At times, I’ve been known to laugh at a well-delivered racist joke. The sheer amount of joy one can derive from the multifaceted hilarity that invokes both the bizarreness of racial stereotypes and the absurdity of believing in them is difficult to quantify. Through my high school years, my friends and I reveled in this type of humor (although we obviously found other sources of amusement). This was the extent to which we talked about issues of diversity.
Before you jump to conclusions, let me clarify a few things. I went to a public high school in Fairfax County, Va. with a predominately middle-class student body. No single racial or ethnic group claimed more than about a third of the population of about two thousand. In our library some 60 or so flags testified to the national origins of the student body (many of whom were recent immigrants or exchange students from Europe, Africa and Asia). The neighborhoods we came from were likewise pluralistic.
Without trying, my high school was far more diverse than Yale has ever been — both ethnically and socioeconomically. Accordingly, and without any effort on my part, I regularly hung out with people who hailed from all but one inhabited continent. I happened to be one of the black kids in my social group of multifarious color, but it was not something I regularly thought about. I have not since been in such a diverse environment, although I would hazard a guess that Yale aspires, at least rhetorically, to achieve a similar vision.
Having grown up in a world in which diversity was simply a fact of life, I was deeply troubled by Benjamin Miller’s article “Making Diversity Real” (Oct. 22). Aside from the unfounded (and I dare say false) claim that “minorities receive few provisions for their comfort” at Yale, there is the even odder contention that Russians at Yale should be “proudly Russian, not culturally American.” As it happens, one of my best friends at Yale is a Russian national who has spent much of his life in the U.S. He speaks unaccented English and some French and easily passes for American in any context (including when he came home with me freshman year and met my high school friends over Spring Break).
Still, my assimilated friend is fluent in his native tongue and voted in the most recent Russian elections. Does this make him a proud Russian? I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t care. What matters to me, is that this Russian American (he is both) is my friend, has been so for a couple years, and I value our friendship.
In short, I care about him as an individual with his own thoughts, mannerism, idiosyncrasies and issues. In this same capacity, I care about all my friends from Bangladesh, Britain, Germany, Pakistan, Iran, Jordan, Brazil, the American North and wherever else in the world. I don’t expect these people to be “proudly” or “authentically” anything except individuals worth knowing and becoming friends with.
In my experience, diversity is, in part, about assimilation, and that this is a good thing or, at worst, something neutral. What my childhood taught me is that the essence of diversity is the removal of people from the category of “other”. It is operating on the presumption of common ground, or the possibility of it, with individuals, regardless of their background or identity traits.
I see diversity flourishing when my friends and I share musical tastes, movie nights and rock climbing adventures. I see it in intense philosophical discussions and even vigorous arguments. I see the value when we bicker, when we reconcile, when we share different experiences and ultimately realize that we’re not so different and that there are more interesting things to talk about than social constructs we’re apparently supposed to buy into. We all contribute to this assimilated culture, and we all may take pride in it. There is no us versus them at stake here, and that’s exactly the point.
The value of diversity is being able to laugh at our similarities, our differences, how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go.
Anthony LeCounte is a junior in Timothy Dwight College.