On Organic vs Proactive Diversity

One of my favorite bloggers/writers is Tami Winfrey Harris. She’s brilliant, and she can be found at What Tami Said and at Anti-Racist Parent. Here is just one of the many posts that I love:

written by Anti-Racist Parent editor Tami Winfrey Harris

Diversity is important to personal and community development. Diversity is not organic.
Kathleen Parker’s article two week’s ago in the Washington Post helped me to crystalize my thoughts on diversity, its importance and how community’s can achieve successful and beneficial diversity. You may remember that Parker wasn’t sold on new radio commercials celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act:
Lately, the fine intent of eliminating discrimination seems to have morphed into diversity advocacy.

Before I proceed, let me say that I prefer a world in which not everyone is the same. I like that my neighbors include a gay couple and a single mother and that several languages are spoken on my street.

But happy diversity is an organic process that results when like-minded citizens congregate around shared values and interests. Often those interests and values have evolved from racial and ethnic identities, but not necessarily. Sometimes neighbors of diverse backgrounds share affection for old houses, or window boxes, or pet-friendliness.

That not all people have access to all the same housing opportunities is called life in a free-market society. But the fair-housing folks want life to be more fair, and the ads are warming us up for some really fun social engineering. Read more…

One of the ads that so disturb Ms. Parker:

The wormiest of three ads posted online features a mother and daughter just home from visiting mom’s workplace. Daughter is breathless with wonder at how diverse Mom’s workplace is, but wants to know why everyone in their neighborhood “looks just like us?” Dum-de-dum-dum.

Horrors!

I tend to think those who disdain proactive encouragement of diversity are really poor students of human behavior and that they don’t really believe in diversity’s importance. It feels more secure to be surrounded by people who look and think and eat and worship and work and live and parent the way you do. The echo chamber of homogenity is comforting in the way it tacitly approves of your life and choices. Who wouldn’t want this? Like seeks like–it is easiest that way. It is the rare person who likes to be uncomfortable.

Diversity done correctly is almost always uncomfortable–at least a little. Living or socializing or working around people who are different–racially, ethnically, politically, religiously, etc.–requires compromise, requires empathy, requires withholding judgement, requires being open to learning. Being confronted with difference can mean having your way of looking, thinking, eating, worshipping, working, parenting and living challenged. It means having your biases and bigotry challenged (and we don’t like to think we have any of those, do we?). But these are good things, yes? The discomfort of diversity yields better people and better communities. Diversity done correctly is also almost always rewarding. But it should be clear why it isn’t and never will be “organic.”

Anti-Racist Parent columnist Susan Lyons-Joell also weighed in on the article:

What do people want in their neighborhood? How about affordable housing, access to decent hospitals, grocery stores and businesses, a police force on your side, and a good public education and the careers that come with it. It’s no coincidence that neighborhoods where those things are missing are those that overwhelmingly are minority-dominated. That’s not the “free market,” that’s institutional racism held in place by economic disparity. Where one grows up can be a burden or a blessing, and it is not easily negated after the fact. Contrary to what Ms. Parker claims, diverse neighborhoods are not produced deliberately and intentionally – they are more often than not a product of economic and social circumstance. For that matter, so are the non-diverse neighborhoods, like the 1950s white-only enclaves that have only recently begun to have ethnic diversity, as those neighborhoods decline and the white people MOVE OUT.

It must be so nice to be able to pretend that a diverse environment is something willfully chosen or unchosen based on your own personal preference and needs. But it’s not. It’s a social justice issue, showing the inequalities, often along color lines, that still exist in America. There’s nothing “free-market” about a social stratum that is stacked against you from day one because of where you live. Ms. Parker, if you’re not committed to fixing it, you’re part of the problem.
Readers, what do you think?

Thanks to Tami for allowing the cross-post!

10 Things I Love About Being a Mom

1. Loving unconditionally

2. Knowing that I can make the world better for someone with just a hug

3. That drowsy eyes moment before the kids move from awake to asleep

4. Discovering the balance between protecting and letting go

5. Identifying my child simply by the sound of his cry or the smell of his skin

6. Watching my children fight, then love, then fight, then love

7. Being reminded each day about the importance of playing, laughing, crying, peeing and pooping

8. Patience

9. Being the audience at every dance show, fashion show, “look at my drawing” show, and “come watch me do this” show

10. Loving someone more than I could ever love myself, but teaching them the importance of loving who you are

The Responsibility of Passing

picture-1I love when readers inspire blog posts (which, many of you do – thank you!!). One of our readers recently commented about “passing”, the privilege/art/opportunity of being able to move through identities.

I have never in my life been able to “pass” for anything other than a heterosexual, middle class, educated, Asian American woman. Heck, I’ll even throw Catholic into that list.  The idea of me being able to pass as anything other than what I am is an embarassing sight to see. If I were to attempt to pass as anything else, I would be invoking every single stereotype in the book, and I would do it horribly.

However, the thoughtful comment got me thinking — is there a social justice responsibility for those who can/do pass as having a different identity? I recently wrote about how my family and I were at a birthday party, and we were the only brown family. I use the color — brown — on purpose because we actually were the only brown skinned family there. The commenter was correct: there could have been light skinned Puerto Ricans there or LGBT families, however we were truly the only visibly brown family at the party. So, her comment got me thinking about 2 different areas: 1) why is it important to be able to identify with a physical characteristic or identity; and 2) is there a larger responsibility for those who can pass to be advocates for justice for those who cannot pass?

Whenever I go into a new situation, particularly a room of people, I find myself quickly scanning to see if there are any other people of color. Usually, there are not, and it’s something I used to given where I live and work. There are certainly people in the room who share similar parts of my identity — religion, sexual identity, marriage status, gender, parenting, etc. — but I find myself at least wanting to relate quickly to someone else in the room. I scan for brown. I don’t even care if there are other Asians in the room, but it is important for me to see whether or not there are other people of color. If I do spot a POC, I might, in fact, share nothing else in common with that individual; however I know that I relax just a little bit more when I see another POC. It’s my own personal Whitney Houston moment — like in “Waiting to Exhale.”

Why do this? Why is it important? Because, I know that, like it or not, statements that I make or opinions that I offer in a meeting/social situation will likely be perceived as a Person-Of-Color-Opinion — even if my statement/opinion has nothing to do with my racial identity; and, if there is another POC there, I don’t feel as much pressure to speak for all POCs (or to be perceived as speaking for all POCs).  Because, when there is another person of color there, I don’t feel as much pressure to be the racial watchdog nor the politically correct barometer.
So, what about people who pass? If there was a light skinned POC in the room  – or a majority person in the room who has a developed sense of social justice – what is his/her responsibility to be the watchdog or barometer?

When I do workshops, I love the moments when a person who can pass speaks up. “Well, as a Puerto Rican man, I think that….” (and the room shifts; you hear this ever so soft collective “gasp!”).

People who can pass have their own burdens at times — sometimes they aren’t seen as “enough”: not Black enough, not gay enough, not street enough…. and have to prove themselves over and above. For example, at a recent workshop, a number of  light skin Latino students expressed that they often speak Spanish more often and more loudly in public so no one will question their heritage.

But, at this birthday party, there was no way we could hide or blend in even if we wanted to.

For those who can pass as sharing more similar characteristics with the majority in the room, what are responsibilities for standing up for those who cannot pass?