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Relearning inclusivity

BY EMILY INMAN | JANUARY 31, 2011 7:10 AM

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When someone mentions the words diversity or minority in class, I am the first person to raise my hand.

I have a sort of instinct that warns me of imminent attacks on blacks and Latinos. I prepare myself to discuss the inequalities in Iowa City, the hardships that our impoverished students from Chicago face, and the inequity plaguing my close friends on campus.

I have always advocated for the reception of black and Latino presence in Iowa City and on campus.

I lament to students and professors alike about the ignorance of the majority.

Sometimes I let the problem eat at me while I try to wrap my little hands around the bigger picture.

However, after some very enlightening interactions and experiences last week, my view of the quandary has grown to encompass a new meaning of diversity.

I have a homeless friend who lives on the Pedestrian Mall. We have been friends since this past summer, but I never really thought about what that friendship meant until late last week, when I brought him with me to the Coral Ridge Mall. I thought that my good deeds would enrich his life.

While window shopping, I made a comment about the looks of a passing person. My friend stopped and said to me, “I don’t judge.” He then explained the fundamental principles of morality that I had learned as a child: Do not be judgmental, love others as you love yourself, be respectful, and give back to the world. Somehow along the way, I must have forgotten these.

I was guilty of the same ignorant and shameful behaviors that I so easily accuse white people of committing against blacks and Latinos. I stood high and mighty on my soapbox proclaiming the injustices that occur in our community, even pointing my finger at people who don’t realize the prejudice in their own backyards, when I could not recognize it in my own.

Another event occurred last week that contributed to the realization of my hypocritical view on injustice. I attended a small diversity event at the Women’s Resource and Action Center. I went into the event expecting to discuss the ethnic inequalities in Iowa City, specifically prejudice against blacks and Latinos. However, to my surprise, the group was made up of women from varying ethnic backgrounds and countries.

When I saw a few white women at the event, I immediately formed my own assumptions about them. I wondered what they were doing at a diversity event. What did they know about what it meant to be diverse or to be a minority?

Then, we had to do an exercise where we shared something about ourselves that other people would not know just by our looks. I learned that one of these women was actually of Native American descent — something I never would have thought. A few of the other women were born and raised in different parts of Asia. Of course, I know that Asians are American minorities, but that fact never penetrated my consciousness.

Lesbians and bisexuals were also a part of the group. Before last week, I would have never thought of them to be part of a minority. As I had been pondering and exploring the enlightenment from my homeless friend, I took note of these women and my prejudices. I observed their social, cultural, and personal contributions to the community. An understanding of the meaning of diversity manifested within me.

Again, since childhood, I learned the fundamental principles of morality and the special meaning that had for my life as a minority. But I let passion for the advancement of my own people blur the vision of equality for all bestowed upon me by my parents. Over the past few days, I learned that diversity isn’t my close knit community of friends who share common complaints. Diversity is the inclusion, understanding, mindfulness, and openness to acquire new truths.

We should be passionate about all issues that plague the benevolent people of our community, not just ones that affect ourselves.


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