I believe that when I fill in the bubble next to “Caucasian” I should not be judged solely by that demographic. “Just another white male” is not the slogan that should define me, because if one met me on the street, one would never guess that I am 1/4 British Isles and 3/4 Middle Eastern. But, the only definition for Caucasian that pops in the reader’s mind is “White.” Even though I am male, born in the United States, and am a devout atheist, I come from a very diverse background in terms of nationality and religion.
My father, who comes from Turkish and Greek descent, immigrated to Canada when he was four and to the USA when he was nine. This heritage alone illustrates diversity because Greece is a Christian country and Turkey is predominately Muslim. My mother has a Lebanese background andb Lebanon is a country populated with various religions. Like other countries in the Middle East, both of these countries have suffered from power struggles by Jews, Christians, and Muslims creating an internecine feud that is tearing the Middle East apart. While my mother’s Lebanese relatives were praying for the downfall of the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the First World War, my father’s grandfather was walking from a northern city in Turkey to Yemen and back to fight against the uprising, a distance over 1900 miles one way. Though I have not been extensively exposed to or influenced by either culture, both are a part of my own diverse background and history, something that “Caucasian” overlooks.
Diversity does not come only in the form of ethnicity or religion. As our history has shown, gender is an obstacle that over half of the world population still faces. Twenty-five years ago when my mother started her career in medical school , she was advised that she would never make as good a surgeon as a male would, and that she should pursue a more feminine career. She persisted and currently directs the Burn Center at Harborview Medical Center. This contrasts drastically with women from the Middle East, who are expected to take care of the kids and perform household chores while the men go off to work. Whereas my mother had hurdles to overcome gender biases, she may never have had these opportunities if her family had not immigrated to the United States.
Emphasis on diversity is necessary to overcome intolerance, because lack of respect for people who look different, or hold different cultural values, or come from different ethnic groups has been the cause of violence and discrimination throughout history. Think of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, and all today’s tribal fighting. Look at the conflict between the Shiites and the Sunni in Iraq and Lebanon, the rivalry between the Kurds and the Turks, or the Muslims and Christians in Nigeria and Somalia. As one who believes in diversity, I wonder why they cannot compromise, and I strongly believe that it is our mission to be ambassadors for peace and tolerance among all people.
I am not my great grandfather walking over 1900 miles from Turkey to Yemen at the end of World War I; I am not my father growing up in Turkey or immigrating to Canada. I am not a Muslim or a Christian growing up in the war-torn country of Lebanon; I am not a female surgeon who has risen to the top of my field despite people telling me that I “can’t be a surgeon because I can’t have a wife;” and I am not a woman in the Middle East who has to shield her face because society tells her to. Nevertheless, I believe that I am one diverse part of the Melting Pot that generations of immigrants created when they brought their own food, music, religion and traditions to America that are not represented by that bubble on the standardized test next to the word “Caucasian.”
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