Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Don't Fear Diversity - Embrace It!

 In her last commencement speech at City College on June 3, 2016 - and her last as First Lady - Michelle Obama talked about the power of diversity. Without mentioning him by name, she did allude to a certain person running for president who is not open to diversity - but her message was more powerful and meaningful than that.

I happen to be a white woman, but I grew up all over the country - from the South to the Northeast to the Midwest. I've had a few different accents and often been the only white person in the room. My significant other, my friends - since the time I was very small to now - come from all walks of life. It wasn't just the moving around, it was also my parents, thankfully, who taught me to have an open mind. I've also always had an interest in traveling, in learning about different cultures, in learning other languages. Why would I want everyone else to be or look like me? How boring!

A candidate in the current election continually makes racist comments and has a mind that is so narrow and so egotistical, I doubt anything could permeate it. But, it's my hope that the people who follow him will learn to see that it's so wrong and so limiting. Because, unless you are Native American (who we also don't have enough respect for), we all come from families that originally came from somewhere else. My grandfather was from England. That isn't that far back.

In an article in Elle, and from her speech, Michelle Obama said that "Every single day I wake up in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters - two beautiful, black young women - head off to school." How powerful is that? That we have come full circle from a horrible time in our history - one we should be so ashamed of - yet as far as we have come, we still have way too far to go. There is still so much hatred, racism, and uncalled for fear. It is just something I have never understood, and never want to.

The First Lady went on to say:
"But unfortunately, graduates, despite the lessons of our history and the truth of your experience here at City College, some folks out there today seem to have a very different perspective. They seem to view our diversity as a threat to be contained rather than as a resource to be tapped. They tell us to be afraid of those who are different, to be suspicious of those with whom we disagree. They act as if name-calling is an acceptable substitute for thoughtful debate, as if anger and intolerance should be our default state rather than the optimism and openness that have always been the engine of our progress.
But, graduates, I can tell you, as First Lady, I have had the privilege of traveling around the world and visiting dozens of different countries, and I have seen what happens when ideas like these take hold. I have seen how leaders who rule by intimidation – leaders who demonize and dehumanize entire groups of people–often do so because they have nothing else to offer. And I have seen how places that stifle the voices and dismiss the potential of their citizens are diminished; how they are less vital, less hopeful, less free.
Graduates, that is not who we are. That is not what this country stands for. No, here in America, we don't let our differences tear us apart. Not here.  Because we know that our greatness comes when we appreciate each other's strengths, when we learn from each other, when we lean on each other. Because in this country, it's never been each person for themselves. No, we're all in this together. We always have been.
And here in America, we don't give in to our fears. We don't build up walls to keep people out because we know that our greatness has always depended on contributions from people who were born elsewhere but sought out this country and made it their home — from innovations like Google and eBay to inventions like the artificial heart, the telephone, even blue jeans; to beloved patriotic songs like  'God Bless America,' like national landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge and, yes, the White House–both of which were designed by architects who were immigrants." 
Isn't it time we moved beyond such fear and hatred? Isn't it time we had a natural yearning to learn from different people and grow together as a country? I saw a sign in a store today that sums it up pretty well:

"Curiosity will conquer fear more than bravery will." (James Stephens)

Be curious. Be interested. Be open. Don't play into the fear of what you don't know - try to learn and try to understand that different cultures, different people, and different experiences can make life a lot more interesting in a land full of people from somewhere else. It isn't about walling people out or keeping things's about mixing it all together. Isn't that what makes America interesting? Don't fear diversity - embrace it!  

Graphic From

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