On not judging books by their covers
It was only a few years ago that I learned I’m a “cis white male.” As such, I guess I’m a dime a dozen. Ordinary. Not representative of “diversity.”
I get it. I’m a historian so I know something about how various peoples have suffered extreme, even murderous, prejudice and exploitation over time. I’ve taught about slavery, the Holocaust, and various forms of discrimination against women and minorities, among other groups and peoples. The list goes on and on. The recent shootings in Colorado Springs where the LGBTQ community was targeted reminds us that too many people see diversity as a threat.
If only we could see ourselves just as human beings in all the richness that term describes. We are all part of the human community. We contain multitudes, as Walt Whitman said.
Nevertheless, I understand how various people and organizations want to exhibit diversity by hiring or showcasing more women, or more Blacks, or more members of the LGBTQ community, and so on. It seems as if guys like me have ruled the world (or we act as if we have) for so long that we need to be taken down a peg or two. Or three.
What happens, sadly, is that in some cases what we get is what my wife likes to term “optical” diversity. Think about the U.S. government. You get a Black female (think Condi Rice) in a position of power, but she basically thinks and acts the same as a cis white male neo-conservative. You get a Black male (think Lloyd Austin) in a position of power, but he’s basically a card-carrying member of the military-industrial complex. You get “Mayor” Pete Buttigieg in a position of power, but he’s just another government technocrat spouting bromides in the pursuit of power.
Optical diversity shouldn’t be the main goal. What we’re striving for, or should be striving for, is diversity of perspectives, of life experiences, along with an openness to new ideas and viewpoints. A willingness to listen, to learn, to come together based on mutual respect, a shared commitment to work toward justice.
What about me? Am I just another aging cis white male? Just another out-of-touch white guy? Okay, Boomer!
I hope not. I was taught by my parents not to judge a book by its cover. So how do I represent diversity? If you were looking for “diversity,” would I fit the bill (no pun intended)? Here are ten reasons why I might be a “diverse” human:
- I’m politically independent. In my life I’ve voted Republican, Democrat, and Green. I’m generally “progressive,” though I find labels reductive.
- I’m a military veteran who’s written a lot of articles that are highly critical of the U.S. military.
- I’m from a blue-collar family and I’m the first in my family to finish college.
- I was educated as a mechanical engineer before I turned to history, where I specialized in the history of science, technology, and religion.
- Speaking of religion, I was raised Catholic but now consider myself to be agnostic. I did my master’s thesis on Catholics and science; for my doctorate, I turned to evangelicals and science. I have a keen interest in both science and religion, respecting both of them as ways of knowing, ways of making sense of the world and ourselves.
- I love the outdoors and consider myself to be pro-environment. So, for example, I am against fracking because of its demonstrable harm to our planet.
- I lived and studied overseas in England for three years and have traveled to Italy, Germany, Scotland, and Wales. I gained a new perspective on America by being away from it.
- I’m an introvert. (Do you want your team or organization to be all extroverts?)
- I’m a science fiction fan. My favorite character on “Star Trek” is Mr. Spock. Yes, I can be a bit of a geek.
- I like sports. Being from New England, I’m a fan of the Red Sox, Patriots, etc. I probably spend too much time watching “my” teams compete. My wife and I broke out bottles of champagne to celebrate the Red Sox winning the World Series.
Here’s my real point: All of you, everyone reading this, could make a similar list to showcase your (and our) diversity. In fact, if you’re reading this and would like to comment and share, please put a couple of things below that mark you as a “diverse” person. Because we all contain multitudes. Thanks so much.