belonging

“On my way out, he looks at me and asks, What is your parentage? I am used to the question. I know the look: people searching my features for matches, finding few that correspond. It is confusing to some people to look at me.”

Alexander Chee (Edinburgh)

A few words about diversity, inclusion, and belonging.

I love this passage from Chee’s novel. The first time I read it, I felt seen. This has been my lived experience: my ambiguously ethnic features confuse others. They want to know what box to put me in. So they ask questions. What language did you grow up speaking? What food do you cook at home? Where are your parents from? (No, like, where are they from from?) And my personal favorite: What are you?

Reading books is known to help people develop empathy. I’ve been reading books and teaching people how to thoughtfully read books for almost two decades — first at the high school level, then at the university level. I also teach contemporary histories of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. And did I mention I direct a US Ethnic Studies minor at a 4-year public liberal arts college? Here’s what that means:

  • I have a lot of experience talking about race and ethnicity (and talking about how to talk about race and ethnicity) with diverse populations.
  • I’ve studied the histories and I’m always learning more about the past and present of racism and sexism — and the social theory around these phenomena — with a strong focus on the United States.
  • I’ve designed and facilitated educational opportunities for faculty and staff organized around diversity and inclusion, and have delivered numerous training presentations on everything from how to talk about race to trigger warnings (what they are, their history, and the pros and cons of using them).
  • I’m willing to be honest and vulnerable with my own experiences in order to learn and grow (and to help others do the same).

I want to belong. I want to be included. I want people to recognize my diversity for the asset that it is, and to do the same for others. “Diversity work” is an integral and indispensable part of any work that I do.