Stick To Your Own Kind


There I am on line in the post office waiting to be served.  The fellow in front of me, a black guy, heads over to the counter.  That morning he’d received a notice to pick up a parcel for which he must sign.  But the postal worker, a white woman, after searching in the back, returns empty handed.  Why?  Because, she says, the carrier had not yet returned with it.  “Come back tomorrow.”  He did not appear upset (perhaps because he’s been talking on his cell phone throughout the entire period).  As he is about to leave, however, another postal employee, a black man, working at the far end of the counter, lets him know that he will pick it up and bring it to him later on.  (They were acquaintances and apparently lived in the same neighborhood.)   What a generous gesture, I thought.  And then I considered the fact that here was a black man reaching out to accommodate a “brother”.  I believe he also sensed the white woman had been a bit too brusque.

So what’s the point of this simple tale?  It’s about people taking care of their own, being more comfortable with each other, sticking together.  Such behavior probably originated at the very dawn of our species.  Survival depended upon supporting and favoring the tribe, being suspicious and uncomfortable with “outsiders.”   They’re likely to be unsympathetic, uncooperative, probably dangerous, even destructive.

We’ve been trying, with limited success, to move beyond such parochial notions.  “Diversity” has become the current watchword, leads we’re told to a richer, more rewarding state of affairs.  But often, while we pay lip service to the notion, we pull back, prefer the comfort zone of “our own kind” (whether ethnic group, social class or religious belief.}   People usually choose to live amongst and interact regularly with others much like themselves.  In high school cafeterias students self-segregate in a variety of ways.  The social divide in schools across America has become more pronounced.  College fraternities may nod toward diversity, but most recruit from predictable pools of candidates.  Country clubs generally proceed along the same path.  Unions often are “closed” to ethnic groups other than those dominant in a particular local.  Individuals of similar age are most comfortable together, police prefer the company of fellow officers, physicians with other doctors, athletes with athletes, soldiers with soldiers.  It’s not hard to understand.

But there’s a downside here – ignorance suspicion, parochialism, limited empathy, even cruelty,  We must attempt, therefore, to venture forth beyond ourselves, set aside the familiar, break barriers and, however challenging, engage with “others.”  Without denying who we are or have become we must cross divides and build bridges that allow us better to connect with each other.  Otherwise, we’ve advanced very little, are almost back to where we started.

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