Chuck Zumbrun

Tales from Skunk Hill


I wrote an article about Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion programs recently and the Journal-Gazette published it on April 4th. It’s hard to imagine why anyone would be against diversity, equality, or inclusion, but the people we have entrusted to represent us in Congress regularly do so. These people represent the worst of us.

Well, all that aside, here’s the article and the picture that went with it.

Recently, my wife and I went to visit our granddaughter Alice who is 3 years old.  She lives in San Francisco, CA. While we were there our daughter-in-law asked me if I’d speak at Alice’s preschool.  They have a Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI) day once a week where family members or friends come in to share something about their lives, so the kids learn about different traditions and different ways of living.  I agreed to do it.  I figured stories from an Indiana farm would be interesting, or at least different, for kids growing up in San Francisco.

I put together a presentation of photos from our farm, pictures of big machinery, pictures of farm animals, and of course, pictures of the farm cats and dogs: things I thought would appeal to 2- and 3-year-olds.

I showed up at the appointed time and showed my presentation.  The children were delightful. They sat in a circle around me and reacted to the pictures of an old-time threshing machine, cows and calves in the pasture, and especially to a funny picture of one of our barn cats.

Alice attends a Chinese immersion preschool.  Only Mandarin is spoken at her school.  When the teachers were settling the children for my presentation, when I asked where I should set up, when the children reacted to my pictures, everything that was said, was said in Mandarin.  I smiled and nodded just like I knew what was going on.  The only Mandarin I know is “ye ye” and “nai nai” for paternal grandfather and grandmother.

After it was all over, I realized I was the different one.  I was the outsider.  I was in a school where everyone spoke a language I didn’t understand and I looked different from nearly everyone. “Wow,” I thought, “so this is what it’s like to be in the minority.”  I’ve lived in northeastern Indiana all my life where nearly everyone looks like me, talks like me, and shares the same customs.

When I thought about it a little more, I realized I was basking in smug, even arrogant, privilege.  If I asked a question in English, I got a respectful answer in English.  No one sneered at me for not speaking their language.  No one was exasperated to have to accommodate me by explaining things in my language. No one laughed at me when it was clear I had no idea what had been said to me. No one pretended they didn’t hear me when I spoke in English.

How often have I seen it’s not that way for non-English speakers here in Indiana.  I’ve seen Spanish speakers treated with contempt as they struggle to ask a question in English.  I’ve seen Burmese derided and turned away because they have customs different from what we’re used to locally.

Think about our local government: how difficult it is to navigate the bureaucracy and to get anything done when you do speak English.  Imagine for a moment trying to do that when you barely understand the language and you’re treated like a lesser person because you don’t.  Think about being at a store and unable to find something because you can’t read the signs and don’t understand how the stock is organized. Imagine when you try to ask a clerk, they shrug and turn away.

DEI has become a hot button in the culture wars that have consumed our elected officials, such as our representative in Indiana’s 3rd District, Jim Banks.  These elected officials constantly attack DEI programs, often using “woke” as a pejorative catchphrase.    They believe that trying to understand people who are different from us, and trying to make their way easier, somehow weakens America.  It’s hard to understand why people would advocate for division and distrust instead of for understanding and acceptance.

We need to recognize DEI programs for what they are, a way to understand the people sharing our world. We need to practice what we preach, “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you”.  It’s not hard to take a moment to try to understand someone who doesn’t speak English well.  It’s not hard to stop and think when someone acts in a way that seems unusual to me, that their behavior may be the accepted norm for them.

We each have the opportunity and choice every day to make our corner of the world a little better by treating those who don’t speak English well or have different customs from ours with respect, and by resisting those who seek to divide us.

Oh, here’s the funny picture of one the barn cats. The kids were delighted with the picture of Burnie (RIP) looking like his head was as big as mine.

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