On hybridity and why we keep arguing with each other (and should continue to)

3 Dec

At the NAIS People of Color Conference this past week, Eric Liu, founder of Citizen University, reminded us that “[the United States of] America is an argument.” That since our founding through today, this republic has been about tension: between liberty and equality, between pluribus and unum, between centralized and local government, between identity-blindness and identity-seeing. Thus, “claiming a place” in the US means “getting comfy” with arguing as participation in civic life. Liu defined our challenge not “as getting into a defensive huddle,” but as “telling an affirmative story of us.” And to decide personally whether I will be an asset or a problem in the telling of this story. He called upon us to commit to hybridity: the combination of like and “super-unlike” elements in order to solve problems. In other words, diversity is not the problem or the answer: it’s just a fact—a historical, universal fact, despite the myths of some lost “purity” (racial purity, religious purity) that fuel too many of today’s political and social movements around the world. But it’s not enough to acknowledge, accept or even value diversity. Liu asserts that we need to activate hybridity. How do we do that? By explicitly integrating hybridity into our experiences, whether it’s a conversation with a friend or a lesson plan for students. And by creating environments that require hybridity: bringing like and “super-unlike” people together to “work on a third thing”—not to just talk about you and me, but to leverage our like- and unlikeness to solve a complex problem that will be enriched by having a diversity of perspectives brought to bear on it.

Thanks to Eric for the reminder, the inspiration and the challenge to do–not just be–citizens. Because citizenry shouldn’t just be about whether you happened to be born within a set of political boundaries or have documents: it should be about civic ownership and action. For more from Eric, check out his latest book You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen.

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