Sep 272012

Sometimes living on Capitol Hill drives me crazy. There are people everywhere, all the time. Walking the kid and the dog one block to the park in the evening (necessary, because who has a backyard?) means stopping to greet other dogs, sidestepping anti-social dogs, stopping so other kids can pet our dog, giving directions to random tourists, saying hello to neighbors, sidestepping anti-social neighbors, dodging bikes breaking traffic laws, waiting for three directions of traffic lights before crossing the street…. Did I mention the park is one block away?? Sometimes you just want to get to the *$@&# park and home for dinner.

But there is one thing I love about the people of Capitol Hill, and it is that they are not always the same people. Looking around Vera’s schoolyard when I dropped her off this morning, I was struck by the scope of diversity at her school. There’s every possible shade and mix of skin color, but that’s just the beginning. We heard parents speak with accents from Europe and Africa. We saw a kindergarten girl with her hair covered by a scarf, and another being dropped off by two mommies. We saw nannies and yuppie parents and hipster parents and grandparents with canes. There are many kids wealthier than we are, and many who can’t afford the $2 school lunch. I am so grateful that our daughter can grow up surrounded by this smorgasbord of humanity.

One of the enduring things I learned in college psychology is that our brains are hard-wired to divide the world into categories. There will always be an “us” versus “them.” It’s how the brain works. But how you define “us” and “them” — ah, that’s where the question lies. Too much of human history has defaulted to easy categories of tribe, nationality, skin color, religion, or sexuality. Some of the news and images surrounding this election prove those defaults are still alive and kicking.

I want to raise a child with a modern view of “us.” One who sees “us” as her co-workers, her neighbors, her friends — no matter where they fall in all those old group definers. It’s a state of mind and one you could develop anywhere. But I’m sure this crazy neighborhood can only help.

[Image from here. Because can anyone my age think “diverse kids” without looking up old Benetton ads?]

  2 Responses to “On Diversity”

  1. The biggest reason Aaron and I decided to plant permanently in Seattle (and not coast back to Iowa to have kids,) is for the diversity. We were sitting at H-Mart having lunch one day, and I looked around and was struck by the fact that we were the only two white people in the whole place and it was totally, totally normal for Seattle. _That’s_ what I want our kids to see as normal, not “Iowa normal.” Does that make sense?

    • Trust me, as a fellow Midwesterner, I understand completely. Many, many years after high school graduation, I can still name probably every non-white kid in our class of 400+. They were that rare. Obviously lack of diversity doesn’t automatically turn people into racists, or (given our backgrounds) you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation. But I do believe frequent exposure to diversity can change our brains, in the sense of our automatic definitions of “us” and “them.”

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