Diversity is an interesting word. We usually associate diversity with ideals such as progress, beauty, and strength. Many institutions and political bodies strive for diversity in their organizations. However, a quick look at an etymology dictionary shows us that in addition to “difference,” diversity can also mean “wickedness” or “perversity.” This contrast highlights something we discussed at our most recent team meeting, which is the natural human tendency to be apprehensive of difference.
During this conversation, thanks to a research study cited by Sylvia on implicit bias, we acknowledged that all of us are capable of perpetuating stereotypes of others. One area in which I have observed myself being the most judgmental is the issue of computer literacy. I was fortunate enough to grow up with a computer in my home. My parents both had jobs for the duration of my childhood and invested time and money in ensuring my access to technology. I am very privileged in this sense. What I consider automatic, easy, and normal is a totally different and often bewildering world for others.
This difference in experience has never been more clear to me than while working with individuals in the center. Initially, I would become frustrated with people for not knowing how to copy/paste even after I explained it twice, for not understanding what my instructions meant, or for typing at the speed of a very slow-moving glacier. However, over time I realized that the problem was not their lack of computer literacy, but my lack of understanding. Many of these individuals come to our center every day because that is the only way they have access to a computer. It is not their fault that they don’t know how to attach a resume to a job application even after we explain it once or twice. That is a foreign concept to them.
I imagine many of us would become flustered if we tried to go somewhere for help and were told very quickly to follow a list of instructions in a foreign language, then looked upon disdainfully if we asked for clarification or guidance. Every now and then, I have see this behavior in all sorts of places, and I think it goes back to the misunderstanding and apprehension of what is “other” to us. I think it is important that all of us check our privilege when it comes to issues like computer literacy. There are complex systemic factors that determine who has access to certain resources in this country. It is not merely an issue of laziness, poor choices, or a lack of intellectual capability that makes using the computer difficult for our clients. It may be easier for us to write off people for these reasons, but the issue is so much bigger than that. I think we do a great disservice to our customers by not taking that into consideration when they ask us for our help.
I hope that moving forward from last week’s discussion, we all consider the unconscious ways in which we regard and respond to difference. We owe it to ourselves and the people we assist to embrace diversity rather than reject it. We are more than our differences.