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Diversity Down Under

Diversity Down Under

As many of you already know, I just returned from a trip to Australia where my training partner and I facilitated some diversity workshops for school personnel in Queensland but we felt as if we ended up learning far more than we taught.

Of course our message of diversity is different from most. We do not pretend to be diversity experts, knowing all there is to know about the many cultures that currently exist in the world. What we do talk about, however, is helping people take an inside-out look at themselves and what qualities, skills and characteristics they possess that either help or hinder their communication with people they perceive as different from them.

This is a universal message. It doesn’t matter what culture(s) exists, an inside-out approach is the first step toward improving communication, which is the basis for most diversity initiatives. Once people start talking to each other with the goal of understanding each other, then people begin to realize what they perceived as difference really wasn’t different after all. There is much more in common between groups than within groups.

What we learned however was incredibly interesting. One thing was confirmed for me. We here in the United States are extremely ethnocentric. We may know a lot about what is happening in our country but actually know very little about what is happening in other counties unless we are at war with them. In our news, most stories are about domestic issues while in other countries, a great emphasis is placed on world news.

The Australians we met were quite abreast of conditions and situations in the United States, but I dare say we in the US are no where near as informed of Australian news.

What we learned while there is that Australia is a country that is very friendly for refugees. They have a very diverse population as they are open to receive those in need. Currently, they are getting many Sudanese refugees, many of them orphans. They have a high Asian population and some Indians. Their indigenous population consists of Aborigines and they have populations of Torres Straight people and South Sea Island people. Many South Sea Islanders were brought to Australia against their will as slaves to work the cane fields—not unlike the African-Americans in this country.

The Aborigines were basically treated as the Native Americans in this country. There were many slaughters of their people. In fact, as recently as the 1950s, a white man could apply for a hunting permit to hunt and kill Aborigines! Can you imagine? They were hunted and killed as if they were a game animal.

Another horrible injustice done to these people is something that has come to be called the Stolen Generations. Up until 1970, yes 1970, the good, white Christian people of Australia could and did kidnap Aboriginal children from their homes and place them in Christian missions where they were “civilized” and taught to act like white people. They were punished for speaking in their Native tongue and lost all of the culture and rituals of their rich, tribal history. All because the whites believed they were helping the poor “savages” to become more “civilized.” Many parents and children were never reunited. This is a terrible crime to perpetrate on a people. The Aboriginal culture was being systematically extinguished. Currently, there are only approximately 300,000 Aboriginal people surviving in Australia.

Many still live in the communities where they were rounded up and sent. Similar to what we did to the Native Americans, they were taken to undesirable places with little regard to differences in tribe or keeping families and tribes together.

If you would like to read or watch an amazing story of triumph, read the book, Rabbit Proof Fence, or watch the movie by the same name. It is the story of how three little Aboriginal girls, ages 8-14, escaped one of the missions and walked approximately 1000 miles across Australia over a period of nine weeks while evading capture to return to their families.

With the world becoming smaller and smaller, no longer can we simply concern ourselves with what happens in our neighborhood, our city, our state or even our country. What affects one, affects us all.

Don’t wait to reach out to someone you think is different from you. Do it now. When you do, you will connect on that human level that is common to us all. When you move beyond the obvious physical differences, you often find you have much more in common than you realize. When asked what can one person do, that it is. Change perception one person at a time. It has to start somewhere. Why not with you?

Submitted by:

Kim Olver

Kim Olver, MS, NCC, LPC provides diversity workshops for various companies, organizations, schools and communities. She is the co-author of Leveraging Diversity at Work and offers Diversity Workshops regularly.




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