In a writing group on Facebook, we discussed diversity within fiction, and as usual, some comments took a tangent. One person wrote (in part): “I think part of the problem is that some authors live in isolated race bubbles. I don’t live there. My world is diverse . . . I spent a summer in North Dakota one year and found it kinda creepy. Where were all the non-Norwegians? I didn’t see any non-whites for weeks. Creepy.”
I responded thusly: “As a North Dakotan, I agree the racial makeup is largely German/Norwegian. And for someone who grew up around more diversity, I can see how it would seem strange at first. Creepy, though? It almost sounds as though it’s intentional, as though anyone else isn’t welcome, when it’s far from true. In fact, it’s changing, however slowly. We have a growing Mexican, Nigerian, Liberian and Indian population. My church alone is testament of that. We have members of all the above listed members, and even host an all-Spanish speaking church two nights a week. Truth is, few people can handle our winters, and that’s what keeps them away. Germans and Norwegians originally settled here, and stayed.”
After some thought, I realized my comment was a bit too “knee-jerk.” After the beating North Dakotans took during the DAPL protests both in the national media and especially social media, I am over-sensitive when people say unflattering things about them. I take it personally.
But his comment spoke to a typical reaction, not of North Dakotans, per se, but how different cultures can make us uncomfortable at times. Someone, like the commenter above, who grew up around a more ethnically diverse area, suddenly surrounded by only German/Norwegians, could very well be a bit “creeped out.”
When I first moved up to North Dakota, we attended Community Days in a small town. It’s basically a big block party where the entire town participates during the American Independence Day holiday. Growing up in Fort Collins, Colorado, I, too, was surrounded by and grew up with people of other ethnic backgrounds.
During that Community Days event, I looked around, laughed and told my husband, “This here is a Rainbow Coalition nightmare.”
Was I creeped out? No, because I knew even then that cultures vary often by state as well as region. In the end, we’re all — not only Americans — but human. Regardless of color or background, we all want many of the same things, to be treated with consideration, empathy and respect. We have to let go of our discomfort in new surroundings, and really look at and attempt to find common ground with those who appear so different.
That opens the door to new understandings and possibly new friendships. If not, and those people look at us with closed-mindedness or treat us with outright hostility, we then, as Jesus said, “shake the dust off our feet and move on.”
All I ever ask of myself and others is to give people a chance, regardless of their ethnicity, culture or location. Perhaps then we’ll discover that people – North Dakotans and otherwise – aren’t so creepy after all.