The front page of the Union Leader recently lauded Concord, NH, for allowing side by side religious and atheist displays in front of the state house — quoting all sides about the importance of tolerance. It was a nice message about a city that has in the past united against racism, and one that has shown that it cares about everyone. But beyond the positive, being welcoming and inclusive is good for a community, and its social and economic growth.
At issue here is the future of Concord and other NH cities. More people are seeking homes in smaller cities while working remotely. And there are companies relocating for lower costs while escaping instability in some large cities. And, young people are looking for new places to live and work.
In all this, diverse and welcoming cities like Concord could have a real advantage — but the challenge is how to communicate the values of the community. That is because inclusion is more than just a mindset, it is a way of being — and it can give a distinct brand to a community that says "all are welcome." And it goes beyond small gestures, too.
We need to be sure that all are made welcome starting with social media. When the city, chamber or police department post mostly images of white people on their feed, intended or not, they are sending a message. In the same way it sends a chilling message when organizations recognize major Christian holidays like Easter or Christmas, but not other holidays like Ramadan or Yom Kippur. In the same way, social pages that ignore multicultural festivals or diverse events are sending a very cold message.
And then here are the racist dog whistles that are often shared — sometimes without intention. A local police department this fall posted a “blue lives matter US flag” — a symbol that has been co-opted by white supremists. In the wake of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, that kind of racist symbolism by a police department sends an awful message to communities of color — and fails to build trust or understanding. It reminded me of the day after the murder of George Floyd, when hundreds joined peacefully to kneel in front of a local police department, and the police stood as everyone else kneeled.
We can do better.
Then there are the images we share on a website, or on social media. Is everyone white on the site? No LGBTQ+ or non-binary images? What does that say about a community or an organization? Does it make everyone feel the warmth? The truth is that younger people and business leaders want an open and diverse community for their employees, families.
It takes no effort to share your pronouns, or recognize a variety for holidays — and not toss in a “For those who celebrate.” Because by saying “For those who celebrate" you imply that you don’t and just some do. Would you say “Merry Christmas for those who celebrate?” Probably not. So why say “Happy Juneteenth for those who celebrate?”
Plus, look at events. I was so impressed at our son’s university in Canada, where even though the number of Jewish students is small, the school closed for Yom Kippur. It sends a message of respect, tolerance and inclusion. I also never fail to be impressed when events start with an acknowledgement that the university is on land that belongs to indigenous peoples. It sets a tone of understanding that was often lacking in the US.
Diverse communities bring to the table they are stronger and more resilient — and they grow and thrive. Think of Toronto or Dublin. Inclusion is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.