I participated in a “privilege beads” exercise at a diversity conference a year ago that involved reading statements and taking applicable beads to create a privilege bracelet. As a white, straight, Christian, highly-educated, American male who lives in Malibu, I made a privilege hula-hoop. It was embarrassing. It was particularly embarrassing because one of my primary self-identifiers has always been growing up poor (read: underprivileged). I am all about sticking it to the Man, ironically, and standing up for the little guy, i.e., my people. Imagine my surprise.
But discovering diversity has been, for me, a humiliating pathway to joy. The world is a big and beautiful place, and leaving the startling homogeneity of my hometown, though filled with wonderful people, has been an indescribable blessing. I have learned so much, mainly that I know so little, and what I don’t know is fascinating without fail. More importantly, I now have relationships with people who represent ethnicity, identities, faiths, interests, and nationalities that I never even heard of as a child. That is my real privilege. I am better for knowing these good souls, sure, but more importantly, the world is better for knowing them, too.
I returned to the same conference this year hoping for no privilege beads but anticipating new and deeper relationships and was not disappointed on any count. One of the many things I learned at this year’s conference is that the majority of the United States will be non-white by 2044 and that 2011 already marked the first year that more non-white babies were born in the United States than white babies. Significant change is occurring as to several of my privileges, some far more quickly than others. My Facebook feed reminds me that many find such changes to be frightening. Since diversity has been a great blessing in my life, I see it with different eyes. To co-opt the famous FDR quote, the only frightening thing I see is the fear itself.