Diversity Means More: The far-reaching effects of discrimination

September 9, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,

“Here is my experience as a mix of white and Pacific Islander: My first experience of being judged by my skin color was when I was 6 years old. I grew up in a very small town, prominently white at the time, in Michigan. I was invited to a birthday party by a white male friend at school. He gave me an invitation with his address. I was so excited being this was my first birthday party for a school mate.

My mother took me to the party, she knocked on the door and the mother answered and looked at us in a questionable way. My mother told her we were there for the party and my friend came at the door and was excited I was there. He was told by his mother to go back inside with his friends. She came out and closed the door and said she was sorry there must have been some mistake and I couldn’t come in. She was talking to my mother as I was waving at my friend, who I could see through the door. I heard my mother’s voice sounding mad and upset. And I hear her saying ‘because the color of her skin, she can’t come in?’

My friend’s mom then said ‘I am so sorry, it is mostly my husband, he would be angry if he saw you here and we should leave.’

I didn’t understand what was going on. I was crying and throwing a fit and I could not understand why I could not go to my friend’s party and I could hear him yelling at his mom through the door ‘she’s my friend.’

My mother had to explain to me that some people will not like me because I was different. I was just a child.

There were other experiences as I went to school of not being accepted. Teachers would get mad at me because I would mark “white” on the tests in school. You had an option at that time to mark white, black or Asian. They insisted I mark Asian. I said ‘no, I am Hawaiian and white. I will mark white.’ They would make me fix it, or if I refused, they would fix it. Other classmates would laugh and tell me I am not white and call me names.

I found it difficult to identify where I belonged growing up. I grew up with a lot of insecurities. My mother did her best to instill in me to be a strong woman and proud of our heritage. It took me many years since my first experience 39 years ago to find peace with it and understand what she really meant.”

— A submission from an anonymous employee at Michigan Medicine

Another anonymous entry submitted for the Diversity Means More campaign.

This experience reflects a common theme among many of the Diversity Means More submissions: that racism, discrimination and injustice are not limited to African Americans, but many other demographics including Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Hispanic Americans, immigrants, and those who are a part of the disability and LGBTQ+ communities.

Take action: Teach inclusion early

Often, the pain of racism or discrimination has been handed down from one generation to the next, but each new generation brings opportunity for change.

Kids are naturally more comfortable talking about how people are different than adults tend to be. Avoiding answering questions about what makes us each unique can make these conversations seem taboo, leading to intolerance.

“Often, I’ll have kids come up to me and ask me why I can’t walk,” said Daniel Ellman, an employee communication specialist who was born with Spina bifida and uses a wheelchair for mobility. “Immediately, their parents will tell them not to ask me those types of questions. But, in my experience, the opposite is actually true. Kids are genuinely curious and will not judge me based on my answer. If parents are teaching those same kids that I am somebody they shouldn’t be talking to, I become someone to fear. That’s how discrimination manifests itself.”

So how can you turn these moments into opportunities for inclusion early and often? 

According to Alanna Nzoma, M.D, a pediatrician at Michigan Medicine, it’s never too early to talk to children about race — and not doing so is a missed opportunity.

This recent Michigan Health Blog post, “Raising race conscious children: How to talk to kids about race and racism,” shares a wealth of professional advice, resources, books, movies and children’s TV programming to help teach tolerance.

The following books also teach kids about diversity, inclusion and tolerance for people different than themselves:

Resources for adults

Are you an ally trying to help your child to understand the racial divide?

If so, try “White parents can talk to their kids about race.”

Finally, to better understand the added concerns for parents of children of color, this heartbreaking article  shares one mother’s fears of her child being perceived as a threat because of his skin color.

There are other, adult-oriented, resources available to help you become more inclusive.

Such resources include:

Diversity Means More submissions are open to all, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. All submissions are and will remain anonymous, and your unedited soundbites will be shared broadly across social media and digital platforms. Experiences and stories will also be shared regularly in Headlines as a part of the “Diversity Means More” series.

At Michigan Medicine, we are committed to change, and true change starts with awareness and understanding.

Click here to submit your stories, experience, thoughts and sentiments.