My family recently returned from a week in Vancouver, BC, where 54% of the population is nonwhite and predominantly Asian. We ate Malaysian, Indonesian, and Chinese food; hung out in Chinatown; and visited the city’s wonderful gardens, including the Sun Yat Sen Garden. Because my sister lived in China and I lived in Japan when were in our 20s, being surrounded by Asian people feels like home. We loved wandering through the shops in Chinatown and visiting the Chinese Cultural Center where we learned about the history of Chinese people in Vancouver.
I will never be able to experience the racism and white supremacy like Black, Indigenous, and other people of color face, because when I lived in Asia I had white privilege. In most Asian countries, pale skin is sadly highly desired. Sometimes women go to great lengths to lighten their skin with lightening creams. I was also allowed to get away with cultural faux pas because I was a foreigner (“gaijin” in Japanese, which means “outsider”). Even though I was definitely outside the culture, there was also a fascination with me...that's white supremacy right there.
But even though white people will not fully experience the racism felt by people of color, being amongst people who look, speak, and act different is highly valuable because it:
Humanizes the experience of racism, evoking empathy and compassion and making racism a more tangible, pressing issue
Helps you become more aware of systemic racism and racial biases in our society (like the fact they use skin-lightening creams in Asia) and confront your own implicit biases and racism
Fosters empathy, respect, understanding, and appreciation for diversity
Helps you get a deeper understanding of another culture’s traditions, values, and ways of life
Challenges biases, breaks down stereotypes, and reduces prejudices…and promotes mutual understanding and acceptance
Makes you a stronger ally when you learn how to use your privilege to support and uplift voices from marginalized communities
It also makes you notice when you're in all-white spaces and makes you appreciate more diverse gatherings...like a client kick-off meeting I helped facilitate recently with my colleague Karen Natzel.
You might be saying, “I can’t go live in Asia, Africa, or Latin America. I have commitments and can’t uproot my life.”
Guess what? You don’t need to move anywhere.
You can make some changes right now to immerse yourself in different cultures. Take some baby steps:
Seek out restaurants patronized by non-white people. The best ethnic restaurants have very few white customers, like where we had vegan dim sum in Vancouver or at our favorite Vancouver Malaysian restaurant, the Banana Leaf.
Buy from nonwhite businesses. Shop in areas of your town where it’s more diverse. Shop Black, immigrant, Asian, or Latin American. Make it a priority to invest in other cultures and spread wealth.
Attend festivals that celebrate different cultures. Talk to people and express interest in their cultures.
Change the way you do business. Seek out people of color for contractors, coaches, and other services.
Transform your cultural diet. Seek out authors, musicians, theatres, TV shows, and movies produced by or featuring people of color. Immerse yourself in different cultures. (I’m always happy to give some recommendations, as this is my favorite way of experiencing books and culture! I've prioritized reading books by non-white men in the last several years.)
Don’t expect people of color to come to you or speak your language. Instead, you need to visit their communities. Learn their languages. Respect their cultures, and don’t appropriate them.
In 2021 I hired a phenomenal Black business coach, Liz J. Simpson, and experienced being a minority in our mastermind “Big Money Movement” group. When I attended an incredible retreat in Austin put on by my coach, I was one of a handful of white women there. I didn’t know all the karaoke songs. I occasionally found myself out of my element. But that’s okay. As white people, we need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Black people and others from historically excluded communities constantly find themselves as the “only” in the room, office, company, etc.
It's absolutely critical that you be respectful and avoid centering yourself.
Do more listening than you do talking. Approach these experiences with humility, respect, and a willingness to listen and learn.
We must also remember that combating racism requires collective efforts beyond individual experiences. Supporting anti-racist policies, engaging in open conversations about race, and actively participating in initiatives promoting equality are equally important steps in the journey towards a more inclusive society.
In the not-too-distant future, white people are projected to become a minority in the United States too, along similar percentages to Vancouver, BC. Why do you think right-wingers are panicking about immigration and critical race theory?
Being with or living with people of different races will not eradicate racism, but it can be a significant step towards fostering understanding, empathy, and meaningful change. Imagine a world where all white people had lived somewhere everyone had more melanin?
Every effort we can make to mix up the pot right now will promote greater understanding and get us one step closer to what Dr. King called “the beloved community.” Get out there and soak up some nonwhite culture!
Let me know if you can use help with internal or external communications, marketing, or leadership...especially inclusive communications.
I help purpose-driven professional services firms and organizations avoid BORING and boost employee engagement, productivity, and readership. I translate technical, complex, and lackluster language into accessible, dynamic, story-driven text. Get known in your industry through outstanding thought leadership content. Walk your talk through outstanding, effective communications with your employees and clients.
Fertile Ground Communications LLC is a certified women-owned business enterprise, disadvantaged business enterprise, and emerging small business.