Being born in the late 1980s meant that there wasn’t the great ‘melting pot’ of multiculturalism in my area as there might be there today. Growing up, we weren’t educated about difference. If you were different, you stood out, and we were often taught to be wary of those who might look different to us. We had our guard up. We were defensive.
Sadly, it means that I have some experience of feeling excluded myself – some of it racially motivated. But the memories of my childhood and growing up that I want to focus on are my positive experiences of inclusion, rather than those of exclusion.
There was a particularly pivotal moment for me, as a young teenager – when I was on holiday with a friend and got lost – when I had to reach out and ask for help from some people who were ‘different’ to me. They didn’t judge me by my accent or my background. They didn’t know where I was born or what town I grew up in. I was able to experience, first hand, what would happen if we look beyond the stereotype. And from that moment on, I saw how important it was not to judge others.
"Change doesn't happen overnight. It take generations."
Change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes generations. And as an adult, in more recent years, I've been reminded of the role I play in making that change around me. A close friend married someone who spoke very little English a few years ago and I’m ashamed of myself when I think about how unwelcoming I was to them when they first moved to this country.
I wrongly assumed we were too different to be friends or have anything in common – I let language barriers get in our way. But after a night out, when he called me up on my behaviour, I was reminded that we weren’t that different after all.
No one is perfect. We all have an unconscious bias and I think in society and in the workplace, you want a difference of opinion. The power comes if you can understand that we all have biases, because when we recognise that, we can challenge them.
I felt ashamed that I didn’t give my friend’s partner the time and respect he deserved. I knew I could do better. I feel proud now to say he's become one of my best friends.
Great inequality still exists in this country, but I think that generations to come will have a much better understanding of difference. I believe it is our job to talk about it and erode those barriers.