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Diversity and Discrimination

“Diversity” means how we all are different from one another. Some differences can be our gender, sexuality,  ethnicity or culture, religion or spirituality, family, how much money we have (our social standing), age, body size, and ability. We believe diversity (all the things that make us different) should be appreciated and celebrated! Loving differences starts with being curious and open-minded when someone seems different from us.

Discrimination is when people treat others badly because they are different from them in some way. A form of discrimination called oppression is often used to take power away from an individual or a group of people. It can be hard if we experience discrimination, but there are supports and ways of resisting. Learn more about discrimination, supports and ways of resistance.

We all have to work at challenging negative stereotypes, and not judging people because of how they look or who they are. We can take a stand against discrimination in all it’s forms (racism, sexism, homophobia, fat phobia, ageism, ableism, for example), and look at our own attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours. We can surround ourselves with people who are different from us. We all have stuff to learn and our own lessons to teach. Learning the value of diversity takes a lifetime, and sometimes it can be difficult, but also exciting and rewarding.  Check the sections out below to learn more!

Feeling Different?
There are so many ways that people can be different! The list of ways in which we are all unique is long, here are just a few things that make us special: where you come from, your gender identity, who you are attracted to or your sexual orientation, the language(s) you speak, your heritage, culture, ethnic background, values, spirituality, beliefs and life experiences. So even though we are all human we are also all unique. It means that we all have our own stories to tell and gifts to share.

Feeling Different

There will always be times in life when we feel different from the people around us. Feeling different can make us feel a lot of ways, from lonely and scared to welcomed and proud. It depends a lot on how we’re treated by the people around us. We all have the choice everyday as to how we treat people. We can help people feel welcome, proud, important, and valued when we treat people with respect and are open to learning about and appreciating the things that make us all unique. In this way, all of us have the power to impact the world around us. Ultimately, everyone deserves to feel safe, and be treated with respect.

If you feel like you are being bullied or mistreated please talk to someone about what is happening to you. Teachers and guidance counsellors have a responsibility to help all students feel safe at school. Anyone who is going through a hard time can try talking to friend or an adult they trust (parents or care-givers, family, Elders, older brothers or sisters, etc.). Please remember that you are not alone and that talking about it can help. There are more resources out there for Manitiba teens, click here to check them out.

Privilege and Discrimination
Even though each and every one of us is a human being, capable of feeling happy, sad, love, fear, anger, and joy, we sometimes end up being treated differently based on what we look like, who we love, or how old we are. Think about how teens sometimes get treated in a convenience store. In that situation, are you always treated with respect? Have you ever felt like you have been judged unfairly just for being young? This is an example of how young people are sometimes judged unfairly! It also shows that in some situations just being “older” can mean having some extra social power. This is sometimes called having privilege.

Privilege can be hard to understand, but usually the people who have the most privilege (or social power) deal with the least ageism, racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. So then discrimination is sort of like the opposite of privilege. It’s when you get treated differently because of your age, skin colour, gender, body size, sexual orientation, accent, where your from, etc. When we judge other people based on these qualities it’s called discrimination. Discrimination is unfair and it hurts, and it makes life harder for the people who experience it.

Does that mean that if you experience sexism, racism, or homophobia (or any other type of discrimination) you can’t have an amazing life? No way! People who have lived through challenges often have powerful insight and can help build stronger communities.

Does it mean you should feel guilty if you don’t experience discrimination? Not at all. We all have a role to play in making life a more accepting and welcoming place for everyone. Check out the next section on allyship for lot’s of great suggestions. 

Allyship
Allyship is when we join together to stop discrimination. Some examples are when guys and men join girls and women in stopping sexism, or when white people help to stop racism. Becoming an ally is a lifelong process of learning and asking questions. We can all challenge ourselves to think and act in ways that are more accepting and inclusive. We can also take action! Listed below are just some of the ways we can encourage more diversity in our schools or community life.

  • Look at your own attitudes and behaviours daily.
  • Think about the language you use and stop saying sexist, racist, homophobic terms or phrases (like, “that’s so gay” or “that’s retarded”). We are all going to make mistakes occasionally and say something insensitive. When it happens apologize and keep trying.
  • Don’t laugh at offensive jokes. Challenge them if you feel safe to do so.
  • Step outside your comfort zone and get to know different types of people, their stories, their hopes and their dreams.
  • Learn from people who are different from you. Listen more than you talk.
  • Organize awareness-building events at school.
  • Talk to your guidance counsellor about starting a Gender-Sexuality Alliance (sometimes also called a Gay-Straight Alliance) in your school.
  • Learn the real history where you live. Who were the first Peoples of where you live today?
  • Be politically aware. Educate yourself and understand what is happening in Canada and around the world.
  • Volunteer with community service organizations like a drop-in centre.
  • Boycott companies that are homophobic, racist, sexist, fat-phobic etc.
  • Ask school administrators to make education about respecting differences among people a priority.

Questions about Diversity and Discrimination

How can people overcome racism, homophobia, etc.?
It can be very hard for someone to cope with their experience of any type of discrimination (i.e. homophobia, racism, sexism, etc.). Some people feel like the experience makes them stronger, others feel like it hurts them or breaks them down. For many people it is impossible to erase the hurt that they feel from discrimination.

However, many people can learn to deal with their feelings by seeking support from friends, family, counselors, help lines, and/ or other people who have had similar experiences as them. We can help each other out by trying to put an end to our own discriminatory behaviors, and working to stop discrimination in our schools and communities.

Check out our Appreciating Diversity section at the top of the page for more information on ways you can get involved.

How can I support a friend who is facing discrimination?
When you support a friend facing discrimination, we call it being an ally. There are a number of things that you can do:

  • You can stand up for them if you feel safe doing so;
  • You can tell a guidance counsellor or teacher about it, or go with your friend to talk to someone;
  • Look at your own behaviours and attitudes and don’t laugh or tell offensive jokes;
  • You can hangout with your friend and do things that you both enjoy;
  • You could even educate others and create awareness events or posters in your school and community;
  • You can ask them what you can do to help fight discrimination!

What is privilege?
The term privilege we focus on refers to special status and entitlements that are unearned. These are rights or advantages accessible only to members of a dominant group. Privilege is something you are born into. For example, being born rich or middle class, being able-bodied (without disability), being white, or even speaking English as a first language. Privilege is often taken for granted. Many people are unaware of their own privilege because they are not taught to see it/them.

Some typical examples of privilege include men typically getting paid more than women, whites not experiencing racism, and young men worrying less about their personal safety or dealing with unwanted sexual attention than young women. Obviously, these things are not fair. Some things, like women’s wages becoming closer to men’s, are changing. However, things are still far from equal.

The reason why we talk about privilege is to raise awareness, not to make people feel bad, ashamed, or guilty. It is more helpful to be aware of your privilege, appreciate the struggle that others outside your group may have to go through and become an ally. For more information on how to be an ally check out the Allyship section above.

What should you do if someone is spreading a harmful, sexist rumor about you?
Rumors can be harmful, because they hurt people and change the way others act towards them. Rumors are often used as weapons of discrimination, meaning that people often spread rumours about those who are different from themselves as a way of hurting them.

If you hear a sexist rumour (or any other kind of rumor!) don’t pass it on. If you feel comfortable, you can let the person know that you don’t think it’s cool to trash-talk other people.

If you are the victim of a rumor, you may want to think about getting some help from someone you trust, such as a teacher or guidance counselor. Every school in Manitoba has an anti-harassment policy which students can use to end discrimination or harassment. And if you ever feel like you need someone to talk to, call the Klinic Crisis Line at (204) 786-6868. It’s free, confidential, and open 24/7.

Why do people who are gay sometimes call themselves ‘queer’ instead of just being called gay? Why would they like being called that?
People get to decide for themselves how they wish to identify and by whom. Sometimes, people use words that are used to hurt them to take the power away from the people who used those words against them; so the word can’t hurt them anymore. Other folks decide not to use those words at all!

It is never fair to assume that everybody within a certain group (whether they are gay, lesbian, black, fat, Ukrainian, hetero, etc.) wants to be called the same thing or identifies in the same way. If you are not sure, the best thing to do is ask someone what they want to be called!