For the past few weeks, our church has been talking about diversity. Diversity defined is the state or fact of being diverse; difference, unlikeness; variety and multiformity; the inclusion of individuals representing more than one national origin, color, religion, etc. Needless to say, we have a lot of ‘diversity’ in our family.
My parents were considered ‘diverse’ when they began dating. Dad lived in the Italian section, Mom lived in the Irish section; both lived in Newark, NJ. Their growing-up years, the 1940’s and early 1950’s, had a kind of a West Side Story mentality, which carried into their marriage. Family was not always happy with the match and many felt they’d never last. They’ve been married for 59 years.
My own marriage is ‘diverse’, though I was initially oblivious to this fact. Around the time of our first anniversary, I was talking with a Christian friend at work about interracial marriage and was fairly surprised when he informed me that my marriage was interracial. As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t think much back then. Though, as you can see by our picture, ‘one of these things is pretty clearly not like the others’.
For all of my growing up years, my Grandma Moon lived with us. She was Irish and German, though she didn’t like to admit to the latter. Being alive during both World Wars when the Germans were not well thought of will do that to you. I remember having tea with Gram almost every day after school. One day it was clear that something was on her mind and I asked her what it was. Her response was priceless.
“You know, Roxanne, I’ve decided God doesn’t like prejudice. When I was younger, I decided I didn’t like the Italians; then all three of my daughters married Italians. So, I decided maybe I wouldn’t like Puerto Ricans instead; two of my granddaughters married Puerto Ricans. You and your sister married Chinese men. Your brother will probably come home with a black girl. I think God’s trying to tell me something.”
Henry David Thoreau once said, “It is never too late to give up your prejudices.” It’s safe to say that Grandma gladly learned that lesson.
After we moved to Florida, I experienced a diversity of my own. It started slowly. At first, it was just a little wild; but then, as each year passed, it was absolutely impossible to deal with. I am, of course, talking about my hair. Always ‘wavy’ and a ‘little’ curly but still fairly tame in New Jersey, once the Floridian humidity hit it it had a mind all its own. Finding out you have naturally curly hair at 50 is rough. The products I’d always used were now useless. I thought nothing could tame the wild beast it had become.
And then I thought of Phyllis, my neighbor, a beautiful African-American woman who owned a hair salon. I figured if anyone knew what to do with my now ‘textured’ hair, it was her. She told me I just needed the right ‘cut’ and she could help. I made an appointment with her at her salon and was excited to go. Now, I’ve gotten used to a lot of things in life, being the shortest person in class, laying on the beach and being almost invisible against the sand, being the only redhead in the room; but I quickly realized that I was now the only white ‘person’ in the whole salon and, let’s face it folks, you don’t get much ‘whiter’ than me.
I sat in the waiting area across from an older, very full-figured, black woman with the sweetest, most inquisitive smile I’d ever seen. She smiled at me for quite some time before she finally spoke in a deep Southern drawl.
“Sugah, what you here for?”
I smiled at her, trying to ‘look’ like I belonged, though I had no idea what that should look like and I wasn’t very good at pretending so I decided to try to ‘sound’ like I belonged; thinking I might be a little better at that.
“Oh, I have an appointment with Phyllis.”
“Uh-huh…” was all she said. Evidently, I hadn’t succeeded in either.
Right about then, Phyllis came and got me; proving to my new found friend that I hadn’t wandered into the wrong place. Phyllis did a great job with my hair and I continued to visit her salon. She soon hired a Caucasian business partner and the salon became more ‘diverse’; but I like to pride myself a little for breaking the racial barrier and being one of ‘the first’, kind of like the Jackie Robinson of the hair salon world. After all, as we’re learning in church, diversity really is a very big deal!