Diversity: More Than Black and White

Jaime Coyne

As an incoming freshman, I only recently finished my orientation. A huge effort was made to discuss diversity and accepting other people over the course of those three days. I definitely applaud the school’s attempts, and always try to accept people who are different from me. But events like those also unintentionally serve a second purpose — they make me, and probably other people, feel like I am supposed to apologize for being white.

Somehow, whenever the topic of race or diversity is brought up, I almost always feel the blame shift toward white people. I know my ancestors did horrible things. I know. I’ve learned about the horrors that make up our past, been thoroughly appalled, and tried my best to be a good person instead of following suit. I cannot undo the past. And just because, at the very least, some distant relative of mine must have done something that would today seem unacceptable or unforgivable, does not make me necessarily guilty of an equal crime. Just as persecuted peoples cannot help who they are or the color of their skin, white people did not choose to be white.

Even just the phrase ‘white people’ bothers me. For some time it has annoyed me that the only option I can check off for ethnicity is ‘white’. That is not, in fact, my ethnicity. I am Irish. I am French Canadian. I am British. If anything, I would call my skin color peach, not white. But we don’t go around calling people ‘peach’ or ‘olive’ or ‘ivory’, because that would seem silly. In the desperate attempt to get as much diversity as possible, lists of races on forms include as many different boxes as they can fit. But the diversity they so eagerly search for is only one of appearance. ‘White’ is the only option for many of us, and yet the possible people checking off the ‘white’ box spans continents. I will be so bold as to assume that there is quite a bit of diversity between those continents and nations.

No one is interested in the history of my whiteness, as long as they know that I am white. It doesn’t fill the diversity quota to pretend to be interested in my background. But there is so much more diversity than skin color! Gender, sexual orientation, political views, fields of experience, interests, skills — we are all unique beings, and that makes us diverse. We can learn so much from each other, if we will only listen and pay attention. People should never be given less of an opportunity because they are not white. But people should also not be disregarded or immediately more to blame because they are white.

People always talk about things as being not just black and white, but also grey. Maybe we could all recognize that there are a thousand shades of grey. They range from the lightest shade, which happens to be called white, to the darkest shade, that happens to be called black, maybe then we could finally see that, yes, we are all a little different. But that also makes us the same; we are all just shades of grey.