One for All and All for One

Julie Shenkman
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Words are plentiful these days -- words about war and patriotism and courage. What is in shorter supply is an honest rhetoric about loyalty. We profess an “all for one” stance in which Americans unite against the enemy, but sadly it seems that while “all” includes every American, when it comes to the “one,” the equation torques and those of Middle Eastern extraction are abruptly banished from the team. Most Americans loath hate crimes. Yes, killings, obscene graffiti, and even “vigilante hacking” are escalating, but these sins are committed by a perverse minority of ignorant criminals. Abhorrent as they are, these crimes have one virtue: They can be seen, labeled, and punished. It is the subtle moments of exclusion that worry me more; the “Guerilla bias™” that hides behind “reasonable” rationalizations and “sensible” precautions. Like guerilla warriors, guerilla bias™ lurks in the jungles of our shaken psyches and is, therefore, almost impossible to diagnose. It is, for example, Guerilla bias™ that stops us from revisiting a favorite Middle Eastern restaurant because we might feel uncomfortable, not know what to say, or – as much as we hate to admit it -- wonder just a little about the extracurricular activities of the proprietor. Would we burn the restaurant down? Of course not, but we might hesitate to dine there as readily as we used to. That, my friends, is an act of bias. Although Americans are fond of talking about equality, even the most patriotic among us admit that we have a history of racism and bias that proves this value to be far from perfected. It’s time to fix all that and, paradoxically, the horrors of September 11th have given us the opportunity and motivation to make those changes happen. It is up to each and every one of us to drive that change. We must let the din of those explosions awaken us to our biases -- however subtle they may be. Once we are aware of them, we can make conscious decisions about how we behave, whom we exclude, and what businesses we patronize. We will gain power over our fear, we will include every American into the “one,” and we will become the nation we were always meant to be. I can’t think of a better way to defeat terrorism, can you? Sondra Thiederman is a speaker and author on diversity, bias-reduction, and cross-cultural issues. She is the author of Making Diversity Work: Seven Steps for Defeating Bias in the Workplace (Chicago: Dearborn Press, 2003) which is available at her web site or at She can be contacted at: Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D. Cross-Cultural Communications 4585 48th Street San Diego, CA 92115 Phones: 619-583-4478 / 800-858-4478 Fax: 619-583-0304 / Copyright Cross-Cultural Communications. Should you wish to re-print this article, you may do so as long as long as the current copyright statement and all contact information is included.

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