I Like This Conversation
I recently elected to participate in an educational program that discusses with students topics such as racism, culture, bullying and advocacy. While attending an orientation session for this program, ne volunteer highlighted the success of an activity where students closed their eyes and ate M&Ms, attempting to identify color by taste. Of course, they couldn’t. I appreciated the intention to unify humanity regardless of color, but also felt saddened by the continual use of disconnected and static activities to address themes that require development of interpersonal connection. It is my intention to use marginalized experiences from my own life to guide readers to an awareness that a particular definition is only as good as its context or the narrator’s experience, but 1-1 relationships upon which this type of conversation take time and many words to develop.
What strikes me most, however, in a time where I feel uninspired to talk about topics that used to define my life like literacy and development work, is that I actually like the conversation, bringing sameness into a place where difference has taken a divisive hold in the name of respect and awareness. My first activity about “culture” with the students in the after school program was full of activity and smiles, but lacking in that very word that matters most to me “same”.
“Have you heard the word culture before?” I asked.
“Yes,” nodded many in the group of 28.
“How would you describe or define that word?”
Different, different, different, I heard, all of our conversation taking place on a stage already set with posters about responsibility and cooperation and empathy but where actors instead would focus on choosing and dividing identities. One particular child who participated the year before did remember the M&Ms, but not the message, that our sameness is worth talking about as much as our difference. Who am I to be here? I asked myself often in my educational career when working with marginalized or diverse populations. Who am I? I asked myself sitting cross legged in front of my shower curtain map of the world? I’m someone who is just the same, and different, as them.
After writing my Master’s thesis on the cultural mismatch problematic, I had no doubt that I was all wrong. This heartbreak was the beginning of unchaining myself from absolutes that I interpreted in terms like “culture” or “diversity”. From conversational frameworks and homogeneous applications of content more divisive or superficial than helpful in my professional life, I sought to author a way in which I and the multiple and overlapping communities in which I live could “match”. Diverse books raise awareness of how people live and interpret their world differently, but they should also develop an understanding of the gray area between named groups. Identity is never obvious nor attributed through assumed characteristics in common. Diversity, unassuming and continually evolving in the everyday that has allowed me to connect in unexpected ways, is the underrepresented viewpoint my work brings forward. And I like this conversation, because instead of apart, I am a part, of it.