This Is America; Ain’t It Great?

From upper left: Manhattan south of Rockefelle...
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Today one of my Islamic students gave Jewish me a Christmas present.

There are not many countries on earth where that could happen and I am very, very happy to be living in one of them.

There are those who look around them, see people who speak different languages, have different religions, wear different kinds of clothes or who possess different skin tones and retreat into enclaves of people like themselves.

I have never understood that way of life.

I grew up and work in diverse neighborhoods of what may be the most diverse city in the world.

I look around me at students and colleagues from more than two-dozen countries, who come in a rainbow of skin tones and who speak a babble of different languages that contribute to and color their English.

I want to set off fireworks in celebration.

It is common at this time of year to wish for peace on earth and good will to all.

I saw a demonstration of those ideals today.

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15 Responses to This Is America; Ain’t It Great?

  1. Barb L. says:

    I loved the tweet and I love the blog! Thank you for sharing this experience.

  2. Hadass Eviatar says:

    I hope you gave him an Eid present!

    Agree with you on wonder of diversity – totally take your point there. I would humbly point out, though, that it would be even better if the religious holiday being commemorated by both of you was not that of the majority to which neither of you belong! I do find that part oppressive … but maybe that’s just me. I would lovingly accept a Xmas gift from an Islamic student in the spirit in which it was proffered, don’t get me wrong … but true diversity would mean accepting each other as we are, not assimilating to the majority …

    • Deven Black says:

      Thanks for the comment, but I don’t think either of us were celebrating or taking note of the religious aspect of Christmas. In addition to its religious nature, or perhaps in place of it for many people, Christmas has become a social holiday, an excuse for time off from work, gatherings of families and friends, and, yes, gift exchanges.

      Though I don’t celebrate Christmas, I still appreciate the lights, the excitement, the socialization and the sense of good will that percolates through the season. I am aware that I am looking at the season through deeply rose colored glasses, but the freedoms and social conventions I notice in this post are the same ones that allow you and I to practice or, in my case, not practice a religion that has, and continues to, engender hatred and persecution in several parts of the world. That the majority here abhors that persecution is reason enough to acknowledge and participate in a secular aspect of the holiday.

      • Hadass Eviatar says:

        I’m not convinced a majority actually *abhors* the persecution, but let’s not go there. As long as we don’t rock the boat too much, we’re fine here, and that’s good.

  3. Michael J says:

    Thank you for making the time for this and all of the other posts that have made me smile whenever I get the notification that a new one is up.

    Have a great New York holiday! Let’s go Mets!

  4. Graham says:

    Great little tidbit. The people who hinder this kind of innocent and charming exchange are the ones who manage to feel oppressed no matter what people do. Many of our freedoms are couched in the dominant culture. It has been a gift to those who are truly gracious enough to accept it and understand where it comes from, and maybe more importantly, where it does not come from. Merry Christmas and the wonder of American assimilation to all.

  5. Hadass Eviatar says:

    How kind of you, Graham. Hope you enjoy Christmas.

    Glad that Canada is more interested in multiculturalism than assimilation. But I’m not here to argue with you.

    Devan, I’m sure you understand that I was in no way slamming your student’s gracious gesture.

  6. Graham says:

    Hadass, of course you are here to argue. You just want others to do things the way you think they should, and not the way they may feel they want to. I guess the student just did not fit into your view of diversity. Maybe he fit fine into his own view!

  7. Sarah K says:

    Hi Deven,
    I read this post with interest, yet chose to ignore the title as it is a little offensive. I feel you could have perhaps used another title that doesn’t presume to mark America as great purely because there is cultural diversity, acceptance and understanding in some parts of your country. As an Australian who lived in the US for 2 years in my early 20s, I found people in many parts of your country to be a lot less accepting of my Australian differences than those you generalise about in your post.

    The story you retold was quite interesting and definitely something to be proud of. I just took offence at the title.

    • Deven Black says:

      I’m sorry you were offended by the title of this post; perhaps if you read it as irony it would make more sense from your perspective.

      I don’t know how long ago you were in your early 20s, but there will always be a certain number of people who don’t appreciate that the differences among us are far outnumbered by our similarities. The idea of this post was to point out how much they miss through their parochialism.

      • Sarah K says:

        To clarify, I lived in the USA in 2004 and 2005. Not that long ago. I probably should have pointed out that I don’t speak a different language, follow a different religion, wear different clothes or have a different skin tone to you either. I think my objection to your title was a result of the parochialism of the American people I met whilst living in the US. So yes, I suppose you’re right and I was in fact quite impressed with the experience you shared in your post.

      • Sarah K says:

        oops… should read “I don’t speak a different language, follow a different religion, wear different clothes or have a different skin tone to the majority of Americans”

  8. Paula Naugle says:

    Merry Christmas my Jewish friend. I too appreciate the diversity America has to offer. Enjoy your holiday and keep posting here and on Twitter.

  9. Hadass Eviatar says:

    Enjoy your well-deserved break, Deven my friend. I still disagree with you but it doesn’t matter ;-).

    @Sarah, yes, I hear you. But there is no point in discussing these matters with Americans (or French people, or anyone who lives in a country large enough that they can spend their entire lives within its borders). That has been my experience for many years now. We can still love them for whom they are ;-).

  10. Gilles den Bandt says:

    A nice story indeed. In the blog you state that NYC may be the most diverse city in the world. Almost two years ago I came across an article from a dutch newspaper where the top-3 was printed. On nr.1, the most diverse city of all, is Amsterdam, Holland with 177 nationalities. Second is Antwerpen, Belgium with 164 and the third place is taken bij the Big Apple with 150 nationalities. This according to two years old data off-course. The total number of nationalities according to the UN is 192 as far as I know.
    There is no point attached to this post, I just thought it might interest you.

    http://www.trouw.nl/nieuws/nederland/article1670842.ece

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