Diversity And Inclusion: Get On Board
By Anna Robb
I’m standing in the customs line at Riyadh airport at 2:50am on a Monday morning. Surrounding me are Arabs, Asians, Africans and Indians and I realize I’m one of the perhaps three Caucasian people in the line and definitely the only woman.
I’m a minority. It’s a little awkward. (I know what all the minorities are saying – welcome to the club now you know how we feel). I’m the only blonde for miles and my head is not covered by a scarf like most women in this line, although I am wearing the compulsory abaya. What I notice and appreciate about the line is its diversity of skin colour and facial features and dress and religion and we are all just standing in a line. Together.
I wonder where they all come from. I wonder what they are doing in Riyadh. I wonder if their lives are happy ones.
Of course I don’t ask. Riyadh is not particularly the place to strike up a conversation in a customs line. I mean, most customs lines you wouldn’t anyway. Customs is like the last gateway to freedom after a long flight, you are tired, you need to brush your teeth and a bed is imminent and will arrive only as fast as that damn line moves. It’s definitely not the time to be chatty Kathy.
Also, as a woman I am a little guarded on my behavior, despite being to Saudi Arabia three times already I’m not particularly culturally assimilated.
And like most women, when you don’t feel comfortable, you try to make yourself as small and as inconspicuous as possible so that you aren’t noticed.
So I don’t ask anybody what they are here for and where they are from and if they are happy with their life. If I did they would likely look at me like the insane white woman that I am, to be pondering such thoughts in a customs line.
I conform, hold my passport with one finger in the photo page and one in the Saudi visa page ready to greet the customs officer.
My night ends with a golf cart ride to my Saudi compound home with an Indian man, under the light of a full moon. A stranger, who didn’t want me to have to walk from the compound gate to my accommodation so took me in his golf cart. I have met some of the kindest and most generous people here in Riyadh.
As I get into bed, I think of how there are good people everywhere. Just trying to make a living. Just trying to make a life. That there is more that connects us than divides us.
Many people in this world have such a long way to go in understanding and advocating for diversity and inclusion for all. I see hate and divisiveness spilled daily across news sites and social media. Each group defending their opinions from their little corner of the world.
I am constantly astounded at the narrow mindedness of political views, on race, on gender issues, on LGBTQ rights, on immigration. Issues that divide us like no other species on Earth. We are all so smart and so dumb at the same time.
We can work out how to put a car in space but we can’t figure out how to make sure everyone has access to clean water, food and an education.
My work, travel and life in entertainment constantly remind me of the privilege of my ethnicity, my stable and safe upbringing, my opportunity for education. I understand who I am and why I am. I am grateful for my good fortune.
To this day, I still watch some of my good gay friends be discriminated against, I watch decent hard working people be denied visas to travel due to their country of birth, I watch men get opportunities and jobs over far more qualified women and I see people defend their political views without hearing and considering other points of view. As a privileged white woman, I am tired and agitated from seeing this around me. I can’t imagine how minorities feel.
When I meet someone, I try to place them in the context of their existence so I understand them. I try my best to see them as they are and not as I perceive them to be, through the filtered lenses of my own bias.
Once you see people as they are, the barriers of difference are not as high as you imagine them to be.
Perhaps if a few more people could love instead of fear the diversity in the Riyadh customs line, the world could be a little better place.
Get on board.
Also by Anna: