Cliff Gardner

Friday, May 05, 2006

Waitlisted at Howard

I often struggle with my role in diversity. As a White man, I don’t really feel like I have a culture at all, or worse, that my racial identity is defined more by not being other races and cultures than with something unique. That may be one of the reasons why “white power” has become synonymous with hate and violence. Frankly it doesn’t bother me that I have to retreat to Riverdance and Guinness to get any sort of pride out of who I am; I am more concerned with trying to understand other cultures than with my own.

Despite being raised in a mostly white suburb in Oregon, or probably because of it, I’ve tried hard to find folks different than I am. Traveling to Eastern Europe to debate, volunteering in a literacy program for immigrants and writing my senior thesis on why drug laws in America are fundamentally racist are all things I’ve done in attempting to connect with different identities. I even applied to Howard Law School back when I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. When I was waitlisted I thought it was a perfect microcosm for my attempts to relate with other people and ultimately feeling not quite successful.

However, aside from whether or not I’m doing enough to appreciate and understand other cultures, I wonder if that even matters. No matter what I do, I’ll never really understand what it means to be a Black woman like Lilia or Latina like Dre and AshAttack. I don’t know the first thing about who they are and I probably never will. Does that mean that my efforts will ultimately be pointless and if that’s true then shouldn’t I just stop caring about respecting racial and cultural differences entirely? I don’t think that’s the answer, but I’m still at a loss for what my role in diversity should be. Where do I go from here?


  • I think EVERYONE's role in diversity, not just if you're a white male, is simply to respect and embrace it. The beauty of life is that no one can ever know what anyone else's experiences are like--that's why we as humans are capable of learning so much from one another.
    I also think you can't assume that cultural or ethnic backgrounds alone shape our identity--or that cultural and ethnic backgrounds are the same thing, because they certainly are not. There are so many other factors--class, education, environment...--that make up each person's experience, and we can't keep looking at one of them without keeping it in context.

    That's my 2 cents. Good post.. :)

    By Blogger Ashley, at 6:31 PM  

  • I completely agree with Ash. Besides, my philosophy on identity is that we're all in some minority. You may be a white male, but you're Bahai'i (I'm totally sorry if I spelled that wrong), and that makes you different. And that difference in yourself allows you to better appreciate difference in others. I hate to make grandiose blogging statements, but the truth is none of us will ever truly understand anyone else. Ash is right. It's silly to criticize yourself for never being able to understand another ethnic identity, because there is no one identity for any ethnic group. Every person alive, even white European males, has challenges, and the best we can do is try our best to understand those challenges and the people who face them.

    By Blogger Haylie, at 11:21 PM  

  • I think you are on the right track. You are working to make peoples lives better; through coaching, teaching, and volunteering your time around the world.

    Well thought out, sir. I'm proud to call you my friend!

    By Blogger truax, at 11:57 PM  

  • One of the super cool chicks on my debate team way back when did an info on "Whiteness Studies" and the cultural identity or lack of cultural identity. There is some literature out there if you are interested.

    By Anonymous elizabeth, at 5:03 PM  

  • Some people believe that being white gives them the "privilege' of not having to think about other races/cultures. This view is actually quite detrimental - and not only do you realize this, but you also act on this belief in the choices that you make.

    By Blogger magic, and with love from Sam,, at 6:49 PM  

  • what about hawaiian like josh?! bitch! once again we get the short end huh?

    By Blogger masaic, at 6:13 PM  

  • "I don’t know the first thing about who they are and I probably never will."

    That is a really sad thing to say, that because you aren't the same race as someone you don't know ANYTHING about who they are. I mean...NO NO NO. No one is exactly like you. You can be friends with a wide variety of different people and become close and know just who they are without having experienced their actual lives.

    I can't speak for everyone, but I TOTALLY reject the idea that only Latinos know "the first thing" about who I am. I have barely even had any Latino friends throughout my life. What does that say about who knows me? Dan, Amy, and Ian know me better than literally any Latino I met at UCLA or Harvard. It's because they know my values, dreams, and have had lots of good times and hard times with me. That's how you know what it means to be someone else.

    By Anonymous andrea, at 10:55 PM  

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