Observing Diversity – Part I of II

We See and Embrace You!

By Jorge D. H. Prosperi 2019

“There are very few crossroads anymore. . .
I’m looking for those spaces where people actually do mix.”

– Jenji Kohan on NPR’s Fresh Air, in 2013

Watching people is an amazing and intriguing diversion. It is said to be an interesting and fascinating pastime. Most qualitative researchers would mention that there is a difference between watching and observing. Some would posit that watching may be a matter of happenstance while observing requires a more acute intent and focus. As a mentor once astutely mentioned, watching notices – observing perceives.” Disclaimer – neither one has to judge. ‘Ay, there’s the rub!’

While watching and observing, we allow our senses to view stories unfolding – that is – if we dare to look up from our phones. Most often our eyes are glancing at vignettes instantly interpreting with degrees of awareness connected to our own diversity and identity.

Not many of us wake up in the morning deciding, “I think I will go some place today and just watch people.” What typically occurs is that we find ourselves in spaces, intentionally or by happenstance, watching and observing. We may be standing in a line or visiting a location with a specific purpose. Nonetheless, spaces for observations are made available and begin to unfold.

For example, I recently made an appointment to have my phone analyzed regarding its battery life. I thought it would be a simple transaction. But one thing led to another and I found myself considering trading the phone for a newer model. What I thought would be a 30 minute process took roughly 4 hours – yes there were many glitches – mostly my fault.

While I waited for different technicians to assist me, I was provided with the opportunity to sit back and observe waves of humanity enter, browse, interact and leave. Individuals and families at first focused on why they were there. But people slowly began to relax and mingle. It seemed as if the enclosed space invited interaction. Diversity began to unfold as technicians, sales personnel and countless customers created a rainbow of humanity.

All ages, gender, languages and skin pigmentations were present and represented. People began to connect with others about reasons for their visit – which seemed to be the initial ice breaker leading to mini-story telling. Some gave chairs to those standing. Innocent infants were peacefully sleeping, some babbling away in strollers – all were recognized and validated with gentle smiles. The youngest seemed to bring out nuances of our shared humanity.

An elderly tall white man wearing a tee shirt that read across the back “VETERAN – PROUD TO HAVE SERVED!” was sitting a few feet away from me. He initiated a conversation with a young African American woman gently bouncing her infant child. She shared the child’s name and age. He countered by sharing a story about his grandchildren – so proud they were now in college. He never had the chance to attend after enlisting in the military as a young man.

She shared that her father, uncle and cousin had also served. A triangle-flag at home on the mantle reminded her family of the latest sacrifice. Both seemed to find common ground and solace. America needed to hear their shared stories – now more than ever.

I observed daughters teaching mothers, sons teaching fathers about their cyber tech world – all being mentored by tech gurus as diversified as the tutees and their tattoos. What was evident were the comfort zones of Diversity with Diversity – the allowance – the surrender – the self-permission to let go. I wanted to scream . . . “America! Please STOP! Stop right now and please observe – take a deep – deep breath and let’s exhale together – one primal exhalation  in harmony” . . . so much needed – so much hoped for – now more than ever.

Was this America in 2019?
Was this the America we often hear about on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and NPR?
Or was this the America that most of us long for?

Were my observations real? Were my qualitative research lenses deceiving me? Wow, where did these people come from? Surely not from one rural, urban, suburban zip code. So, does this mean that Diversity has arrived – that we don’t have to wait for 2030, 2040, 2050? The human vignettes were real because I had observed such realities before. This was not an aberration but an affirmation – now more than ever.

The display of human diversity in front of my eyes reminded me of my grandchildren and their world. Day in, day out, they provided Diversity’s light and hope. It was not based on one observation, but countless occasions over many years as my wife and I chaperoned and witnessed from kindergarten through high school field trips, class parties, play-dates, school functions, book readings, overnights, school clubs, concerts/plays, science fairs, forensics, debate, math competitions, music ensembles, robotics camps and a slew of all-day sporting events.

Year after year throughout voting districts in Michigan we undeniably observed proof that America, not only had changed, but was exponentially changing in front of our very eyes.

Our children and grandchildren are living in a diverse world and the most critical observation and finding is –

THEY ARE COMFORTABLE WITH DIVERSITY!

The ignorance, fear and predispositions are left to adults to deal with and own.
The children are moving on.

I could not stop thinking of other examples where Diversity was obvious – airports, tech stores, athletic events, college campuses, Costco, IKEA type venues, buses, trains, subways, graduations, parks, hospitals, malls, movie theaters, summer camps, Secretary of State Offices, Voting Precincts.

How about those 21st Century TV commercials! Notice the bi-socio-cultural-ethnic-racial- lingual couples and their bi-socio-cultural-ethnic-racial-lingual children and their bi-socio- cultural-ethnic-racial-lingual friends and their bi-socio-cultural-ethnic-racial-lingual neighbors?

Guess that American corporations, businesses, marketers and Wall Street are also observing and getting quite comfortable with DIVERSITY. Yes, Diversity $ells . . . as well as unites . . . the choice is no longer a choice but a matter of living within its reality – now more than ever.

End of Part I of II – Go to Part II