I'm not sure why people are so surprised over President-elect Obama's choice of Rick Warren to do the invocation. Barack Obama said from the beginning that he planned to bring everyone to the table. The media demonstrated intrigue when they found out he was reading Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.
Now he has chosen Rick Warren and people on the left are upset.
Though I'm not a Rick Warren fan, I am really impressed with the President-elect's choices. He is following through on his word to value people without necessarily agreeing with them.
This last semester, I taught a graduate level Diversity and Equity in Education class. Racially, we weren't that diverse; half of the class was Black, half was White. But within that mix, there were many diverse views and experiences. As we engaged in conversation throughout the semester, we got to know each other.
We found out about Susan* (names have been changed) who is White and is married to a man who is Hispanic. Kristen, though on the surface she appeared "White," she has a rich culutral background of Jewish, Spanish, and White. Assim is African American and experienced at least one racial slur or insensitivity each week at the predominantly White school where he teaches. Kristen, who is White, grew up in the 70s during school desegregation in Dallas.
It was obvious at some points that we didn't all agree. In fact, I know that many were in adamant disagreement with some of the people and issues in the class. Many emotions and frustrations came out during this semester. Yet through this, we learned.
The tension was thick and emotions were high as one lady disclosed her own failed interracial marriage and explained how that experience reinforced her parents' teachings that interracial relationships were wrong. She went on to explain how her daughter's interracial marriage and the birth of her bi-racial grandson cause her great struggle as she tries to figure out how to love him.
Though that is painful and sad for me to write and remember, I also realize it was because she disclosed this information openly to the class that Susan was able to respond and talk about her own (positive) interracial marriage, her family's painful reaction to that marriage, and her current pregnancy. It allowed Kristen to talk about her experience growing up as a biracial child...and how her family taught her to celebrate all of her cultural heritage.
After an entire semester of self-reflection, diverse speakers, many diverse readings, and dialogue with others, one student decided, "I have really had to take a closer look at myself. I have had to sort out my thoughts and beliefs, from what they were and what they will be in the future. I had to examine...my opinions." The sad thing was, this same student came to the conclusion that, "Diversity does not belong in my family now or ever. I am an effective teacher and I can teach without seeing color and be successful."
Yet others commented that...
"As awkward and uncomfortable the discussions, films and activities were at times, I’m indebted for being a part of the eye-opening experience this diversity course offered."
"I know that I’m a racist. I don’t know if I’ve ever acknowledged it before, but the way that I think and the way that I believe, make me a racist. I’m so sad to admit that. I do think that some of my views are backwards and need to be changed, but after 28 years, it’s a hard thing to do."
"I learned that listening is sometimes more important than speaking and silence is never the right answer."
One student summed it up by saying, "sometimes the gruffness we hear in others voices and the pain that we see on their faces has a past and a history."
We need each other.
I believe the honesty in the class challenged all of our beliefs and thoughts. It would not have happened if we hadn't have been "forced" to be in a classroom together every week for 16 weeks talking about and challenging our beliefs about diversity.
We have to form relationships in order to get to that point. It is not until we are in conversation with each other that we can begin to understand each other and are able to challenge each others' belief systems.
We need more communication with each other. We need less divisiveness. I think Barack Obama should be commended for modeling this to all of us.