Breaking Down the Barriers

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We are each responsible for changing our stereotypes and breaking down the barriers.

Are your own assumptions based on things you have heard from others, in school, TV, or the movies? Is it possible that some of your negative images are incorrect — at least for some people in a certain group? Rather than making sweeping generalizations, try to get to know people as individuals. Just as that will reduce the stereotypes you hold of others, it is also likely to help reduce the stereotypes others hold of you.

Changing Your Personal Approach

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Once you’ve identified and understand your baggage, what do you do to make changes? Often, the beliefs you hold are the result of your own cultural conditioning; they determine whether you will seek rapport with individuals who are different from you.

The first step is acknowledging that you’re human, will probably make some mistakes, and likely do have some stereotypes. Next, work to become more aware of your inner thoughts and feelings — and how they affect your beliefs and actions.

We typically make a judgment about someone in less than 30 seconds. To change your personal approach to diversity, try these steps when you make contact with a new person:

  1. Collect information
  2. Divide out the facts from your opinions, theories, and suppositions
  3. Make judgment based only on the facts
  4. Periodically refine your judgment based on the facts
  5. Try to continue expanding your opinion of the person’s potential.

When you have a stereotypical thought about a group that is different from you, follow it up with an alternative thought based on factual information that discounts the stereotype. Engage in honest dialogue with others about race that at times might be difficult, risky, or uncomfortable, and look for media portrayals of different races that are realistic and positive.

Possible answers:

  • Seek information to enhance your own awareness and understanding of discrimination
  • Spend some time looking at your own attitudes and behaviors as they contribute to discrimination within and around you
  • Evaluate your use of terms, phrases, or behaviors that may be perceived by others as degrading or hurtful
  • Openly confront a discriminatory comment, joke, or action among those around you
  • Risk a positive stand against discrimination when the opportunity occurs
  • Become increasingly aware of discriminatory TV programs, advertising, news broadcasts, holiday observations, slogans, and other venues
  • Investigate and evaluate political candidates at all levels regarding their stance and activity against discrimination
  • Contribute time and/or money to an agency, fund, or program that actively confronts the problems of discrimination
  • Sever your affiliation with organizations that have discriminatory membership requirements
  • Read publications to educate yourself in the area of a culture other than your own
  • Learn some of the language of those in your community who speak other than standard English

Encouraging Workplace Changes

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Diversity initiatives usually start at the top of an organization, but change can be affected from any level. If you work in human resources, or in a functional position of authority, consider performing a cultural audit to describe the overall working environment, unwritten norms, possible barriers, and the existence of race, gender, and class issues.

  • Learn about the values and beliefs of others in the organization. Be alert for biases and stereotypes
  • Identify ways to value uniqueness among your colleagues
  • Watch for changes in relationships. Is there hostility among co-workers? What distinguishing background characteristics do you notice?
  • Suggest and take steps to implement discussions or workshops aimed at understanding and eliminating discrimination with friends, colleagues, social clubs, or religious groups
  • Leave copies of publications that educate about diversity in sight where your friends and associates might see them and question your interests

Encouraging Social Changes

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Below are several suggestions to encourage breaking down stereotypical barriers in social, community, and other non-work settings.

  • Suggest and take steps to implement discussions or workshops aimed at understanding and eliminating discrimination with friends, colleagues, social clubs, or religious groups
  • Investigate the curricula of local schools in terms of their treatment of the issues of discrimination (also discrimination in textbooks, assemblies, faculty, staff, administration, and athletic programs and directors)
  • Evaluate your buying habits so that you do not support shops, companies, or personnel that follow discriminatory practices

As you gain more awareness and knowledge about groups different than you, not only will your stereotypes lessen, but you will also become better equipped to educate and challenge others about their stereotypes.

Module Four: Case Study

Malik was listening to a presentation given by Gabriella. Gabriella said, “When working with Hispanic clients, remember to be culturally competent.” She spoke about Hispanic beliefs about illness, ideas of spirit possession and exorcism, and comfort from religious faith.

Malik found himself thinking, ‘Of course, Gabriella believes we should act this way. She’s Hispanic herself.’

He blinked, remembering from the last module of the Diversity training on stereotypical thoughts.

By chance, Gabriella addressed him in front of the group. “What do you think about this idea, Malik?”

He paused, remembering what he’d learned, and said, “I think all our clients need to feel like they are seen as individuals by us. It’s important for clients of any race or background to feel comfortable within our office.”