I like to use different color Chanukah candles. One color might look nice and traditional, but two colors add more options–in fact, on the last night, using just two colors of candles, there are more than five hundred ways to arrange them! The possible patterns are overwhelming, and just imagine how much more endless they are considering there are more than two colors available and no two nights have the same number to arrange!
A little diversity makes the light shine brighter, doesn’t it? Some days I don’t think people realize how much small differences can make.
The other day I was at an event thrown by my residence hall and the resident director was there, so since we’ve known each other for most of the semester, I figured I’d join him and his group of RAs, one of whom I also knew.
“You’re applying to be a resident mentor next semester, right?”
“Yep,” I told him, and somehow the conversation turned to diversity. “I add a lot,” I said, “I’m a transfer student, gay, Jewish, white.”
“White?” one of the RAs said. “That doesn’t add much to diversity.”
It took me a moment to remember I wasn’t at Guilford Tech anymore, where white students accounted for less than half of the student body. And it took me a couple days to realize that when people talk about diversity, they only mean if you belong to a minority–in some obviously visible way.
So, yeah, being white doesn’t make me diverse.
A little more than two years ago I graduated from the Student Leadership Institute, now known as the Student Leadership Development Program. There were a little fewer than thirty of us in the group and most of us were white–and yet it was one of the most diverse groups I’ve ever been a part of.
We came from different parts of the state, so culturally we were different in a number of ways–our values, our habits, the things we saw every day and the things we had never seen before. We had different levels of religious and spiritual beliefs and observances. We came from various levels of socioeconomic success. So even if many of us looked like we should have been the same, we weren’t.
So maybe he was right–being white doesn’t add to our diversity–but he was also mistaken that you’re only diverse if you belong to a minority. Of course, I was also wrong: Being gay or Jewish or a transfer student do not necessarily make me more diverse, either–at least not individually. Only when all these parts of me and all the others that could be named are taken together can we consider the diversity I bring to a group–and the same can be said of anyone: Individual descriptors mean nothing about what they add to a group; only in taking them as a whole can we see their entire contributions.
It’s a lot like the Chanukah candles. Tonight’s the fifth night so there are six candles and the box I have has five different colors–taken together, that’s 15,625 ways I could have arranged them. But 15,624 of those options don’t matter: Only the final combination matters, because that’s the one I lit, so that’s the one whose colors shine.