Coincidences sometimes matter. This morning, I was listening to the German radio station SWR2. They interviewed Edgar Reitz on his latest film „Home from Home – Chronicle of a Vision“, a complimentary piece to his appraised epic film “Heimat“, which will play at Venice film festival starting today. He made a remark that struck me upon this historical date of August 28th, 2013:
„Nun denke ich, dass die Träume … das menschliche Leben sowieso stärker prägen als man meint. Der Realitätssinn … ist nicht die treibende Kraft auch nicht die schöpferische Kraft. Ich sehe die Welt … so , dass sie … der Versuch der Verwirklichung von Träumen ist“. „Now, I believe that dreams … shape human life much more strongly than one thinks. Realism … is not the driving force nor is it the creative force. I see the world … as the attempt to make dreams real.“ (translation is my own)
Few people symbolize the power of dreams better than Martin Luther King. Today, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of his famous speech „I have a dream“ (August 28th, 1963). This sparked my wish to write a Thank You post today to this wonderful & inspiring leader. Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. That same year, the US American Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. Other Rights Acts followed. As a consequence of the various civil rights movements following the anti-segregation movement in the USA, multicultural issues gained momentum. When I spent a Fulbright Year in the USA in 1989/90, I had the wonderful opportunity to explore my interests in cultural diversity beyond disciplinary boundaries. I thank Prof. James Banks & particularly Prof. Gerry Philipsen at the University of Washington for teaching me about the US American perspectives on cultural diversity.
It was a mind opening experience for me as a very young student with bicultural backgrounds raised in Germany. Mind you, Germany was not ready for these issues at this time at all. The Berlin wall had just come down and it took many years for Germany to come to terms with its own multicultural realities. My studies in the US nevertheless have strongly inspired my academic, training or consulting work since (e.g. cf. Soraya, 1994; 1998; Soraya-Kandan, 2001; 2012) . When I talk to leaders today about historical backgrounds of diversity and inclusion, I remind them, that not too long ago, the whites among us could not have sat next to Barack Obama on the bus. Racial segregation ended in the USA only in 1968/70. The memories of this recent history are still vivid to those who witnessed these protests. The world commemorates this date, for King’s speech was not just a speech to Americans. His dream is not just a dream for Americans. It became an inspiration and vision for the world. The successful struggle ending the apartheid system in South Africa in 1994 had its tribute to King’s influence on the Black Consciousness Movement and the Civil Rights Movements in South Africa. In many countries similar social changes to those in the USA in the 60ies and 70ies have developed until today and are still developing. The momentum multicultural issues gained through the various civil rights movements lead to curriculum reforms, e.g. in education, and diversity measures in the workfplace. Many companies today recognize the importance of diversity & inclusion matters. International companies today recognize the importance of diversity & inclusion matters.
Long roads ahead.
We know that even after 50 years, there are still unsatisfying conditions in the USA with regard to social justice. The death of Trayvon Martin is a sad testimony of these contexts. But, there is an African-American president of the USA adressing these issues. He speaks from another than a white perspective. And this is not trivial. In Germany, we have a woman chancellor raised in East Germany. This also brings in other contexts and perspectives to political discourses. Not sufficient? Yes, not sufficient. But:
Germany is changing.
It was only in 2005 that Germany acknowledged to have become an immigration country ratifying a Zuwanderungsgesetz. Since then, there is increasing momentum in diversity & inclusion matters in Germany, in enterprises, NGOs, or public administration. Still struggling with the breath of dimensions diversity is operating with, many German organisations have started realizing the connections between various social movements and their fight for fairness. They also see the benefit of creating diversity climates that allow for vary different types of collaboration, innovation and performance. The German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) e.g. organized a conference on “Muslims and the labor market” last year where I experienced a clear increase in respect, recognition and curiosity for cultural diversity in the German population. And this year the office run its “Nürnberger Tage für Integration” with the headline: “Wir verändern uns! Wie demografischer Wandel und die neue Vielfalt Deutschland prägen.” – a motto I had waited for for more than two decades.
Sufficient changes? With the NSU cases, Germany has some severe racial violations to digest. By far, not sufficient. But there is now a public recognition of these deficits. Germany Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency published its first report on discrimination in education and at the workplace just some days ago.
Hyperconnected people – made for sharing dreams?
The hyperconnected world seems made for sharing dreams. Although there is a lot of uncritical romanticism regarding the revolutionary power of the web, the potential for sharing dreams cannot be denied. New surprising phenomena of social movements like e.g. In Turkey or Brasil could be witnessed just some months ago. There are unmistakable signs of a significantly changed and changing digital world. As Edgar Reitz also said this morning:
“… das reine Träumen [kommt] … gar nicht [vor]. Es ist immer eine Phantasie, die sich ans Schaffen macht.” “… the pure dreaming … does not occur. It is always a fantasy that is getting down to work.” (translation is my own)
Martin Luther King and his many companions did not stick to dreams. They stood up for their rights with the confidence that they can change society for the better. He is said to have had more faith in the USA and its constitution than his critics. Sometimes, recognizing who we are is the bigger challenge. We need more dreams, more dialogs, and more wholehearted deeds to realize the new society we have become and the next society we are about to become. We all still have a dream. Thank you, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.!