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Diversity & Social Change: A Cross-Cultural Comparison of London & Copenhagen

Jan 12, 2020 10:15:00 AM / by Guest Posts

CAPA Diversity Advocates scholar Danielle Tahan presents a discourse on diversity and progression toward an equitable and sustainable society between an ethnically diverse city and a homogeneous city. She explores how changes are built from the ground up between these two cities and shares a solution to initiate diverse perspectives.

The inclusion and appreciation of all identities is absolutely necessary to create social change and work toward an equitable society. However, through my international experience I am left with the thought that individual societies are able to successfully facilitate progressive initiatives because of their lack of diversity. This observation challenges my passion for establishing equitable societies that accept and embrace all communities.

I strongly believe that diversity and social change go hand-in-hand; not only must we seek to understand and support individuals, but we must also strive to create equitable resources and opportunities. If we are missing one piece of the puzzle, social equity is unattainable. Without diversity, we negate the lived experiences of individuals who do not make up the dominant narrative. Without social change, we allow the dominant forces to control those who are often silenced.

Street art and scene in LondonThe street art scene and artistic expression in London.

I am going to explore a cross-cultural comparison between two societies that I have experienced while abroad and discuss my observations of how they differ in diversity and how that determines what social change they can accomplish. Two cities, London and Copenhagen, greatly differ in diversity, which ultimately contribute to their capabilities of creating social change.

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Diversity manifests in many forms; diversity does not just pertain to the inclusion of different races and ethnicities. Rather, diversity consists of the many differences that contribute to our individuality. Diversity and social change operate to support and empower those unique identities.

The foundation of one’s identity and how it continues to develop depends on one’s environment. A diverse environment may allow individuals to explore their identity and how they wish to interact with their world, while a less diverse community may not provide that opportunity. For instance, London and Copenhagen are two cities that greatly differ in diversity. London ranks as the most ethnically diverse area of England in which only 44.9% of its population are white British people.[1] On the other hand, more than 73% of the people in Copenhagen are Danish.[2]

Despite their lack in diversity, or possibly because of their lack in diversity, Copenhagen has been able to achieve great sustainability initiatives. Their commitment to achieving a healthier environment is evident with their bicycle culture, renewable energy, and recycling methods. In addition, all of their infrastructure projects are energy-efficient and prioritize environmental sustainability. On the other hand, London remains a bit behind on environmental initiatives. Some Londoners have resorted to protesting and being arrested during Extinction Rebellion in hopes of acknowledgement by those in power because they mandate the change to combat the climate emergency. Ultimately, there is such a disconnect between the people and the government that Extinction Rebellion was banned.

Bike park in CopenhagenBike park in Copenhagen.

I wonder if London’s diversity in culture, ethnicity, and perspective hinders the progression of social change. As mentioned, an overwhelming majority of the people of Copenhagen are Danish. The Danish culture revolves around social trust and a sense of community, “the idea is that everyone must contribute to the community and in return, the community will help care for all”.[3] This foundational value that is deeply ingrained in their society allows them to execute welfare programs. These values easily persist because when the majority of its people have only ever known to trust their state and community, that is what happens.

What implications do these demographics have? Does the degree of diversity in a society dictate what social change can be implemented? Is Copenhagen able to execute progressive initiatives because its people are mostly from Denmark and more-or-less on the same page? If it does, how do we translate progressive changes from one community to another? Can we? In an attempt to answer these questions, I’ve asked myself even more questions…

What factors are necessary to facilitate and encourage a diverse environment?

In order to foster a safe and empowering diverse environment, inclusion and acceptance, beyond just tolerance, must be widely understood. This can be achieved through educating and enforcing these values within the school systems so that positive foundations are made. In addition, society must be built on the freedom of human expression. Without this notion, identities would be negated or suppressed. Needless to say to cultivate this environment, diverse communities must be involved.

Are there circumstances that prevent us from achieving a supportive, diverse environment?

I would argue that both Copenhagen and London lack necessary elements to achieve social change for a diverse environment. Although Copenhagen has developed a strong foundation based on a sense of trust and community, it significantly lacks diversity in its people. Their society has been able to achieve great public welfare and environmental initiatives, but if social change that is necessary for human sustainability cannot be translated to diverse contexts, is it even worth it? Can we somehow apply these progressive initiatives to a society like London? London is one of the most global cities in the world, so theoretically it possesses extremely diverse perspectives. However, this diversity seems to hinder London’s progression of social change. This is a frustrating concept for me because diversity is absolutely vital, yet social change is also needed to establish environments that support diversity and human sustainability.

So, how do we cultivate a diverse environment that is also capable of making social change?

Copenhagen has been able to achieve great progress in supporting the environment for human sustainability. However, you do not see outcomes such as bridging the academic achievement gap among races because that probably is not a priority of theirs since they lack racial diversity. On the other hand, we know that London is extremely racially and ethnically diverse. Along with this diversity in people comes diverse perspectives in what needs to be changed. Individuals typically develop passions based on their identity and how their lived experiences have shaped them and others around them. So, if we encourage individuals to discover and pursue their unique passions, we can cover a multitude of social issues. A society like Copenhagen likely won’t be able to achieve social change of a wide variety of injustices because they lack the perspectives that would bring light to these issues. On the other hand, a diverse environment like London has the potential to achieve great social change if we discover how to encourage others to care to progress society and prioritize those passions.

Street artStreet art in London.

Ultimately, the solution I have come to is to encourage individuals to support one another and equip them with the necessary inspiration and education to do so.

With a diverse set of perspectives, along with passion for change and the support to do so, we can transform society so that diversity and social change are not mutually exclusive. I have found my experience abroad incredibly valuable in reaching this conclusion; it is imperative to analyze and compare different societies to discover what is the most effective way to move forward.

I’ve found my individual passion - I believe that a diverse educational setting is the outlet that can be used to facilitate the necessary awareness and passion for all human lives, leading to a variety of social change. I will use my cross-cultural observations to pursue my passion of fostering equitable education systems and supportive communities in order to create social change. If we all pursue our individual passions, while creating a supportive environment to do so, we will see great change towards social equity and thrive in the growth of others. So, what will you do?

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References:

[1] Office for National Statistics. (2019, July 11). Regional ethnic diversity. Retrieved November 1, 2019,
from https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/uk-population-by-ethnicity/national-and-regional-populations/regional-ethnic-diversity/latest
[2] Copenhagen Population 2019. (n.d.). Retrieved November 1, 2019, from http://worldpopulationreview.com/world-cities/copenhagen-population/
[3] Why Denmark is a great place to live. (n.d.). Retrieved November 1, 2019, from https://denmark.dk/people-and-culture

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Thanks, Danielle!

DAP_Danielle Tahan Circle Headshot

Danielle Tahan studied Psychology with minors in Domestic Violence Prevention & Services and Human Development & Family Sciences at the University of Delaware. She spent her final semester of her senior year abroad in London with CAPA. A Diversity Advocates Scholar with CAPA, Danielle hopes to use this experience to enhance her journey of discovering how to advocate for others in diverse contexts.

At CAPA, we seek to foster increased student diversity and to provide all participants with the opportunity to explore, challenge and redefine their identities in distinct ways. Launched in Spring 2017, the Diversity Advocates Program (DAP) is an extension of this philosophy and provides resources for advocates to pursue diversity initiatives of their own within their global cities.

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Topics: London, England, Diversity Abroad