The storm of abuse over the selection of Nina Davuluri as Miss America shows just how short America is in being the society and country Martin Luther King dreamt of all those years ago. The virile stirred up by Miss Davuluri’s selection reveals a dark undercurrent of racial prejudice and intolerance that is as illogical as it scary. Twitter comments have included calling her, and here take your pick, a ‘terrorist’, ‘Arab’, ‘Muslim’ and a ‘foreigner’. Nina Davuluri was born in the USA.
All is not savoury in the ‘melting pot’ it would seem.
Of course one would assume that these views expressed represent a small minority (some might challenge that assumption) and that there are plenty of examples of harmonious integration within American society. Nonetheless, they are hard to ignore or gloss over. They represent a disturbing viewpoint and indicate a sharp edge to a lack of awareness and education.
Living with and leading diversity is no easy task. Yet is something that is simply not optional in the world in which we live – especially if that world happens to be the USA. Of course the ‘right talk’ is all in place but the gap that exists between the rhetoric and the action remains disturbingly large. There is a level of political correctness in America that acts against authentic conversations around diversity and difference taking place. It is of little value recognising that we have differences – and enshrining ‘rights’ around those differences without taking it further. The real (and more difficult) challenge is to move to a place where we can be different ‘for each other’. A place where we don’t merely tolerate difference, but appreciate it. An understanding that the mere presence of difference doesn’t procure the benefits and richness we know difference brings – for that to happen, difference needs to be intentionally activated. The challenge and journey is moving from a place of being ‘different from’ each other, to one of being different ‘for each other’. Easier said than done!
Of course some will point out that the fact that Miss Davuluri can be selected as Miss America in the first place, is proof enough of how far America has come. There is a small comfort in this but to labour this nuance is to miss the point: she was born in America; is American and so has every right to enter and win the Miss America competition.
The American dream is certainly alive but it is not well. The challenge of embracing diversity and difference will not diminish; in fact it will only increase in time to come. Globalisation brings ‘sameness’ at a surface level but beyond that, findings reveal an increasing emphasis on difference. This emphasis is set to increase through migrant labour and other factors and in a world getting ever smaller through technology, our lives touch more frequently than at any time in human history. The planet that became a village seems on its way to becoming a neighbourhood!
A wonderful opportunity and place to understand diversity and living with difference is ‘the organisation’ – the world of work. We might live in relatively homogenous neighbourhoods and get to play in the same kind of environments but the one place where ‘it all comes together’ is in the world of our work. This places a massive responsibility on corporate leaders to understand the wider importance of building work environments where we learn to understand each other and ‘work together’ in a manner that extends beyond a mere functional harmony in the purpose of profit. It might be a responsibility that the average corporate leader ‘didn’t sign up for’ but one that they nonetheless need to understand as core to their leadership responsibility. Work can serve as a place that teaches us how to live together. This might be the most important of all ‘corporate social responsibilities’ yet!
So, Nina Davuluri, try to ignore those so ‘blind’ they cannot see; rise above it all and help show us the way forward.
And if you as a reader are in a corporate leadership position, know that you have an important role and responsibility in challenging and eliminating the kind of reaction we have seen erupt over Miss America. Root it out; call it; and deal firmly with it. There is a better way and best we find it – and find it soon.
That ‘dream’ needs further work before it becomes a reality.