At a time when hate crimes against Asians, particularly women and the elderly, are skyrocketing, it’s clear that many in power are committed to just checking the box on diversity, equity and inclusion. In a country with nearly 25 million AAPI residents representing over 20 nations, we Americans must commit to doing more to celebrate our diverse experiences and backgrounds. Unfortunately, at all levels leaders are failing to take this seriously.
I was at an event recently meant to celebrate AAPI history. It was a boring event to celebrate such vibrant and rich cultures. In addition, the only people in attendance seemed to be other Asians. I wondered if they meant to get a bunch of Asians together to tell us they were celebrating our month? Box checked! They didn’t even serve AAPI-inspired hors d’oeuvres, which showed a lack of hospitality and research into what the event was even celebrating.
Yet we know that education has great power to create compassion and connection while reducing bigotry and hate. A recent Washington Post article cited a study of 60 high schools by Harvard University showing that, “students relayed “greater self-reported civic efficacy and tolerance for others with different views” after a five-day seminar and follow-up coaching about “the failure of democracy in pre-World War II Germany and, specifically, the steps leading up to the Holocaust.”
Further from that, diverse classrooms and workplaces produce far better outcomes. American University states that, “The presence of diversity in the classroom allows students to consider perspectives and opinions beyond those they’ve already formed or were shaped in early life by family and friends. By presenting students with viewpoints far different from their own, it gives them the opportunity to think critically about their own beliefs and examine the world in fresh ways.” For the third report in a row, McKinsey & Company determined, “the business case remains robust but also that the relationship between diversity on executive teams and the likelihood of financial outperformance has strengthened over time.”
Cultivating these diverse populations to be their best means that organizations and leaders alike must do more than simply combining people together. As an educator, I know how important it is to connect the lesson plan to people learning.
While teaching children of all ages about Asian cultures, I noted that in the beginning, every Asian child––Indian, Chinese, Pakistani––would sit in the last row and would not want to be seen because they were ashamed and embarrassed to be called out as different. By not celebrating Asian heritage, we’ve told those children they had better morph into the mainstream and disappear your own identity because we aren’t interested in learning about you. These children didn’t want the lunchroom to be hell following my visits.
That’s when I realized that whoever goes in to share the cultures of the over 20 Asian and Pacific Island countries must make it fun, and okay for students to explore the commonalities and rich variations of Asian heritage. Schools have been given a gift to have people from different backgrounds come together. It’s an opportunity to really understand each other.
As my classes would proceed, those Asian children in the back row would see their peers enjoying the lessons and what they were learning. Their spines would go up, along with their pride in their backgrounds.
This experience in the classroom showed me that how we learn about each other matters greatly, especially as at least 36 states have attempted to severely limit how educators’ can teach about race, racism and sexism. Centering the white experience as the norm that everyone must assimilate to ignores not only the promise of America, but also negates all that AAPI and other cultures have to offer.
We know that racism hinges on believing that one group has more, or another group is doing better or getting better. It’s all linked to our self-perception and if our own self-respect is gone, hurting someone who is perceived to be further along is an easy jump. By committing to real diversity efforts that portray our cultures as whole and contextual, we find that we are all in this together.
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