Fifty years ago, diversity meant nothing to America. America struggled to accept other cultures and integration among races. African-Americans lived in a time when they were not able to have the same rights as their counterparts. They were not able to attend decent schools, have good paying jobs, and were not able to sit wherever they wish on a bus. Times were indeed trying for a growing America, and America at the time did not know how to deal with change and culture. Although society is different now, we must all understand our past and know that not everyone is the same and that we must learn each other to understand one another.
The terms integration and diversity between African-Americans and Caucasians have different meanings now than they did in the past. Integration in the past had a strong connotation within the African-American and Caucasian races. Both races were seen as separate but equal. The two races interacted, however the rights were not equal. Diversity has changed, because there are now more ethnic backgrounds represented in America.
I could not imagine growing up in a time where my rights were not equal to those of my counterparts. Therefore, it is difficult for me to understand the changes of diversity, being that I have only learned of it through my grandparents and history books. It is through these avenues that I have been able to be grateful for the fight of diversity and where it stands today.
My grandmother was born in 1945 and grew up in the Deep South during this shift in America. She often speaks of the opportunities that I now have that she did not have growing up. She emphasizes the importance of learning and respecting others regardless of their race, creed, religion, or culture.
After spending most of her life seeing the gradual changes of diversity during this era, she still to this day describes it as—turbulent, uncertain, and frightening.
“The reason I say this is because at this particular time, we [blacks] had no rights. We were not even considered as citizens. So you were at the system’s mercy,” she said. “That meant that as a black person whether you were right or not, they were not going to say that you were right. You were still proven wrong.”
At age 9, she lived in a small community outside of Atlanta. The community included both African-American and Caucasian lower-class families and upheld the separate but equal philosophies adopted by the American culture during this era. However, the only separation was a plot of trees that separated the community. Still, the children of both races did not see color—they continued to play together as children do.
“The white children would sneak over to play with my siblings and I. They played and ate food at our house. The parents didn’t know.”
“We played with them everyday, but when you would see them out in public walking around, their parents would forbid them to speak to you—as if you didn’t exist. They would grab them and pull them away. They were not allowed to socialize with black people.”
Hatred is taught.
“Children just want to play. If we look at little children, we can learn a lot. They play with anyone unless they have heard differently.”
“It is when they are taught to not play with someone because of something that they change their views.”
It was not until the March on Washington and the process of integration that some of America started to understand and realize that diversity was actually of something good. Other nationalities did not seem so bad after all.
“We fear what we don’t understand.”
After integration, some Caucasians and African-Americans were adjusting to diversity. They were intermingling. They were attending schools together, they were going to the same places to eat and shop, and were even sitting on the bus together. Things were changing.
Even now in society, diversity in America is still not perfect. There are a lot of subtle attacks on the African-American people. These attacks occur within the politics of government, social reform, and even education. Although, they may not be as open as they were in the past, they are still present.
Hearing my grandmother’s struggles with diversity in a growing America makes me appreciate the value of diversity even more today. I am thankful for the pioneers who stood and make a difference in the world for not just African-Americans, but for everyone—no matter where they came from. It also makes me appreciate these trail blazers more, because they helped a young and struggling America see change in a different light.
The world is becoming more and more diverse, and we must not forget our past but remember that change can be hard, but it is also inevitable. Nothing remains the same. Without change there is no growth. As my grandmother states it, “No matter who you are or where you go, you are going to see other people that do not look like you or act like you. Therefore by interacting with other people, you learn more about each other, therefore you can understand each other.”