My Lesson in Diversity

These words changed my life. I wasn’t even in school yet. But they changed my life more than anything else ever spoken. Before you continue with this blog, please take a moment to reflect on this message.

Dr. King’s speech inspired my mother. A few years later, she joined a fight to found an integrated neighborhood called Auburn Hills in my hometown, Grand Rapids, Michigan. In the 1960’s, four brave black men decided to move their families into a previously all-white neighborhood. My mother was close friends with one of them, a dentist named Dr. Julius Franks.

In the 60s, discrimination was blatant. Residents, banks, and the city blocked Blacks from buying property outside of the inner city in a practice called “redlining”. An intolerant group formed to block the project, claiming that the area would become a slum. Tolerance and diversity were indeed distant dreams.

At one point, the city tried to stop the development by claiming no whites would ever move there. My parents joined the fight. In a letter to the newspaper, my mother wrote a letter that shared Dr. King’s dream:

“Our community faces a major decision: whether to put into action democratic ideals in a model housing development or to block the efforts of four outstanding negro citizens to begin to resolve the greatest social and moral problem of our community and our nation. … We, as white citizens, would like to take part in this opportunity to get to know and to have our children know and appreciate and be friends and neighbors of people of all races and backgrounds.”

To appreciate this, you need to understand the moment in history. Michigan was a racial war zone. The Detroit race riots killed 43 and injured over 1000. It was the worst violence in the United States since the Civil War. Grand Rapids was not much better. In the midst of all that, my mother moved her white family with three young children from a wealthy suburb into an all-black neighborhood that the city didn’t want.

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That took action.

I will always owe my mom for her vision and knowing how important it is to understand.

She gave me a gift. I lived my early years in a truly integrated world; kids don’t see the difference. As we got older and the “real” world changed views, I was rejected. I got a taste of the sting of discrimination. It was excruciatingly painful. Looking back, I see that this pain was also a gift. I’m not sure which lesson was more valuable.

Because, you see, I also learned that as a white man, I can never truly understand a lifetime of discrimination. People of color live with the sting of discrimination and the fear and reality of violence every time they shop, every time they walk, every time they drive, every time they apply for a job, every time they see the police. The majority doesn’t notice discrimination. True diversity is when nobody notices. Not being a racist is not enough; that passive attitude lets bias grow.

George Floyd is “just” the latest in a long string of discrimination, and blatant violence is horrendous. But discrimination is not always blatant; it’s insidious, destructive, and pervasive. When I lived in Grand Rapids, we were the only white family to move into the neighborhood. Passivity lets bias grow.

Today, we have made progress. The neighborhood is more integrated. I never thought I would see the multicultural diversity that we take for granted in the Bay Area. I never thought I would see protests with such diverse support. These things inspire hope. But there’s so much further to go.

Perhaps my greatest lesson is to cherish diversity; diversity is strength. But I also know that diversity is hard.

Diversity takes action.

RTI is committed to a culture where everyone is heard, respected, and included. RTI stands against discrimination in employment, housing, recognition, and career. We do not judge people by the color of their skin, the origins of their family, the choice of their love, the years since their birth, the beliefs of their faith, or the state of their body. We seek only to judge by the content of their character.

Like many companies, we are establishing a giving program to support the current cause. But we cannot allow ourselves to just donate money and feel better. We must heed this wake-up call. There is a more important goal.

I remember one hot summer night when there were sirens everywhere. I told my father I was scared. He said not to worry, because if the violence came here, our black neighbors would protect us. That made me feel safe, because I knew it was true. We need to make everyone feel safe. Passivity is consent. It’s time we stand up for others.

Dr. King also said: Riot is the language of the unheard.” Please listen. Black Lives Matter. We must all stand for that.


You can learn more about Auburn Hills from these two news stories: WZZM-TV, WOOD-TV 

About the author

StanStan Schneider is CEO of Real-Time Innovations (RTI), the largest Industrial IoT connectivity vendor. RTI has an extensive footprint in EnergyMedicalAutomotiveTransportationDefense, and Industrial Control.

Stan serves as the Vice Chair of the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC). He also serves on the advisory board for IoT Solutions World Congress. Stan holds a PhD in EE/CS from Stanford University.

 

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