27 April is Freedom Day in South Africa, celebrating the first democratic elections that happened on this day in 1994. But have we really achieved freedom for all in the more than 20 years since that historic day? I believe many South Africans do not feel free. Not free from poverty, not free from crime nor free from racism.
I am no sociologist or claiming to have exceptional insight into human behaviour, but perhaps South Africans can take a page from the book of the Wine Industry when it comes to embracing diversity, acknowledging the various styles and terroirs and influences – all contributing to a special product.
Embracing diversity, however, demands emotional intelligence. We need to be able to see from another perspective than our own. We cannot be ignorant. Not dismissing what we have been taught, to ensure better perspective, we have to be open to the bigger history and the complete story. We need to find the fine balance between being too sensitive and not being sensitive enough. No easy task, but definitely worth the effort. Of course, it is easier when everyone thinks and feels the same, but how interesting is that?
This week, I read two articles that gave me hope that we might be moving in the right direction. Much work has been done from formal platforms about diversity, but having the buy-in from industry and individuals is crucial.
Following a recent racial incident, Starbucks will be closing thousands of its stores in America for an afternoon in May to present its 175 000 employees with racial-based education. Some call it a PR stunt, but closing down business to this scale, does say something about the importance of the matter and that racism is not always as obvious as we think. “Starbucks’ chief executive, Kevin Johnson, said this week that the training would be ‘designed to address implicit bias, promote conscious inclusion, prevent discrimination and ensure everyone inside a Starbucks store feels safe and welcome.'” (Read more)
Then I saw Jo Prins and Melusi Tshabalala’ s initiative on Facebook. Trying to get together diverse cultural groups in order to get to know each other and perhaps understand each other slightly better. This does not mean we have to ignore our own identities, it means we learn to also embrace and enjoy the identities of others. (Read the post)
Each of us should take responsibility for opening our own minds and striving towards freedom – also from our own prejudice.
Happy Freedom Day!