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Posted by Philip on 5 January 2016, 9:58 am in , , , , , , , , , ,

Real-ising diversity – why polarity no longer works

Update 6 January 2016

According to the NZ Herald, "the woman who says she had her teeth knocked out for speaking Te Reo outside an Auckland karaoke bar has been charged with assault alongside her alleged attacker." A police statement said, "The version of events given by the 46-year-old female is not substantiated by this footage."

A woman was punched in the face and lost five teeth on New Year's Eve, because she spoke Te Reo. She said, "Ka kite ano (see you later)," to friends, then was sworn and shouted at by a man for being "palagi" and speaking Māori. When she challenged him back, he attacked her.

It turns out Shona Maiden was of European and Māori descent. It's an extreme but pertinent example of the assumptions and polarity we often apply to each other's diversity. We decide, usually based on appearance, whether someone is or isn't something and then act on that decision. Putting aside the debate whether non-Māori should or shouldn't speak Māori*, in Shona Maiden's case, the man made the assumption she was European and not Māori when, in fact, she was both.

Another interesting debate currently high in the public arena is over the phrase, "That's so gay." Many LGBTI activists claim the phrase is homophobic and offensive yet, as this explorative documentary, "The Gay Word", by Amy Ashenden reveals, there is disagreement, even within the LGBTI community. Of particular note, from 34:10, is Durham University's Mark McCormack's astute observation that activist organisations often skew research data by sampling only those who are connected with, and hence share, the organisation's views. Again, it seems, reality lies somewhere in between.

Diversity is complex and, particularly now, is changing quickly and increasing in complexity. Hyper-connectivity, changing social norms and the transformational nature of diversity itself are driving this. More than ever we need to be acutely aware of our assumptions and learn how to engage in conversations that uncover our biases. As I often write and focus on in my work with organisations, being prepared to be wrong, to agree to disagree and develop generosity and humility are key to enabling this complexity to emerge and foster an evolution in human consciousness and interaction.

Polarising the diversity of people and issues no longer works. It's time, instead, to start real-ising it — and I mean literally, making it real.

*Note: There is an argument espoused by some activists that Europeans shouldn't speak Māori because colonists banned people speaking the language, especially in schools, causing many generations of Māori to grow up unfamiliar with te reo. Not speaking Māori as a European is considered a sign of respect. This view is countered by the opinion that the more people who speak te reo, the more it will be revived, particularly as it is an official language of Aotearoa. This polarised perspective is yet a further example of not real-ising diversity. 

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