As John Hubbuch wrote recently [Not everyone loves Oak Park, Viewpoints, Aug. 10], Oak Parkers take “pride” in integration and diversity, and some people hate that. I may be in John’s crosshairs — the precarious position of those of us skeptical of Oak Park’s pride but trying to remain true to its diversity.
Pride is an understandable emotion when talking about one’s children. I also understand pride among those who compete in sports, business or a profession because it takes enormous talent and effort to become a winning competitor. But what does pride have to do with the diversity of one’s neighbors?
As Hubbuch wrote, it makes Oak Parkers “feel good that we not only talked integration, we walked it.” If I were a minority, I would want to run for the hills and escape all the things that the whites will do to me in the name of “feeling good” about themselves. We often talk about minorities, knowing that they are in the room but presuming that they are deaf. To know how the presumably deaf minority might feel, check out the recent film The Help.
This is not an academic exercise. I live in a townhome in Oak Park, literally sharing walls with my neighbors. On the other side of my bedroom wall resides a doctor. If I said that I was proud to live so close to a doctor, many would rightfully be suspicious of my motives: “Dale, are you so insecure that you want to inflate your own importance by association with the most revered of professionals, a medical doctor?”
If I said, instead, that I was “proud” to live so close to a native of Africa (an accurate description of my neighbor), the hearts of many readers would swell as they think about their diverse community in which a white man brags about sharing walls with an American of African descent. But what would my neighbor’s reaction be? I suspect she would prefer to be thought of as a “good neighbor” or even an “accomplished doctor” rather than evidence of my commitment to diversity.
Now here is the classic defense of someone in my delicate position: My best friend in high school was black, my closest classmate in college was a native of China and my dearest business colleague is a black woman. But to say I am proud of those friendships would debase them because they had nothing to do with race, ethnicity or gender and everything to do with attaching myself to people who had big hearts, big smiles and an enormous capacity to forgive my shortcomings.
They made my life better.
All of us are vulnerable to misplaced pride, the most human of emotions. But in some instances it needs to be managed rather than encouraged. The wellspring of diverse communities should be the dignity that we can find in all kinds of people if we are blind to the pigment of their skin or the site of their birth.