A wise person once said, “No two people see the same movie.” We experience the world through our own personal prisms; our views of people, places and things are shaped by perceptions we develop throughout our lives. In the PR profession, the ability to understand people’s personal prisms are essential to how we communicate, not only with diverse audiences, but with those who have trouble embracing diversity.
Mecca Santana was a keynote speaker at the New York State Communication Association’s 73rd Annual Conference this weekend, and she discussed prejudices in her address, “Lost in Translation: The Interplay Between Diversity, Inclusion and Communication.” Santana, former state chief diversity officer and now vice president of the Office of Diversity and Community Relations for Westchester Medical Center, told the audience that diversity issues make people very uncomfortable. “These issues evoke very emotional and not logical responses. We are closed-minded when it comes to our own closed-mindedness.”
Santana, a graduate of Hofstra Law School who began her career as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, has been working to educate people on issues of diversity, especially when biases affect their decision-making. “We all have our prejudices. You need candor when dealing with these issues.” She gave several disturbing examples, such as when some teachers grade based on race, believing black students aren’t expected to achieve at the same academic level as Asian students. “These attitudes can have devastating lifelong impacts,” she noted. “They can change the trajectory of a student’s life.”
Santana encourages anyone who’ll listen to confront their prejudices first through recognition, then reflection, and ultimately reconciliation. “A little cultural intelligence helps us to deal with our biases,” she said. “Bias will always exist within us. Your ability to understand your bias makes all the difference.”
Santana quoted the Talmud, the central text of Judaism, “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” A challenge for public relations practitioners is how to break through people’s prejudices and pre-conceived notions–and perhaps recognize these biases–and craft our messages knowing they exist. Your thoughts?