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What if diversity is not our strength?

What if diversity is not our strength? June 19, 2015

A while ago I drafted a post that went something like this:

We say this over and over again:  “diversity makes us stronger,” and we celebrate the mixture of cultures in this, the Land of Immigrants, and we tell ourselves that the different points of view that all these immigrants bring, makes our country more vital, energetic, creative, forward-thinking, and poised to succeed in the 21st century, bounding past stagnating monocultural countries.

But what if we’re wrong?

What if the desire to be with one’s own “kind” is simply so built-in that our efforts at integrating everyone, while simultaneously preserving their native cultures, are doomed to failure?

Well, that’s as far as I got, but I was thinking about a link from a facebook friend, to a site pushing back on the use of the label “transracial” to draw a parallel between/mock the Jenner and Dolezal stories.  The article pointed out that transracial is already in use to refer to cross-race adoption, e.g., black children with white parents.  So, fine, but this was an article on a site called “Lost Daughters” and the article continues with this:

For the past 35ish years, I’ve considered myself to be a transracial adoptee. The “trans” in transracial for me, never meant my race changed. It meant I was a multiracial black girl, adopted into a white family. It meant I was taken without my consent from one home, one place of origin and put inside another family, another culture, another race, one that didn’t belong to me. It meant I had to learn how to navigate my blackness and my black girlness, inside an often times racist, religious, violent and rigid white world. It meant living in a house and community that simultaneously erased me, racialized me and tokenized me. It gave me a language to articulate what was happening to me. But you know what it didn’t do? It never actually changed my race. An even with all the ‘privileges’ of whiteness, even with all the education, the middle class living, camping, fishing, hunting — It never made me white.

Which reminded me of an article I read and commented on a while back, on Korean adoptees returning to Korea as adults; though they lamented the cruelty of Korean society at the time, unwelcoming to single mothers and their children, their complaints about their American life were not really about adoption per se as living as a minority and feeling that they “belonged” elsewhere, where they would be in the majority culture.

And now we have this awful, awful story out of South Carolina.  The details are spotty, but the Washington Post has about as much information as I’ve seen anywhere else, though I’ve run out of page views for the month on the computer on which I’m typing this — but none of it makes much sense:  dropped out of high school after 9th grade, then, at the age of 21, he’s unemployed, but no one yet has any idea, that I’ve seen, of what he’s done in the meantime.  There are reports of an imagined “race war” that places him in the same category as the killer in Norway who imagined that he would rally Norwegians to his anti-immigrant cause.  Did he think that his action would cause black residents to riot, and his white imagined-peers to fight back?  Or was this his crusade, and his alone?

In his case, his parents haven’t had anything to say but his uncle has said something to the effect of “that’s not how he was brought up” — and we don’t know whether that’s completely the case or if there was an undercurrent of racism that metastasized into this monstrosity.  Was he “recruited” by White Power groups online in the same way as kids who run off to join ISIS or undertake Lone Wolf attacks, or, if not, did he read and follow them and buy into their ideas from afar?  To judge from the angry twitter comments, South Carolina is lousy with racists — I don’t really know one way or the other.

But what can you do?  We can’t imprison these groups.  And if a child, as a teen or young adult, “converts” to white supremacist ideas, it’s hard to imagine that parents can consistently succeed in raising their kids in a way that’s “immunized” to racism.

There’s the old song, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught,” that expresses the idea that it’s only due to one’s upbringing that one is racist, that by nature we are welcoming of differences, and what perpetuates racism is racist adults passing it on to their children.  But what if it’s the reverse — that racism is inborn, an “original sin” if you will, and lies there, dormant, biding its time, but ultimately, being at risk of manifesting itself in some mild way like a preference for socializing with or living near others who look like you, or the extreme of this sort of unfathomable violence — and that openness to those who are different is what has to be taught, and that with difficulty, and with the lessons at risk of being unlearned in the face of some future life circumstances?

Yes, maybe this man, like other recent killers, was mentally ill, and maybe it was just the nature of his delusions that he convinced himself of a “race war” rather shooting at a school or a movie theater.  But it’s more likely to turn out that that was wishful thinking (after all, then we can tell ourselves, “all we need to do is identify the mentally ill people, treat them, and keep guns away from them”), and that he is just as much of sound mind as those ISIS-joining teens.  What then?

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