Diversity, not race, our strength

  Diversity, not race, our strength

Comment by MARINA MAHATHIR in the Star online

I saw a report in a Chinese newspaper on how the newly appointed MB (Chief Minister) of Perak had stunned a Chinese crowd in Ipoh by speaking to them in Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Tamil, English and Malay.

It may well have been no more than words of greeting but still, the very idea of a Malay politician speaking to a Chinese audience in their own language and dialects is novelty enough these days to be impressive.

As with anything else, there may soon come a day when seeing politicians and other public figures “cross over” racial lines becomes something very normal and no longer anything to remark on.

Perhaps the day when vertical thinking along racial lines is nearer than we dreamt.

I had the opportunity to listen for the second time to Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of Renault and Nissan, the other night on how diversity should be viewed as a strength.

Coming from a diverse background himself and successfully managing two very different car companies with very different cultures, Ghosn knows what he is talking about.

The important thing, he said, is_

  • to acknowledge
  • and respect people’s separate identities
  • and view that as a strength
  • that can be tapped for success.

These days, smart global companies don’t impose one type of management style all over the world but adapt to each cultural situation.

The people who used the racial rights argument were waving an old tattered banner, out of a lack of ideas. We yearn these days for leaders with new ideas. We want to be given hope for the future, not revisit the same old problems over and over again. Not that we want history ignored because we need to know where to start from but we do want to see that shiny path ahead of us clearly and within reach.

I read the extraordinary speech made by US Presidential hopeful Barack Obama in Philadelphia where he tackled the problem of race.

In reviewing America’s history with race, he said: “I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that

  • we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together
  • unless we perfect our union by understanding that_
      • we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes;
      • that we may not look the same
      • and we may not have come from the same place,
      • but we all want to move in the same direction

– towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.”

Some of the issues that have concerned Americans have also concerned us, and the lack of unity is one of them.

To this, Obama responded by acknowledging his mixed ethnic background and saying, “It is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.”

And indeed Democratic voters agreed with him and voted for him even in states that had seemed prejudiced against black men.

The same thing happened in our country. Unfortunately, race politics has not really died down yet, and some people reacted as if ethnic cleansing had just taken place.

Where is our own Obama to lead us into our future, with faith and hope? Have we heard yet one speech of optimism recently that inspires and unites us all?



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