November 2, 2010

Valuing Diversity: The Path to Inclusiveness.

I can remember distinctly in graduate school, driving from Happy Valley to Pittsburgh, on my way to interview for Teach for America.  At the time, I wasn’t knowledgeable about the invention of navigation systems, and even if they were available, I couldn’t have afforded it on my salary.  Anyhow, it would have probably cost more than the Kia Sephia that my Granddad selected for me at a Cincinnati car auction.  After learning how to drive stick shift, I claimed thee as my own and endearingly named her, “Snowflake.”

The twists and turns of the mountainous highway, and fear or hitting an Amish family’s buggy, caused Snowflake and me to nearly swerve off the road.  I quickly grew impatient with my crinkled paper map and pulled the car over at a small store to ask for directions. While waiting in line to talk with the cashier, a young white girl no older than 5 years old, stood directly in front of me.  Out of curiosity, she kept turning her head around to look at me.  Then, she turned around and began starring at me.  I acknowledged her curiosity and smiled back at her.  Finally, she touched my hand with her pointer finger, rubbed her fingers, and peered down at her fingertips.  She was amazed that my blackness did not rub off.

I quickly checked myself before showing that I was alarmed by her reaction, and continued to smile.  I imagined that I was the first black person that she had ever seen, and wanted my encounter with her to be a positive one.

My family had lived in many different states, prior to settling at the foot of the flatirons in Boulder.  I felt the harshness of racism as an adolescent, having my locker vandalized and being called out of my name in middle and high schools.  In the mid-90’s at my high school, there were only two openly gay students, both of whom I admired and supported for being out.

As a society, we are slowly progressing in valuing diversity.  I’ve lived in the South now collectively for over 10 years.  My most recent encounter of being uncomfortable came just a week ago, when I greeted a woman with a handshake and she opted not to shake my hand.  My experience years ago in the Pennsylvania store came back to me, and like then, I smiled and acknowledged her being uncomfortable.  Inside I was perturbed.

I’d like to hope that the more diverse our society becomes, the more inclusive people will be.  I think we should have a “Step Out of Your Comfort Zone Day” in America, where people become more open minded to other cultures, ethnicities, and sexual orientation.  Let’s rally in the spirit of Adams Morgan, a place where all people accept one another and party in unison.

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