My area of Arkansas has always been very…White. There is basically no diversity in the whole town. Unlike me, Carlton grew up in a predominantly Black area of Arkansas. Unfortunately, racism was a pretty big thing while I was growing up, and it still is. I remember my grandmother calling to tell us not to go to a nearby town on certain weekends because the KKK was marching. She was afraid of us going there unaware, getting in the middle of a conflict, and getting hurt. That was in the 90s.
Some areas are still pretty separated, whether intentional or not. I saw people of other cultures, mainly Black and Hispanic, when I would go to towns at least 10 or so miles away. You never heard of homosexuals being in the town because that was taboo, and religion in the town was only divided by protestant denominations, not different religions or lack thereof. I’ll come back to denominations.
Growing up in a place where everything is pretty much the same only made me more curious about what was out in the world. My best friend and I have always been interested in things that are different. So, we were the teens who were reading books on stuff like Judaism… for fun.
I got my first big taste of culture in college though. To me, college was amazing because I love learning about and experiencing different things. Meeting people from different cultures was probably my favorite thing about college, especially grad school. In grad school, I became the minority in my classes. Sometimes, I was the only White female in the entire class. Once, the only other White person in the room was a male student…from Columbia. I thought it was pretty cool.
I met people from Saudi Arabia, India, Nigeria, Nepal, Colombia, Taiwan, and the list goes on. I even had a roommate from China, which was an amazing learning experience. I became friends with all of these people, and I got to learn about different cultures, countries, and religions in the process.
They all got to learn about me, too. I was the one that everyone came to with questions because I guess I always seemed like I knew what I was doing, and it also got around that I was nice and helpful. I was often asked if I would further explain what the instructor had just said, and I was also asked about my culture. We often don’t realize that others are just as curious about us as we are of them, and sometimes in ways we would never think of.
One day, I had a group of students from various Asian countries shyly approach me in the hallway. It’s slightly creepy when a whole group of people start stalking you in a hallway, but once they nudged their chosen spokesman and he started speaking I couldn’t help but laugh. They were very curious about whether people with lighter hair go gray.
Well, of course we do, but it just isn’t as obvious because it blends into the lighter hair until there is enough to make it obviously gray. They didn’t know this because they only had experience with very dark hair. No one thinks of such small curiosities as this, but they are the things I find most fascinating.
Around this same time, a few friends and I ran into a group of atheists. We were trying to decide if we wanted to go to church or to a Bible study at the local library. We chose the Bible study, but what we really walked into was a meeting of the Atheist Community of Jonesboro. Oops…
Should we stay? Should we leave? We stayed, and what was supposed to be a 45-minute meeting turned into over an hour of us all sharing stories and having a Q&A between Christians and atheists.
Speaking with the atheist group was honestly one of the most interesting experiences of my life. I think the same about the time I was invited to a local masjid (mosque) to interview the imam, and I even got to watch the evening prayer. How many Christian women get to do that in their lives?
It is now amazing to me how many people I live around. Carlton and I went into a restaurant a couple weeks ago, and he commented that there must be about 20 nationalities sitting in the restaurant. I looked around and noticed that every table was different. I love this!
I also love that there is more acceptance and unity in Atlanta. For example, our church has guest speakers. Recently, some guests have been rabbis from a local Jewish synagogue, who came to speak about Judaism and Jesus. We also had a guest minister from another denomination, and I hope he returns because he was a really good speaker.
I mentioned that I would come back around to denomination: Denomination was a big deal that sometimes divided people in my hometown. Growing up, I was what my friends called a “mutt.”
I grew up mainly in the Church of Christ, as did most of my family, but I often attended Baptist services with relatives and sometimes Pentecostal services as well. Later, I attended Methodist services with friends, and I am now Presbyterian. So, while I have always been Christian, known what I believe in, and had a great relationship with God, I have also seen the denominational divide.
“Which church do you go to?”… “Oh, you know she is a Pentecostal.” … “Why weren’t you in church last week?” “I went to the Baptist church.” “Oh, well, you know what they say about them?” … “You go to CoC? Well, you should go to our church sometime.”
I’ve even walked into a church I practically grew up in and been looked at like I was a Martian because I hadn’t been there in a long time. When I sat down, people glared at me which made me feel out of place. Someone then turned to me and said that I was taking up a member’s space. It was clear that this was meant to get me to move. I didn’t.
My current city is diverse. My current church is awesome. I love seeing the acceptance of others, and I have heard that the church partners with other denominations and religions to do works in the community. I also heard that, at one time, a local atheist group had no space, so a local church let them use church space to hold meetings until they got their own space. I love this. We are supposed to come together to do good and love each other.