08 Jun Why DEI is Important
Blog Author: Harold Davis, BA, RVT, VTS (ECC) (Anesthesia & Analgesia)
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is a timely and popular topic of conversation these days. One’s personal experiences shape their, ideas, thoughts, and perspective, and these varied ideas, thoughts, and perspectives shape our interactions with others in the workplace, social settings, professional organizations, or general day-to-day living situations.
I have had my fair share of life experiences, but there are a couple that stands out that I can relate to Diversity and Inclusion. I grew up and have lived in the Bay Area of Northern California most of my life. I attended a grade school in the ’60s that was racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse. In general, we kids got along well with each other, spending time together in school and outside of school (going to the movies, playing sports, playing in the park, etc.). We visited each other’s homes and learned about different cultures and religions. We did have our moments of disagreements, but what kids do not? I feel I grew up in a diverse and inclusive neighborhood.
With that as my backdrop, I spent many of my summers visiting my grandmother in a small country town in Louisiana. I always enjoyed my visits, but there were a couple of incidents that I found hard to reconcile at that age. Unfortunately, the incidents involved segregation in the South. One afternoon I was going to the movies with my uncle (who is only three months older than me), and after we paid for our tickets, I was headed through the main entrance when my uncle grabbed me by the back of my shirt collar and said, “we don’t go this way, but this way.” He pointed to some stairs that were outside the theater (picture fire escape type stairs) that lead to the theater balcony. I asked him why he said, we (black people) sit upstairs,” and they (white people) sit downstairs. This was confusing for me because this was not my experience in the West. The second incident occurred when we were walking “uptown” and passed the local swimming pool. I mentioned to my uncle that we should go to the pool for a swim sometime. He said we could not, and there was no place for black people to swim. He sensed my confusion and said that black people did not use that pool; it was for white people. While there were no signs that said, “whites only,” it was the unspoken rule. Eventually, with the hard work of several black citizens, a pool was built for black people. While it was not an Olympic size pool like the white citizens’ pool, it was a pool nonetheless and was enjoyed by the town’s black citizens and neighboring towns. The Black citizens were forced to be satisfied with the crumbs they received, a smaller sub-standard swimming pool that they had to fight to have built because the existing pool unspoken rules would not allow the Black bodies to be in the same water as the White bodies. This was a very difficult situation to understand in the mind of a pre-teen, accustomed to what appeared to be accepted, to grasp.
I found my two worlds confusing at that age, the segregation in that southern town vs. my diverse and inclusive experiences at home where I could sit where I choose to in a theater or go to a public swimming pool and not have to consider skin color. Looking back, I believe I have a better understanding of what I experienced. That said, as an adult man, it still makes no sense to me how people can be judged by skin color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. As I think back on those situations at my grandmother’s, it makes me sad and reminds me of the feeling that came over me of inadequacy at the time.
A few years ago, we had a grade school reunion on the very playground of our beloved elementary school where we played, laughed, and enjoyed each other, together. We continued the get-together for two or three years. The overall sentiments were that we were a diverse group of kids that got along well, accepted each other, and learned about people with differing backgrounds. Many of us developed lifelong friendships and would not trade our upbringing for anything. That shared experience shaped who we became, adults that are accepting and tolerant of others that differ from ourselves. My experiences have shaped me into an individual that is comfortable engaging with people of different backgrounds, understanding, and open to new ideas and perspectives. My hope is that today’s children, on a simple schoolyard playground, gain the same level of tolerance, curiosity, and passion for those that do not necessarily believe like them, look like them or love like them and carry that openness into their adult lives and pass it on.