Diversity & Inclusion are local as well as global issues

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Diversity & Inclusion are local as well as global issues

By anupama jain

Teaching and traveling in South Africa this month has made me think about diversity & inclusion in a comparative, global context. I just read that:

Foreigners are accused of taking jobs from locals in a country where unemployment remains high.

This is a common enough news story in my home country, the United States, but the description is actually about South Africa today.  The recent article from which this line comes reports that:

Violent riots on the streets of South Africa in recent weeks have seen foreigners killed, shops looted and thousands left homeless.

So 21 years after Nelson Mandela pledged to liberate all South Africans from the continuing bondage of poverty and deprivation, why does their country remain one of the most unequal societies on the planet?

Social analysts point to flawed processes of job creation, legacies of segregated/apartheid educational systems, technocracy and low taxation, and corrosive systems of political patronage.

Once again, these factors are also at play in the country where I live and many other modern societies in which there is an expanding “chasm that remains between rich and poor,” as the article puts it.

All contemporary nations can claim certain types of diversity, but power and resources tend to be clustered in more homogeneous groups while disadvantaged communities unfortunately find themselves blamed for society-wide problems.

Acknowledging that our societies are unequal is an important part of creating more inclusive societies.  We can do this by starting with a local analysis and asking in our cities and workplaces:

  • What is our shared purpose?
  • Who are our policies benefiting?
  • When we encounter resource challenges, what ways can we address those without targeting and blaming others?
  • Where are we as groups and individuals falling short in our own visions of new “rainbow” coalitions, as South Africa was intended to be after apartheid ended in 1994?

Then, maybe we can learn from examples elsewhere in the world.  It can be much easier to identify problems and to critique social injustices from the outside– if we don’t want to see ourselves as xenophobic in the U.S., what might recent events in South Africa help us to identify as problems we need to avoid?  Since Michael Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson, Missouri almost a year ago, many Americans are asking themselves what needs to change so we can avoid similar tragedies in future. Race and socioeconomics are at play at the same time in these scenarios and making those connections is crucial.

Actively and effectively diminishing that widening gulf between poverty and affluence is clearly another thing that societies such as South Africa and the United States need to prioritize, or the many victories for greater social justice over the years continue to be only partial ones.

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