“The ignoring of differences is the most fatal mistake in politics or industry or international life: every difference that is swept up into a bigger conception feeds and enriches society; every difference which is ignored feeds on society and eventually corrupts it.” ~ Mary Parker Follett

If integration is the practice of uniting people from different races, does it also mean to give these people equal rights?

If the above is true, are countries, governments and businesses practicing integration or assimilation?

Regardless of the past, we must ask ourselves if we are willing to create a nation where all men and women meet each other on equal footing. Each is given the right to self-determination, rather than being limited to how others define us.

This week, I sat down with globally recognized Human Rights and Religious Freedom Advocate Meto Koloski to discuss and ask the question, is integration possible? Our discussion explored the subtle difference between integration and assimilation.

There is a belief that people of different cultures, races, or ethnicity can coexist peacefully. And through integration, different cultures and communities are welcomed and accepted for who and what they are. Although this sounds good in theory, the reality is often another matter.


What Is Integration? 

Integration is the incorporation of individuals from different groups into society as equals. Integration implies that the host group embraces the different cultures as equal, regardless of their values or traditions. Although in North America, there is an intention for integration, most non-white individuals or people with cultural or religious practices different from the dominant white culture are often not seen or treated as equals.


What Is Assimilation?

Assimilation is adopting the ways of another culture and fully becoming part of a different society. The underlying sentiment is to be accepted entirely into the “host” culture and community; an immigrant must adopt the new nation’s traditions and culture. For immigrants to assimilate, they must choose to leave their traditions and cultural practices behind or develop two very distinct personas. As a young girl, I had a public persona to fit in and be accepted, and the private persona that remained hidden to avoid being bullied, singled out or reprimanded.    

However, Meto raised an interesting point in that his belief is through the dynamics of multiculturalism that acceptance and equality are more likely to occur. Multicultural societies are characterized by people of different races, ethnicities, and nationalities living together in the same community. In multicultural communities, people retain, pass down, celebrate, and share their unique cultural ways of life, languages, art, traditions, and behaviors. What seems to make multiculturalism a more realistic solution is the word itself implies the presence and acceptance of several distinct cultural and ethnic groups within a society. Multicultural, however, also does not mean equal.


Should It Have To?

The 14th Amendment of the US Constitution and the 15th Section of the Canadian Charter of Rights speak to equal protection and equal benefits for all persons in their jurisdictions. The reality is, a country can legislate equality; however, it is each individual’s choice to give that legislation life.  

Before integration or multiculturalism can occur, we must acknowledge and prepare for the work ahead. We must commit to keeping this conversation at the forefront so each person can take responsibility for their preparation. It begins with the mindset: accept that we are conditioned to judge. Our history of racism and exclusion has been intertwined into society and is now part of the country’s fabric. 

Let’s examine a few steps we can take to keep this conversation at the forefront of our minds.

Education: Learning respectful language and terminology and understanding the history of racism and oppression in the country we all live in.

Cultural Competency:  Training to become present to one’s bias, judgement and conditioning. Acquiring the awareness needed to work and communicate cross-cultural and racial lines. 

Emotional Intelligence:   This is your ability to manage your emotions when faced with difference and conflicts. It is to remain objective and make fair and equitable decisions.  

Representative Government:  The need for government policies that allow people of all cultures to be a part of all government aspects, be it executive, legislative, judicial. And this begins in the local community and governments. 


Diversity: the art of thinking independently together. -Malcolm Forbes

Each of us has the right to take a seat at the table and feel a sense of belonging. For this to occur, we will be required to do the work to eliminate exclusion and oppression. And move towards a culture where equal protection and equal benefits exist for all.