There is this moment when the thing we fear becomes like an animal in a cage. We feed it, give it treats, reach into to steal a stroke, tease it, name it, watch it pace in front of the bars. We get comfortable with it and begin to lose the tightness in our belly. We begin to believe our feelings were not justified, that we were just being silly. We begin to make friends with that animal in the cage and we decide to let it out, to see if it has suddenly become civilized. Inevitably, it has not and then comes the bloody, broken mess on the floor that we have to clean up even as we know we created the mess and we don't want to see that thing we've let loose. And we have to put it back in the cage, the struggle ensues, and we are irrevocably scarred by the experience only to begin the process again.
Lately I seem to be reading, talking, thinking, talking, watching, talking about inclusion and diversity. As if one of those things is somehow more valuable than the other, as if we can find the perfect balance of what it means to be a person in this skin, in this body, in this place, in these conditions. We can define it, name it, put it in the cage and watch it rail against the boundaries we have made, knowing it cannot get out.
Sometimes I am irritated by just how much attention is paid to our differences. It's as if we cannot recognize each other without first drawing a little mental picture of what sets us apart. You are tall, I am short. You are rich, I am poor. You are black, I am white. You are boy, I am girl. Exploring all of these, listing them, until we've got some common ground somewhere. As if being human in the first place was not enough, as if sharing the same space, the same air, the same moment in time is not good enough for forging a bond and putting us square. First, let me identify you, assign you a role, and then I can acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, you defy that role. Diversity (fists in the air to emphasize the point)! Look how much we don't share!
And yet, I am not allowed to point out these differences at all. They must be unspoken. Little markers to measure each other by, but always on the down-low as if the words themselves carry some sort of power to define us. I must include you, after all you fit the category or close enough to it. I must include you despite how glaringly you do not fit the bill and I must not ever explain why I thought you might not want to come along. That is wrong. Because, inclusion! Inclusion!
You might be reading me all wrong here. Let me be clear: My daughter is black and it's wonderful. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about how she is black and I am white and WOW! we are suddenly so very different. I do want her to understand the culture that is uniquely hers, the one I cannot belong to no matter how much I might admire it. I do talk about those floating concepts like adoption. I do at times worry that she might not know how to answer those inevitable questions, those eyebrows raised in surprise, those second glances that happen when people suddenly realize I am her mom. And they do happen. Often. I do spend time noticing how beautiful her skin is in the light, or how vivid the whites of her eyes are in the dark, how markedly different the bottoms of her feet are to the rest of her foot. So does she, for the record, without any prompting from me. She wants to know why this is and how it changes things. It doesn't, not really, except that maybe I have a greater appreciation for the body and how it defies convention. How it does not notice it is different, but goes on trying to work, full steam. I love that somehow she is quite particularly my daughter in so many ways and without any effort on either part. Nature versus nurture forgets there is a God and His hand brought her here.
But back to that caged animal.
I feel really defensive when I read narratives about how differently we treat people based on their status as black, white, male, female, Hispanic, immigrant, on and on. OF COURSE we do, and not always, often not, in good ways because we are people and inherently prone to making stupid choices. We excel at being stupid about this kind of thing. I wonder, though, how much we bang this drum because we want to hear the noise of it. How much we create lines between us because we are afraid or ignorant or irresponsible or just plain mean. There is the line! See it! Don't touch it! It might move! But, don't forget about it! In fact, we better celebrate it! I wonder why we spend so much time calling it something: racism, sexism, classism, isolationism - so many isms. When really, all along, it is just one thing: We've forgotten who we are. Humans. People. Children of God. Or, even if you prefer, members of the same species. We are the same, but our colors are as bright and glorious as a butterfly's wing. And until that beauty becomes the thing we talk about most because it is beautiful, I fear it will continue to be that caged animal. Locked up, separated, afraid and dangerous. Something we look at and talk about and tease. Something to fear simply because it has not been understood.