Diversity is Not a Pizza

We love diversity. We love seeing it celebrated on our bumpers. But we’re continually frustrated that the groups where we spend our time are not sufficiently diverse. We’re constantly wondering, often aloud, what it would take to get more people not like us to come to wherever it is that we are. We wish for more diversity in our workplace, in our places of worship, among our leaders, or in our favorite social groups.

But here’s the thing we fail to understand. We’re mystified how to more effectively invite people whose skin color or income level or political persuasion does not match ours. We hope somebody can come up with a plan that will fix this problem, which we congratulate ourselves for recognizing, and then we wait.

But diversity is not a pizza. It will not be delivered when you find yourself craving it. Like many good things (including pizza), it should be carried out by those who value it. Expecting diversity to come to you is asking others to work harder at something because you want it. That’s not only illogical, it’s unfair.

Try this instead. Go where they are. Yes, you may feel awkward. You may stand out. You may worry that others are wondering why you’re there, or noticing how you don’t fit in. That’s exactly the point.

If you wish there were more young people caring about your favorite topic, go to where young people meet. If you wish you could better understand what the phrase “Black Lives Matter” means to those who are black, go to a local NAACP meeting. If income inequality is your gravest concern, go where your income is the exception and not the rule. If you think only broadened political views can bridge what divides us, go to the other side.

And listen. Listen first to your own discomfort to better understand why “they” have been so reluctant to join “us.” Listen to their concerns. Notice where their assumptions are different from your own. Feel yourself being stretched, as difficult as it is.

If you don’t hurry out the door, chances are good that somebody will approach you. They may start with suspicion, because we’re wired to respond to aberrations of any sort with questions about safety first. Once those needs are met, genuine dialogue can begin.

When I’m in Washington, D.C., I regularly attend the Progress For Christ Baptist Church. I’ve never seen another Caucasian there, but I’ve seen an 8-year-old drummer, a choir of five singing like 50, hour-long sermons, and a small congregation intent on sharing everything they have — not just what they can spare.

Rev. Dr. John D. Chaplin’s Mothers Day sermon has stayed with me for years, about how the deliberate rending of African-American families for over a century cannot be expected to heal quickly. “Whose you are” comes before “who you are.”

We must begin with who we are. Each of us will congregate with those who are like us, unless we expressly intend something different. That’s hard work and it’s getting harder.

Former U.S. Congressman Les AuCoin noticed decades ago that the word “community” was being co-opted by identity politics. A word that represents inclusion has been inverted to express exclusion. It’s often now synonymous with “interest group.”

Today we have the LGBT community, the business community, the environmentalist community, the bicyclist-rights community, and dozens more. What we’ve lost is the community community.

It’s time to rebuild that. It can begin with each of us venturing into unfamiliar territory to meet others where they are not in the minority, but we are. We can stop wanting diversity and start being diversity. The lessons will surprise you.

I once helped out at a soup kitchen, where a homeless man confided in me that he prefers winters to summers because his scavenged food lasted longer with “God’s refrigeration.” Yes, like that.

Something akin to enjoyment will start lapping at your edges, washing away some of the discomfort. Joy follows discovery, as your world gets larger and less fearsome. And that’s worth celebrating.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.