I am your equal, not subordinate

Ein Huie

It seems to me that Whitworth students could address the conversation of diversity in a different way; by teaching rather than criticizing and listening rather than being defensive. Although we say we want equality for all races and we want gender inequality to go away and everyone of all backgrounds to be at peace with each other, conversations about diversity can often deter certain people from standing up for equality. For the purpose of this article, I want to be clear that my definition of diversity encompasses race, gender, sexuality, socio-economic status and political status and not just one of these five characteristics of identity.

I am a straight, white, middle-class male. I was raised in the liberal-leaning city of Seattle in a nuclear home with two parents, a brother and a dog. With that identity one might argue that I don’t have the right to write this article, but my identity only adds to the point I am trying to express throughout this article.

Growing up, I did not have many friends from diverse backgrounds and unconsciously surrounded myself with people like me. As I entered public high school, I realized that issues of diversity were the popular topics of conversation and yet also the most debated and emotionally charged conversations. Diversity has come to be the topic that we need to talk about and yet nobody likes to for fear of being on the wrong side or feeling shut down.  Seeing as I knew very little about people different than me, I would often use the wrong terminology or make some ignorant comment about someone’s culture or sexuality. Sometimes it was received well, sometimes I was criticized for it.

Hearing “You can’t say that” and “You wouldn’t get it” or “You wouldn’t understand”, in my opinion, is not a proper response to an ignorant comment on diversity. If I do not know the correct terminology, please teach me. People who attempt to converse about race, sexuality or politics and are deemed as  ignorant, stupid, or not caring about cultural differences should have no reason to want to learn more. If our goal in this culture is to seek equality for all people, and I make a mistake because I don’t know any better, don’t criticize me, teach me. I want to learn.

This brings up another issue that I see as pertinent to this article. Just because someone is not actively seeking out information about how to converse on topics they cannot relate to does not mean they don’t want to learn. Someone who has the ability to relate to race issues or issues of sex is inherently more likely to fight for those rights because it directly affects them and they can relate to it. That does not mean that everyone else doesn’t want the same thing. Holding a bias against a straight, white person for not constantly advocating for human rights does not inherently mean that they are not interested. Don’t count them out because they cannot relate. The straight, white man that accidently makes a mistake in their terminology should not be met with criticism or “expected to say something as ignorant as that”; we need a teaching mentality.

As a generation that voices our opinions and vocally stands up for what we believe in, it is of my opinion that we need to teach more and criticize others less. An African-American person cannot change the fact that they are African-American. A gay person cannot change the fact that they are gay. And a person who grew up upper-class or in a nuclear family cannot change their socio-economic status or family life. If these people constantly hear “You wouldn’t understand”, can you really expect them to want to? Who else is going to teach them besides those who can understand and have the diverse backgrounds to relate?

I believe this goes both ways. At the end of the day, no matter what combination of diverse characteristics make up a person’s identity, there will be a time where each person will be on both sides of the conversation, those being taught and those doing the teaching. As someone who is a straight, white, middle-class male, I have my own culture that defines me too. I have parts of me that many in my diverse in-group can relate to and if we converse with those that are different than us, such as international students or immigrants, as if they will never understand because they can’t relate then we are doing them more harm than good. Using my example of an immigrant, if they were to ask me about something they didn’t understand in American culture and I told them “You just wouldn’t understand, you’re not from here”, I would give them no reason to want to learn or even stay in America and thus create a hierarchy that doesn’t treat them as equal to me. We need to focus more on teaching and worry less about changing others or giving up on someone before we try to teach them.

As a university that seeks a holistic education of mind and heart and aims to “Love God, Follow Christ, and Serve Humanity” Whitworth students need to serve humanity by teaching each other. Listen to someone’s story and put aside the biases that are  based on someone else’s identity. Ask questions and if they make a mistake or say something out of ignorance, try no to tell them that they won’t understand, instead, teach them. We can all agree that we want equality in our society so let’s start by treating each other like equals and open our hearts to teaching and learning.

Contact Ein Huie at dhuie19@my.whitworth.edu