Today, 21 May, is the UN World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.
I used to think that my life and family were all of one culture and background. Nothing that I learned in school here or in the United Kingdom ever challenged that. Sameness, conformity and assimilation were taken for granted: they were the norm by which everything else was viewed and valued.
Time went on, my extended family grew larger and I found myself with the unenviable task of becoming the family historian. But this task has granted me a new perspective. As I explore my own family history and discover the diversity within my white heritage I recognise that the racial, cultural and linguistic diversity of 21st century multicultural Australia is not so ‘new’ after all. That diversity is actually part of who I am.
In my extended family I have brothers in law, nephews, nieces and cousins whose skin colours are not white; whose cultures are other than English. Thus I witness a microcosm of this land I love. In the journey of my Aboriginal brother in law and his family, my Aboriginal niece and nephews, I am hearing first peoples’ stories of habitation and experience in their own land.
I listen to stories of dispossession and oppression that caused some of my closest friends to come to this country by means far more risky than the migrant ship that first brought mum, dad and six of us kids here. I marvel at their bravery. I delight in the hope that they impart it to their children and grandchildren. I hear stories that I now also hear from my Welsh mother about loss of language, the long decades and centuries of conquest and abuse of power by the rich and powerful.
Living in this multicultural, multiracial and multi-faith land those stories make us rich beyond measure, challenged beyond imagining, and grant us insight, courage and respect for those who have journeyed here. We are also given the gift of entry into a world of diversity of race, culture, language and religion that none of us ever knew could exist.
On 21 May this year put aside prejudice and, for a moment, consider the diverse nature of your own family and friends – consider their stories. We already live in a diverse culture, so we might as well do it well – with respect and understanding.
Rev Dr Tony Floyd is the National Director, Multicultural and Cross-cultural Ministry for the Uniting Church in Australia