New British PM, diaspora, embracing differences

November 2, 2022 | 04:38 pm PT
Nguyen Van Tuan Medical researcher
At a board meeting of the Australian university where I am a senior professor, a colleague was blunt when shown the proposed logo for a new research center: "Too white."

As many other white Caucasians scratched their heads over the colleague's outburst, I understood immediately. He was struck by the fact that all old people shown in the logo were white, clearly misrepresenting the racial diversity that Australia embraces and defying the goal of the Australian government to promote ethnic and social diversity.

Accepting diversity means to acknowledge, respect and fairly evaluate the contributions of all members of society, regardless of race, religion, age, or sexual orientation. If this is done well, it can be a social catalyst that promotes a sense of belonging among all individuals, significantly reducing social "otherness."

In Anglo-Saxon countries, diversification has become a particular focus in the last two decades, with the governments vocally promoting equality for all society sections in politics, science, education and business. This says to the world that "we are a peaceful, civilized and welcoming nation."

Among many diversification criteria, two of the most debated are gender and race. Female representation in top-tier decision-making remains very limited. In Australia, only 3 of 10 members of parliaments and 1 out of 4 full professors at universities are women. The ratio is significantly better at lower level positions.

The racial representation, or lack thereof, has been even more pronounced in many countries. When I first arrived in Australia 40 years ago, there was no Asian-origin member of the parliament at both state and federal levels. When I joined Australian academia 30 years ago, the number of Asian-origin professors of medicine was less than a handful. When I became a professor at New South Wales University, I had less than 10 Asian-origin colleagues.

This situation and the attitude that contributed to it was perfectly summed up by Professor Marybeth Gasman of Pennsylvania University (U.S.): "The reason we don't have more faculty of color ... is that we don't want them. We simply don't want them."

Nevertheless, the policy of encouraging diversification has significantly changed the world in the last few decades, especially the Anglo-Saxon world. In the U.S., former president Barack Obama is of African origin, while the incumbent vice president Kamala Harris is of Indian origin.

But the most significant case is the recently appointed British prime minister Rishi Sunak, son of two Hindu immigrants from Southeast Africa. He, a member of an immigrant family, has reached the epitome of British public office at just 42 years old, effectively in charge of a former colonial empire that used to rule 25% of the entire globe, also homeland of the infamous eugenic movements. Even more interesting is the fact that his family is from India, a country colonized by England for almost a century.

Britains Prime Minister Rishi Sunak walks outside Number 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, October 26, 2022. Photo by Reuters/Henry Nicholls

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak walks outside Number 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, October 26, 2022. Photo by Reuters/Henry Nicholls

Rishi Sunak reminds me of the story of millions of Vietnamese diaspora abroad, raising families in foreign environments. Many, as the first generation abroad, were busy making a living with no support from friends and families, striving to build a base for their children. Their children, born and raised in a different country with supporting families, have a chance to thrive politically, join public office, and become important decision-makers in the new country they called home.

With the diversification policy of many Western countries engendering and encouraging a multi-colored society, we can expect to see many people of Vietnamese origin holding high positions in public offices, universities and global business conglomerates in many countries.

Globalization has created global citizens, unlimited by national borders. Nowadays, more and more Vietnamese people thrive globally while fully embracing their Vietnamese origin and culture. The contributions of the diaspora in various fields benefit not only the country they live in, but their home country, Vietnam, as well. They enhance the global image of the Vietnamese people and generate new opportunities for the nation and its citizens. We, as a society, should be proud of them.

The story of Rishi Sunak and diaspora of any other nation, Vietnamese included, shows the importance of having a diversity welcoming environment. Only in an open environment that is not dictated by geographical origin, gender or race can talents thrive.

Maybe Vietnam, as a nation, could pick a few tips from diversity-welcoming countries, too.

*Nguyen Van Tuan is director of the Center for Health Technologies at the University of Technology in Sydney.

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