Kicked off Diversity Day at Brockport last Thursday by arriving at the Keynote speech one hour early, to my confusion and dismay. Luckily, tasty baked goods and coffee were readily available in the rear of the ballroom.
The keynote speaker Dr. Muriel Howard spoke on diversity in many different expressions of the same usual few ideas, diversity good, exclusion bad etc. All in all it was a good, clean, predictable one hour ramble about exactly what that last sentence said, plus some statistics, you know, for backbone.
Then I went home and took a nap.
Just kidding! I went to my coffee shop, bothered my employees and grabbed some free coffee.
When I came back to the school it was for the session I was most intrigued to attend, Living in Vietnam: A Travelogue. It was presented by Hattie Paterson, a UK student studying here at Brockport that probably decided doing an abroad from her abroad would be funny.
While the presentation did turn out to be intriguing, it also made my blood boil.
There is a certain mindset among, I’m just going to say it, privileged white people (and by privileged I mainly mean hot water, smartphones and cars) who go to “underdeveloped” countries that I like to refer to as “touring the poor”. When you go poor-touring, it’s to see how the “other side” lives, feel bad for them, maybe volunteer to hang out with some orphans for a day and then go home thinking, “Wow, those poor people, I feel so blessed and fortunate to have experienced that lifestyle and done my part to help,” and then never return again (usually).
It’s a phenomena I’ve noticed often when speaking to or hearing talks from white people who have gone overseas for a vacation, volunteering or study abroad.
The fundamental thing that these people are totally overlooking in these experiences however, is how the people they see as underprivileged, see themselves.
Many of the “awful” and “sad” living conditions Paterson was describing in her presentation, are not only how most of the world lives anyways, but also a major improvement upon how these people have lived in the past. Conditions that are seen in many, MANY, developed countries as well. Conditions I’ve lived in myself when visiting family in the Dominican Republic, and let me tell you, no one in my family sees themselves as “underprivileged”. They see themselves as hardworking people that earn everything they have. Nothing is given to them like it is to many people here, they’ve worked for it, and take pride in doing so. One funny thing about that is, from my experience, these people are the most hospitable, and the most genuine.
So on behalf of my family and other “underprivileged” people, I take offense to the topics broached in Paterson’s presentation. In fairness to her however, though the delivery was mishandled, what I have been ranting about is the thing she wanted the audience to understand, but I don’t think they did. The way it was handled just seemed at first like a way to reinforce this mentality, like we have to feel bad for these people. Until one older man –I wish I’d caught his name because he was the man that founded this particular abroad program back in the day– basically made a snarky comment to the effect of what I’ve been saying, and so the last ten minutes or so of the program were kind of an awkward backtracking to try to fall into that line of thought.
Regardless, I’m glad I attended the presentation. I think it highlighted a lot of the reasons we have Diversity Day in the first place.