I’m sure many people are tired of hearing about Charlottesville and diversity, and all of the issues surrounding it. I had this post ready to launch last week, but I hesitated. I’m glad I did because a few things happened since then, and I think this is a better piece of writing and philosophy as a result. This is my story, and I understand we each have one. I hope mine gives you hope and perhaps a new perspective on your neighbor, whether they are a person of color or not.
I was not born into diversity, nor did I grow up in diversity. I was raised a white, Christian in a predominantly white, Christian area, but I was raised to be respectful to everyone. When I say predominantly, I mean in my high school of three grades, 10-12, with over 2,000 students, we had one black student and one Jewish student in the entire school. When you’re raised that way and go off to college and hear that all white people are racist, you wonder if that is true.
My first Taste of Diversity
In college, I began meeting people of all races and backgrounds, and I loved it. I learned so much and became a better person because of the diversity of the people around me. One of the highlights of that time was being at a party and having the hostess of the party tell all of the n-word people to get in the kitchen. I can only imagine the shocked look on my face when she looked at me and said, “I mean you too.” At that moment, I realized I was the only white person at the party. For me, it was a confirmation that I looked beyond the color of the people in front of me and saw them as people, not black people. It was a good day.
Living in Diversity
When we moved to the school district I live in now, the diversity was a bit of a shock. We came from an overwhelmingly Christian district that had Christmas parties and Christmas concerts and Easter Break. We moved to a district that had holiday parties that eventually became winter parties with winter and spring breaks. My children still attended religious services and classes, so they never missed out on those religious moments; they just no longer had them at school. What they got was something better.
Although each had a different experience, each of my children learned about different cultures and diversity in the most amazing and enriching ways. At my oldest child’s first holiday party, two Christian and two Jewish room mothers facilitated the activities. Those activities included making wreaths out of candy, playing the dreidel game, making a menorah out of a banana, pretzel sticks and mini marshmallows and listening to Christmas music. No one got offended and we didn’t talk about the religious significance of any of it. It was merely a celebration for 8 and 9 year olds, and everyone enjoyed the party.
When my middle child attended elementary school, his first grade teacher spent an entire month celebrating each child’s diversity and traditions. Each student picked a holiday or significant day in their heritage to celebrate with the class. They chose the standards like Christmas and Chanukah, but they also chose Diwali, Boxing Day, Passover, Kwanzaa and more. My middle child, whose birthday often falls during Lent or just before, chose Fat Tuesday because he loved when his birthday coincided with Fat Tuesday, and we served King Cake as his birthday cake.
My youngest child, whose birthday usually falls after Lent, decided in his third grade year that he wanted a King Cake to share with his class for that birthday. The teacher approved so we brought a huge King Cake to share with his classmates. It was different and fun and a few years later one of the Jewish moms told me that her daughter loved the cake so much, they bought a King Cake every year. Again, we shared diversity without harping on the religious significance.
Beyond Tolerance and Acceptance
This year I posted the following on Facebook for the first day of school:
I remember when my oldest child started high school in this school district. I had the privilege of sitting in the lunch room and it brought me to tears. The students or their parents come from over fifty nations around the globe. They are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist and probably some others I don’t know about. They are rich and poor and everything in between economically. They are academically gifted and special needs. They are physically able and challenged. They sit among one another. They are friends, and in my oldest son’s case, future spouses, and many adults could learn a life lesson or two from them. I know I did. Beyond tolerance is acceptance. Beyond acceptance is peace. I wish you all the peace these kids inspire.
I hesitated sharing because of fear that our district and our schools could become targets for people who don’t think like we do and would take violent action against people I care about. I don’t feel threatened by any of these people of color or their diversity, nor do my children who are all white males. They don’t feel that anyone is trying to erase them or their history because these people see history differently than they do.
What Diversity Teaches
One of the things I rarely discuss is that my boys are gamers. One in particular is an online gamer who plays with and against people around the nation and around the world. The other day, he played with a few of his friends and someone they had never gamed with before. During the game, the guy made an ignorant and racist comment about people of Asian descent. My son immediately spoke up and told the guy to apologize because the other three players on the team were Asian. I don’t remember the outcome of that situation. I do remember that my son stood up for his friends, and I’m so very proud of that.
It’s about Respect
I have often said that I forget how cruel the world can be because I live in such a diverse and accepting city. Charlottesville was a huge reminder not every place is as peaceful as the place I live. I understand that some people think that taking down statues is an attempt to erase our history, but I thought of something this morning that might help people understand. I have been married before, and like over 50% of marriages in the U.S., that marriage ended in divorce. While I wish nothing but the best for the man I divorced now, it was an ugly time in my life. It was a tumultuous and angry time. I still have pictures of that part of my life because it is part of my past, but I don’t display them in my home. Those pictures are tucked away in an album or in boxes, where they should be because displaying them would be disrespectful to the man I’ve loved, adored and been married to for the past 24 years. In my opinion, our brothers and sisters whose heritage includes slavery deserve the same respect, and if you didn’t understand before, I hope you do now. It isn’t about erasing history. It’s about putting it in its proper perspective. As always, I thank you for reading. I thank you for being you and wish you a great day.
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