I made a new friend yesterday. She told me that her son had moved from a predominantly black neighborhood in NYC to a mostly white upstate New York college, and really struggled with seeing, for the very first time, how it felt to be in the minority. Tell me about it. About being a woman engineer in manufacturing. About being the only brown person in the rural mid-west. About looking around the conference table and realizing that no-one else present resembles you in any way. There are two ways to handle this. You can retreat to your comfort zone. Or you can enjoy the challenge, and learn how to be heard anyway. And then, help create a world where diversity, done right, is not uncomfortable.
Diversity can be of many kinds. Visible or not. Controversial or not. Unexpected or not. Physical, or mental, or biological. The easiest kind to see at a glance, of course, is racial. That’s one of the things I love about cities in the U.S. — they are truly mosaics of the world. You just have to look around you to see that this is a country of immigrants.
When I travel, I don’t expect diversity in other parts of the world. Every so often, there is an honorable exception, like London or Hongkong, and I love those places. In general, though, I expect to see a majority of white faces in Iceland, and brown faces in Indonesia, and that’s what I get. But here, at home, I appreciate the racial diversity, and honestly, I have come to expect it. I most definitely notice it. It was interesting to go from NYC to Chicago recently and note the relative lack of diversity, when I remember clearly a trip to Chicago when I was living in a small town in western Michigan a few years ago, and finding Chicago’s diversity remarkable!