Very Diverse

2016-04-26 Pic 1

I’m puzzled by all the vitriol in the media, particularly social media, right now that’s gotten conflated with the election.  I don’t want to drag us off into the weeds talking politics, because this blog is about entertainment, but I do want to share some things I’ve learned from Diversity Training in corporate America, as well as from the University of California, Irvine, from “back in the day.”

In case we weren’t aware, it’s 2016.  We shouldn’t have to fight the same battles that we were fighting in the 60’s, but apparently the fight never ended because there was never a victory.  There’s still a need for a fight.  That makes me sad.  In 1990, I was a student at U.C. Irvine and there was a racist incident in my dorm.  Not just on my campus, but in my actual dorm.  Some painted a racial epithet in vivid black paint, complete with paint runs, on the wall of our living room.  It’s too awful to repeat verbatim here, but it was the popular slogan from the race wars, “N…, go home.”  It made me want to vomit.  We had ONE, count it, one, student of African American heritage in our dorm, so to say she felt singled-out is a gross understatement.  She told me that when she was in high school, growing up in Beverly Hills, a wealthy suburb of Los Angeles, California, she got stopped more than once for “being in the wrong neighborhood.”  Or, as my Black friends say, “walking while Black.  I’m sure we all have similar stories, depending where we fall on the racial color wheel, either as observers or as survivors.  (I’m not going to say “victims,” because she was in no way a victim.  She was an empowered, intelligent, American who someone was trying to disempower and scare.)

It caused us to have some tough conversations on campus.  African American students numbered just 3% (!) of the student body at that time, which numbered around 22,000 in total.  Whites were not much of a majority, as I recall; Asians made up a nearly equal percentage, followed by Latin-, Central- and Mexican-American students.  I don’t know what the percentages of UCI are today, but Orange County was, at the time, pretty monochromatic.  It was also the most conservative county in the country – you read that right – and locals called it “living behind the Orange Curtain.”

What I find incredible about 2016 is that I lived to see a mixed-race President elected to the White House.  I lived to see gay marriage legalized.  I lived to see horrors, too, and setbacks.  But I still believe, as I did in that dorm common room in 1990, that we are stronger together than we are apart.  My father’s family came here in the 1880’s when it wasn’t okay to be Irish, when businesses had signs out front, “No Irish,” and when Irish people couldn’t get housing.  My mother’s family, on the other hand, traces their roots on both my maternal and paternal grandparents’ sides all the way back to the American Revolution.  The McMillan House, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, belonged to my great-grandparents.  During the Civil War, the barn was used as a hospital when, in a monumental war-time mistake, two armies passed too close to each other and caused a battle neither side wanted and that resulted in the deaths of over thirty thousand people.  They say the screams of the wounded from that three day period were deafening.

Let’s remember our history, Dear Reader, and remember that our diversity makes us stronger.  I adore Mexican food, I have Chinese delivery on Christmas, and I’ve been to celebrate a Passover Seder at friends’ houses.  I love hummus, and cinnamon, and silk, and enjoy wearing the salwar kameez, or Pakistani daywear for women.  I’ve studied Middle Eastern bellydance, and the bowed psaltery – which is an instrument mentioned in the bible! – and live next door to people from Romania, Indonesia, Poland, and Germany.  On my block alone, there are seventeen different languages spoken and after Katrina, one of the displaced families stayed next door to use for a time.  The father of that family told me that what he missed most was the jerked chicken from back home, because he couldn’t find the jerk spices up here.

Remember, Dear Reader:  our humanity is what we have in common.  The rest, we can learn.  Together.

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4 Replies to “Very Diverse”

  1. A very good choice for V! I took it in the other direction, since I keep hearing about the violence in Chicago, and it makes me wonder about whether or not the city is truly that different from another other major metropolis in the U.S. Why so much gang violence? And why not learn from other cities who’ve dealt with the same problems? LA is notorious for gang wars, too… NYC used to be little more than drug dealers and burnt-out buildings… the times and the people change, right? And maybe it’s just a matter of pushing the problem somewhere else, but eventually this stuff has to be dealt with. Can’t have V for victory without facing the V for violence. That’s my thought, anyway.

    1. Thanks, Laura! I was a little nervous posting it, because I try not to get political on our website because it can turn readers off. But I felt it needed to be said.

      I’m puzzled by the increase in violence, too. I think it’s driven by a couple things: prolonged inner-city unemployment and lack of prospects; state defunded programs for social services; the guns have to be coming from somewhere and I see an apparent increase of that, and wonder if it’s related to cartels trying to gain a foothold; and gang turf wars. Usually, gangs don’t erupt into visible violence unless there are shifting boundaries to be fought over. The increase in shootings, and their locations, makes me think there’s a serious power struggle going on.

      A point my coworker made recently is the attitude toward police in Chicago right now. They’re under incredible public scrutiny for excessive use of force and police shootings; his theory is that makes them less willing to use lethal force in situations for fear of backlash. I think that’s simplistic, but it’s indicative of the problem: not enough information about what’s actually going on, and a lack of frank discussion between citizens and the police about how to solve it. Our police force has been rife with corruption and violence for years; now, people are more unwilling to stand for it. We’ve been luckier than other cities in that regard, (St. Louis comes to mind), but not by much. The Chief of Police and Mayor Emanuel have come under direct fire from advocacy groups for police brutality and there are some calls for his resignation. Emanuel fired the superintendent in December, but that was seen by many as too little, too late.

      As a “veteran” of the Rodney King situation and having dealt with the police in Irvine, California, in the early 90’s, I know what corrupt police forces can do to a city. Chicago’s has been more under the thumb for entrenched problems that are finally coming to light; your comparison to Los Angeles in this sense is apt. My gut feels like Chicago now and Los Angeles then are very similar.

      But I fear for my city. Most of the violence is far from here, on the south or west sides. But there was a shooting a mile from my office last month and the bank branch where we make our weekly deposits was held up at gunpoint. So it’s not something we can ignore; it’s in our streets and neighborhoods.

      If you’re in Chicago and reading this, go to your CAPS meetings: Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy. It’s arranged by precinct; you can find your specific precinct and when your meetings are by visiting

  2. Totally with you. Include, don’t exclude. Inclusion is def not a popular philosophy where I live now, so I find myself shaking my head a lot. The latest local ‘anti’ conversations I heard about from friends (who were also shaking their heads) were targeted at people like me who have tattoos, and Catholics. Catholics?? Really? Thought we had gotten past that. I guess some people will always be looking for an ax to grind.

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