During my career, I’ve worked in the Land of Oz. Not literally, of course, but as a metaphor for environments where diversity was given more than lip service. There were multiple drivers for placing high value on diversity; a pragmatic driver was the need for advanced skill sets.
Why do I call that environment the Land of Oz? Because not only did I have the opportunity to work with and get to know people from many cultural and religious backgrounds, I also got to work with them in an environment where racism, sexism, sexual harassment, etc. were not tolerated.
As many coworkers became true friends, I began my real education to the ways of people. I was exposed to how my friends were treated when not at work and was frankly shocked. It wasn’t that I was particularly naive. I knew racism, sexism, religious discrimination, etc. existed but I really had no real clue how it affected the everyday lives of others. At this point you’ve probably guessed I’m white and male.
After 9/11, my sister started being harassed because of her last name (her husbands father was of ME descent). My niece, a 3rd generation US citizen, had her $600 boots cut up by the TSA before she could board a flight (she made the trip in just socks). And when I asked several Muslim friends, they confided instances of discrimination, hate speech, outright threats and even vandalism. I was helping one friend replace a floor when his wife returned from the grocery store, upset by harassment she’d received. And I finally began to understand the emotional baggage that my friends and coworkers had to try to dismiss when they entered the Land of Oz and the reality they had to face when they left. The effects had suddenly become personal. I now regret my acceptance of the status quo until it became so personal. I do try to learn from my mistakes though.
So I arranged a visit to a local mosque for a large group of my coworkers. Folks at the mosque were delighted to have us visit and thrilled that people were actually making an effort to educate themselves instead of accepting the misinformation in much of the media.
During the visit, a shopper in the bookstore noticed us, inquired as to why we were there and then proceeded to gift us all with copies of a book about Islam, purchased on the spot. I was struck not only by the spontaneous generosity but by his expression which I struggle to describe. This was not an attempt to proselytize. Rather, it seemed motivated by a spark of hope. Hope to be seen as a person. Hope that education could help reduce bigotry. Hope that the daily pain might one day diminish. Hope to be viewed as just a fellow citizen.
It made me angry. Not for the gift, but angry that good people can’t be treated as equals, no matter the gender, no matter the color of skin, no matter the religion, sexuality or appearance.
As I noted before, I’m not naive. I don’t think there are any simple solutions to the issues. Frankly, I’m cynical enough to understand humans will always find creative ways to separate into tribes and find others less human. This is a trait that may be as close to an instinct as humans have.
But to those who are affected by discrimination or abuse, for whatever reason, please know that some people are working toward getting you to the Land of Oz as well. And working to get all our families there.
Why did I join LGF? The Wizard Lizard created an Oz!