Diversity makes life interesting. Life quickly gets boring if we don’t expand our horizons beyond the confines of home. I learned this lesson early growing up in a tiny, rural suburb of St. Louis. We were all related to each other. A “mixed” marriage was when a German married someone who was Irish. The world stopped when <gasp> a Protestant married a Catholic.
My parents periodically invited international visitors into our home, but my hometown was a bastion of Nazi sympathizers who loved stereotypical racist jokes skewering everyone who wasn’t of German descent and male. I knew more than my fair share of Archie Bunkers, but I didn’t think they were funny.
When I arrived at college, I was in heaven. I got to know kids from all over the world. My world expanded. Hitler wasn’t perceived to be a hero. I met people who believed he was an evil monster. My suite mates (we shared a bathroom between our dorm rooms) were Black, and the first thing I noticed about them was that they had one hell of a lot more fun on the weekends that the white kids. I was jealous and intrigued.
As a young married woman, I lived in Chicago which is a true melting pot. There was a parade each year for every ethnic group. A bounty of ethnic restaurants opened my world to new foods at reasonable prices. My work colleagues were a mini-United Nations. I had zero desire to return to my hometown and its parochial bigotry.
I’ll never forget my first taste of flan or dim sum brunch. Stuffed pizza is responsible for at least 25 of my excess pounds. Lox and bagels slathered with cream cheese and topped with thinly-sliced red onions and capers are heaven on my taste buds. I’ll forever be grateful that nobody told me that escargot swimming in garlic butter were snails before I took my first memorable bite. Most of my life’s happiest memories are linked to international feasts prepared by my friends. Over dinner, we discovered we were more alike than different, and we all got a marvelous education in diplomacy and international business.
Yet, my most powerful memory is of a New Year’s celebration in Detroit with my soul sista Ricci. I’ll never, ever forget the Potatoes O’Brien (sauteed potatoes, bell peppers, and onions) she made for brunch. It was my introduction into the joy-filled weekend celebrations that had so intrigued me as a co-ed. I was the only white person at dozens of family gatherings. Mama Glo jokingly declared that I was her “wood pile” baby. The racial discrimination that I witnessed, however, wasn’t a laughing matter. My Black family endured it on a daily basis with grace and dignity. I wouldn’t have survived domestic violence but for the lessons these wonderful friends taught me about being resilient in the face of oppression.
The one thing I know for sure is that our worlds are boring and small if we don’t add the spice of diversity. Diversity inspires empathy and compassion. Diversity helps us make more informed decisions. Diversity encourages us to love one another.
Values such as diversity are almost universally
celebrated publicly, but
not always practiced privately.
– Eugene Robinson
When I heard that Ferguson, Missouri’s police chief had been ousted, I celebrated. Yet, I know that his racist attitudes are firmly entrenched in the culture of St. Louis. Last night, I was incensed to hear Miss Robbie on Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s (OWN) declare that she “doesn’t give a shit” about the protests in her home town. Yes, she grudgingly joined her son Tim in his efforts to ease the tensions in Ferguson. Yes, I understand and appreciate the reasons for her passionate feelings and business decisions.
Yet, I know from my own life experiences that compassion, enlightenment, and empathy naturally arises when we break bread together. Her restaurant business is based in Ferguson which needs every prominent leader actively engaged in finding solutions and healing the tensions.
Her television show airs on OWN which is owned, of course, by Oprah. Oprah made billions building a bridge over the racial divide. Her good friends Tina Turner and the late, great Maya Angelou had deep roots in St. Louis. Miss Robbie was an Ikette and back-up singer for Ms. Turner. It is time for all of us who intimately understand why Ferguson is such a tinder box to raise our voices and work together to heal the community and the racial tensions which have simmered for far too long.