[By Amaliyna Mohd. Helmi]
“1 + 1 + 1 + recognized other + unacknowledged other does not equal 1Malaysia,” Kris Williamson, editor of the fourth instalment of the acclaimed KL Noir anthology series states in the introduction of the book itself, which provokes some thought regarding the topic of diversity, specifically in Malaysia. Even in a broader context, it is simply a widely known fact that growing up and/or living in a multicultural society often comes with embracing similarities, looking past differences and to generally be accepting to convergences that are bound to happen as said society develops and evolves towards a better future. Parroting the same principles dictated by a set ideology, however, gets tiresome.
Referring to Williamson’s quote, it offers another standpoint of diversity that goes beyond the importance of tolerance and acceptance in a society – it provides emphasis on identification. Admittedly, in a world that is considered a “melting pot” of cultures, the blurred lines between human identities may make it hard to distinguish one entity from the others. But with so many unrecognized individuals and minorities coming together to fight for representation, it is becoming more and more important for us to recognize the intersectionalities that make us all different, rather than solely focus on the things that we have in common.
Diversity in the social context, after all, is defined as a range of humans with different characteristics not merely limited to ethnicities but also encompassing gender identities, sexual orientations, disabilities and religious as well as philosophical beliefs. It is also important to remember that these labels can overlap and each person may fall under more than one category, creating a hybrid of identities and diverse cultural backgrounds. And the key to recognising differences within a society is through communication. It is imperative for us to not only be open to sharing ideas with each other, but to also listen to others’ perspectives.
Being receptive to viewpoints that are unlike our own is a good way around miscommunication, as well as keeping an open mind and heart to learning things that we are not used to, perhaps even things that we assumed to be “wrong” or “unorthodox”. This is because acceptance within a society sometimes requires a bit of unlearning of backwards, non-progressive and harmful morals that we are accustomed to. Uneducated beliefs and stereotypes must be put aside in order to form new unbiased opinions. Letting others express themselves as a representative of their own cultural background makes room for open discussions and debate.
Nevertheless there is a fine line between appreciating and appropriating different cultures in the phenomenon of cultural convergence. One must be aware of cultural sensitivities and be mindful of actions or speech that may directly or indirectly offend a person of a different identity. This rule particularly applies for boundaries regarding ethnic and religious cultures, and it is important that we address people’s concerns without policing their emotions and deciding what they should feel about a culture that they know more about than we do.
To put it metaphorically, the world is painted in a polychromatic palette unlimited to a set of binary options – there are endless choices of colours, shades of each of those colours, and subsets of shades of those colours. Some colours are created out of the mixture of two different hues or more. Recognising this helps us to become more sensitive and aware of the coexisting differences, hence providing us with insight on how to celebrate each of them as deemed fit.
Diversity is all around us, and that is for the better. It encourages people to adapt to change, increases intrapersonal and interpersonal understanding and makes people think beyond their normal constraints. Cultural exchange and cohesion inspires innovative ways of doing things and solving problems. Hence, we could use a half-time to think about what diversity truly means to us, seek the topic from various alternative interpretations and consider changes to improve our vision towards being a more empathetic and advanced society.