Today is the day we should diversify our perspectives

By Jerry Vachaparambil

Let me tell you what it’s like being male, middle class and brown. It’s pretty much like being male middle class and any other color. We generally tend to eat hamburgers, pizza, rice and curry, and even tacos. There are vegetarians among us, meat eaters, republicans, democrats and every other part of the social spectrum. We even listen to all different kinds of music – from Guster to Tchaikovsky and yes, even Enrique Iglesias.

And the other day, when I was listening to some rap, I realized how Tupac Shakur’s song “Changes” seems kind of anti-prophetic. Hearing him sing, “And although it seems heaven sent; We ain’t ready, to see a black President” exposes the truth that certain stereotypes influence the thoughts of all Americans.

Growing up in America and India, I was able to objectively perceive accusations of being a Hindu cow-worshipper and being a snobby American in contemporary Indian society. But are all Hindus cow worshippers? Are all Muslims terrorists? Are all Willie Nelson fan’s hicks? Are all Ben Folds Fans unusual? The answer is simply no.

During break, I was helping paint a house struck by Gustav in southern Mississippi when the resident came up and asked me what I thought about that “Muslim Obama.” He proceeded to recount certain articles he read in local newspapers about the Islamic education and values of our president-elect. His ignorance made me realize the true effect that media has on people.

When we isolate ourselves in communities of like-minded people, radio, newspapers and other forms of “news” media tend to cater to the interests of its audience. This was most apparent in the town that I visited in Mississippi just a few weeks ago.

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    Even though the communities are not legally segregated, I couldn’t find more than seven African-Americans in the majority white neighborhood we first visited. The same is true for majority black neighborhoods. There seems to have been an unspoken element of distrust and ignorance permeating the atmosphere. One of my friends even told me about how they were nearly accused of being “crack-whores” merely because they were white girls in a majority black neighborhood.

    Ignorance may be bliss, but when it leads to a stereotype-based awareness of current events, public officials and the family next door, we have a serious problem on our hands.

    Bill Bishop, a renowned journalistic researcher, states in his book, “The Big Sort,” that as people seek out social settings that make them feel most comfortable, the nation grows more politically segregated, and in turn, the benefit that comes with having a diverse group is lost.

    It would obviously be a dull country if every place were the same, if everybody was alike and if there wasn’t any diversity or variety.

    According to Jerome Nathanson, part of the price of a democracy is a growing appreciation of people’s differences, not merely as tolerable, but as the essence of a rich and rewarding human experience. I tend to agree.

    Even research that was conducted during World War II shows that interaction between different cultures and races helps promote understanding and tolerance. And despite college life seeming slightly superficial, nobody can deny that we have a great forum here to meet people from all different socio-economic, political, cultural and religious backgrounds and directly encounter the effects of their different perspectives on life. We are at the University of Illinois.

    So on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, lets seize the opportunities we have to come out of our reclusive little social bubbles and broaden our frame of reference by sincerely attempting to diversify our perspectives and truly epitomize the fullness of our generation, the Millenials. Sociologists claim that our experience defies the old political, cultural, religious binaries of previous generations because of our increasingly multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-faceted upbringing.

    But a mere look around campus would prompt even the most ignorant among us to realize that although the campus is diverse, this diversity does not seem to have permeated individual cliques and social settings.

    As Joshua Seiter said, we should allow interaction with those who are different from us in cultural and racial makeup to replace what we hear in biased media and talk radio with our own personal experience.

    Jerry is a freshman is psychology and is still rockin the suburbs.