This is another of those ‘they mean well’ situations.
There may be some who deliberately make it that way, but I’m fairly sure most people are unaware of it. What I am referring to is the token gesture. Now even by that, back in the day offering a token of your appreciation was more often than not a noble gesture. The sentiments were positive and received that way. Yet, sadly, in some contexts a token gesture means little or nothing other than a tick on the box.
What do I mean? How about the way people are treated in statistics to see if groups and organisations reflect the diverse community. There’s genuinely looking to be fair in employment and representation and then there’s getting people on board to make up numbers and be able to say to others ‘oh look who we have, here’s a woman, ooooohhhhhh. Look over there, it’s someone from Pakistan and if I’m not very much mistaken isn’t that someone in a wheelchair?’
When it comes to treating people that way, when they are a statistic and an oddity and the only one from outside the cultural norms to be treated just an oddity, it diminishes the rich appreciation of what that individual brings. Sure there’s comfort in numbers – you’re not the only one from that gender, ethnicity, language. religious belief, etc. It’s good to know you’re not alone in that. In reality, though, there’s a lot of areas in life in which we are different in which we don’t meet, in which we don’t agree.
Where possible the extended arm of friendship and the bridge made of love and respect is there to ensure that no one is treated as a token gesture. That bridge no longer sees an oddity. That bridge is made to share space and share life in such a way that the things that make us distinct and unique are not seen as foreign, but seen as an opportunity to be enriched by what others have and who they are.
When you’re the only one, in as much as people can sympathise and endeavour to relate, they may not always be able to truly empathise. It’s still good knowing, however, that you don’t have to be the only one. Connections can be made by those bridges – there are people gifted and skilled enough to be able to sacrifice the pleasure of being among ‘their own’ to cross over and learn to live where the ‘only one’ is. Inhabit her space, take part in his pain, experience their unique perspective on foregone conclusions.
It’s those connections and bridges that allow us to enjoy the fullness of diversity, just as those connections and bridges allow us to be diverse and then identify ourselves not just as a narrow cultural group but something far more than that. For me, I am not just a male in his 30’s of Afro-Caribbean origin but anglicised upbringing. Encounters, friendships and connections with others enable me to be touched and thus identify a little with so much more than that.
My desire is that it will encourage me to ensure I don’t have the tokenistic approach to others.
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden