny double standard.
But this does not describe everyone. There are some commonalities with my many liberal friends. They have a love of learning - whether its history, culture or literature, they truly come alive with diverse experiences. They revel in being in a place where they can try something new. They try to understand perspectives and motivations and while debating their point of view, are willing to listen as well.
I think the sustainable tolerant society is one that doesn't learn to ignore differences, but learns to embrace them instead. I've always enjoyed the imagery of a mosaic versus a melting pot. In a melting pot, differences meld together to create one common consistency, while a mosaic happens when each piece retains its uniqueness, contributing to a whole that is made more spectacular by its inclusion. I love looking at the beauty of mosaics from a distance, and then coming in close to admire and appreciate every single piece.
Imagine a world where different perspectives, opinions, colours, genders, sexual preferences, personalities, sizes, cultures, religions, and disabilities are seen as an advantage versus a challenge. Where a common set of values that include trust, respect, honesty, diversity, and equality allow people to express their views openly and without judgement while helping them come to a mutual understanding.
As a society and a humanity, we need to move from simply tolerating diversity with an expectation of assimilation and move to a place where we accept and embrace diversity and the wealth it brings to our world. New experiences with food, art, music, cultures, and histories are seen as privileged learning experiences. Where we believe that perspectives will make us stronger together not as one voice, but as many voices singing together.
I love my friends, neighbours and colleagues. I love the experiences, good and bad, that have defined who they are today. I enjoy their opinions and debates, knowing that if in the end, they don't a agree, they still have respect for one another. I enjoy the beauty of cultures that can co-exist in my country and my city, where I can find a world of experiences steps away from my front door. Canada is amazing, but even we have more work to do.
Lately I've been stopping more. I look around and try to be grateful for the mosaic in my world, for the diverse perspectives that make me stronger as a leader, and for the appreciation I receive from the people around me who encourage me to bring my whole self. The next time you meet a friend, compliment them on what you find unique and different about them. Ask them for the stories they've never shared with anyone. Share a meal that talks to your history and culture. Tell them about what you have learned about yourself and the world because of that experience. It's only when we learn to embrace what each of us brings, that we can begin to heal.