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‘Education is the key’: To build inclusion, we must be aware of our biases and privileges

As a biracial person, I’ve spent my life navigating between two worlds and different cultures. Turns out, this is quite common.

Meet Madelaine Khan. Like a growing number of people, Khan has a multi-racial and multi-ethnic background. Her heritage is East and West Indian — more specifically, Jamaican and Middle Eastern/Pakistani. Khan considers herself Canadian, with some Irish and Scottish roots, as well.

Khan grew up in Barrie.

“It was weird, honestly,” Khan recalls. “I remember being one of a handful of brown kids at high school. I definitely felt ‘othered’ when we talked about things like slavery in history class. I still experience bias, exclusion and discrimination because of my race, age, clothes, height and intersectionality.”

Once, at a discount store, 27-year-old Khan was wrongly accused of stealing a pair of socks. After calming down, she returned to the store to confront her accuser. Khan explained she would never steal, was low on funds at the time, and takes a while to decide about purchases.

“It was less about what I said and more about my approach. I wanted that employee to learn that people who look like me aren’t automatically thieves.”

Her lived experience shapes and guides her work.

“I am acutely aware of concepts like intersectionality, privilege, racism and decolonization and how they impact my life and others.”

An educator and advocate, Khan provides diversity-and-inclusion sessions, and workshops to organizations (madelainekhan@gmail.com). A part-time professor at Georgian College, Khan also has a private practice as a learning strategist. She offers tutoring and helps students self-advocate in and beyond the classroom.

“Education is the key. We need to become aware of our own biases and privileges. We need to work to become better together.”

I believe inclusion is something we can all work toward. Sometimes, it’s hard to know where to begin.

Khan shared some ideas you might try: listen to understand, rather than to respond; have a diverse group of friends; explore podcasts, social media, books, etc. that share different perspectives; anticipate barriers others will face and remove them in advance; provide safe spaces so people feel comfortable sharing their experiences, thoughts and opinions; connect with local organizations doing the work.

Sometimes, we’re afraid of making mistakes.

Give yourself permission to try.

Michèle Newton
Thursday, November 4, 2021
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