A half-caste’s take on diversity, inclusion, and resilience

By Mohan Dhall
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Representational Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

I am half German and half north Indian. I was born in Scotland. My mother was born in Wales, but her parents were born in Germany. My father was born in Kenya, but his father was born in Punjab. I had been to six different primary schools by Year 3.

Scotstown Primary School and Broomhill Primary School in Aberdeen, Scotland. Muthaiga Primary School and Lavington Green Primary School in Nairobi, Kenya. Mount Neighbour Primary School in Canberra and Queanbeyan East Primary School in Queanbeyan.

In Scotland I was “blackie.” In Kenya I was, my cousins told me constantly, a “half-caste”. In Year 4 in Queanbeyan, I was “Boondy” the Indian kid. In high school I was “Kamahl.”

Racism was intrinsic to my self-definition as a 10-year-old.

In one form, racism was physical. “Pud” Haigh, a next-door-neighbour, spitting on me as we got off the school bus and kicking me. His older brother throwing stones. My cousin shooting me with an air rifle.

In another form racism was social. I was a “wog” like the Croatians, the Yugoslavians, the Italians, and the Greeks in Queanbeyan. I was not in a group, just moving between people in the playground.

In yet another it was cultural. I was a “curry-muncher” despite never actually eating curry.

I thought I was “Anglo-Indian”

For many years I thought I was Anglo-Indian, or Scottish-Indian. I had heard of Anglo-Indian as a category so being born in the UK, I defined myself as “Anglo.” I had not heard, and still have not heard, of German-Indian.

In the effort to self-define, sometimes there is iteration and indeed reiteration.

Diversity

Diversity begs a question. Diversity asks us to understand the influence of culture, language, social class, disability, minority status, majority status and the like.

I spoke and speak some Gaelic, English, Swahili, Hindi, Punjabi and, from when my father remarried, Urdu. In high school I learnt four years of German. The words I think in are a fusion from lots of places, with sentences blending from these languages but generally spoken in English, though sometimes, purposefully, heavily accented and embellished.

But where, I ask diversity, where am I?

I do not see myself reflected in any paradigm other than that of the boundary rider. The outsider looking in. A person who sees institutions, their place and utility but not fully belonging to any.

A person perhaps seeking the “I” in team.

Do I need to be recognised for my amalgam?

Idioms and limitation

Using an idiom, it is said “You cannot be what you cannot see.” But if you cannot ever see anyone like you—who must you be? Diversity, one assumes, can only say, “Be yourself.”

In this way, the imperative is for each person to fully be what you cannot see—for nothing else is you. That is, we must be what we cannot see. Idioms are symptomatic of the simplicity of painting a white paper green and then asking, “Where are all the colours?”

This aspect in diversity is often unmentioned, unthought and unexpressed.

Inclusion

Diversity devoid of action is words in the wind, wafting over water. A senior manager in a large business tells me that she values inclusion more than diversity because diversity opens the door whilst inclusion lets people belong.

Inclusion is the action arm of diversity and brings diversity to life. When each person has their perspective valued, validated, and integrated then there is inclusion. This does not mean valuing racism for racism is exclusive, not inclusive.

There is then a caveat to inclusion. The limitation is this: if it subverts or hurts others, places some above others, devalues or excludes, reduces the opportunities of many for the benefit of a few it is not inclusion. Of course, there is an exception to this limitation: positive discrimination.

To this half-caste I never knew which part of me was not included for all of me was black as “Blackie” and all of me was an Indian kid as “Boondy.”

Brown is beautiful—and so is honesty

I recall as a 13-year-old in our Health Sciences class doing an activity where we could, “ask any question we liked.” Writing with my left hand lest I be discovered, I wrote the following question:

“Why do people hate brown skin but like to get a suntan?”

The answer we got was, “Brown is beautiful!” This avoidance of the issue only amplified inner restlessness.

Discrimination was not positive, and the club was exclusion, not exclusive.

Resilience—the missing third arm

Hurt, anger, fear, isolation, and anxiety can blend and be moulded to become resolve.

In schools, in institutions, in communities all people deserve to be included and have their uniqueness celebrated. However, there will always be bullies, there will be those who marginalise, those who are less safe to be around, those who judge, those who exclude, directly or indirectly.

Inclusion and diversity are not enough without an investment in resilience. Investment in resilience means helping people understand and become strong. Investment in resilience is not victim blaming or victim shaming. Investment in resilience means recognising that in the real world there are people who are racist, unkind, exclusive and seek to feel empowered through robbing others of their self-worth and dignity. Bullies lurk behind a veneer of judgement and opposition. Resilience gives people tools to cope when the inevitable will occur.

Just as the slogan “you cannot be what cannot see” can actually disempower, so too does assuming the world must be perfect to avoid vulnerability. It behoves all of us to build our capacity and to be strong, whilst making an example of diversity and inclusion in the way we embrace our communities.

For if I seek a world that needs German-Indian, Scots-born Australian politicians, actors, sportspeople, judges, writers, and community leaders then I rob myself of agency. I do not need to see myself in others to find myself.

The best response of a half is being a minority of one.

(The views expressed are those of the author’s)


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