Sunday morning I did a sprint triathlon. Every time I do one I am struck by the community I find. Even when I don’t know anyone else doing that race, I feel a part of the group. People are encouraging, supportive, and welcoming. Racers cheer for each other, share advice, commiserate over challenges. Spectators high five as you run by, scream out your race number with encouragement, and play cowbells. Total strangers find themselves as one.
Last night was my daughter’s end-of-year choir banquet at school. Seniors can perform – one last time in their high school career. There are four different choirs at her school so there are plenty of people who don’t know each other. It doesn’t matter. They are all hooting and hollering for the seniors performing. High fives all around as kids head back to where they were sitting. Prom was last Friday and graduation is tomorrow so these kids have a lot of things going on and these probably aren’t their most polished performances. Again, it doesn’t matter. Everyone is here for each other. They are one.
Communities like these are everywhere. Anytime someone finds a connection with another they feel this sense of togetherness. It is powerful. Seeing oneself reflected back from another. Humans naturally look for these connections.
Both of these events were overwhelmingly full of white people. Not completely, and there are times I find myself in situations that are completely white, but by a significant margin. Does the same sense of community and connection exist for people of color in these spaces?
What about members of the LGBTQ+ community? At my daughter’s banquet, one senior, who has been a part of every choir over the years, won multiple awards. They do seem to be an integral part of the community (even if the choir director struggled a bit with their pronouns). It seems like a triathlon, in which one must designate one’s gender when registering, might be less welcoming to members of the LGBTQ+ community than a high school today.
How much of my sense of community comes from my skin color? Would I feel the same if I spoke another language, were a different religion, had darker skin, or different sexual identity? I don’t know. I only truly know my lived experience.
That said, as a white, upper middle class, cis-gendered, straight woman I believe I should be doing all I can to ensure that everyone feels welcome and part of a community. Whether that is the school in which I work, a race in which I am participating, my daughters’ schools, my husband’s university, or simply a place in which I happen to be at any given moment (physical or virtual) I need to be more aware of people who many not feel as welcome, who many not find the connection to the rest of the group. Everyone should be able to be themselves and be one with the community.
*I feel a disclaimer may be necessary on that last statement. Everyone should be able to be themselves and be one with the community AS LONG AS being themselves does not harm or demean anyone else.