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Choosing Our Place in History: Teaching the ABCs of Diversity

Choosing Our Place in History: Teaching the ABCs of Diversity

Excerpted from The ABCs of Diversity: Helping Kids (and Ourselves!) Embrace Our Differences, by Carolyn B. Helsel and Y. Joy Harris-Smith

"What side of history do you want to be on?"—Angela Rye, political strategist and advocate

Political commentator Angela Rye often asks fellow political commentators, “What side of history do you want to be on?” Indeed, it is a critical question, one that the respondent may not be able to answer at the moment.  And I don’t think Angela expects them to answer that question right then and there. The question is a growing-pain moment. It is injected into the conversational atmosphere and hangs there.

I believe Angela seriously wants them to think about it. Meditate on it. Search their insides and reflect on what they say they believe and the policies they advocate. This doesn’t mean that critical self-reflection will lead you to a different place. But critical self- reflection should lead you to a deeper place—and hopefully a more informed place—on important issues. This question has continued to resonate in me regularly. And so now, I pose it to you, dear reader. Dear mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, auntie, pastor, rabbi, imam, or teacher, I ask you, “What side of history do you want to be on?”

You don’t need to have a well-thought-out answer right now. But it should be a question that you begin thinking about and perhaps revisit from time to time. It is a question we should all think about to help us make better decisions about how we are going to navigate this watershed moment in history—not simply on a societal level but also on a daily personal level.

In fact, you have already made a decision about what side of history you desire to be on by reading The ABCs of Diversity: Helping Kids (and Ourselves!) Embrace Our DifferencesYour decision to inform yourself, learn more, and figure out how to engage difference is important. Do not take it lightly. Some people would rather stick their heads in the sand and hope that this moment in time blows over. It won’t. As a matter of fact, it will never ever be the same again. This is crucial. There are critical moments in history, and we are definitely in one such moment. It is imperative to think about where you stand in it—where you want to stand in it. Once the  moment passes, what you could have or should have done won’t matter. In fact, it will be irrelevant. All that matters is what actions you engage in to be better in the present and move forward.

Our children and their children will inherit what we do—or do not do. So, in the words of Angela Rye, I ask again, “What side of history do you want to be on?”

I know I would like to be on the side of history that says something, that makes a difference—not just in word but also in deed—and that gives my children, and others, the tools they need to navigate this already-here, right-now society.

The reason why we want to talk about this concept of “diversity” is because there is a history in this country of violence against persons who are in the minority or who are seen as “other” or “inferior,” or just “different.”

What talking about our differences does is to make those “others” less scary to persons who may fear what is different, in the hopes that if those persons have the power to harm others, they will make a different choice, a choice for the other’s good and for their well-being. And maybe talking about our differences and our history of violence as a country can inspire us to stand up for people who are seen as different, and our children will continue to engage and embrace difference. 

We are a country of resilience and of change. African Americans have managed to thrive in a country that forcibly removed them from their ancestral heritage and enslaved them for hundreds of years.

Persons who are seen as “perpetual foreigners,” persons of Asian descent or people of color from around the world who bring with them their accents and unique heritage, have managed to make this country their own and contribute to its success.

Persons who are gay or lesbian or transgender or non-binary are making progress in receiving the recognition they deserve as Americans who also make up the beauty of the diversity that is the United States.

And white people are learning about racism and supporting the work of persons of color who are leading the way in fighting for the rights of all marginalized communities.

Religious leaders of all faiths are reaching out to one another, seeing the importance of interfaith dialogue and cooperation. When a church, synagogue, or mosque is vandalized or targeted for a hate crime, the other communities of faith in the area express their solidarity and ask, “How can we stand with you?” We are learning how to support one another amidst our diversity in this wide, wonderful world of ours.

And even across our political divide, as deep as it seems to be, there are individuals building bridges, emphasizing common goals rather than partisan interests. Of course, more can be done here, and in every other area of embracing our diversity and working together. To say we are making strides is not to say we have arrived, but that we have reason to hope.

All of us can be part of this movement to make America the land of the free and home of the brave. It is going to take bravery. And it is a return to the original intentions of the men who wrote our Constitution, believing that all people are born with inalienable rights: to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But we can’t get there by hiding in cabinets or looking through windows at what others are doing. We have to be out there in the world, learning skills to work together to build community and ensure the mutual success of all of our citizens. That is the dream. And it starts with us waking up, choosing what side of history we want to be on, and getting to work.

Learn more about The ABCs of Diversity: Helping Kids (and Ourselves!) Embrace Our Differences and order your copies today.

Join the Online Book Launch & Conversation on Teaching Kids the ABCs of Diversity, Tuesday, June 23, at 8pm ET.

Carolyn B. Helsel (pictured, left) teaches preaching at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and is a minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). She holds a PhD from Emory University and MDiv and ThM degrees from Princeton Seminary. She's the author of Anxious to Talk About It: Helping White Christians Talk Faithfully About Racism,  Preaching About Racism: A Guide for Faith Leaders, and coauthor of The ABCs of Diversity: Helping Kids (and Ourselives!) Embrace Our Differences.

Y. Joy Harris-Smith (pictured, right) has a PhD from Howard University in Communication and Culture and is a New York City special education teacher with more than 17 years of experience teaching junior high school youth through graduate school students. Harris-Smith serves as a full-time lecturer in Speech Communication in Ministry at Princeton Theological. She is the coauthor of The ABCs of Diversity


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