Guest Post: Diversity Training

By request, from the inimitable Margaret Young.

I did at least one thing right as a mother—and it was not an easy thing to do in Provo, Utah. I raised my children in an atmosphere of diversity.

For seven years, I taught Spanish Institute, which me ant that we had Hispanic visitors frequently and several Mexican-style parties in our front room. (I also took my kids to Guatemala, but not everyone in Provo can do that.)

Starting in 1998, I became involved in the Genesis Group (a support for African American Mormons), and we often had a front room full of black Latter-day Saints. One of my favorite memories is when Marvin Perkins looked at me and did a double take. “Whoa,” he said. “Margaret’s white. I just realized it. Margaret’s white. I had forgotten.”

A friend of mine (black, though it’s ironic to identify skin color in this post) told me that my son, Michael, would be prepared for his mission precisely because of what he had been surrounded by. “Most missionaries from Utah or Idaho get hit with a question about the priesthood restriction and they say, ‘Huh?’ But your son will be able to answer it.”

So I gave it a whirl. I told Michael what my friend had said. He said, “Okay, Mom. Ask me a question about the priesthood restriction.”

“Why did you Mormons keep blacks from holding the priesthood until 1978?” I said.

His response was predictable. “Huh?” Then he laughed and gave a short talk about how people in the past had believed in some strange folklore like the Curse of Cain. Yes, he did know his stuff.

I do not regret the fact that Bruce and I live in a pretty middle-class neighborhood, nor that we have used some retirement funds and even life insurance money to travel. When Bruce said that we wouldn’t have much life insurance at all if we were to withdraw as much as we wanted, I answered, “Nobody in Guatemala has life insurance. That’s a gringo expectation.” And I’ve always said that if Bruce dies before I do, I’ll head to Guatemala, where I can live easily on $200. a month.

Do my kids know they’re lucky to have traveled and to have had such diversity in our little house in Provo? Actually, they do. Everyone of them has thanked me for that.

Btw, the trailer for Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons is now online. (We did not get permission to use footage of President Hinckley from April Conference, so we have removed that.) Here’s the link. www.untoldstoryofblackmormons.com

Deborah

Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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  1. Deborah says:

    My question for readers:

    If you grew up in a homogeneous area (economically, ethnically, religiously), how did you come to respect and interact effectively with people of different backgrounds?

    For me, it took leaving Utah for college to form strong relationships with people from whose economic/ethnic/religious background was substantially different from my own. I remember the soul-expanding feeling of finding my first college soul-mate (oh, to be a freshman again!) — a Jewish woman from Queens.

    To discover that I could have such a relationship with someone from such a different background . . . well it seems blissfully obvious now, but it was an epiphany to 17-year-old-Deborah. Life-changing.

    I have often thought that it was *necessary* for me to leave Provo for this very reason. That I needed to leave to know diversity. But Margaret speaks of bringing an “atmosphere of diversity” to her children within my old hometown. Certainly, Provo provided more opportunities to expand my circle of understanding . . . but I really didn’t see them (pun intended?) growing up.

    And it’s not just Utah that has the challenge of homogeneity. American towns are often self-segregated by class or ethnicity. How do you help your children cherish — or even simply experience — immediate diversity?

  2. a spectator says:

    I have it easy–my family is biracial and bicultural, so diversity abounds. For the first few years of my daughter’ life, though, we lived in a very white part of rural America, and she got a lot of attention for the wrong reasons.

    I think someone with these concerns could first look through their children’s book. It is easy to amass a collection of books illustrated with blond-haired blue-eyed children, but why not expand. There is lots of quality literature with people of color as the main characters.

    I think it is also important to be frank and forthright when children DO ask about skin color because they will. If you are not comfortable answering questions about race (most white Americans are not), get a childrens book on the topic and read it to prepare.

    Get nice world maps to hang in your kids rooms and talk about places around the world, their foor, and their languages.

    Also, most places have activities you could take your kids to. Even if it is not YOUR culture, take your kids to the Puerto Rican Day parade, Greek festival, or to see the African dance ensemble perform at a nearby university. It takes some effort to find out about about these things, but local libraries and newspapers are usually a great place to start.

    Sorry for the length–this is an important topic to me.

  3. Caroline says:

    I currently live in a neighborhood that is ethnically diverse but extremely homogenous in terms of class. It’s an academic ghetto, a neighborhood of hundreds of houses where university faculty live.

    I like the fact that I see a lot of people of color in my neighborhood, but I worry about the lack of diversity in terms profession/class. I wonder what that will do to my little E someday.

    Growing up, I was lucky in my two best friends. One a Greek, one a Persian. And then in college, my best friend was Mexican. California has its problems, but I do love it for its diversity.

  4. Vada says:

    I have a question for Margaret, and anyone else who successfully travels the world with their children: How? How do you do it? How old were they? When does it become actually worth it?

    I used to have dreams of visiting tons of places (I studied anthropology, so there’s a huge list, and most are in third-world countries). Now my dream vacation is a trip to my parent’s house. I get help with my kids, good food that I don’t have to cook, and a chance to go on real dates with my husband (without kids). Seeing the world pales in comparison.

    And actually, right now, my dream vacation involves staying home. Not having to get my kids through an airport, or in and out of the car who knows how many times… Of course, my kids are 2.5 and 1 right now, so I’m hoping that things will get easier as they get older. Please tell me they do?

  5. M&M says:

    I live in Utah County and we have perhaps a rather unique ward. We have had people from various countries live here, we have a family of African Americans (Margaret, can you please tell me what is the best way to say that now? Is it that way or do we just say black? I always worry about saying the wrong thing…help.) We also have two families who have adopted black children — several of them. (There, I used both, following your lead.) I am grateful that my children don’t have to leave the state to at least have some experience with people whose skin is different.

    There are also many Hispanics at school. Utah County isn’t quite as homogeneous as it once was, and that is a good thing.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Margaret,
    Just a lurker here, but I do want to thank you for all of the work you and Darius have done. Your books have done much good for many people.
    We just moved to the Wasatch Front from out of state, and the lack of diversity does concern me. I am still considering whether I want to raise my one-year-old child here, so your post gives me hope that it can be done; however,I am still a bit concerned. I know my son will have exposure to Hispanics in a meaningful way (I’m half Hispanic myself), but I’m not sure about other religious and ethnic groups. We have taken him to a number of the cultural fairs around the valley, we have the books etc., but all of that is a far cry from developing meaningful relationships with real people. I want to raise my son in a place where he views all these “other” groups as simply part of the community,as normal real people-not as exotic creatures. Any other suggestions (besides moving-I’ve already thought of that one) on how I would do this when everyone in my neighborhood is white?

  7. Margaret Young says:

    Vada–honestly, this might not be your season to travel. My youngest was four when we traveled across Europe (taking one month to get from St. Petersburg to England), and he doesn’t remember a lot about the trip. I carried him everywhere, terrified that he’d knock over some precious Renaissance painting. It was exhausting for me, but I lost twenty pounds. The other three kids (four, actually, since we took my best friend’s daughter) did get a lot out of the trip, however. My oldest daughter established some firm tastes in art, which are now reflected in her home.

    Because my husband’s church callings have been demanding (and because I’m rather fearless about traveling), I took my kids to Guatemala without him. Just my two youngest kids. The youngest turned 15 in Guatemala; the older was 16. (She developed a crush on a missionary there; they started writing; he’s from Las Vegas, where she lives now [she sings in Gladys Knight’s choir], and he gets home ON TUESDAY. AAAAHGH!
    You can travel by books during these years when the kids aren’t quite ready for travel. The traveling season DOES come if you anticipate it.

    M&M–I tend to use African American and Black, but mostly I use their names. (Not intended to be condescending, but the issue of “what do I call you?” comes up so often that my friends and I all laugh about it.)

    Anonymous: I have often attended Spanish wards, and would do that still if my kids spoke Spanish. In addition, I attend the Genesis Group. (www.ldsgenesisgroup.org ). Or rather, I did until my husband was called to the MTC. 6710 S. 1300 W., SLC. Meeting is the first Sunday of every month, 7:00 p.m.

  8. Margaret Young says:

    Correction on the address for the Genesis Group meeting:
    6710 S. 1300 EAST (just off Fort Union Blvd.)

  9. Bekah says:

    We’re leaving for our second extended stay abroad in three days. We’ve been lucky to have these opportunities even if the only one who speaks the language is my husband. My girls are 5 and 2, the youngest being born on our last stay in Taiwan. I’ve found that people are amazingly helpful when traveling, both in the US and abroad. And taking the kids starts conversations everywhere. My husband was astounded when we traveled to Japan with our 6 month old. People were incredibly friendly, much more so than when he was a missionary!

    Vada, I agree that this may not be your time yet, but it may not be as far away as you once thought!

  10. Anonymous says:

    What a great post. I am in an ethnically and religiously diverse family. We, unintentionally, create a lot of confusion in our primarily caucasian ward. Most have been rather funny especially the comments out of the mouths of newly minted MTC missionaries. So I am grateful for any training and exposure these well-intentioned young men and women can receive in other arenas of their lives.
    (I just know I am going to be inspired to write a book of humorous anecdotes one day. I just wonder if I can count that on my vitae? 😉

  11. Angelica benson says:

    I am from Colombia and have been in the States a few years. I live in Utah. I find your post very interesting, specially because I’m very amazed at how little acceptance there is for woman of different countries, backgrounds, or economical circumstances in my ward. Believe me, I’m an educated woman, I’m an Estate Planning Attorney and even for me that have tried really hard to incorporate to this new culture, I find others response towards letting “someone different” enter their tiny little circle, very difficult. I think Utah is changing though, there is a lot more hispanics or immigrants in general, coming to this area. I hope that changes that response from the ladies around here.

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