Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Hazards in Exploring Diversity


Copyright © 2010 by Leo E. Laurence, J.D. • All rights reserved

San Diego — “Be careful because you might get slanted eyes,” said a friend of mine in an in-sensitive comment after noticing that I was eating with chopsticks. I countered saying that I though he “cute” comment was really racist.

But, his comment raises some charged issues for anyone who actively adds more diversity into their lives.

It's well established that diversity in any organization or newsroom will make it stronger. But, as we become more diverse we need to be prepared for insensitive reactions from others who limit their lives to only people who look like themselves.

“What are you doing that for,” my mother asked me in the mid-1990’s when I proudly told her that I had become a regular volunteer firefighter … in Tijuana, B.C., Mexico. She had actually led a very limited life in New York.

Yet I found working regularly with Mexicans and totally immersing myself in their lives and culture made me much richer.

I knew little about the Asian cultures until I covered the San Diego Asian Film Festival and became the mentor of a graduating senior at the University of California in San Diego. He's from Taiwan and will be teaching English in China for a year after earning his degree, before returning to attend law school.

I had always been fascinated by those who were skilled at using chopsticks. How do they do it? I wondered.

After my Taiwanese mentee taught me how to use them, I haven’t used a fork in weeks.

Not everybody likes my exploration into the Asian cultures.

One “man,” called me a racist for writing about my new skills with chopsticks, and for doing research into the current jurisprudence of China.

Perhaps that fellow, an alumnus of my university fraternity and a UCSD graduate, was revealing more about himself than me, in describing my adventure in Asian anthropology as “racist.”

Leo E. Laurence, J.D. is a member, of the national committee on diversity of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and a member of the Latino Journalists of California; Editor, San Diego News Service; and Associate Editor, Zenger’s Newsmagazine (leopowerhere@msn.com). This article was first published on the SPJ’s Diversity Web site.