San Diego's Crawford High school where I graduated in 1977 was once determined by the California Department of Education to be the most diverse high school in the state. Since California is the most diverse state, I will stretch things a bit to say I went to the most diverse high school in the nation.
At Crawford we had a mix of every ethnicity and nationality. I went to school with Vietnamese Americans, Polish Catholics and Polish Jews, Russians, Mexicans Caucasians, African Americans and maybe a few other groups that I can't remember. It was a wonderful setting for a high school student and we all managed to get along. Our parents and teachers had a lot to do with the harmony, but at the student level we just liked each other and managed. There were fights but never fights because of race or racism.
Many years later I wondered how I am doing today with diversity in my personal and social life. I figured one way to find out was to do an audit of diversity among my Facebook friends.
I have 439 Facebook friends and frankly I do not want the number to increase by many more. The great majority of my Facebook friends are people whom I know personally or professionally. A few I met on Facebook by exchanging postings and sharing ideas. Some are very conservative Christians, rock-ribbed republicans and yellow dog democrats. There are Jews (conservative and liberal), Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, a few atheists, my lone Palestinian friend, openly Gays, one transgender, Mexicans and Africans from four African nations.
I am not gloating. In fact I still think I lack enough Facebook friends from cultures other than my African-American heritage. About 25 percent are Caucasian and close to one-third are African American. For some I honestly have no idea of whether they consider themselves Caucasian, African American, Hispanic or Asian. But, I feel perfectly comfortable with each friend.
Because of the diversity among my friends I am always stopping to think and care about other cultures and other peoples. I don't censor my post against my true beliefs, but I certainly think about others when making my posts. I am aware of other opinions and try to show concern for the thoughts and beliefs of others.
I bumped into one Mexican American friend on Facebook after he and I had a heated, but civil exchange over the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. We definitely had opposing opinions - on Ferguson. But it turned out he and I had agreements on many other subjects, like youth discipline, music, family and Christianity. He and I are as close as two people can be while never meeting each other in person. I always look forward to his communications. I hope he feels the same way about mine.
This is what is great about Facebook. It provides the opportunity for people from different backgrounds and cultures to get to know each other on their own terms, not terms set down by society's political correctness.
My Transgender friend, who was once a student of mine at Florida A&M, taught me about the complications faced by Transgender people - some of which I never thought about. How much different of a person is he from me? Not much I learned.
Women have been instrumental in making me aware of their concerns. Housewives and mothers have concerns unique to them which they shared with me and others. Young single women have their concerns and anxieties about life which they have expressed. I especially learned a lot about the concerns of African American women. Society has placed a lot on their plates, yet most remain filled with purpose, caring, curiosity, humor and joy.
My experience is that Facebook can contribute to the healing of social scars and learning new things about people without feeling embarrassed or intimidated. I believe it can serve the same purpose for others if people are willing to take that extra step to diversify their pages.
I do not believe in tolerance. I prefer acceptance instead. And Facebook has played an important role in my learning to accept people who are not like me. My experiences long ago at Crawford High prepared me for this Facebook world.
As one Hispanic student at Crawford said in a San Diego Magazine interview in 2007, "Who wants to live in a society in which everyone is the same? A world without diversity would be a sad world indeed."