July 2016

Diversity saves us from bland, monochrome world

“Thank God you’re here, I’m surrounded by NLUs!” A friend related the story of being greeted this way when she had joined a tourist group of Australians visiting another country, writes Moira Byrne Garton.

BY Moira Byrne Garton

“Thank God you’re here, I’m surrounded by NLUs!”

A friend related the story of being greeted this way when she had joined a tourist group of Australians visiting another country.

“What do you mean?” she had asked.

“The other Australians on this tour are Not Like Us,” said the friend. “Us”, in this instance, meant white, middle-aged, educated, and well-to-do.

Our primitive brains equip us to notice differences in others. For thousands of years, those different from us and our ‘tribe’ posed a potential threat. Perhaps this is why, when encountering those not like us, we can ‘other’ people. ‘Othering’ is using difference to separate ourselves from those in the community we choose not to engage with.

People of a different ethnicity or religion, people who are Indigenous, people with disability, or people who identify as different from the mainstream in relation to gender or sexuality are frequently ‘othered’ by those in mainstream Australia.

Our dominant group is English-speaking, Caucasian, healthy and able, heterosexual and fitting with the gender binary. Those in power tend also to be older and male. Those outside of this group are frequently ‘othered’. “We” don’t want to include them because “they” are “migrating to take our jobs”, “getting special treatment at our expense”, or “not fitting in with us”.

And we’re not alone in our beliefs. The recent Brexit vote to leave the European Union was achieved through a widely-held belief that the arrival of ‘others’ from within the EU was ruining the British way of life.

We know that ‘othering’ is the first step in dehumanising a group of people. That’s why it is easy to ignore when “they” become too hard to communicate with. That’s why some retaliate when “they” seek to educate the broader community about discrimination or other issues. That’s why it becomes possible for “them” to be stereotyped and judged in parts of the media. That’s why it’s possible to turn a blind eye when “they” are being sexually abused in Australian detention centres. That’s why little effort is made about “their” being incarcerated or murdered at many times the rate of white Australians.

There is a better way. Many have realised that we can learn from others. We can benefit from others’ skills, knowledge, allegiance and strengths. We know there are benefits for workplaces and the community when there is diversity. We can share stories and traditions, we can gain insight to other ways of life, and we can grow as people.

The reason many of us visit other countries is to do just this – which makes a tour group a contradictory setting for people not wanting to engage with different others in their own community.

We can engage at deeper levels as human beings, and we can become enriched by the differences between us, and we can love because of, and not in spite of, our difference.

The story of the friend in the tour group clarified something for me. The richness of diversity is in fact what saves us from a bland and monochrome world. Thank God we are surrounded by NLUs.

(MBG: Thanks to Patty Fawkner SGS)

Moira Byrne Garton

Dr Moira Byrne Garton is a mother, caregiver, public servant and writer.

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