This past weekend, I saw the Intiman Theatre’s production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons here in Seattle. The director set the play in Seattle in the Central District with the Keller family portrayed as an African American family living in the 40s with both white and black neighbors. Opportunities for people of color in the 40s were pretty bleak. They were denied entry into many jobs, establishments, and neighborhoods among other things. With this as the backdrop for the play, one could easily see why it was so important for the main character, Joe Keller, to continue to live the American Dream regardless of the cost (it’s an Arthur Miller play – you can guess the cost was pretty hefty). It’s a great production, and if you get a chance to see it during its run, you ought to.
Seeing this play made me think of other shows such as Porgy and Bess or Show Boat, and how color-blind casting wouldn’t work for those two shows, but has for something like Les Miserables. In the first two shows mentioned, race is a central issue in the play. In Les Mis, it’s not.
When it comes to diversity, race is definitely an important issue, but it’s not the only one. Gender, age, sexual orientation, political views, religious views (or the absence of them), socio-economic status, culture, sub-culture, interests, IQ, EQ, and a myriad of other things all play into diversity as well. It’s amazing to hear some Republicans and Democrats try to debate. They stick to their talking points, don’t answer the questions, and fail to realize that they actually have a lot more in common with each other. It’s this common ground where these two opposing voices should start. It’s through their differences that new ideas and innovations can occur. It’s this common ground that we all share that we need to focus on as well as our differences. The common ground gets us to start something. The differences inspire creativity. That’s why diversity is important.
When many people start to talk about diversity, unfortunately, the other forms I’ve mentioned seem to get drowned out, and the focus very often goes back to race. It’s true that students do benefit from seeing teachers that look similar to them, but it is just as important for them to see teachers who are older, younger, female, male, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, mixed, as well as teachers with disabilities, exceptionalities, differing political views, differing orientations, who speak different languages, and so on.
In Seattle, we have a large population of students who have one parent who is white and the other parent who is a person of color. Why ask that child to choose a box, or have us fill in a box on their behalf on some diversity survey? Why not figure out who that child is, what motivates her at school, and meet her needs based on those criteria instead. I am of mixed heritage and consider myself very much a person of color. For me, what’s far more interesting than the color of my skin are the 11 years I lived in Asia, the 20 years I lived in Canada, and the 10 (updated 12) years I’ve lived in the US. What makes your students interesting? How can they add to the fabric and culture of your classroom or school?
Rather than viewing diversity as ‘what’s the other person’s story?’, it would help to see it as ‘how can we both contribute in meaningful ways to the story?’ Timeless stories like Arthur Miller’s All My Sons work regardless of race. Miller manages to hone in on the conflicts all of us face.