Linda S. Wallace

by Linda S. Wallace, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

Diversity operates much like a brand new car. If you get behind the wheel without reading a manual or book, you significantly increase your risks of having a mishap, breakdown or accident. You’re the driver so don’t blame the car. Practice makes perfect as we begin our journey toward a multiracial America.

1) Contrary to popular reports, diversity is not dead nor is it dying. Some folks have not yet visited their local dealership so they don’t know how much the world has changed. It is our job to let those who aren’t ready for a trade-in know that good things are in store for them and that we will watch out for their interests.

2) Diversity challenges exist in all communities. Race, religion and gender often steal the spotlight but they are by no means responsible for all our problems. We are a nation with multiple layers of diversity issues. We’ve got our cat lovers and dog people (pet diversity). Bicyclists and walkers (lifestyle diversity). Republicans and Democrats (political diversity). Then, there’s race, religion, gender, age and on and on. Any time groups organize to advance their interests and compete for leverage, diversity-related problems will arise.

3) The safest motorists are also defensive drivers. They know how to share the road with newcomers, steer around the potholes of poor communication and avoid the barriers of ignorance. They slow down whenever they encounter dangerous driving conditions — such as road rage — and take shelter during the inevitable storms of doubt and confusion. They dazzle us with their uncanny ability to predict what other motorists will do and say, and how they will respond to current conditions.

4) Each and every one of us has biases of some sort, so let’s stop pretending the other guy is flawed but we aren’t. The goal is to identify our biases and manage them so that they don’t impair our ability to make informed decisions. If you can’t identify your biases, then ask a friend or family to list them for you. Chances are they will do so with glee. Biases create blind spots, which make it more difficult to drive.

5) We are all fellow travelers on a road that’s under construction. So expect delays and be on the watch for unexpected hazards. Keep a safe distance from other motorists until you gain skill and experience.

6) Don’t try to teach someone else to drive if you’ve had a lot of accidents.

7) Road rage doesn’t make the roads safer. Angry drivers are not the solution; they are a big part of the problem.

8) Keep handy two of the most frequently used words in the diversity language: Ouch and oops. “Ouch, that hurt. Why did you say that?” “Oops, I goofed.” Keep these words with you at all times. They are particularly helpful following a cultural collision.

9) Be willing to travel outside of your comfort zone. If you travel the same route every day, you will meet the same people and pass the same landscape. People who travel alternate paths end up with better options and more ways to get where they want to go.

10) Don’t think your car is better than mine. A fast sports car and an old jalopy both can get us where we must go. This is not a competition. The objective is not to arrive first or look the best, but rather to ensure we leave no motorist behind.

Finally, have some fun along the way. Pull off to the side every so often to appreciate the breathtaking mosaic of American life. Stop at the rest stops to talk with other drivers. Change the stations on your car radio. Form a caravan and travel in groups.

(Linda S. Wallace is The Cultural Coach. Contact her at [email protected])