In an age where stereotypes abound and racism is just under the surface, can a vibrant, multicultural community endure?
According to Dr Joanna Seraphim, a member of the Canadian Anthropology Society and assistant professor at the Canadian University – Dubai, there’s one important criteria for success.
She said: “It is when members of the community act in the interests of other members. They work together in order to reach the community’s goals. They respect each other and listen to what other members have to say and all resources are used wisely and distributed fairly.”
The ‘Sharing Fridges’ Facebook group is an example of a community building initiative. While one person is willing to donate a fridge, another provides the space to set it up and the remaining members of the neighbourhood make sure it’s well stocked – it’s a community effort.
Once a community is established, its members begin to identify strongly with its ideals and values.
Dr Seraphim said: “When members are proud of belonging to a community, they will try to improve the community, as it is part of them.”
History is testament to this.
Dr Seraphim pointed out that before the 1960s, in North America, Native Americans faced discrimination in their daily lives, because of their ethnic identity.
“But in the 1960s, they started to build organisations to instil pride in their people. They started to become more and more proud of their identity, they learned more about their culture, and started negotiating with the US government, in order to get more rights, including scholarships.”
The American Indian Movement (AIM) is one such example. An advocacy group founded in 1968, it addressed American Indian sovereignty, treaty issues, spirituality, and leadership, while simultaneously bringing to light incidents of police harassment and racism.
However, in the UAE, where diverse groups of people coexist, the challenges they face are quite personal.
Dr Seraphim said: “Many people do not hold stereotypes and do not judge other cultures, rather they tend to stay in their own community… prefer to stay in their comfort zones. You should embrace UAE multiculturalism and experiment with other experiences. Go eat at an ethnic restaurant, attend a foreign cultural event, go to an Emirati traditional festival, attend an iftar, but most importantly, talk to people and befriend someone who is from a community that’s different from your own. You can learn from them!”