Being Noah Tesfaye #1: What does Diversity Mean?

I was in my journalism class recently going over the paper we just published. We were talking about how we could improve the sports section for our second publication of the year, and there were two articles on page 18. The first was one about one of our best basketball players who is committing to a D3 school and the other was about Japanese baseball. Now, one normally would think of this as a pretty cool two articles to put side by side and show the different types of stories we cover on our paper. But one student, who was white, said something so profoundly odd. She mentioned that we should have created a spread for diversity on that page combining both articles under the term “diversity.” She thought that it was justifiable to have an article about a white basketball player to share diversity because there are so few NBA, high-level basketball players that are white, which is true, but…

I don’t agree with her statement for a whole list of reasons, namely because our school is around 50–60% white, so how are we arguing that an average student based on race is “diverse.” Our editor also mentioned how he was not being recruited for being “white,” but for his basketball skills. This frankly caused all the minority kids to laugh, and instantly, I turned to the only other black student in our newspaper, and we couldn’t stop laughing. We were all surprised that she thought it was justifiable to compare diversity on a level of an American sport taking a massive following in Japan with an “average” American boy with exceptional skills in an American sport. How is the latter really meant to be considered diverse?

This allowed me to ponder more about what I truly think about what diversity means? And no, I don’t mean literally, as diversity is “the state of being diverse,” and diverse meaning “showing a great deal of variety.” I think of diversity as something that should be applauded in all places. Whether it may be in an education situation, or more broadly in society. The more people you have to provide variety of opinion to one another allows society to grow since everyone is exposed to new thoughts that they themselves may have never gotten.

In a weird way, I actually understand why my classmate would say something like that. Knowing her, I knew she was just thinking of something creative and wanted to sound unique. But she also did not think about what would happen if she said such an ignorant thing? Are we all going to just assume that the average demographic kid at our school should be mentioned in a diversity spread? That makes no sense frankly. But perhaps the worst part about this event was that we were all laughing and cracking up about it. Most of the class realized how ludicrous her statement was, but rather than being direct about why we thought it was absurd, we all laughed. That only alienates people from contributing. Perhaps we should do a better job as students to help guide someone to letting her know clearly what she said had no clear reasoning and she should think a bit before she says something like that.

Then again, the statement I made in the last sentence of the previous paragraph angers me to some extent. I don’t want to always have to correct someone. It’s kind of like the N word, which I hope to one day delve into in a full post in the future. At a certain point, I just begin to judge people based on their behaviors that either fairly or unfairly showcase his/her race attitudes. I’m not saying my classmate is racist, and honestly, I think she is the furthest from that. She is friendly from the interactions I have had with her, and she seems to have a kind heart. That being said, I think that as a young black man, I get tired of correcting people on what they should say/shouldn’t say. However, if I stop, how will anyone learn how to become a better person? What if someone says something that may slide for me, but says something racially charged against a much more angry person? I would much rather be the one to help guide them to be better informed on how to speak with knowledge about race.

In the end, I want to be understood and appreciated for who I am. Diverse groups of people often give the greatest amount of appreciation and understanding to me because being Ethiopian lets me connect with all people. I can connect with immigrants because both my parents came here from Ethiopia. I can connect with African American students because I too deal with the prejudices they deal with as well. I love being Ethiopian, but I love being African American just as much. If one can truly embrace who you are, you can be much better equipped to help guide those who have misconceptions about race understand it a bit more.

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