“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” —Maya Angelou
Wanna make some jewelry with me? Okay, this is what we are going to do. Each of us will make a necklace out of colorful beads and a piece of string. I will give you the string and six Dixie cups full of different beads: white, black, yellow, red, brown, and blue. Next, I will name someone in your life, and you will put a bead onto your necklace corresponding to the race/ethnicity of that person:
- White Beads = Caucasian/White
- Black Beads = African American/African/Black Caribbean
- Yellow Beads = Asian American/Asian/Middle Eastern/Pacific Islander
- Red Beads = Native American/Indigenous People
- Brown Beads = Latin American
- Blue Beads = Multiracial
Make sense? Okay, let’s make a necklace!
Mother, Father, or Caregiver—With my Mom a true Scandinavian and my Dad a mix of German and Irish, I come from one pasty bunch! Two white beads for me.
Three closest friends now—Here I get to add some color to my necklace. My three closest are one guy who is as white as me, one Filipino, and one African-American. Add a white, black, and yellow bead to my string.
Significant other (current or immediate past)—My wonderful wife is African-American, so another black bead for me (I imagine two beautiful blue beads for my kids, too).
Boss/supervisor—Another white bead.
Favorite author—So many to choose from—I LOVE books—but I will go with Henry David Thoreau. White again!
Favorite celebrity/athlete/person in the news—I am wildly unhip when it comes to celebrities, but I definitely follow sports. For the last few months, I have been glued to all things LeBron James. I’ll take another black bead, please.
Musical artist you listen to most on your MP3 player—I have been pretty full of Joshua Radin lately. White bead.
Two TV characters you identify with/want to be friends with—I probably don’t deserve any beads for this category, as I hardly ever watch television shows (I watch sports occasionally). However, the one show I try to keep up on—Parenthood—has mostly White people in the cast. I will take one white bead only (but you should take two if you watch more than I do).
Your doctor—That reminds me, I need to find a doctor! I should probably be embarrassed to admit that I do not have one, but it is the truth. If I want a bead in this category, the best I can do is claim my children’s pediatrician. What the heck! Give me another yellow bead.
Your dentist—While I am pretty much a free agent in this category, the last work I had done gets me another white bead.
Your spiritual leader (i.e. rabbi, minister, etc.)—I do not get a bead in this category, but you probably do.
The person you most admire—I am going to look at this in two ways: all-time historical heroes and people currently alive and in your life. Tough one! My all-timer is Gandhi, and my contemporary is my wife. There is much to admire in each; I am so glad I chose to study one and marry the other. Yellow bead, black bead.
Your three closest co-workers—I am in the palest office you have ever seen! White, white, and more white.
The last person you invited to your home—I have a huge, multi-racial birthday party at my house this weekend—can I get a blue bead boulder for that?—but the last one I had over is my Filipino friend, who brought his White wife and multiracial kids. There are options there, but I think a blue bead is most accurate.
Majority of the people who live in your neighborhood—I live in Minnesota and in the suburbs. Definitely white!
That’s it. We did it! Let us clasp our necklaces and see how they look. The first thing I notice about mine is the absence of brown and red beads. That is fair, though, as I have very few Native American and Latin American people in my life. I also find it interesting that, despite the fact that I have created a multiracial family, I have only one blue bead on my necklace. (This makes me wonder about the accuracy of the exercise in terms of measuring the range of diversity in my little world.) Of the other 19 beads on my string, twelve of them are white, four are black, and three are yellow. That feels like a lot of white, but is it?
While doing this exercise, I felt this odd pressure to produce a perfectly even spectrum of colors. I suppose I hoped it would show that my life is a shining example of diversity and inclusion. When the white beads started piling up, I admit to some gnawing feelings of guilt and shame. Then I started to wonder if I was subconsciously “cheating” to get more non-white beads, having conversations in my head like, “Sure, you have been obsessed with LeBron for the last three months, but over the long haul you are more of a Roger Federer (white) fan.” I had to keep reminding myself that the purpose of this exercise is to gain an AWARENESS of the diversity of my personal social network, not to make a judgment about it. Even so, I occasionally got defensive anyway, and thought things like, “Yeah, but this isn’t accounting for the diverse sexualities and religions of my social group. And what about age and economic class? “ I was reaching. I guess that I have always felt so grateful and enriched every time that I have been exposed to difference of any sort—whether it was traveling internationally or simply befriending someone at a local event and learning all about their life—that I had a hard time keeping myself from thinking, “The more colors, the better!” In the end, my necklace speaks for itself. It is my current reality, so I won’t run from it. I am ready to bare it.
How about you? How does your necklace look? Get out your journal and explore your social network. Does the look of your necklace surprise you at all? What stands out about it? Did you ever feel uncomfortable selecting a bead? Did you—like me—start to feel guilty after picking a lot of the same color, as though you had to justify the result? Although this exercise is to bring awareness to the diversity—or lack of diversity—in your life rather than to make any judgment about it, should we feel some shame if we have a relatively monochromatic necklace? I don’t believe so, but it should certainly make us think. Does your bead string motivate you to actively seek out situations of greater diversity to broaden your worldview and social network? Of all the people representing beads that I mentioned, which of your beads is going to be the next one to change color? Picture your necklace if you did this exercise ten years ago: in what ways is it different from today’s, if at all? How do you expect it to be different twenty years from now? More colors or fewer? Would you be willing to wear your necklace to a social event and explain it to curious companions? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you ready to show us your beads?
Celebrate you today,