March 21st – International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and Couch Surfing!
When I sat down to write this entry my intention was to discuss the United Nations 41st Annual International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The General Assembly proclaimed the day in 1966 to call on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. It is observed annually on March 21st to honor the 69 people killed by police when they engaged in a peaceful demonstration against the apartheid “pass laws” in Sharpeville, South Africa. The primary objectives for the day include: “Encourage interaction and cross-fertilization of cultures and civilizations through education and awareness –raising, with a view to promoting mutual respect, diversity and tolerance.”
As I sat on the plane heading to Greensboro North Carolina for the JBC Institute’s Chief Diversity Officers Form at Bennett College I thought, “well this will be a good place to be on March 21st and will be my contribution to the U.N.’s Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.” Then I thought, “But Richard, you’d be doing this any way. What will you do to make a difference that’s extra-ordinary?” So I thought I’d throw out a challenge here to the Diversity Matters community, what is each of us doing in a personal way that we wouldn’t necessarily be doing otherwise to make a difference in the elimination of racial discrimination?
As I was preparing to land, my answer came from the American Airlines magazine “American Way” that was in the seat pocket in front of me. Couch surfing!! You gotta love the law of attraction. Couch surfing is a high tech, low cost version of intercultural exchange. Like Mi Casa, Su Casa where you agree to swap houses, apartments or flats with someone in another part of the world, CouchSurfing is where you sign up to either crash on someone’s couch in a world wide location that you want to visit, or to host a couch crasher. The host provides the couch (and if you’re lucky a futon or even a bed) and serves as your personal “concierge” suggesting places to visit that you might not find in a guide book and perhaps introducing you to their friends and sharing a meal and/or drink with you. You, as the gracious guest, agree to clean up after yourself, do your dishes and not eat all their food.
Now my initial thought was “I don’t like having people I know stay at my house more than a few nights, why the hell would I invite a stranger?!?!” And, when I travel my partner and friends will attest to the fact that I prefer comfort to coaches. Then I heard myself “I want to be comfortable!” It hit me, that’s the point. Eliminating racism, building inclusion, celebrating diversity requires leaning in to discomfort. That’s a central tenant to my work. This is a perfect way to make a personal difference - travel or host with the intention of crossing some cultural boundary, be it geographic, ethnic, racial, generational, regional or linguistic.
When I shared this idea with Judy (a frequent guest on my couch) and said I was going to suggest it on the blog, I hadn’t fully embraced doing it myself. I was still in the place of offering it as a suggestion that folks in the Diversity Matters community might want to consider. Oy!
I then thought back to a central theme of our conversation with guests on the Diversity Matters radio show, best summarized by the story Yolanda King told on our first episode of Season Two about the man in one of her workplace sessions who learned to be a better ally and champion of inclusion by attending the weddings, bar mitzvahs and celebrations of his co-workers. He leaned into his discomfort and learned to dance the electric slide, the Hora and salsa and built more personal relationships with his co-workers and learned new ways of engaging others. While I know we need to go beyond the surface layer of dances and foods, what a wonderful way to connect with co-workers in a way that matters.
Then I went to the CouchSurfing website and read their mission:
"CouchSurfing seeks to internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance, and facilitate cultural understanding."
As a community we strive to do our individual and collective parts to make the world a better place, and we believe that the surfing of couches is a means to accomplish this goal. CouchSurfing isn't about the furniture- it's not just about finding free accommodations around the world- it's about participating in creating a better world. We strive to make a better world by opening our homes, our hearts, and our lives. We open our minds and welcome the knowledge that cultural exchange makes available. We create deep and meaningful connections that cross oceans, continents and cultures. CouchSurfing wants to change not only the way we travel, but how we relate to the world!
Okay, I’m hooked. Here’s my challenge and invitation, what are YOU going to do, that you wouldn’t normally do to promote inclusion, make a difference in the world and honor the spirit of the United Nation’s challenge that it’s up to use to eliminate everyday racism? Share your intentions, your successes and lessons learned.
I’m off to buy my first pair of pajamas! I’ll keep you posted.