Diversity is not Divisive, but our Biases Are
Most of my friends and family know that I am a huge professional wrestling fan.
Yes, Brenda. Professional wrestling. If you’re unfamiliar, think WWE, John Cena, Randy Savage, or Rey Mysterio.
The wrestling industry seems to exist in a bubble, rarely every touching social issues or even bringing a great degree of awareness to things like racism, sexism, or homophobia. In fact, if you watched wrestling in the early 2000’s, you probably remember it being very problematic, including a number of racially insensitive storylines, sexist incorporation of women in on-screen roles, among many other concerning occurrences that made it to television.
That history continues today as WWE released a t-shirt design for a black wrestler, Jordan Myles, with a logo that resembles blackface. There’s lots of drama involved in this story that I do not feel compelled to dive into, but the bottom line is that this design should never have been approved. WWE did not intend on making a racist design, however, because of a lack of representation, no one with substantial power in the situation was able to recognize that this design may have been problematic or offensive to black people.
This happens all too often, not just in the wrestling industry, but in fashion, in music, and in people’s personal lives. All too often, someone is harmed for being a member of a minority group, and those who have harmed them walk away with the excuse, “It was not intended to be ______.”
If the people you surround yourself with look, pray, and speak in all the same ways that you do, you will be unable to actually speak up for anyone who is different than you. The people you surround yourself with will directly impact your worldview, and if no one around you is able to recognize even unintentional racism, sexism, or any other form of inherent prejudice or bias, you are only absorbing your own limited experience.
Knowing of someone who is different than you is not enough. You have to intimately know someone who is different than you if you ever hope to be able to support them in any real way.
This is why representation and diversity matters in all aspects of life.
I find that people tend to grow in anxiety when interacting with those who are different from them when their inner circles are homogeneous, or all the same.
From my own experience with anxiety, when anxiety increases, there is typically a heightened urgency to hide or to take attention away from what seems to be creating the anxiety. So when anxiety grows around interactions with people from different backgrounds, people are more likely to say things like “it wasn’t meant to be harmful,” in attempt to absolve any feelings of guilt if they have harmed or offended someone else, rather than actually listening and working to change the way they see the world.
When people exist at a distance from you, it’s nearly impossible to avoid relating to them as concepts rather than as living humans with thoughts, ideas, ambitions, and goals. Basically, without intimately knowing someone of a different race, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, or any number of backgrounds, there is no substantial way of knowing the values or history of those communities from their perspectives.
Ever heard of the saying, “walk a mile in my shoes?” This post is basically a long-winded repetition of that idea.
And the goal isn’t to avoid saying or doing the wrong thing. The goal is to increase in empathy to decrease division in the world. And how do we do that? We learn more about the differences among people and celebrate them rather than view them as something that creates division.
Differences alone don’t divide people. Our response to difference creates division.