Friday, August 23, 2013

Defined by Love

Still churning over the diversity training and that’s a good sign. Thought was stirred up beyond the time allotted, ideas keep echoing, further conversation is sought. I had some writer’s remorse suggesting that removing racism and the like was as simple as being aware of one’s bias and being open to good communication. We don’t escape history quite so fast. If it's naive to hope that we can be eventually be color and gender blind, it's equally strange to avoid history and pretend it didn't happen. But neither can we cling to the guilt and shame and blame, cleave solely to our ethnic or religious or sexual preference identity— at least without continuing to perpetuate separation at a time when we need unity more than ever. After all, climate change is not the least bit interested in those things and we will need all the perspectives working side-by-side to make sure we have a future.

In one of the exercises, we had a two-minute conversation with a partner, asking them “Who are you?” As soon as they answered, we asked again “Who are you?” and so continued a rapid-fire excursion into how we identify ourself. I was with a colleague with a strong ethnic background of which he was well aware and justifiably proud, but he never once mentioned it. Instead he answered with things like “I’m a person who enjoys…” “I’m a person who loves…” It reminded me of Duke Ellington responding to the reporter who asked if his composition “My People” was about his fellow African-Americans. Duke suavely answered, “Well, why would you assume that?  I enjoy a fine wine, so my people might be my fellow wine conneiseurs. Or my fellow  New Yorkers. Or all the musicians I enjoy playing with.” Duke had in fact written the piece for his fellow African-Americans, but was objecting to being pigeonholed and widened the conversation to show that we all have multiple identities and each is significant. By identifying solely with one, we limit ourselves and exclude people we would be wise to get to know.

Well, it’s a big topic and it makes a difference if you’ve had a history of being a victim or an oppressor and there are so many layers to the failures of our ancestors and the social-political climate of today that it often feels overwhelming. But keeping the eye on the prize, I like the idea of identifiying ourselves and being identified by what we love, what we enjoy, what we love to do, who we love. And even then keeping the window open to the things we don’t yet love because we haven’t had sufficient exposure. Identity, after all, is not an inherited noun, but a created verb and always a work in progress. So says this musician, teacher, author and lover of too many things to list here without being late for school. Which I am! Bye!

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