(Re) Doing Difference: How do you feel about people who are different?

How do you feel about people who are different? Your initial answer might not be as truthful as you think. A three-day workshop hosted by REACH Edmonton and the Centre for Race and Culture shines the spotlight on hidden attitudes, the prevalence of privilege and what it means to be an ally for disadvantaged groups. Heading into the Cultural Crossroads: (Re) Doing Difference™ workshop, participants have their pre-conceived notions of what it means to be tolerant and inclusive and where they stand in terms of privilege in life. Group exercises and open discussions on topics that are often taboo in polite conversation reveal that we all struggle with difference, whether ethnic, religious or physical. The workshop pushes people to see the prejudices in the world around them and consider how these attitudes can be changed through acting as an ally for groups suffering from disadvantage. "I attended this workshop for personal interest and I'm glad I did," said Tymmarah Zehr. "I'm glad there are workshops like this in our community because the issues of discrimination are prevalent in our society and must be addressed." The workshop goes beyond furthering verbal sensitivity on issues of differences, and forces participants to have tough conversations with themselves and with their peers. "The activities we engaged in brought issues of privilege and power to the forefront which at times were difficult to face," said Zehr. Once the realities in our community were identified and accepted, participants learned how to create change in their own workplace and social circles. Before one can be an ally, it must be accepted that some of us are in positions of more privilege than others and the person of "difference" must be understood. To truly understand where another person is coming from and what challenges they are facing, difficult conversations sometimes need to be had. This workshop gives participants the tools to recognize resistance to change when dealing with issues of difference. Saying oft-repeated phrases like: "We're all the same. I don't see the world that way," can actually be a form of passive resistance, defending power and privilege structures that are ultimately unfair to specific groups of people. At the end of the three days, participants have a new view of themselves, their peers and their communities, as well as the tools to start making changes where they live. Change is always difficult and requires some uncomfortable conversations with ourselves and with the people in our lives, but as one participant said, "it's only uncomfortable once and then we can move forward."