BY BOB AND MARIA ROUNSAVELL
More than 300 million Americans have a problem that many thought had been solved: diversity. To us, it’s actually our country’s major strength. We come from many backgrounds. We worship in different ways. We play different games. We speak languages other than English. Some even hold dual citizenship. These are strengths, not weaknesses, as some believe.
Although English is our official language, Oklahoma has more spoken languages than the entire continent of Europe. That’s probably hard to realize but it’s largely because we have about 47 languages spoken in Indian Country. If America recognizes a second official language, perhaps it’s Spanish since Hispanics are now our second largest population.
With all this diversity in America, it remains a fact that many white Americans don’t think of diversity as an asset. Why not?
The first white settlers coming largely from Western Europe received a warm welcome from friendly natives. Hence, our annual celebration of Thanksgiving. Then they found themselves needing land to settle after they did not fully succeed in their quest for God-Gold-Glory, as enunciated by the earliest Europeans: the Spaniards were ushered here by Columbus as early as 1492, way earlier than the Puritans in the early 1600s. As the Europeans migrated over the vast frontier, they slowly and methodically pushed the natives onto small patches of wasteland. Thus the pattern was laid of white people controlling most resources, the economy at large and government.
America’s early government excluded all minorities, including women, regardless of color, thus setting the pattern for white male domination. Today women and minorities of all colors have improved status. In our recent commemoration of Martin Luther King holiday, we are reminded of the turmoil and pain we had to undergo in the 1960s before several laws granted equal status to African-Americans.
Nearly a century ago, Ponca Chief Standing Bear became our first civil rights leader: In 1879, he won a court decision allowing him the right to bury his son and stay with a small band of his people in his ancestral land along the Niobrara River.
Despite these civil rights won at such great sacrifice and pain, however, a pecking order still exists, if not exclusion, in 21st century America – for minorities like Native Americans, Hispanics, women and blacks.
A black president is serving his second term. Unfortunately, there are still negative comments about him. That this situation represents racism is denied by many whites claiming equal status for all Americans.
There are two reasons for the denial of racism by whites: one group is trying to cover up the main reason for their discrimination and the second group of white Americans suffers from so-called unconscious racism. This second group truly believes that people of color may once have been victims of racism – but no longer.
But look carefully at recent events in New York, Ferguson and Cleveland. Yes, the racists are a smaller group, certainly less violent or obvious than during the Tulsa Race Riot in 1921. Still many whites are blinded by their denial of racism: it simply does not exist in the good ol’ USA.
We can accurately refer to “unconscious racism” in today’s America. Most of us think we could never exclude on the basis of race. But it happens everyday at work, in school, at shopping malls – in fact, wherever life goes on. Until we become more conscious of our racial discrimination, we will never solve the problem.
Solution: Let’s recognize the problem and realize that all people discriminate in many obvious ways. Some of this discrimination is for worthy purposes, reflecting our values.
We have heroes who by their public service or noteworthy achievements we honor in our Presidents Day or Veterans Day or at Kennedy Center Honors. Biennially from among us we choose as senators, congressmen, and legislators those deserving to represent us in the governance of our nation. Or those who as president or governors will execute our will in the running of our national or state affairs. We recently inaugurated a re-elected governor and convened a new U.S. Congress. Oklahoma’s 55th Legislature is now underway.
However, the underside of this discrimination is our looking askance or as inferiors some Americans for unworthy reasons. One significant reason is physical attributes like skin color. For example, black [African], brown [Natives or Hispanics] or yellow [Chinese or other Asians].
Note our inability to come up with an updating of our immigration policy. In other words, what country do we want to create? What individuals or groups do we require as principal segments of this nation we envision? Do we wish to return to the days of Japanese internment camps or German POW camps or the long era of slavery?
Once we realize the unworthy bases of discrimination, we can start addressing the issue and our society can overcome it.
We are all human beings with differences that can unite and strengthen us. Let no differences serve as barriers to envisioning and creating a United States of America that truly is a beacon of democracy. We believe that we can overcome our political, social, philosophical and other differences and then begin to solve the problems facing us everyday.
Let’s work and play together. Living and working together, and thus knowing one another, we can more easily go beyond the physical characteristics and recognize Martin Luther King Jr.’s content of character.
Glorying in one another’s strengths, we can readily break the gridlock in Washington, formulate our national goals and more joyfully accomplish them. As the only superpower today, we have an obligation to lead.
Let’s not succumb to climate change, religious differences, environmental pollution and a few others. Let’s solve them and inaugurate in today’s world of puny hopes an era of human achievement undreamed of even by our Founding Fathers in the Age of Enlightenment.
– Authors’ Note: We are a mixed marriage couple who recently celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. Our contribution to society, we think, is our family of 12 – two children, five grandchildren and three great-grands. We met in Maria’s country, the Philippines. Bob, a Peace Corps volunteer, and Maria, his boss as chairman of the Humanities Department, worked at UP College of Agriculture [now the University of the Philippines at Los Banos]. We not only hope but we also know that people of different racial/cultural backgrounds can live and work together to make this world better.