On a 70 degree spring Saturday, Col and I are inside the Fort Lewis College ballroom for a six-hour workshop.
Admittedly, when I told Col about the opportunity to attend the Diversity Dialogue (tagline: an all-day experiential workshop to challenge what we think we know about ourselves and others), I tried to sell it from a 12-year-old’s standpoint. I started with the free, catered lunch.
It turns out that a 12-year-old is highly capable of absorbing stories about what it’s like to be a person of color in this community, to have a disability or to be someone with a sexual orientation and identity different than the mainstream.
Col learned in real time that to have dark skin and an accent sometimes means you’ll be detained for 45 minutes by airport security while your white travel partner breezes through. He now knows that being a transgender teenager means others might fear you simply because of the way you were born. And they will express their fear as hatred. Col also saw, alarmingly, that when participants were asked if they knew anyone who had been sexually assaulted, every single person in the workshop stepped forward.
Those of us with the privilege to blend in may come to believe we have a responsibility to use our privilege to stand in solidarity with those who are targeted for being different.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
And really, diversity is the spice of life. What we observe in nature, in agriculture and in the trillions of micro-organisms that inhabit our bodies, is mirrored in our societies: Diversity makes us stronger. There is richness in our differences, in the multi-hued threads of our backgrounds woven into the tapestry of America.
When, in one of the experiential exercises, I saw Col sharing when he “felt like an outsider” with someone who had to fold herself at the waist to look him in the eye, I thought, this human need to belong transcends all our differences.
In a 2014 article in Scientific American, titled “How Diversity Makes us Smarter,” it was found that people work harder in diverse environments, both cognitively and socially. Being with others similar to us leads to thinking that we all hold the same information and share the same perspective, which actually hinders creativity and innovation. Work groups with racial diversity significantly outperformed racially homogeneous groups. Diverse juries exchanged more information and made fewer errors remembering relevant information. Could it be said that homogeneity makes us lazy? Also notable, for groups given varied tasks, the highest results were yielded, not by groups with the highest collective IQs, but by groups with a majority of women.
It’s fairly devastating for children to learn that much of our fledgling country’s prosperity was amassed by the swindling of land from native people and the forced enslavement of Africans. But, ignorance is more devastating because tomorrow’s history is still being written. We can decide how we want to show up today.
Reach Rachel Turiel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her blog, 6512 and Growing, on raising children, chickens and other messy, rewarding endeavors at 6,512 feet.