Recognizing my history does not minimize yours

Wednesday , September 06, 2017 - 5:00 AM

MATT HERP/Standard-Examiner

WSU Chief Diversity Officer Adrienne Andrews speaks during the A Town Hall Conversation About Race meeting Saturday July 30, 2016, at Weber State University in Ogden.

ADRIENNE ANDREWS, special to the Standard-Examiner

Recently, the university where I work was the target of hate. An individual or individuals came to campus under the cover of darkness to post flyers, just as they had at many other institutions across the country. These flyers provoked fear, hostility and aggression against minority populations. The underlying message in each flyer was that when we practice inclusion, someone loses something; in this case, people who identify as white lose power, wealth, recognition and property.

Another underlying message was that when we recognize and value diversity, we are demonizing heritages that are identified as white in this country. There were other messages that positioned immigration as a threat to white identity in addition to anti-Semitic postings.

Finally, there was a puzzling statement on one of the flyers. It said, “Should your children grow up a tiny, hated minority in their own country?” My sentiments exactly.

Over the last nine days I have tried to unravel what this is about. Why would people come to spread hate at a place the community gathers to learn? I believe it must be fear. The fear that minorities, who are becoming majorities, will one day oppress those who oppressed them. This is the ultimate fear of “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This fear is only rational if there is continued fear mongering, intimidation, hate and oppression. Since we know there is, the fear makes sense to those who engage in those practices. So how do we end this Catch-22?

First, if we oppress, we must acknowledge that we oppress and stop doing it. When we oppress others, we justify it by making ourselves out as better than the oppressed. When we create a human value system based on skin color, religion, ability, culture or political persuasion (just to name a few aspects of our identity), we can justify not standing up for others when we stand up for ourselves. We also create a social distance that can dehumanize and even demonize those who are not like us.

Second, when we experience privilege, we must realize that that privilege can include or exclude. If we have privilege (which could include access, information, power or resources) we must make a decision about whether we help others or only engage in behaviors that help ourselves. I try very hard to use my privilege to include a variety of voices and perspectives — this isn’t to say that I always get it right, but it does reflect that I am paying attention and trying to use my privilege to provide access and opportunity for others, even when it doesn’t personally benefit me.

Third, no child should grow up a tiny, hated minority in his or her own country. That includes the Native American child whose family existed for generations on this continent before the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria made there way to the United States. That includes Hispanic and indigenous people from Mexico whose identities changed when borders were moved — not when they themselves moved. That includes the African-American child whose great-grandparents were brought here on slave ships. That includes the Asian child whose grandparents were imprisoned in internment camps even as their uncles fought for this nation in a segregated military. It also includes the German, the Irish, the Italian, the English, the Scottish, the Norwegian children, and so many others who came to these shores to settle and raise a family – whether it be generations ago or last week.

The posters I have seen across this country are similar to those put out by the Nazis prior to World War II. They made people afraid that they would lose something by being inclusive. They made people believe that we didn’t share a common humanity. They made people believe that they were better than someone else. It was a painful lesson. I do not believe we should have to learn it again.

Recognizing my history and culture does not minimize yours or anyone else’s. It simply makes room for a fuller, engaged picture of life. That picture is one where every child is included and loved as a part of our national heritage.

Adrienne Andrews is Weber State University’s chief diversity officer. Twitter: @AdieAndrewsCDO.