Cracking Eggs: A Few Thoughts on Teaching Diversity
After watching this image and others similar in essence roll down my newsfeed, I thought I would take a few moments to address what I see as a ruinous flaw in teaching diversity this way. I understand the spirit of this activity, but it falls short of its intended goal. Teaching diversity in this manner is analogous to the clarion call for colorblindness being sounded by some of my well-intentioned, though misguided, friends.
It is quite easy to ignore or fail to recognize the power dynamic that is present and being exercised in the call for colorblindness. The call is usually sounded by an enlightened, caring soul who so happens to be a member of a majority, non-marginalized group. The conversation usually goes something like this:
“The United States isn’t perfect, but we have made tremendous progress.”
“Talking about race, religion, and stuff like that only keeps tension stirred up. We just need to see people for what’s on the inside.”
“You mean intestines and such?”
“Funny. We need to realize we are all human and the same.”
“Ok. Would you apply that same principle to your marriage—ignore the differences and wait for things to get better?
Seriously, let’s think about this. My wife walks into the living room and says I have done/am doing something that hurts and offends her. I respond, “we just need to put our differences aside and move forward.” In that one line, I have dismissed her and communicated that her feelings and hurt are not valid. Do you think things will get better? Clearly, the answer is no. So, why try this with issues of diversity?
The problem is not that we see difference; it’s how we respond once we recognize difference. To teach diversity in the cracked-egg manner ignores how our great nation has responded to difference in the past—slavery, Jim Crow, xenophobia, and Islamophobia to name a few. It serves as a deflection from having serious conversations about race and privilege. I doubt many remotely rational citizens would disagree that there is no internal difference between our Muslim brothers and sisters; but I have no trouble finding individuals—post the latest attacks on Paris—who have no trouble dispensing hate and fear wholesale toward this group.
I have had friends talk honestly about the trepidation they felt toward African Americans, particularly African American males, after they had their home burglarized. If we are all the same on the inside, what is it that resides within us that causes us to respond with anger and fear to entire people groups when we are offended by a single member of that group. How do we purge whatever this hate producing thing is so we can “love our neighbor as ourselves?”
Colorblindness and ignoring difference is not the answer. We do not need less seeing; we need more seeing. The kind of seeing that moves beyond surface-level perceptions and misperceptions to soul-level understanding. This kind of observation cannot be achieved in isolation. It requires the lenses of others’ life experiences to help us see more clearly. Life experiences of those who do not think like, look like, act like, vote like, and live like us.
Think of the people in your inner circle, those who know your good and your bad. I’m talking about those who have seen your ugly cry, the ones you would if you needed gas money or bail money. Chances are, if you are like the majority of the American populace, you have surrounded yourself with others who are just like you. This is natural. We are most comfortable around those who are racially and socioeconomically similar to ourselves. Comfort is nice, but discomfort is essential to growth.
"Approximately 40 percent of white Americans and about 25 percent of non-white Americans are surrounded exclusively by friends of their own race..." - Reuters
It should then be of little surprise how heated the debate on race has become. Without relationships with individuals who are different than us, we do not reap the benefits of learning from their experiences and having our personal beliefs shaped by facts rather than rhetoric from political pundits and Facebook posts.
If adults are not having these meaningful conversations, chances are our students are not having them either.
We must move away from comfortable, isolated lives to lives that are shaped by the rich perspective others have to offer.
We must commit ourselves to respect and seeking to understand more than we seek to be understood.
We must stop listening with the intention of responding and begin listening with the intention of learning more.