Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Changing Face

When I was a kid I remember being told that one day, far, far in the future everyone will be tan skinned, a dark shade of tan. Because of the races mixing and having children, soon everyone will be a blend of everyone else. I'm not sure if this will happen, but America's face is not what it once was.

A recent article in the Seattle Times states that the face of America is changing. Now one in ten U.S. counties have a population where non-Hispanic Whites are not the majority. Primarily, these counties are in the southwest, the Bible belt, Alaska, and Hawaii; however, there are a few counties in my neck of the woods included in this demographic measurement.

Some of the more experienced teachers with whom I work told me that the current 35% Hispanic population we have at the high school is a new development. In the 1970s and 1980s they said we had a Hispanic population of 5% and under. Our valley's agricultural boom and construction needs have created an influx of seasonal migrant workers and a newly transplanted population from Central America. We are one of the faces changing in America.

I firmly believe in the power and desirability of diversity. I have always known a diverse community, being in the minority for much of my life and always made a better man because of diversity's power.

A new study is now out countering the benefits of diversity on civic life. This study conducted by Harvard's Robert Putnam indicates that almost all "civic measures" decline as diversity increases. Some findings in diverse communities are:

a) "fewer people vote,"
b) "they volunteer less often,"
c) "less is given to charity,"
d) "fewer people work on community projects," and
e) "neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings."

While I can't directly dispute any of the findings or data, I believe the problem at the center of this isn't really diversity. The problems are prejudice and fear. Humans fear what is different or strange. People tend to shy away from what they don't understand.

I see the results of this study, not as a negative, but a positive. We can change if we so desire. Is that not what we teach our children? To be inclusive, accepting, tolerant, and respectful of one another. Adults are not always the best models for the qualities we try to instill in our youth, but we're doing better. We're doing better all the time. Our country is changing and changing for the better. I will continue to lift our lamps beside the golden door.


EnglishTeacherMe said...

Oh how I wish I could be any shade of tan. Glow-in-the-dark white is not my color. At all.

I live smack in the middle of the Bible belt. The schools where I interned were a majority black population, and I am frequently the only white person in the classroom. The funny thing, though, is it took me a few months to realize this.

I see a lot of prejudice from Hispanic, black and white people here. I have to chalk a lot of the black/white issue to the Civil Rights movement and the events leading up to them. Our students have grandparents who were directly involved, and I am sure they were deeply hurt. As people directly involved in the conflict leave us, I think and hope that prejudices will slowly leave,too. It takes education and exposure, I think, to become open-minded, and I am proud to be a part of that.

DrPezz said...

My area likes to think of itself as enlightened and cosmopolitan, but really we're a fractured community split across two sets of lines: the northern affluent and the southern impoverished & the Hispanic and White communities. We're trying to get better.

happychyck said...

The first thought I had while reading was that this is all very interesting. My students are quite diverse, but the majority are Hispanic. However, to me their dark hair and brown skin sometimes look the same to me, and I can't tell what their ethnic background is. Many of them are mixed--and it is often two different ethnicities, such as Hispanic and Asian. (Her Hispanic classmates were surprised, too.) You just can't judge! I like that idea that cultures are coming together!

The other thought I had was about the lack of civic interest or responsibility. Before I even read on, I was thinking, "Well, people who are traditionally minorities, even if they aren't anymore in their communities, don't feel comfortable stepping up." I see it in my students sometimes. They don't feel like a part of the community. I wonder if it is because we don't see enough minority leaders, so young people don't know that they CAN be leaders because they ARE part of the community, not because of what they look like or where they come from.
Fear and prejudice working on both sides, I'd say. More awareness on what is actually happening culturally in our country is good to break down those barriers.

DrPezz said...

We have a similar problem with our Hispanic population at the high school not feeling like they can be leaders in the school. Even when two Hispanic boys won President and VP, their previous models were so bad that little was done, so now it's perceived as a title and nothing more.

We need to work on this.