I attended a conference. On diversity. I went because I love the various flavors in which we human beings come. I love the picture we paint when we come together. It’s a much more beautiful picture than the one we paint when we are alone. I thought the conference would provide me with some additional insight in how to make that happen. How to draw us together. In spite of our differences. Because, I believe, in our heart, we have far more commonalities than differences and I believe those things we have in common will help us to overcome any of our many variations.
That was not the overall message of the conference. In fact, the message was completely the opposite.
The overriding message was hurtful. It was filled with hate. Bitterness. Rage. It was loaded with rejection and shame. Rejection of anyone who was white.
I was looking for inspiration. A path to understanding. A meeting of the minds. Sharing experiences and connecting. But because I’m a Caucasian woman, I was ostracized. Minimized. I was nothing. I was made out to be the enemy.
I guess I got a “point,” or maybe two, for being a woman.
Three of the main speakers were completely filled and consumed with hate. Spewed it. They said things like, “We’re going to take the power from white people…that’s all that is ever going to make it right.” “We’re going to take control.” “They’re going to have to deal with us.” “We’re going to take them down.”
They believe they are special. Worth more. Because they are a minority.
I believe we are all special. No matter who we are. I believe that we all have worth. Equal worth.
My belief made me an object of ridicule.
They also said that our differences are all that matters. They think their differences are god. That nothing else is important Except them. And what they have suffered. They said we could possibly understand each other to a small degree, but we could never come together. We could never really overcome our differences. And they seemed to think that their differences make them…better. Than anyone who is white.
They were very full of themselves and their own experiences. They maximized their own hurt. They weren’t big on acknowledging the pain and hurtful experiences of others.
Yet, to me, their pain matters. So does mine. So does yours. Each of us has a story. Each story is important. No one is any more special than anyone else.
I have always believed that true diversity would mean no one has all the power. I have always believed that the only way to heal is to make sure we are all in control, that we all have power, are all working together, joining with each other to accomplish more. I have always felt it would mean all of us would come together, dealing with the problems and finding solutions. Joining together. In spite of our differences. Love conquering hate.
But that was not the main message of the conference. There were a couple of good speakers. But the angry, raging, ugly messages were impossible to ignore. They prevailed.
I believe differences should be celebrated. They are beautiful and they allow us to obtain different perspectives. But I also believe that our shared experiences will forge the connections we need to make a true difference in this world. A positive difference.
It’s the only way we will connect. And overcome.
The first black person I ever met was an attendant at the George Washington Carver Memorial in Carthage, MO. My eyes were huge as I stared at him. But he was gracious. He was kind. He beckoned me over. Asked me, “Have you never seen a black man before?” I shook my head, “no.” He told me not to be afraid. To touch his skin. I slowly stepped forward. And I did…his skin was soft and beautiful. Then…the miracle. He turned his hand over…and his palm! His palm was white! I remember so clearly, gasping, and then looking up at him and saying, “Look! We’re the same inside!”
That settled it in my mind. The outer shell mattered not at all.
What was inside, in the heart…that’s what mattered.
As a result, when I was a kid, I hated being white. I thought I was vanilla ice cream and I didn’t really like vanilla all that much. I wanted chocolate, mint, butterscotch, rocky road, strawberry, cherry…all the really amazing and lovely flavorful flavors. Plain vanilla was boring. Uninspiring.
Of course, I was being abused. Raped by my father. I was being taught by him that I was an object. Being an object was vanilla. I hated being vanilla.
I pretended to be Hispanic. Back then, it was called Mexican. I used to speak with a “Mexican” accent (courtesy of High Chaparral) as I talked to imaginary friends. I searched my family heritage, as much as I could, considering my abusive parents didn’t like to share our history. I discovered I probably had some Cherokee blood and that delighted me. I didn’t want to be vanilla. Being vanilla meant being nothing.
Me…the object. Nothing.
The conference hurt me. It hurt me because I want to hold hands with people who are like me and people who are vastly different than I am.
They did not want to hold hands. They did not want to connect. They wanted to discount and destroy me.
God held hands. He held hands with sinners. He accepted those who were rejected. He is the only one who knows our heart. He is the only one who can judge. I can’t judge because I can’t see everything. My job is to build bridges. To accept those who are rejected. To spread love.
I think diversity is glorious. I think the things we all share…those hopes and dreams we have for our lives, the pain we suffer, the things we overcome, the experiences we have all suffered through…will ultimately allow us to bridge the chasms. I think that is the only way we will thrive. To me, diversity is including everyone, giving power to all voices, listening to everyone’s stories, respecting who and where we are, working to understand, accepting and loving in spite of those things that set us apart. Being unique, but being the same. Lots of flavors of ice cream. A picture with many colors, textures, shapes.
A wondrous picture. All of us different. But the same. Where it matters.