For many years I had a 5×7 photo on my lampstand that sparked the same question from anyone who visited my home: Who are those people?
No other photo I’d displayed was given the same level of interest, but this one was different. It was my crew from grade school, and we’d gotten cute for senior friendship photo day. There were four of us and each face was significantly different. A Mexican, a Caucasian, a Korean and me. I am a Black.
At the time I didn’t realize the value of the diversity that came with my friends all being so unsimilar. But each time the question was posed to me I saw more and more that this wasn’t the norm. I decided to unpack what this connection meant for our individual lives. How did it affect our perspectives and what was the benefit?
A quote by the famed poet Maya Angelou says, “We should all know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.”
I made a choice after marrying into the military to be intentional about the world I created within this transient lifestyle. When I evaluated my high school relationships, I could tell that certain prejudices were not a reflex for me, because I’d actively included people of other cultures into my tapestry of life. It intrigued me to know how someone of a different race thought or felt. What were their jokes like and what appealed to their taste buds? What were their favorite foods at holidays and what did their cultural days of celebration entail?
Our first duty station together was Atlanta, Georgia, and it was a melting pot of ethnicities. An ongoing slide show of colors and newness surrounded me and I enjoyed every breath of our time there. I had a new circle that included Puerto Ricans, Bolivians, Indians, Jamaicans, Russians, Haitians and many more beautiful people.
Related: Finding culture after retirement.
Our second stop was Okinawa, Japan. When our feet landed our friends — a white couple we’d previously known — scooped us up for our first Okinawan culinary experience. Although we could barely keep our eyes open from the tedious travel, we were eager to learn this new country.
These relationships not only expanded my cultural understanding, but by others being open and receptive I was able to share my views and expose them to commonalities of my culture as well. Because being Black is a different American experience.
The intentionality of having people who look different from you at your dinner table affords the chance to learn things like:
What do they find offensive?
What does their faith look like?
How do families operate and how are legacies left among them?
What traditions do they keep?
How deeply is their culture impacted by American habits?
How are they affected by policies and laws?
For years our country has been divided by race on a conscious and unconscious level. Even though our service members — a diverse group with one goal — fight side by side, prejudices that drive unfair actions still happen daily. The beginning of inclusion and equality is to acknowledge this societal deficit and hear each other out. But we can’t do that if we stay on opposite sides of the room.
I won’t lie and say I didn’t see the skin color of my high school friends. But I didn’t dismiss them because of our obvious differences, and those differences didn’t determine what I thought of them.
Here are a few ways you can expand your circle to include and learn from people who don’t look like you:
Join a spouse group – It can be a bible study group, a book club a mom’s group, etc. To be sure that it aligns with your efforts to embrace other races, find one that openly supports the current fights to bring about social justice and racial equality.
Engage in mandatory fun – Although gatherings are currently limited, this won’t always be the case. Step outside of your comfort zone (and color) and build a bridge with someone new.
Use your influence – If you are in a position to make decisions or to impact those who do, actively seek out people of different races to add to your pool of employees, members, participants etc.
The best thing I’ve done was to make this a way of life for my children. They don’t know what it is like to only have friends of one race. If we collectively pass this on to the next generation, the future will look significantly different from what has divided us in the past. And something as simple as four racially diverse friends in a photo won’t seem out of place.Read comments