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“But they’re self-segregating!”

Hi, it has been a while. I am sorry about this.

Between the latest sexual predator scandal in my beloved C++ industry (my latest post was presalient…), and the last strains of my search for a new home, I had no mental space for blogging. As a matter of fact, I had my first panic attack last week. The good news is that the great Spanish health system got me checked from top to bottom and I am physically fit.
For the rest, well, I will be yet more mindful with ALL THE THINGS now that the dust is settling.
So, here I am again. Gently working. 😊

And I am back with a story that is tying my recent complicated housing situation to our regular conversation: an othering experience I had in the dorm that was my temporary home until I found a permanent one.
I believe this was a good – albeit subtle – illustration of how unconscious bias and excluding behaviour by a dominant group mislead folks to think that “minorities just won’t integrate”.

Imagen de storyset en Freepik

So, here is some context:

In the previous 9 months I had been sharing all spaces but my bedroom with other women, almost all of them from Valencia. Mostly all extroverted, they flocked together and seemed to do well, while the few “others” were withdrawing and struggling.
One of the “main characters” had such a negative attitude that several people had filed complains about her over the years: a few had been brought to tears, and some had left because of her behaviour.
It bears repeating: “over the years”.

That person seemed to be the tacit “leader” of the Valencian bunch. Not because she was particularly charismatic nor inspiring, but because it was strategically best to get along with her well than being “against her”. I suppose that most residents, many of them her direct co-workers, thought they were better off “making friends” with her than becoming a target.

There was only a handful of residents from further away like me. As opposed to that louder group, we were not able to escape the dorm every weekend. With the notable exception of the person with the toxic attitude, also from that area, who was staying most weekends.
All of us more introverted people had a horrible experience in that place, without any exception.

Foto de Nguyen Dang Hoang Nhu en Unsplash

Admittedly, I am mostly a loner and sharing my living space with a lot of people would have been challenging under any circumstances. But here is what I found particularly challenging, and interesting for you, because you surely care about diversity and inclusion, if you’re reading this:

There was a clear divide between the in-group from Valencia, around the most toxic community member, and the outsiders: those from the same area came to terms with the situation, felt somewhat “at home”. And they were occupying all shared spaces in all possible ways, with no consideration for the “foreigners”:

So, “we foreigners” bonded over the pain of feeling unacknowledged, disregarded, rejected even by the dominant group. And we spent as much time as possible in our private rooms, and as little time as possible in shared spaces (corridors, kitchen, living room).

I know for a fact that the group of Valencian locals have been talking about us, instead of to us. I bet they considered that we were not trying to “integrate”. Maybe they bemoaned that we did not even speak the local-only language (Catalan, which is very similar to Valencian). That we were antisocial. Weirdos. That we should go away or go back to where we came from if we did not like it there.

One of “us foreigners” did manage to leave before I did, the others did not have a chance. So, they will keep enduring and feeling miserable, I suppose.

“We foreigners” were not trying to keep to ourselves. We have been trying to get to know the others, but every conversation we tried to have, every behaviour displayed in our presence screamed “I do not want you around, this place is MINE”.

Sounds familiar?

Imagen de Freepik

In Germany, in France, in Spain, 3 countries I have spent years as a resident, and of which I know the cultures deeply, I have heard similar complaints about “the Turks”, “the Arabs”, the “Chinese”, etc., who wouldn’t “integrate”.

They certainly would if the dominant group would let them in. They are not self-segregating; the dominant group is actively excluding them. And it’s on the dominant group to make the effort to get to know newcomers and make sure they get the space they need and deserve to thrive.
Literal space in a building, an office, a neighbourhood, etc., as well as space to contribute to conversations, space to be seen, heard, and acknowledged.

Whenever we are part of the dominant group, let’s not forget to share the space with those with different backgrounds and needs than ourselves. And to actively invite others to the conversation. To check in on them.
Let’s not fall back to convenience, and participate in harmful behaviour. Let’s mingle and grow as communities.

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