Monday, July 30th, 2012
Diversity Damage at the Olympics
If you’ve watched the Olympics at all in the last few games, one thing that you may have noticed is the diversity throughout the games. Diversity amongst the 204 countries represented, and diversity within the teams themselves. In corporate America, religious organizations, communities, diversity can be hard to come by. But in sport, diversity is everywhere! Inclusion and tolerance are practically essential to competing in athletics.
With so many ethnic groups represented, competing, socializing in Olympic park, and other places it’s hard to imagine that we’re seeing a surge of intolerance in social media from the Olympic athletes.
- Michel Morganella, a soccer player for Switzerland, has been expelled from the Olympics for posting, on Twitter, “an offensive and threatening message aimed at South Korean people after the Swiss team lost 2-1 to South Korea on Sunday,” (The Associated Press)
- Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou was expelled last week after she posted a comment mocking African immigrants. (Associated Press)
(Google Translated. Picture: Buzz Feed Sports)
I’ve always wondered what makes otherwise reasonable people resort to racist comments when they have displeasure or discomfort? Most people will say they’re not racist. And they would be correct. However, many people (of all ethnic groups) when they get angry resort to the first emotional button they can push. Sadly, when the people involved are of different ethnic groups that’s the easiest fall back point. The question I pose today, is what can you do to break the cycle?
You know how it works. A shooter goes on a killing spree. If they’re from an ethnic group that you would find that to be “typical” or really “stereotypical” behavior, you might say, “you know how THEY are,” and go about your day. If you are a member of an ethnic group from whom society expects negative behavior and you hear about something tragic that occurred, you might say, “thank goodness” when you see someone from another ethnic group is responsible. For example, I’m sure there were plenty of people who were expecting the Aurora shooter to be a white 20-something year old man. But the same number of people were stunned and amazed to find out that the DC Snipers (2002) were black. Every profiling expert suspected they were one, or more, white males between the ages of 30-40 years old.
We all have this inherent bias that we learned from our earliest years. No one can put a finger on what led them to believe what they do, but these thoughts are there in our subconscious. They stay buried until we feel like we’re under attack, or in the case of the Olympics, when we’re losing or feel under pressure.
So what can you do to consciously check your subconscious bias at the door? My answer: Stop. Assess. Modify or Verify.
- Stop: Recognize that your subliminal bias is creeping into your conscious mind. Know that you are forming a prejudgment or about to attack verbally or in action.
- Assess: Really look at the situation, individual, or team for what it is. Is it a stereotype coming to life in front of your eyes, or are they an individual worthy of a fresh start and a clean slate. Recognize that stereotypes are not the rule, they are just a lazy person’s way of categorizing people.
- Modify: Adjust your perspective and behavior based on your assessment when the evidence ahead of you shows your bias is incorrect.
- Verify: We all know, or know of someone who is the epitome of a stereotype. There’s a black person who is good at sports, a white person who can’t jump, an Asian who can’t drive well, a Jewish person who’s cheap, and can point to a Muslim who is a terrorist. Sometimes, it is what it is. But the danger comes when you don’t take the extra second to recognize that there are far more people who aren’t walking stereotypes than are. You overlook great talent, friends, partners, employees, even teammates.
It is negligent and damaging to us as a nation and global community to let our inherent biases win. It’s worse, when we take high profile people like Olympic athletes who take to social media like Twitter and Facebook where they blurt the first emotional utterance that comes to mind.
Congratulations to all Olympic Officials for affirming that words of intolerance are not in the spirit of the games and would not be tolerated. We should all take the lesson from the TSA and the world of sports: “If you see something say something.” Don’t let intolerance spread. You can stop it and create a work, play, or even sporting environment of inclusion where everyone has a place.
Now, let’s take this last moment to look at where social media plays. No one would know what happened if it wasn’t posted on the world wide web. One thing most young people forget is that once it’s on the internet it’s free game for everyone to see. Governments have been overthrown because of protests that started on Twitter and other social media. It’s a tricky and unpredictable medium. Unpredictable in the sense that no one can ever tell how far their single tweet will reach. But absolutely predictable that someone will see it. If you’re a slave to social media, or even just check in on it time to time, remember these simple rules:
- Emotional utterances should be kept as a thought bubble. Not an internet share.
- Think before you tweet.
- Stop Assess Modify anything that has potential to damage your own image, reputation, and career.
- Use the power of the web to garner support, not breed enemies.
I suspect that there are more errors to come from other athletes, but with any luck some might read this post and stop themselves before they start.
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