In the beginning, I thought combating racism was all about learning information and hiring a diverse group of people. For awhile, that was the focus. One of my initial attempts to do that involved organizing a series of "brown bag" seminars with people from different cultures to facilitate discussions. The first person who came in was a Latino man who had worked with youth in this community for over 30 years. I'll never forget his opening remarks, "Latinos come from 22 different countries with a vast array of cultural differences. My family comes from Mexico, so that is the only one of these that I can even begin to address." I thought boy...we're going to need a lot of seminars to cover all this!!!
It was then that I came across an African American woman who taught Social Work at a local university. She gave a presentation at a conference I attended titled "An Artistic View of Diversity." Her basic premise was to correlate what one needed to be an artist and what one needed to traverse all the different frames of diversity. Knowledge, information, and technique are all important pieces of the puzzle. But, as with art, the most important piece is the vision...how you see the world. Anyone can learn and potentially misuse the information and techniques. What one needs to be an artist is to have a view of the world that can incorporate the complexities and struggles involved in embracing diversity. She used a song as part of her presentation. And the words to the chorus have always stuck with me.
It's in every one of us
to be wise.
Find your heart,
open up both your eyes.
We can all know everything
without every knowing why.
It's in every one of us
to be wise.
The line that standsout to me is "Find your heart, open up both your eyes."
One of the critical components to the process of combating racism that she shared with us is the ability to incorporate a both/and rather than an either/or vision. An either/or vision sees the world in terms of right/wrong and winner/loser. A both/and vision finds balance and embraces all. It is a form of partnership rather than dominance and a key ingredient to that kind of vision is a balance between our outside and our inside...giving us a firm identity for ourselves and integrity in our actions. With that kind of vision, we can take responsibility for ourselves and not rely on techniques and formulas. We can open our hearts to others without fear, knowing that we all have a place at the table.
None of this takes away from the need to do the hard work of learning the information that is necessary to really begin to understand one another. But it is the foundation on which we need to build that understanding, the importance of which was described by Nezua at The Unapologetic Mexican this way:
The USA teaches us many myths: the Hero Myth, the Great White Myth, the Savages in the Wild Myth, the GodDaddyNation Myth....and so on. Fodder for our cartoons, bland teen movies, and unceasing war rationales. The truth, while somewhat less glitzy, is just as exciting, age-old, and far more empowering. For we—the centuries-strong, the been-here-all-along, the weak, the meek, the She, the black, the brown, the grown-up-from-this-ground, the despised and forgotten and the poor and ground down—are in this fight together. And it is a fight, look all around. A fight for equality, a fight for justice, and sometimes simply a fight for food and human dignity. And as long as we are divided and fighting over scraps and ladder rungs and tossed off politician-dung, there is no justice. So let us remember why it is that we stand here, why we stood up; let us loan one another our strength, and move side by side.