Originally created 03/06/03

How conscious are we of our differences?



Diversity is defined as "a state of unlikeness" or "the condition of being different." An earlier letter written by Norris Bunch, published on Feb. 16 and titled "Want diversity? You've got it," referred to the diversity in our country. Yes, there is diversity in the sports and entertainment industry. The question is, how conscious are we of diversity in our society as a whole?

I believe one of the biggest challenges we face with diversity is breaking through people's pre-conceived attitudes about those who are different from them. No matter how much a person says that he has an open mind about cultural differences, there is to some degree a little bit of bias in all of us - some more than others. These biases stem from stereotypes that have been learned since childhood, and we believe them to be true. Based on these stereotypes, our real attitudes are often represented in our actions toward others.

At this point, it becomes extremely critical that people, as a whole, are conscious of their actions. Lack of knowledge often promotes negative stereotypes, which often causes negative behavior such as racial profiling, making racial slurs and sometimes violent acts against another. Rather than educating themselves on cultural differences, people try to avoid the issue altogether.

Culture, as defined by Merriam Webster, is the customary beliefs and social forms and material traits of a racial, religious or social group. Consciousness is the state of being aware, especially of something within. It includes the essential rights of a human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs.

In 1966, UNESCO's (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) General Conference adopted the Declaration of the Principles of International Cultural Co-operation. Article I of the declaration states that "each culture has a dignity and value which must be respected and preserved" and that "every people has the right and duty to develop its culture."

It's difficult for one to change his attitude, because attitudes come from people's belief systems. However, once a person takes the first step, which is to admit that there is an issue with cultural diversity, then and only then can he be able to change his awareness - the basic level of consciousness.

Terrell W. Bailey, Beech Island, S.C.