Multicultural Fail

Sometimes it’s hard to notice our own institutionalized prejudice – even when our intent is the opposite.

I had passed by the sign dozens of times, but I actually noticed it today. It was done in the style of the motivational posters, a picture of several children of varying hues playing together over the word “Diversity” in a large font. It was up as part of a multicultural event to promote tolerance, but today I finally read the text underneath.

“Diversity: All citizens should be treated the same no matter the color of their skin or where they are from.”

Did you catch it?

“Diversity: All *citizens* should be treated the same no matter the color of their skin or where they are from.”

Before anyone sputters that illegal immigrants aren’t citizens and don’t count, let’s review some history.

The original immigration laws in the United States were essentially passed out of racism towards Chinese immigrants. Since then, they’ve remained heavily skewed towards majority-white countries. The concept of “citizenship” has also been denied to people of color – regardless of place of birth – for purely racist reasons. And there are lots of ways to be in the United States legally, but not be a citizen.

While in the military, I served beside immigrants. They were ready to fight and die for this country – but were still years away from being citizens. I currently work alongside professionals who are immigrants – but not citizens.

There is no reason to use the word “citizens” there, except for racism. It might not be intentional (prejudicial) racism, but the effects of it are.

As the saying goes, mistakes are a part of life. It’s how you respond to it that matters. To the credit of my organization, since I’ve pointed it out, the issue has been taken seriously. I have no doubt that the poster will be replaced as soon as possible, and the people involved will be a little more aware – and intentional – of what is going on around them.

And that’s the way it should be.

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