By Dorian Martin, I Start Wondering Founder
Recently, I found a picture of my fifth-grade class taken in San Antonio oh so many years ago. Interestingly, the class wasn’t homogeneous; my classmates were of diverse heritages, cultures, talents and abilities (one of my best friends in the class was deaf). Yet to me – standing proudly in the back row in that picture – none of this mattered. My classmates were my friends (and we were focused on defeating the other fifth-grade classes to win the school’s soccer trophy).
I don’t remember thinking about these cultural differences until we moved to West Texas. My sixth-grade teacher was African American and the first black person that I remember having the opportunity to know at any level. He became one of the most influential educators in my life – someone who inspired excellence and creativity and epitomized the joy of learning.
A few years later, my mother told me about her trip to that school to register me as a new student. When meeting with a school administrator, Mom asked that I be assigned to the best sixth-grade teacher. The school official quietly replied, “He’s black. Does that make a difference?” My mother answered with a resounding no. (And just for the record, she made sure that my younger brother also was placed in this teacher’s classroom when he reached sixth grade.)
Based on how I was brought up, black lives – and Hispanic lives, Asian lives, lives of people who are deaf, and the lives of everyone else, even if they have different beliefs or rituals than mine – matter. Therefore, my heart continues to convulse in pain because of violence inflicted upon blacks, police, homosexuals, Muslims, Christians, Hispanics, Syrians, women and other diverse tribes across our nation and the globe.
While I may not be screaming on the mountaintops (or social media, for that matter), I resolve to double down on the only part that I truly can control – myself. I pride myself on having a diverse contingent of friends. However, I now realize that I must do a better job of reaching out. I need to meet and learn about people who on first glance are different than me.
To that end, I recently went to a Ramadan dinner hosted by a local Turkish group. It was my first experience (to my knowledge) of interacting with Muslims, a group being vilified in the United States and around the world. I found the dinner’s hosts to be good, intelligent and welcoming people. While they embrace a different faith, they also want the same opportunities for their lives, families and children as I do for my own life, family and friends.
Thinking for Myself
That experience is just one of many that reinforces why I refuse to engage in “group think” that seems to be overtaking many Americans. I believe that while tribes matter in providing a cultural perspective, each group also has some amazing individuals and some “bad apples.” I do not believe in stereotyping groups. Instead, I want to look at the heart and actions of each individual. In my mind, it comes down to personal integrity through thinking deeply about whether our actions are truly grounded in our values and beliefs. At various times in my life I’ve discovered a misalignment that needed to be corrected. I bet many will also find similar types of misalignment if they take the time to truly reflect.
With that said, I want to learn more about the diverse individuals and tribes that make up our nation and world. At times this may be an uncomfortable process because I will come up against my own preconceived notions that have hardened after so many years. Yet I believe this reflective process will help me to identify more similarities than differences. In turn, I believe this process will help me become a more humane person.
Asking the Hard Questions
I also need to do a better job of speaking up about what I’m learning. I am uncomfortable yelling on Facebook or Twitter, but I no longer can avert my eyes when rash and hateful statements and actions emerge. I am taking this sad moment in time as an opportunity to explore and evolve, which goes to the heart of lifelong learning.
At this critical juncture in our nation’s history, I truly believe that learning about others is a step that every person in America needs to take. Our country’s forefathers dreamed of a land of opportunity. I, for one, commit to helping make those opportunities available to individuals – even those from a different tribe than me — as long as these individuals are committed to the basic principles and hard work on which this country was founded and prospered.