Think back to your first year of college for a moment. Think about the kinds of people you gravitated toward. Did they look just like you? For most people, the answer is yes. While this is probably subconscious, it is still something you should question. I am multiracial, so I’m used to not looking like anyone in the same room as me. I talk to people of different ethnicities all the time, and while I do not mind, I am always left wondering why others don’t tend to do the same.
The high school I went to was very diverse, considering it was in Long Island, New York (a place known for its lack of diversity). Despite its diversity, it always felt like everyone separated themselves by ethnicity. When I started college, I expected things to be different. Everyone speaks of how college is an opportunity to meet all kinds of people with different life experiences. Nevertheless, I noticed the same patterns I had seen my whole life. So how did we get here?
This stems from early in our childhood. Perhaps all our parents’ friends looked like them. Perhaps we didn’t grow up in a neighborhood with lots of diversity. Perhaps on our first day of preschool, we felt nervous to talk to the kid who looked nothing like us, and so we never did. We grew up, and this felt normal. We got comfortable in this habit of looking to those who we view as the same as us. We don’t even think twice about it now. That is the scariest part of all of this to me. Avoiding those who we perceive as different should not feel natural, especially in 2022.
We have come a long way as a society. However, recent events have shown us how much further we have to go. Many people think it is good enough to just believe in equality. They are fine with other races and ethnicities, but they do not see a need to incorporate them into their lives. I, for one, have a diverse group of close friends. I have learned so many things from all of them that I would never have known otherwise. I have been fortunate enough to learn about their different cultures. I would not want it any other way. I believe because I know them, I am a more empathetic, understanding human being who enjoys learning about cultures other than my own.
These last few years have shown me that many problems could be solved through acceptance. We make all these assumptions about people we have never even talked to. We don’t understand their culture, so we feel that things they do are weird or wrong. We make judgments based on things we don’t understand. Even though none of this is intentional, it doesn’t mean we can’t change it.
The way to a more accepting society is through interracial friendships. To understand other cultures, you have to talk to them, befriend them and learn from them. The more we do this, the more we’ll appreciate our differences rather than shy away from them. Instead of thinking of all the myths and stereotypes we’ve heard throughout the years, we will actually see people for who they really are. Acceptance is more than just saying you don’t have a problem with other ethnicities; it’s showing it. The next time you are in a new situation (starting a new job, for example), consider stepping out of your comfort zone and talking to the person who looks different than you. They may just be your next best friend.