"A Rainbow in the Wilderness:
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
A recent headline in the New York Times announced: “Colleges Celebrate Diversity with Separate Commencements.” In addition to their regular Graduation Ceremony, now major universities in America offer a supplemental, segregated and equally important Commencement Ceremony for Black students, Latino students, Gay and Lesbian students, Asian students. etc. The article went on to question whether or not this separation of ceremonies actually celebrates the diversity of the campus population or does this practice create an illusion of diversity while actually fostering greater division and segregation among races and classes of people?
Personally I think these separate graduation ceremonies point to a deeper problem in our society today. We may appear to be “diverse” but it's often an illusion as more and more of us have withdrawn into the separateness of our own comfortable “camps.”
I am reminded of the years when my wife and I lived in Los Angeles. On the surface, L.A. seems like the most diverse city in the entire country. One sector of the city is identified as Koreatown, another is Thai town, then there is Little Guatemala and Little Ethiopia. Another community of this city is almost entirely African-American, another is almost entirely “Mexican,” another is predominantly Jewish, and still another huge swath of the city is inhabited by people who align with the LGBT community.
When you come right down to it, people from almost every nation of the globe live in some rather clearly delineated community within the City of Los Angeles. The problem is that, while so many “beautifully different” people live within the borders of this one city, it is rare for the different groups to actually interact with each other. Most people choose to stay within the confines of their own comfort zones, in their own clearly-marked neighborhoods, interacting with those who look alike, speak alike and often think alike. In fact, from my experience, this apparently very diverse city is, in fact, highly segregated and this segregation often causes tension and leads to a lack of trust.
A few tears back, I came across an insightful observation about the nature of “diversity” offered in a New York Times article. The article made a distinction between diversity and pluralism:
Pluralism is not diversity alone,
but the energetic engagement with diversity.
Mere diversity without real encounter will actually lead to
increasing the tensions in a society.
Pluralism does not require us to leave
our identities and communities behind.
It means holding our deepest differences,
even our religious differences,
not in isolation but in relationship to one another.
My wife and I just returned from a visit to our family who lives in an extremely diverse neighborhood which is, in fact, very pluralistic. People of all ages from a wide range of ethnic, racial and sexual identities live next door to each other, they go to the same restaurants, the same schools, and they shop together in the outdoor “Farmer’s Market.”
I felt somehow that I was more “whole” while we were in that community last week. My wife and I both commented that somehow being there made us feel more “complete.” I suppose this wasn’t all that surprising, after all we “are” our relationships and so when we are segregated and cut-off from significant portions of the population, at some level we will always feel and fragmented and incomplete. Our interactions with “different others” can indeed make us feel whole.
A few weeks ago, a rainbow appeared over the mountains of the desert where we live. It reminded me that the one “light” emerges from the interaction of the many different colors. So it is with each of us, our enlightenment emerges from our interaction with the many different colors, shapes, sounds and cultures that together fashion us into human beings.