by Regina Marie Brink
As a child, I used to love crossing the St. Vincent Thomas Bridge in southern California. This connected the beautiful city of San Pedro to the rest of Los Angeles County. The car made a different sound when we went over the bridge. And my brothers enjoyed looking out the windows at the water and the boats. There are other famous bridges around the U.S. There is one here in northern California, where I now live, made entirely of glass.
However, some bridges are harder to build. These are bridges between people who think differently, live differently and believe differently. These are bridges to diversity.
Many people think the recent attempts to offer diversity trainings, workshops, and initiatives are not working. It is difficult to change hearts and minds. However, I believe they can work as long as they outline specific practices and actions. Because of my degree in sociology and my experience as a counselor, I believe if you change behaviors and create opportunities where people have to work together, hearts and minds follow. For instance, the military was desegregated by President Eisenhower in the 1950s and there were measurable attitude changes. For the first time, people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds realized their common humanity. It was not easy; the Civil Rights Act was eventually signed, and other important changes resulted.
Perhaps predictably, backlash followed. There is a fear some people harbor that when a group achieves rights meant to result in equity, they will lose. A similar backlash came after disability rights advocates pressured the Carter administration to implement the Rehabilitation Act.
I don’t believe it is always the fault of the training or the employers. I believe it is something we will have to expect. All we can do is hope enough people come to conclude that we are all winners when human rights under the law are a reality. I invite everybody, including white people, to tell us how to make this happen since I believe it is important to hear their voices in this matter as well. The point is not to elicit guilt or blame but to effect the desire to change one’s mind about some harmful stereotypes and systems. We can’t disregard the real life-and-death consequences of ignoring the need for racial, cultural, gender, and ability equity! I believe the American Council of the Blind can be a part of this important work. We must find a way to bridge our gaps, or we will destroy our beloved country with division and resentment of one another.