By Janine Wright
Friends are an important part of all of our lives. They help us learn important social skills like sharing and compromise. Friends also can help us expand our horizons by sharing differing customs, heritages, or language. Take a moment to think about your friendships. How many of your friends are of a different culture than you? How many speak a different language than you? How many are of a different race than you? For many Americans the answer to these questions is … zero. According to a survey taken by Reuters/Ipsos in August of this year, 40 percent of white America and 25 percent of non-white Americans surround themselves with people of their own race. The survey also found that Hispanic Americans had the most diverse friendship circles in the country, with 90 percent of respondents having friends from other races and cultures (Denton, 2011).
In reaction to this survey, many of us would say that we don’t look at race. Cultural and language differences do not matter – we are colorblind. We’ve been told that America is a melting pot – we all melt into one culture. Do we? Is there really only one American culture? Without even knowing it, are many of us well-meaning individuals are actually making the racial and cultural divide worse by being “colorblind”? Unfortunately, many who use the term colorblindness have not experienced prejudice and are unaware how prejudice affects people of color and American society as a whole (Tarca, 2011).
There is a connotation that the there is something wrong with having different traditions, cultures, and languages than others. It almost seems like a Catch 22, doesn’t it? We are expected to be politically correct, to not acknowledge our differences, to be a society that melds together. Yet, research shows that this is not a healthy way to coexist.
This is where Multiculturalism comes into play. Rather than ignore our differences (colorblindness), multiculturalism recognizes that each tradition has something valuable to offer. Recognizing the differences between cultures, languages, religions, and races and seeing how all of those differences make America stronger, are the positive effects of multiculturalism. Talking about these differences and learning about these differences, in positive ways, make it easier for differing cultures, traditions, races, and languages to co-exist. It becomes a culture of respect rather than of ignorance.
How do we become multicultural? Three suggestions are often made
1. Recognizing and valuing differences;
2. Teaching and learning about differences;
3. Fostering personal friendships and organizational alliances.
The question then becomes the mechanics of multiculturalism: How do we make friends with people that are different from us? How do we get comfortable talking about things we have no experience with? What happens when we use the wrong word or when we don’t fully recognize the impact of a decision we’ve made? How do we walk in someone else’s shoes?
Surprisingly enough, Oshkosh has an activity that meets all three of these suggestions – Diversity Movie/Discussion Events. These events are held on a monthly basis at various locations throughout Oshkosh – typically at houses of faith. The hope of each event is to start allowing people a safe environment to interact with people whose views, cultures, and traditions may be different than your own. This is the time for participants to voice their opinions, test out “diversity language” skills, and maybe even get a little correction for a few mistakes made along the way.
Tracey Robertson and Janine Wright, two friends who have the same desire – making Oshkosh more inclusive — facilitate each event. Tracey and Janine are involved in diversity initiatives in their personal and professional lives as well as entering into the Blog-osphere. Tracey started Black Voices of Oshkosh (blackvoicesofoshkosh.com) and Janine started Diversity-A Christian Perspective (christiandiversity.blogspot.com/)in an effort to share their opinions and views on diverse topics. Neither of these women proposes to be an expert in diversity; they only believe that sharing their experiences and opening a venue for discussion will make a stronger and more united Oshkosh.
What does an evening look like? As with all good activities in Oshkosh, we start with food. Food and hospitality are topics that every culture has in common; people feel welcome and everyone has a chance to share. The same can be said for The Diversity Movie/Discussion events. Each is started with an informal, light meal or snack made by Tracey or Janine and those participants who want to share.
Each evening’s movie and discussion is centered on a theme. The events in January – April will also have community facilitators that can help navigate through some of the topics less familiar to Janine, Tracey, and Oshkosh. The film allows the group to have a better understanding of the topic. It is meant to be broad enough to have a rich and meaty discussion about many aspects of the culture, traditions, race, or religion. Through the discussions it becomes apparent how different groups may be affected, positively and negatively, by society at large.
The end goal of all of the meetings and ultimately for the entire year is to answer the question: How do we make Oshkosh more inclusive and, in turn, stronger? It is our sincere hope that you would consider coming to at least one of the Diversity Movie/Discussion Events this year. Our mantra is: some of the conversations may be difficult, some may be easy, and some may have to end with “agreeing to disagree” statements – all of that is OK, we all leave as friends.
Please consider joining us at one of the events below:
January 18 or 25 – Native American Culture – Venue to be decided
February 24 – African-American Culture – 4:30 p.m. – All Saints Lutheran Church (1072 Honey Creek Rd, Oshkosh)
March 22 – Gay/Lesbian Community – 4:30 p.m. – First Congregational Church (137 Algoma Blvd, Oshkosh)
April 12 – Muslim Culture – 4:30 p.m. – Ahmadiyya Muslim Community – Qamar Mosque, (300 N Eagle St, Oshkosh)
May 17 or 24 – Wrap-Up, How can we take what we’ve learned out into Oshkosh? – Venue to be decided.
Please e-mail Janine at email@example.com if you are interested in being on the mailing list or would like more information on any of the upcoming discussion events.
(Tarca, K. (2005). Colorblind in Control: The Risks of Resisting Difference Amid Demographic Change. Educational Studies, 38(2), 99-120.)
Janine Wright is an Oshkosh community member who believes diversity makes a community stronger. She co-facilitates a monthly diversity movie/discussion group at various locations in Oshkosh. For more information contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.