White bread. Vanilla valley. Pick your diversity slur, and maybe, just maybe, my hometown has been called one of those names. Or rather, it’s a lack of diversity slur. We have a bad reputation for being homogenous; the same without variety and flavor. As a sociology student, this accusation bothers me. I’ll admit it, when I travel, I get uncomfortable because I am fairly used to being in a white majority town. At home, the whiteness of faces and culture, and middle class expectations are an extreme norm for me. I know this subject matter is an extremely sensitive topic. I hope I can approach it with an open and accepting lens. If I offend, I apologize. I’m open to discussion.
Diversity is important and I try, so very hard, to look for it, to seek it out, to ask polite questions, that maybe, at times aren’t incredibly ‘pc’. Because, well, you can not help where you come from. But here’s the thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot this week. As you know, our cars got pretty dinged up in the hail storm (dinged up – is that grammatically correct?). That means Dylan’s car is in the shop, and he is using mine for the commute. Luckily, oh so luckily, the town we live in just got a new transit system put in that goes from the South end of town to the North and its free for the summer. So each morning Dylan has been dropping me at the bus, and I’ve had to run a few times to catch it. It’s a great way to go to work. I don’t have to focus, and I’ve always been a fan of public transportation. Because when you are on a bus, you have to accept diversity in lifestyle choices, in clothing, in language, in experience. When that little box with wheels that you spend so much time in needs repair, you have to branch out, raise your head, and make eye contact with all kinds of people you didn’t even realize lived in your town.
Well I guess you don’t have to accept diversity that is represented. I choose to look for it, to have conversations, and to make eye contact. It’s fun, and a little bit scary. I don’t know much about these people, where they live, where they work, or what their families are like. It’s easy to judge based on clothing, based on bags, or Apple accessories what kind of life they may live or where they may fit in the world. It has been beautiful to see how much diversity exists in my little town, just on the bus. Quite often, we flock to people who are like us – we want to be able to talk about shared experiences and it’s difficult to cross into circles that are out of the ordinary. I’ve got my work friends, my gym friends, my church friends. None of those people that I know have bus friends. ( I know, I know, if I was in a city, perhaps this post would go without saying, but hey, I don’t. I live here) Maybe I’ll have a bus friend. The reality of the matter is Dylan’s car will be fixed in a couple of weeks, and I will likely go back to my personalized box with wheels. Its more convenient, more reliable, more timely (let’s be honest, public transit in this town isn’t great). However, we are moving in the right direction. It is helping me see how I contribute to the mix as well.
Part of my job is to train volunteers who want to give their time to our agency. Working with at-risk populations we spend a lot of time talking about the “Hidden Rules of Class”, by Ruby Payne and Philip DeVol and how our expectations shape and change our behavior. I expect to be able to drive a car to work – one that I own myself. A large amount of the population does not have that luxury. What is important to me, in this aspect of the training, is that it is not about us “people who have it together” helping those people who are “transitioning, or needy, or looking for hand outs”.
At the beginning of the training I ask the volunteers to answer T/F to these questions:
- I was raised in poverty
- I was raised in the middle class
- I was raised in wealth
- I have experienced homelessness
- I am employed
- I have a good relationship with my family
- I know a friend or loved one who struggles with an addiction
- I know a friend or loved one who has spent time in jail
- I am religious
- I have people in my life who are proud of me
- I have felt lost and unsure at some point in my life
- I believe in myself
Typically we have about 20 people at a training. There are always at least 8 or 9 people who answer yes to every single question. So despite our gender, or our class, or where we live, or what kind of Apple accessories we cary, there should be things we can connect on.
So thanks, public transportation, for letting me think about the beauty in what makes us different, and the beauty in what makes us the same.
How would you answer those true/ false questions. Do you take the bus?