Photo: Oliur Rahman / Pexels. Graphics: beaandbloom.com, Canva

In the divided world of today, I choose to continue dreaming

With the chasm between the Global North and the Global South deepening every day, diversity and inclusion are more important than ever


For the past six months, I’ve been interning at a diversity and inclusion non-profit in Oslo. Most of the discussions there revolve around privilege and its astounding offspring of inequalities: racial, gender, sexual, health, religious, national, ethnic, socio-economic, cultural, linguistic… When one comes to think of it, isn’t it surprising to have such conversations in Norway of all places? In the end, it is the most progressive country in the world according to the 2022 Social Progress Index, which it has been topping for five years in a row, together with Denmark and Finland.

And yet, lived experiences of people in the Nordics tell a slightly different story. Over ten years ago, Norwegian researchers unveiled that having a “foreign” name reduces one’s chances to be invited for a job interview by 25%. The most recent research shows that 12% of job-seekers in the region still feel compelled to westernize their name to receive a coveted call from the HR. I have a distinctly Slavic name myself, and this makes me wonder to what extent it will affect my already miniscule chances of scoring a “big-girl job” in Norway. Why already? Well, I have been called a Russian spy here – a hurtful (being reduced to one’s nationality is no fun) joke that nevertheless finds its roots in understandable security concerns.

In the latest local elections, conservatives (Høyre, Venstre, and Frp) were voted in for the first time in eight years. Although the new city council aims to solve an ongoing student housing crisis, it is not yet clear how the student life in general will be affected, and especially the life of international students. Høyre’s plan for the upcoming four years mentions internationals (migrants and refugees) only once – in the context of integration in the working life, and mainly through language learning. 

Indeed, speaking fluent Norsk is of great help when it comes to job seeking.

But it doesn’t really dissolve the biases that Norwegians unconsciously hold against internationals. And it’s not like some of these biases are unfounded. Any employee in Norway must fit culturally on top of being qualified, but at what cost can one fully embrace Norwegian culture, having grown up outside of it?

On the contrary, most of the work in diversity and inclusion in the Nordics focuses on deconstructing the unconscious biases against internationals (and other vulnerable groups). Instead of a more culturally homogenous working environment, they advocate for, well, diversity, and muster strong data to support their point – the more diverse the company is, the more revenues it will collect. “Invest in strangers to your culture,” they are basically saying, “and your returns will be plenty.” This logic is in perfect alignment with the notions around globalization: open borders, cross-cultural exchange, a variety of points of view… ”The Other” is not othered in this framework but recognized, welcomed, embraced, and celebrated. 

The problem is, in 2023, we are anything but globalized.

The Russia-Ukraine War may have as well been the last nail in the coffin of globalization, splitting the world in two: authoritarianism vs. democracy, conservatism vs. liberalism. If you come from the privileged Global North, picking a side comes easy. But what about the underprivileged Global South? With nearly two years since the divisive morning of February 24, 2022, the chasm between the two has only deepened. The Israel-Hamas War is yet another iteration of it, with discourses about Western imperialism and double standards now dominating the media space. 

Ultimately, this whole variety of binaries comes down to only one: us vs. them. It is the distrust in “the Other,” the fear of the stranger or foreigner (the literal meaning of the word “xenophobia,” from Old Greek ξένος, xénos, strange, foreign, and φόβος, phóbos, fear) that seems to be haunting the human race despite all its progress. 

When push comes to shove, we tend to stick with our tribe, diversity be damned.

For a while now, I’ve been wondering why the “us vs. them” dichotomy has such a strong hold over our thinking. Our survival does not depend on it anymore, not really. So what is it? The high atomization of the neoliberal society that puts so much pressure on the competitive individual to succeed that if they fail, there is no one left to blame than the proverbial Other and walls have to be built to keep them away? Or the erasure or rewriting of cultural memory, as it is the case in contemporary Russia? Or is it the unprocessed and unhealed collective trauma that locks nations on the path of repeating the same mistakes over and over again, as the Israel-Hamas conflict demonstrates?

As university students, we are quite a fortunate lot. We sit in our air-conditioned classrooms, with our water bottles and our latest MacBooks and iPads, taking pleasure in critically assessing capitalism, neoliberalism, and heteropatriarchy. However, once we leave the safe haven of academia, the harsh reality kicks in – no one in their right mind will ever give up their privilege. A globalized world has always been a pipe dream. But then again, they say that it is dreamers that bring about change. So shall I conform or shall I dream?

For the record: the research indicating that 12% of job-seekers feel like they need change their name to get hired in Norway was done in the non-profit where the author of the article is currently interning. In no way has she been involved in the process of data collection and analysis for it, having only proofread the fine print before publication.

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