Like an unforgettable scene from a movie, even after sixty years I can still vividly remember seeing a well-dressed Black boy standing by himself on the elementary school playground at the U.S. military base in Busan, South Korea. I was 7 years old visiting the American school with several students from my class. Noticing that the boy was all alone, I decided to walk over. As I got closer, I realized that his skin color was a much darker complexion than the other American children. He was the first Black person I had ever met. Since we didn’t speak each other’s language, we could only smile and nod. Yet I immediately felt a connection with him. That day, without realizing it, I dipped my toe into the world of racial diversity and racism. I recall sensing that somehow the boy’s dark skin color might have something to do with him not being included with the other children on the playground. I met the little Black boy 60 years ago, but I see similar struggles in America today.
Times, mindsets, and demographics change and the makeup of the United States is becoming ever more multiracial and multicultural. Nevertheless, our nation’s racial divide is getting worse despite years of effort promoting diversity. Over time, our well-intended race-based diversity measures have conditioned us to become more color conscious and we’ve built a culture of pervasive racial labeling and grouping. Labeling divides and separates people — racial labeling leads to stereotyping people, which in turn leads to racial biases. What’s worse, we erase the unique human being behind race and skin color.
Imagine for a moment what would change if we start seeing others through a color neutral lens. If we can see with our eyes, then of course we will notice the differences in others. However, by being color neutral, while we still see the differences in others, those distinctions become irrelevant. By doing so, we see and interact with the human being from within and not as a racial representative. This mindset and attitude open and nourish the human space — a powerful driver in building healthy diversity.
Having grown up in different parts of the world experiencing diverse people and cultures, as well as having worked with colleagues from around the globe — I discovered that regardless of where I was, no matter how different the people looked or spoke people were still people. While there were external differences among us, there was nothing inherently different about the human condition, no matter one’s culture, race, or socioeconomic class. I learned that human connection is the foundation for harmony and collaboration. Sadly, we live in a very divided world today — far from being connected.
Diversity is a mindset, not a formula. How we see and feel inside shapes the diversity climate we work and live in. To thrive together in differences, we must increase what connects us, and decrease what divides us. Of course, we all must pitch in to make this happen. And, it is also critical that leaders and organizations take bold actions to make necessary changes.
If you were given an opportunity, what one thing would you do or change to nurture human connection in your life and/or work? And what one thing would you do or change that could reduce divide?