“There’s only one thing we can be sure of and that’s the love we have for our children, for our families, and for each other … the love that takes us out of ourselves and binds us to something larger.” –President Barak Obama
The 2010 U.S. census identified Detroit as the country’s fourth-most racially segregated city. Yet at a favorite soul food restaurant near Detroit, I noticed that the patronage always reflects a 60/40 black-white racial mix. Sometimes more whites than blacks, sometimes the reverse, but usually a 60/40 mix. I asked my husband why he thought this African American-owned restaurant always had this particular mix of patrons. Without hesitation he said, “Intention.”
And then my “aha” moment: “It doesn’t just happen.” Racial and cultural diversity are natural outcomes of conscious intention. When we intend to be inclusive and engage respectfully with those who are different from us we attract diversity.
Intentions are the promises we make to ourselves about what we are going to do, not what we wish would happen. Like yoga, inclusion is more than a theory, it is a practice. Once you set your mind on practicing it, you increase your chances of actually manifesting diversity.
Practicing tolerance is not the same as practicing inclusion. An attitude of tolerance carries with it the energy of endurance and indifference. “I am willing to put up with you because it’s the politically correct thing to do, but I am not inspired to engage you or to connect with you because I’m really not that interested.” That’s tolerance.
Since yoga is about engagement and connection, the yoga of inclusion asks us to go beyond our capacity to endure or put up with difference. It invites us to enter into relationship with that which is “other” and/or unfamiliar even if it makes us uncomfortable.
My ideal community is one that is racially, culturally, and ethnically diverse; a community that offers opportunities for a fuller experience through sharing our unique gifts, talents, and perspectives with each other, rather than one that requires sameness and conformity in order to have a sense of belonging. It is a more complex way to live and requires effort, but I like complexity and I don’t mind doing the work.
This past Christmas my family and I shared dinner with close friends. At the table were our hosts, a blended family, one widowed, the other divorced, a second marriage for both. The hostess is Greek American. The host has Appalachian and Native American roots. Both of their former spouses are Jewish. The gathering included the hostess’s bi-racial grandson, his Jewish/Greek American mother, along with her significant other and his African American parents. My son was also there; his biological father is African American and his biological mother is German American and Ojibwa. He brought his significant other, who is Puerto Rican and Cuban American. Also at the table were a bi-racial couple, one French Canadian, the other Japanese American, their daughter, as well as my husband and me, we’re both African American. We all joined hands and hearts as we celebrated our loving connection to one another. It may not be for everyone, but this rich world of diversity is one that I relish, savor, and intentionally cultivate.
If you value racial, cultural, and ethnic diversity, then you need to invest in it. It won’t manifest in your life just because you want it to. If you make inclusion your intention you can practice it by reaching out and extending yourself beyond your ordinary boundary. Some ideas:
- Attend a religious service different from your own. Go to a mosque, a Hindu temple, a Baha’i house of worship, a synagogue, a Christian service at a white church if you’re African American, or a black church if you’re white, a Protestant service if you are Catholic, or a Catholic service if you’re not. Invite someone of a different faith to join you in your worship service.
- Once a month prepare a meal from a culture different than yours, and/or go to a restaurant and try foods you’ve never tasted from another culture.
- Participate in various cultural events ; a Kwanzaa celebration, a Passover Seder. Go to a museum of African American history, a Jewish holocaust museum, or try an Italian or German opera. Invite friends from other races and cultures to share in your traditions.
- Learn to speak Spanish, Swahili, Chinese, or Farsi.
- Travel often and go to as many far away places as you can.
There is a difference between what you say you’ll do and what you want the outcome to be. If racial, cultural, and ethnic diversity are outcomes you are trying to create, then cultivating attitudes, language and behaviors that support that outcome are necessary. Cultural competence, using language that invites and welcomes, and inclusive behaviors all help.
Remember, your actions are what make the yoga of inclusion more than a theory. Small efforts make a big difference. So set your intention and then make it your practice. Take the yoga of inclusion off your mat and into your life.