The students were engaged in a lively, passionate discussion. Both were non-white Americans, and they were arguing over what it means to be a “minority”. As I listened to them, unnoticed, the argument seemed to be this. The one student’s point was that certain minorities filled the slots in Ivy League schools and others need not apply. The other student’s point was that the “left out minorities” might have candidates for the Ivy League schools that were just as worthy but they were deemed the kind of minority not worth looking at.
What struck me was that I was listening to two wonderful, intelligent young people, both of whom felt themselves as non-white students to be struggling for prime educational opportunities that were too few to go around.
Some time later that day, I thought about white students that I knew who were also worthy candidates who would not be considered.
We have cultivated in our nation a mentality that does not allow us to cultivate safe places for good things. That sounds outrageous, doesn’t it? Consider the conversations we are having among ourselves. People who are white are on defense against those who are not. People who are not white are on defense against each other and those who are white. Good things (like a great education) are parceled out to the few. Not only is this experience in our nation not that of sheltering walls, but it becomes the opposite: hostile exposure to diminishing hope. The image we operate from as a nation is that of turning each other out of our personal realm. “You don’t belong in here with me, so get out.”
Sheltering walls is a different kind of image. We invite in. We welcome. We offer and receive. We open. We ask. We look in order to really see. We find commonalities, and we see in each other’s face our own.
I don’t pretend to have a formula for cultural change, but I am convinced that in each human interaction, I have the incredible power of inviting in, welcoming, offering and receiving, opening, asking, looking in order to see my face in yours. I invite you to that powerful possibility.