“Learning About Diversity”

diversekids

I grew up in one of the whitest states in the United States in the 1950’s in a totally white neighborhood. The textbooks we used were illustrated with white children. Magazine ads featured white models. Television shows were populated with white actors. The only exception were servants such as Jack Benny’s butler, Rochester. The crayon called “flesh” was pink. Santa was white. Jesus was white. I was white, so I had no reason to question the way the world was presented to me.

My grade school had been completely white except for one Haitian girl, daughter of a live in maid. But my high school drew from several feeder schools, and I encountered my first Chinese-American, Japanese-American and African-American classmates. But I still was pretty isolated and oblivious to the issue of race in America.

My baptism by fire came in as civil rights became a central issue in the early 1960’s. I became educated quickly about segregation and discrimination. But at the time I thought it was an issue only in the southern part of the country. Certainly it was there that governors stood in doorways to block students and police turned dogs on protestors. But the absence of true integration, evident all around me in Portland, escaped my awareness.

A lifetime later I have been consciously educating myself about the variety of human beings that share this planet. I have realized how limiting my childhood experience and education was for the world I would live in. I have read deeply about my country, its treatment of people groups from other parts of the world, and its resistance to recognizing the continuing affect of deeply held prejudices of all sorts. And as I look at Donald Trump I see a man who never learned to see, as I have, how much he had lost by isolation and how much he would gain by embracing diversity

 

28 thoughts on ““Learning About Diversity”

  1. I grew up the in the same environment. Vermont in the 70’s and 80’s was very homogeneous and yet most people I knew were open minded despite rarely if ever meeting anyone who wasn’t white. There were certainly racist people but it was generally regarded as a negative thing – unlike how it is, for example, when I visit Louisiana for business. In 2019.

    On a bike trip through Vermont in 2012 with Daegan we stayed with a guy about my age. He told stories about his grandpa who many years before was a part of the groups who fought the KKK decades before and, as he described it, ran them out of the state. (searching now, I can see that this isn’t fully accurate as they’re still around there – fortunately not with much strength.)

    1. Sadly in Oregon it was either neutral or positive. Oregon has a long dreadful history with people of color, whether banning blacks all together, banning them in towns after sunset, or prohibiting them from jobs and housing with no hesitancy. The old Oregon bore no resemblance to the Portland now portrayed in the press.

  2. In a Leadership Birminham project my group learned so much about the civil rights roots in Birmingham Alabama with Shuttlesworth and MLK. I had been a child at the time, but being part of the reenactment of the “Monday meetings” and hearing first hand stories…the history books do not begin to portray what it was like.

    1. That sounds like good training in Alabama. My dear husband grew up in Alabama and was taught about the “War of Northern Aggression.” He had to learn the rest on his own.

    1. I just finished a long biography on Frederick Douglass. I learned a lot more about the 19th century in the U.S. I have also learned a lot about prejudice against Filipinos(sp?) in the U.S. early in the 20th century before its independence.

  3. I can relate to this post completely, Elizabeth. I lived a part of my younger life in a small town in the Western Cape of South Africa and I can honestly say I didn’t know about apartheid until my family moved to the city. We never had any domestic help and everyone working at the school I attended and the libraries and shopping centres I visited was white so I never really knew about what was happening outside of my small circle of knowledge. We spend our time outside having fun on our bikes and playing in the street, it was very insular. It changed later in my life when my circle of friends and reading abilities grew wider.

  4. That whole experience rings and resonates here too. Its a challenge to understand the limited and limiting nature of my upbringing and education and how people are still demonising groups rather seeing each multifaceted human. You have Donald and his cohort we have the narrow Brexiteers and their white prismed focus on immigration. Lovely thought making piece Elizabeth

  5. I grew up in a part of London that was close to the docks. I occasionally saw foreign sailors from all around the world, but had little contact with them. In my school, every child was white. Even when I went to senior school aged 11, there were only two black kids, in a school of 1500. My Dad used words like ‘darkies’ and ‘schwarzers’ when talking about black people, but I never noticed any malicious racism from anyone, until I was in my late teens.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  6. Separation and ghettoisation create fear and suspicion and barriers. When people live together, barriers come down.
    Small children play with each other without thinking about race or culture – only about understanding each other. And they will find ways to understand each other. Racism is a learned response. All too often, it’s learned from their parents.

    1. Absolutely. There is a great song in the musical “South Pacific” “You’ve Got to Be Taught to be afraid of people whose skin is a different shade. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

      1. I think that works on both sides of the fence. I had a friend whose mother was Black and he looks White. I had no idea he was Mixed. I always assumed he was White and adopted, but I never asked. When I met his mom in person though, they looked exactly alike. I couldn’t believe how people who saw them could disbelieve that she was the mom, but she said many people did. She was often referred to as the maid or was ridiculed in public over it. Schools didn’t believe her either. I remember the look on her face when I exclaimed, “You two look exactly alike! My God, it’s scary!” I don’t think anyone else had ever said those words to her before or any polite equivalent. That light in her eyes when she heard the words was something else. She’s from Detroit or Chicago. I don’t remember which one for sure.

        1. I think the adoption thing is very common assumption. Sometimes people think I am an older sugar momma to a young woman. She always yells out “Mom” to set the record straight.

        2. I can’t believe Americans are still trying to wrap their heads around biracial children. I don’t think we have these problems in Jamaica. If the child looks Mixed, we automatically assume the two parents are either also Mixed or from different races.

          We have had a few instances though where the child didn’t look Mixed at all. One of my friends, her mom was Indian and none of us knew until her mom showed up at school in college. They look exactly alike, but the daughter didn’t show any Indian genes. She said her dad always joked that his African genes were clearly too strong to be tamed lol.

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