It is a warm and sunny August day in the year 2015. An eager and inspired Ian, joined by his father and brother, makes his way onto the grounds of his new estate: Babson College. For the next four years, he will be lucky enough to call this campus, ‘home’. Excitement lays in the air as the incoming Freshman class networks – many of whom are meeting for the first time. Yet, as the sun sets and families say their final goodbyes, excitement transitions into nerves. Nerves for what the future holds. Nerves for upcoming studies. Nerves for the tall task of making friends. And for Ian, nerves for his entrance into a diverse community.
Up until this point, Ian was involved in and influenced by predominately white, heteronormative communities. Growing up in ‘small town, white America’, Ian was unaccustomed to interacting with a diverse set of folk. Like many of his friends and family members, he was ignorant, and some may say a tad bit discriminatory. Little did he know that these next four years would be transformative in more ways than in education and professionalism. His ignorance would eventually turn into inspiration.
A New, Diverse Mindset
Babson College changed me. Prior to my attending this place of higher education, much of my Life was ‘whitewashed’. In work, in school, in pleasantries and in the K-12 curriculum, I was engrossed in whiteness. By joining Babson’s Undergraduate Class of 2019, I was in for a major adjustment. My 500+ student class boasted a 25% international and 30% “domestic minority” populace (see Babson’s site for confirmation). That means 55% of my classmates did not identify with the White American community. This statistic does not even include those who identify with the LGBTQ+ community: another unfamiliar group for me. I had two choices. I could remain shrouded in whiteness and complacent to what I learned growing up. Or I could get out of my comfort zone and adapt to my new, diverse community. I ultimately chose to keep an open mind and learn. I chose the latter option.
Living in this multicultural community, adapting to the new environment came easier to me than I previously expected. I worked in multiple group settings where I was the minority. The dorms that I lived in in my first year and beyond, hosted students from a multitude of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. I was constantly surrounded by diversity. Since I wanted to enjoy my college experience and grow, I found that it would be more difficult to remain ignorant. Shoutout to the ignorant, Trump flag waving fanatics who were kicked off Babson’s campus for maliciously boasting Trump’s 2016 victory at Hillary Clinton’s alma matter, Wellesley College (see Metro article for details). I must say that the diverse community was a bit of a shock for me at first, and at times I found it difficult to bite my tongue. Yet, as time progressed in my education at Babson, so too did my mind and the ethnic/cultural makeup of the people I considered to be friends.
Between my indoctrination into a majorly diverse Babson community, and my semester abroad in Berlin, Germany, I not only accepted the notion of diversity, I fell in love with it. As I mention in my blog post about my time abroad, “I learned the power of interconnectivity” and that we “have more in common with people half way across the World”, than we do with any other species. I learned to love multiculturalism. Now, I find joy in learning about other cultures’ customs and history. I yearn to indulge in new and different cultural traditions, foods, dances, etc. It may be the salesman in me, but I also love to learn about what makes others ‘tick’; culture and ethnicity has much to do with this. To this day, the act of diversifying myself and my experiences excites me.
What Causes the Issues of Discrimination?
In my experience, racism and discrimination are born from ignorance. Growing up, ‘whiteness’ surrounded me. As I mentioned earlier, it encompassed my entire childhood from the people with whom I interacted, all the way through to my education. Sure, my classmates and I learned the plight of the black slave, and the Native folk on the Trail of Tears. We talked about segregation during the Jim Crow era. We studied historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr and Frederick Douglass. Yet, we never spoke on the plight of the modern day melanin man (or woman). I learned little to nothing pertaining to the Asian, Hispanic, and American Indigenous peoples, as well as the LGBTQ+ community. I especially learned nothing of the suffering that these groups endure at the hands of the white man. Much of what we learn about discrimination in school is taught from the historical perspective, and these studies conveniently exclude the plight of most identities. American studies on discrimination lack wholeness in concept and in time (i.e. past, present and future). That is because the curriculum taught in the American classroom is majorly White, heteronormative.
Maturing in an all-white society is unknowingly turning a blind eye to the plight of the minority. It wasn’t until I attended an extremely diverse college that I realized this truth. It took me getting outside of my comfort zone, opening my mind and having honest discussions to come to this realization. For many of my white peers, they never escape the ignorance. But at what point does the unknowingly ignorant individual need to be held accountable? At what point should we expect an individual to move beyond the label, “a product of their environment”? Is this expectation even realistic?
Plot Twist: Ignorance is Not the Only Factor
CJ Heck claims in her famous quote that, “We are all products of our environment; every person we meet, every new experience or adventure, every book we read, touches and changes us, making us the unique being we are.” To my earlier point, for those who live shrouded by ‘whiteness’, of course they will only think in terms of the white man. Everyone else who looks different, is different, as I too thought before my time at Babson. Yet, Margaret Mead makes a great point in a quote on the same topic. “The notion that we are products of our environment is our greatest sin; we are products of our choices.” Claiming that we are products of our environment is a cop-out, a scapegoat. We are our choices. By choosing an environment of uniformity, we are choosing to be complacent in our ignorance.
We choose the people with whom we interact. We choose “every new experience” and “every book we read”. In these choices, we are subconsciously choosing between ignorance and knowledge. It is the obligation of every human being to choose knowledge, for the purpose of furthering the human race. Yet, the reality of the matter is that some people will choose ignorance over knowledge. Even further, sometimes ignorance is chosen, despite knowledge.
Even the educated, Victor Ray and Alan Aja claim in their Washington Post article, knowingly choose ignorance. After all, “The highly educated designed America’s system of segregation and America’s prison system. Highly educated lawyers devise arguments to protect police who kill black and brown folks, highly educated prosecutors decline to bring charges, and highly educated judges assign light sentences.” All of this is done in the name of money and power. What better way to line the pockets of the wealthy, than to use the historically oppressed minority population as free labor via incarceration? Leaders in America continue to perpetuate this false notion of a majorly white society in their messaging and in our schooling, due to greed. They like things the way that they are. They like the money, power and fame. Why direct their attention elsewhere, when they may keep it all for themselves? As I mentioned earlier, “racism is born from ignorance.” Yet, it is greed that fosters the hate fueled fire of oppression.
Is Ignorance Really Bliss?
Moving away from Massachusetts and living in Charlotte, North Carolina, my mind continues to expand. I interact with people on a daily basis who I previously thought to be different. Several of my friends identify as black, indigenous, Latin and/or gay. Yet, whenever I return home and reunite with friends who remain in whiteness, I find that the ignorance remains as well. In some cases it is even stronger. They continue to make the conscious choice to live in ignorance. As the poet, Thomas Gray claims in his poem, “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College”, “Ignorance is bliss”…or is it?
In interactions with my ‘blind’ friends, I understand their ignorance to be the source of some personal problems. They experience anger in discussions pertaining to the plight of modern day minorities. They are confused when presented with an opposing viewpoint on the topic, and knowingly choose ignorance – what they know from their ‘white’ environment – in defense. They don’t want to be wrong. As for those who are knowledgeable of discrimination today and choose to turn a blind eye – or even contribute to the oppressive system – they experience greed. In choosing ignorance, these people also choose anger and greed.
In Buddhism, it is believed that there are Three Poisons, or “three negative qualities of the mind that cause most of our problems—and most of the problems in the world.” These qualities happen to be greed (Raga), anger (Dvesha), and ignorance (Moha) (read this article for more information on the topic). It is these three poisons, these three qualities of discriminatory people outlined above, that create the problems of discrimination.
We Know the Source of Discrimination, What Now?
The only actions that we are responsible for, are our own. We cannot control the actions of lawmakers, teachers, or first responders, to name a few. We cannot control the actions of others, but we may manage our reactions. Observe your feelings of Ignorance, Anger and Greed. When they inevitably pop up in your mind, whether they are in response to another's actions or not, pay no attention to these poisonous feelings. Instead, oppose these three poisons with feelings of Wisdom, Lovingkindness and Generosity (respectively titled, Prajna, Maitri and Dana in the Buddhist religion), as outlined in the same article cited above. By choosing wisdom instead of ignorance, lovingkindness instead of anger and generosity instead of greed, we do away with much of our own personal problems, and achieve peace of mind.
You may wonder how this contributes to the overall problems of discrimination. By ignoring your mind’s poisons and choosing peace, you are creating space for a loving and diverse environment. Wisdom brings knowledge to issues involving discrimination. Lovingkindness brings love to the topic of diversity. Generosity brings happiness to those who suffer at the hands of discrimination. In doing this, you will create a ripple effect on the people around you. In choosing peace, you instill peace in the people with whom you interact. Don’t believe me? Walk down the street and smile at all who you pass. Watch as they return the favor and the expressions on their faces improve. The ripple effect is real and you may even brighten someone’s day just by sharing a smile. Ultimately, it is up to you to treat everyone as equal, with love, respect and an openness to understand. This is far more effective than a simple smile, and will begin to break the barriers of discrimination.
If I was able to see the error in my ways and make a change for the better, I know that you can too! Peace of mind is a beautiful thing to experience. Why choose turmoil in the form of ignorance, anger and greed, when you may know peace instead? Make the concious effort to choose wisdom, lovingkindness and generosity. I fully believe that by helping others, you in turn help yourself. Positivity manifests into further positivity. The realist in me may disagree, but the optimist in me thinks that we as a society will overcome these afflictions to improve and achieve betterment. Only through the denial of these poisonous charateristics, may we progress. I hope that my optimist side is right. Besides, avoiding these poisons will solve all World problems including famine, hunger, poverty, climate change and much more. By making the decision to choose betterment for yourself, the ripple effect will help others around you do the same. As my social media profiles state, “let’s work together to build a better, more holistic World for tomorrow.”
I understand that there are many more underrepresented communities that I did not include in this blog post, including people with disabilities, mental illnesses and so many more. For the purpose of time and space, I did not include content involving them; however, I fully support equality for ALL people.
I want to remain an ally for any and all people who feel slighted and/or oppressed by society, simply for being the person who they truly are.