As I was helping my daughter get ready for bed last month, she tells me, "I don't want to be Black anymore, Daddy. It's too hard." She just graduated from kindergarten in June.
When I look at my daughter, I see a free spirit, zest for life, a girl who knows how to make the most stoic person in the room laugh, a stubborn intelligence and Brown beauty that is unique to this corner of the world.
I am a Black Haitian American man from a community near Boston where dozens of cultures come together and not only cooperate, but view each other's unique perspectives as levers to strengthen the community. In the era when I felt I most belonged, I was surrounded by many people who looked and thought like me and many people that did not. My culture and my Blackness were parts of my identity that were appreciated by my community. I was not insulated from racism, but overall, the diverse perspectives in the community came together to operate like one machine.
When I think about my daughter living in Spokane, the difficulty that she is picking up on at the tender age of 6 is rooted in her lack of belonging. Her beauty in her color is interpreted by many who don't look like her simply as "difference." This isn't inherently wrong — we all notice what is different and all have biases — we just need to be brave in talking about them and addressing them.
While human nature is to be curious and crave to learn about difference, it also is to be comfortable with what is familiar. This is the paradox that Spokane, a visually homogeneous community, faces during this time of emphasis on racial equity.
Lately, we have started to see more interest in holidays and events that celebrate non-European tradition. The Lunar New Year and Juneteenth are two examples that have stuck out to me. It is important to be able to "see" ourselves in our communities; by embedding diverse traditions into our local culture, we make it easier for those who look, think or have different cultural backgrounds than the majority to feel like we belong.
The tension over identity that communities are facing contradicts the intended "united" identity intended for this nation. We are trying to preserve our own identities under one umbrella which is causing that tension. Instead, we need to be open to difference and accept that everyone has a different identity. No one has to lose a sense of his/her own identity; to hear other ideas, experiences and philosophies around living can build a more comprehensive individual approach to our world and compassion for others.
When someone is fluent in a language and is teaching it to someone who is new to it, it is imperative to have grace and patience with the learner if they are there to learn. If an individual shows up to learn, we need to approach conversations about race the same way. Having grace with others that may not be at the same place as you are right now is to be patient and kind. Progress is rarely made through accusations and self-righteous dialogue.
The diversity in the United States is exactly what makes our nation great. Diversity is opportunity — opportunity to learn from each other, to build on each other's strengths and to build a unique society that values difference. We can go much further as a community and as a nation when we embrace difference.
At the end of the day, all of us just want to feel like we have a place. All of us want a sense of belonging and all of us want a sense of acceptance. One day, I hope that if my daughter has a daughter of her own, that she never has to question if she belongs in her community because it never occurs to her to question it; she just knows she does. ♦
Luc Jasmin III is the owner of Parkview Early Learning Center in Spokane County and president of Washington Childcare Centers Association. Growing up a first-generation Haitian American propelled him to understand and focus on, among other factors: equity, racial bias, and cultural differences. His fundamental goal is to help create a solid foundation in which all children can be successful; regardless of their parents, racial background, religious affiliation, economic standing or any other unnecessary obstacle.