3.14.2008

Divining Definitions of Diversity

This comes from a request by an individual I’ll call “Candy Cane”… because she’s striped, can hang on a Christmas Tree, and when you use her to stir hot cocoa… it tastes better. (Better than saying, “No reason at all”)

She asked me to write about “What is Diversity, and what does it means to me?”

The simplest definition is just using a synonym. Variety. You know, variety is the spice of life… shall we go for Italian, Chinese, Indian or Mexican food tonight? We play a variety of hits from the 70s, 80s, 90s and today. Et cetera, et cetera et cetera. I like diversity in my food selections, I have more than one color of shirt, I love good cinema regardless of genre, and my music tastes range from Classical to Rock to Pop to Blues to Showtunes (with a spattering of Rap, and VERY little Country).

There we go, case closed. Have a nice day!

Only, to leave it there, that would get some people pointing the finger and saying, “You’re avoiding the real issue! You’re wimping out!” (poke poke poke)

Stop poking me! Chill out! Besides, my blog posts are never that short.

“Diversity” is one of those odd words in the English Language. Odd in a very particular sense… when the word “diversity” is used, people usually assume you’re talking about race and culture. When using other synonyms… variety, variousness, multiplicity, multiformity, heterogeneousness (yes, that’s a word… it means “diversity”), wide-selection… no one ever uses *those* words in that context… even though they mean the exact same thing. In the English Dictionary, that is.

In the Public Opinion Dictionary, however… “Diversity” is associated with the issue of race and culture. Always. Colleges advertise how they have a “diverse” campus; if they mention the word “variety”, it’s probably talking about the cafeteria menu.

“Diversity” is one of those political buzzwords… I almost think it was purposefully altered, by careful design, to be connected to that issue, solely. It’s now part of that “P.C. vocabulary”… and that’s just a notion that Lenny Bruce tried to nip in the bud long before the term “P.C.” was even thought of. Being “politically correct” was just an effort, by POLITICIANS, to make sure everyone liked what they said. You can’t make everyone happy… but it doesn’t stop them from trying. If they’re happy with what you say, they won’t complain when you pass crappy laws, raise taxes, or solicit prostitutes in your off-hours. So the word, “Diversity” became adopted into their fold… and now it’s permanently stapled to only one facet of its original meaning.

Despite my cynicism on its origins… I *like* the idea of diversity. No, I’m not saying that to be P.C… (I actually find the idea of being an “equal-opportunity offender” to be better than that) I’m saying it because it’s a fact. I love to personally explore the multiplicity of options this world has… how could you not? You want a thousand different blends of coffee, but want the sociological world to be just *one* way? That don’t make sense to me.

I’ve had an interest in Asian cultures since I was young. (Except for Russia… no offense, it’s just too cold there and too much like New Hampshire winters. Hey… Russia IS in Asia!) Sure, maybe it was sparked by Bruce Lee and Godzilla movies, but at least I got the interest. (Better than nothing) I’ve lived in several different types of neighborhoods, each one predominantly populated by a different race than my own… I have friends of all different colors and choices, and I’ve been rejected for dates by Blacks, Whites, Asians, Latinas, Armenians, etc etc.

In fact it was during a particular 2 month stretch, I realized I was being pretty diverse in my search for love… wherein which I was separately told by a short, white goth chick, and a subtly-thick black semi-professional that they were both going back to their Ex-boyfriends to “give it another shot”. So, while my choice of dates may be diverse… apparently the brush-offs I get are not so. Go figure.

Sometimes I wonder where I got such open attitudes. Naturally, we always look to the parents that raised us to see what our “normal” attitude to such things should be.

So let’s not mince words: My dad is a Bigot.

Okay, let’s mince them a *little* bit… I say he’s a Bigot, but I *don’t* mean he’s a Racist. The first time I ever put that concept to words, was in the presence of my first therapist. She asked, “What’s the difference?”

A Bigot talks the Talk. A Racist walks the Walk.

You see… my Dad talks a big game. He throws out the racial slurs and insults at will, and doesn’t really care too much. Only because his immediate family (all of us who are the same race as he is) are the only ones listening. (Somehow, he thinks we want to hear it… even after I’ve told him I don’t) Say he’s watching football, and a story comes up how a fairly new player to the league just suffered a really bad injury, and will probably never play again. If that player is black? He usually says something like, “and you *know* that he only went to college to play football… he doesn’t know anything else, and now look at him. Injured and his life is thrown away. Figures.” Oddly, I haven’t heard him say that about a white player that gets injured. (Gee, I wonder why?... he says rhetorically.) I’ve heard him say that on a few occasions, and I honestly never thought my eyes could roll that far back into my head. The idiocy of that statement is so much greater than any football player could ever be, even after 3,000 sacks to the head.

That’s a tame example… but he’ll never TREAT anyone differently who is of another race or creed. To their face, he’ll be decent, even friendly. Hell, he even voted for Obama in the Primary. (Though, I suspect it’s because Hillary *really* frightens him… not because she’s a woman… It’s just Hillary.) You might never know by his actions that his mind houses this prejudiced viewpoint.

In many ways, I consider the Bigots to be more dangerous than the Racists. It’s easier (comparatively) to see, recognize and stop Racist Actions… how can you see someone’s Bigoted THOUGHTS? Thoughts can be more dangerous… because it keeps that attitude in existence. You can arrest a Klansman, take him out of the equation, and tell his son, “Killing is wrong, it never solves anything blah blah”… and that boy could live the rest of his life and never kill or harm anyone different then him. But he can still THINK it… and there’s no way to know for sure if he is or not. Then, he can pass it on. That’s a scarier idea to me, overall.

I suspect my grandfather had some similarities in his attitude. Of course, as I remember him, he was old and chilled out. But apparently, the one complaint he did always make to people was about a neighbor of his… who was referred to as “that damn Cambodian”. Maybe he didn’t shovel the snow close enough to the curb, or he didn’t recycle his cans, or whatever… Grandpa bitched about “that Cambodian” a lot. Then, when my grandfather passed… “The Damn Cambodian” came to the funeral to pay his respects… and the rest of the family finally got to meet… “The Damn Cambodian”:

His name was Jesus (Hay-soos). He was from El Salvador.

Yeah… never let it be said that actual Logic dictated the thinking in my family.

As for other family members? Well… I have a vivid memory of one of my Uncles talking to me and my brothers (being the only males in the “league of grandchildren”, and the ones carrying on the family name, whether we like it or not) and saying, “Just so you guys know… you can date whoever you want, but when it comes to marrying, make sure it’s someone of your own race.”

I’m not completely sure if he was joking or being serious. This is the Uncle who keeps a straighter face than anyone I’ve ever met in my life, so it can be hard to tell.

Now the cycle of silly (and sometimes downright comical) prejudices has to stop somewhere, or it just keeps going and going, infecting everything. Now, that’s not something I want MY kids to have… so it has to stop with me.

I believe everyone would agree with that… anyone who reads this might say the same thing… “it has to stop with me”. And I think we all feel we’re up to the challenge. In fact, I think most people might even say, “I’ve never had a racist or bigoted thought in my whole life!” Trumpets blare, medals are handed out, etc…

But that’s an easy answer. TOO easy, in fact. And I’m far too introspective to just throw that statement out there willy-nilly, buy it and sell it at face value.

To be honest… I don’t know if I can say that.

When I was in Elementary School… girls were icky. No surprise there. They were for most little boys. Girls were icky, boys had cooties… there’s balance in the universe, that’s how it works.

There was one girl in particular. She didn’t seem to be friends with other girls… at least I don’t recall. Her name was Rachel. (Name not changed… because she was innocent. I don’t want protecting.) I’m sorry to say I don’t remember her last name. Though, this was about 25 years ago…

Rachel was the only girl in our class… nay, probably the only girl in SCHOOL… who was black.

Granted, our school was small… all 6 grades combined (Kindergarten through 5th) totaled about 200 kids, if that. But it was suburban Massachusetts in the early 80s… not a lot of “heterogeneousness” there.

I seem to remember we were particularly mean to Rachel… on a regular basis. I remember that if she touched one of us, one of the others would mime this imaginary “spray” to disinfect where she touched. We *did* do it sometimes when other girls touched us too… (the whole “icky” thing) but most often it was with Rachel. We never used names or specifically said any reference to her skin color… at least that I ever heard/recall… I think the most directly insulting thing that I recall was during Valentine’s Day when handing out your Valentines (You had to give one to EVERYONE or none at all)… on Rachel’s card, just above the “Please be my Valentine”, kids would put a strategically-placed “Don’t”.

I remember one time, she actually called me on the phone, just to talk. To say hi. I wasn’t a big phone talker, and wondered why this “icky girl” was calling me, preventing me from going outside to play. She only called once. (I think it was after the one Valentine’s Day I *didn’t* put the “don’t” in.)

Eventually, she just disappeared. A summer came and went… school started again, and she wasn’t there. Figured her family moved or something. No one ever seemed to bat an eye.

I think back on it now, and I feel bad… this girl just wanted a friend. I’m especially surprised that *I* took part in that behavior, because I wasn’t the most popular kid myself… I was pretty awkward, too. Maybe that’s why she called me that one time… she thought we had something in common.

Were my actions the seeds of true Racism/Bigotry? Were we treating her that way because she was black? Or was it just another of the “icky girls”, and I only remember it BECAUSE she was the only black girl in school? I honestly don’t know… and that uncertainty kind of scares me. To think that maybe those attitudes could have been in me at some point… really humbles me.

I hope she’s doing well. I hope she dreamed of touching the stars, and now gets to do so… on a regular basis.

(I mean that metaphorically… I know commercial space-travel isn’t up to an affordable level yet.)

But… if there’s one good thing that came out of that… it reminds me that all people are deserving of respect, and color ain’t nothing but a crayon name.

The only other “people of color” that I would have considered ever having a personal problem with… was after we moved to New Hampshire (an even LESS diverse neighborhood then in that part of Massachusetts, if that was possible). A few months after we moved in… on Halloween night, I remember… directly across the street, moved in a black family.

Now the oldest brother and sister, were good people. At least when I got to know them. The sister was in my brother’s grade, and the brother was in mine. We became friends in the 6th grade. We even won a “contest” together… some book sale was coming to the school, and there was a competition to write an “ad” that you would get to say over the loudspeaker during the morning announcements. The winner… got a whole 5 dollar gift certificate. I actually suggested that we do it together. And we did. When we were presenting it in the “competition”, I was shocked that there was only 1 other kid, out of the whole school, that wrote a prospective ad. It was the team of me and my neighbor… against this one other kid. We won. That’s 2 dollars and 50 cents in free books apiece… yeah, baby! Though, in retrospect… I think I’m the one that actually did all the writing, and in the performing, he did ONE line. *shrug* Eh… what can ya do?

As we got into High School… we ended up not having any classes together… eventually, he melded into the “Jock crowd” (I think)… I remained my freaky oddball-among-oddities self.

The ones I DID have a problem with… were his younger brothers. They were truly little assholes. I’m fully confident, to this day, that the reason I didn’t like them had nothing to do with skin color… they themselves were 100% dicks. Yeah, punks… that’s what you get for calling me “Fat” on the school bus… you get “served” on my blog!

Okay, that didn’t sound as impressive as when I first thought of it…

My undergrad college was a slight step up from high school… in terms of multiformity. There were a few various ethnicities on campus, but again… central New Hampshire… take what you get. Race-wise, the strangest comment I ever heard came from a white girl. She was a DJ at the college radio station, and a small group of us were talking about being “open-minded”… the exact reason for the conversation escapes me… and I actually heard this girl say, “I’m very open-minded. In fact, I’m so open-minded, that I only date black men.”

Something… odd… about that statement, don’t you think? She wasn’t being sarcastic, or ironic… she was being 100% serious. Sometimes, I’m still trying to figure that one out.

But when I moved to Northern California for Graduate School… Oochie mama! So many different types of people… and so many of each kind! That was the first time I truly felt like I was in a “diverse environment”. I never felt uncomfortable, or out of place… in fact, I liked the variety. It was interesting, it was beautiful, it was so very different than what I grew up with. It was there that I had my first opportunity to even fall for someone of a different ethnicity than myself.

Now, it wasn’t because of that ethnicity that I fell for her. Though, for a while, I did wonder if I in fact “had a thing for Asians”… of which she is. Ultimately, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have a thing for “certain” Asians. Just like I have a thing for “certain white women”, “certain black women”, etc. Nothing about the DNA… she was just a quality individual.

Smart, funny, driven, responsible, beautiful… the kind of beautiful that’s worth taking a chance getting rejected. Ultimately, I was. Probably chalk it up to a case of “bad luck in the timing”… this was about the time my family was meeting “The Damn Cambodian”, so guess what I was going through?

But… and I’m very thankful for this… we’re still friends. She’s one of the few people I stay in fairly regular contact with from Grad School… and I always smile when I hear from her. While we’re now thousands of miles apart, geographically… sometimes I still wonder if things had gone a little different for us at the time… or even if I got another chance, what would I do?

But I digress…

When I got down to Los Angeles… this diversity thing was old hat. I pretty much started taking it for granted… because when I came back East… Holy Reverse Culture Shock, Batman! Why is everyone white? Not even a *little* variety, no? Oh wait… that’s right… this is New Hampshire.

I got spoiled. From college on up… not just diversity in race and color… but in attitudes and choices. Tattoos, piercings, gays, bisexuals, transvestites, transsexuals, bikers, actors; you name the subculture, I’ve probably got a friend in there… and all are people I would take bullets for.

That’s diversity to me. A bunch of people I love.

Variety *is* the spice of life.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I FOUND THE SECRET LINK ON YOUR PAGE! WHOO-HOOO!!!!!!

Hope you are well.
Hayley

Shawn said...

One of the reasons I think bigotry and racism are still around is simply because a number of people simply can't accept the fact that their failings in life are their fault. There always has to be some group out there that is the cause of all their problems, but $diety forbid that it's themselves.

My ex-step-father, who amounts to a festering sore on the anus of humanity, was Costa Rican. He was one of the most bigoted people I've ever had the displeasure of knowing. He was even bigoted against his own race. I could never figure that one out.

The fact that there is still a prevailing "us-versus-them" mentality doesn't help the situation. Just take religion for example. If you're not with them, then you're a heathen and directly-indirectly responsible for the evils in this world.

Give. Me. A. Break.

You should disown your parents. There nothing but a black-hole of negativity.

Have ye figered out who I is yet? :)

~X~