I first started looking at life through ‘coloured’ lenses when my daughter started dating Patrick, a young Filipino man whom she later married. Travelling with my son-in-law is an eye-opening experience as without fail he gets pulled over and checked at the airport. Often he’d remark that it was because he was ‘a brown boy’ (his words) and sadly I think this is true.
Since then I find myself embracing diversity, perhaps to compensate for the treatment that I’ve observed and because I want to see an equal playing field. Yet, the attitude of the women in my circle varies.
In our research for our next book, Enough, Amy and I have been interviewing women from all backgrounds. We want to hear their stories and their challenges. As Cynthia from Jamaica shared, she feels judged and found lacking when she comes to business meetings, believing that others will not take her seriously or view her as successful because she’s black. While Lucy from Trinidad felt she could only do business with other people of her colour, which sure limits her opportunities.
I don’t think we can ignore those feelings of self-doubt. Clearly that is how people feel and it reminds me of that quote “Just because you feel it doesn’t mean it’s true.” And much of what we want to achieve through our Good Enough Project is to counter such negative feelings and change the mindset.
But then, in talking to my friend Anna, from Ghana, I found she has a totally different take on diversity. She doesn’t view people by their colour but more as people. “I am a humanitarian – my focus is on humans, regardless of their colour, gender and background.”
Her comment takes me back to when I worked in children’s services and we would get into a debate about how to describe children who have special needs. Those in the field tended to resent the description ‘special needs children’ as they felt they were children first, and so ‘children with special needs’ was the more politically correct terminology.
Likewise, in recent conversations with women in IT, they fiercely want to be recognized as individuals who work in the IT sector, not as women in the IT sector. They’ve likely had to work hard in this male-dominated industry to get ahead, and I suspect that part of that success is due to removing their gender from the equation.
Is that the answer with visible minority women? That we try to see them as women first and their colour is secondary? Perhaps, but diversity is a complex and sensitive issue. To be honest, as a white woman I was nervous about tackling the topic for fear of offending someone, which would never be my intent, or using the wrong language.
Even if we can change our attitude and are accepting of people as humans first, we still have a long way to go in changing how people feel about themselves. And maybe that is where we have to start.
One thing I know for sure, as Oprah would say, “We have to try”.