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From Exclusion to Inclusion: A Reflection on the Celebration of Diversity in Two Different Worlds

“Diversity” is a word used all too often in today’s society. According to Oxford Languages, diversity is ‘the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds, and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.’ We say diversity is celebrated, yet many have stories that suggest otherwise. 

Thirteen out of twenty-two students from my high school class in Belgium had a foreign nationality or ethnicity. They told me stories about their lives back home, including their culture, values, norms, and religion. On the one hand, this inspired me to expand my knowledge of the world and might have influenced my choice to study International Relations. On the other hand, I was made aware of how different their lives are from mine as a Belgian citizen. My non-Belgian, especially non-white, classmates would be judged and looked down upon when walking on the streets, and would be insulted with racial slurs. All in all, they were treated differently from the “typical” Belgian. For instance, my Palestinian classmate would be less likely to be invited for a job interview just because of their name alone. Unfortunately, these stories are not exclusive to Belgium but are found in many countries.


It seems like diversity is only celebrated when it fits within the norms and ideals of a certain society. 


During my gap year, I moved to a small village in northern Argentina for a cultural exchange. As a white, very European-looking woman with blonde hair and blue eyes, I was treated differently, but not in the way I had expected. The local people wanted to talk to me and be my friend; people would stop me in the streets to take pictures together. This felt extremely uncanny, and unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Argentinian people were keen to know about Belgium and equally eager to show me their country, culture, and customs. When I expressed my attachment and love for their home, they were delighted; these people welcomed me with open arms from the moment I arrived until my departure. My presence there was celebrated. It is striking how a white person in a foreign country is received dissimilarly from a non-Western, non-white person in Europe.

In Belgium, I would not see many citizens beam with joy when they say an “expat” or “immigrant” is moving into their neighborhood. The way “diversity” is acknowledged depending on someone’s origins and our preconceptions is disturbing. Why can’t all my classmates in Belgium have the warm experiences I had in Argentina? Why must some of them be looked at, talked to, and treated differently from me? Is my status as a blonde, white Belgian higher than my Iranian friend who wears a headscarf? 

I will not touch upon contrasting migration experiences here. My main point is that diversity should be celebrated equally by everyone, for everyone. Distinct cultures, traditions, and religions should be welcomed and valued. The friendships I share with my “non-typical Belgian” friends have taught me so much. There is a great deal to learn from those who are unlike you, and just as much love to give. Hence, being different from each other is a good thing, and true diversity reminds us of that. 

Unfortunately, many of us choose to accept only what is comfortable, and desirable, which fits within our predetermined standards. This should not be the case; I wish that we would all open our arms and hearts to those from other cultures and genuinely learn their norms and values while sharing our own, just like the Argentinian people did for me. People shape society and its prejudices, meaning we do not have to abide by the status quo. If we learn from other beliefs and customs without judgement, we can reject long-standing biases and prejudice.


We decide what the future looks like, so let’s shape a society where diversity is truly celebrated in its entirety.


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