Diversify for the future.

Throughout the Martin Luther King, Jr. Week, I have been helping out here and there with some of the events. The Tunnel of Oppression really hit home as we were preparing for it. I looked up all the incidents that has happened over the past 3 years in my home of Malaysia and it was really hard to swallow.

On Tuesday, January 22, presidents of the diversity organizations presented their dreams for diversity. The presentation was held in T&H 100. I took a different approach as to what I wanted to say. As president of the Association of International Students, it was hard to try compressing the issues of the entire world into a short 5-7 minute presentation/speech.

Here’s a slightly modified version of my speech. A UMU Blog exclusive? I say yes.

International students on campus provide a unique cultural exchange. It helps students who have not experienced other cultures to be more aware of the world outside their borders.

I come from Malaysia’s island state of Penang, where 1.5 million people coexist in a state that’s only 1/5 the size of Delaware. Malaysians, just like most Americans, were immigrants; though my country has a much shorter timeline than that of the United States. I grew up alongside my peers, coming from different ethnic backgrounds and religions. We have Chinese people speaking an Indian dialect and Indians speaking a Chinese dialect, sometimes better than a Chinese, like myself.

What I’m trying to say is that I know what it’s like to live in a very diverse community.

But this is not about me.

Today we live in a world where people from many different places find themselves in a common environment. People are travelling more these days whether it’s for work, for travel, or like all of us, for school. Demographics are changing and the advancement of modern technology also makes the world much smaller than it used to be.

We as the Association of International Students think that in a perfect world, people will be judged by their character and not by their heritage or the color of their skin.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

Nothing is more dangerous than when one indulges in his foolishness and prides on his kind while mocking that of others; when one knowingly refuses to know and discriminates people for being unfamiliar. Discrimination of any kind is a result of sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

Cultures have collided for a long time now. This is no new phenomenon. Unfortunately, pride and ignorance plagues the world. I can understand. It is much easier to just sit back and rest on what you know rather than putting yourself in an unfamiliar situation with unfamiliar people.

We are still a work in progress. We are not yet the world Martin Luther King, Jr. had envisioned when he took a stand; when he decided to speak for those who had no voice. We are still being identified by our race, religion or which part of the world we came from. Why?

Does it really matter? Other than our passports, is it necessary to have our nationalities stated? On IDs, is it necessary to have our race and religion stated when all we really need are our names, age and gender? Does it matter if someone is a Chinese Muslim, a Caucasian Christian, a Latino Jew or an African Buddhist? The answer is no. I am not less friendly to my peers in the Diversity Council because of their culture, ethnicity or religion. I am also not any friendlier to someone from my side of the world just because they look similar to me.

We are not one collective being. Asians, for example, are not all good at math. I remember in my first semester here, I caught the guy next to me trying to cheat off my paper in our calculus exam. Well he certainly picked the wrong Asian to cheat off now, didn’t he? Cause I suck at math. By assuming what my abilities are because of my skin color, he probably didn’t do too well on that exam.

Jokes aside, we cannot let ignorance continue to block progress. Whether we like it or not, the world is changing; becoming more mixed every single day. We cannot choose to not know and expect the world to just conform into one monotonous being. While many things can be universalized, like which side of the road we should drive on or what measuring system we should use, many things, important things, cannot and should not.

We should embrace diversity, appreciating the spectrum that makes the world colorful, instead of expecting the world to be just one way or hate it because it’s another. Our heritage, our culture, things like that are what’s important for us to know where we came from and understand how we got here, but it should not be the defining part about us. We need to see people for who they are and not what they are. To move forward, we need to stand firm on who we are, but also allow others the same privilege.

What do you think?

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