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The Diversity of Okra

by Hilary Coman

September 7,2008

The morning was early but activity abounded. Eager buyers found eager sellers. Folks stood three to four deep in lines that snaked around and between tables. Families pushed strollers; couples walked hand in hand, and everyone was loaded down with bags. Is it SouthPark, Phillips Place or Berkeley Village? Nothing near as fancy, plus you can buy boiled peanuts there. It was one recent Saturday morning at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market. Apparently, this is not a unique response based on both the wait for a parking space and the number of folks milling around every check-out. I don’t know if it’s the locavore movement, the organic movement or the something else movement, but it does appear that the market is becoming more popular as each year passes.


I try to visit most weekends. I love the tomatoes, the corn, the okra, the crafts, the newspaper-wrapped cones of vibrantly colored zinnias. My favorite farmer-entrepreneurs recognize me, greet me and tell me how their crops are doing with the drought. The market has a little bit of something for everyone and its popularity is broad based. Looking over a pile of okra, you can hear Urdu, Spanish and a distinct Southern English being spoken as each of us examines the pods commenting on the color, the thickness and the freshness. We women are dressed in every thing from saris to shorts. You can only wonder at the number of types of dishes people are planning. (In case you were wondering, I deep-fried my okra. We are, after all, representatives of our culture.) After one of these visits, I remarked to a friend of mine that I was amazed by how many different types of people you could see just by visiting the market.


Everyone talks about it. Businesses and organizations have particular initiatives to promote it. Museums and cultural institutions attempt to foster it. To what do I refer? Diversity. Too often, however, it’s a challenging concept to grasp. We see more and more of it in and around the Charlotte area, but have we embraced it? Has it embraced us? What does diversity really mean and what does it mean to be diverse?


Like many things, diversity can mean different things to different people. A quick trip to www.dictionary.com defines diversity as:


1. the state or fact of being diverse; difference; unlikeness.
2. variety; multiformity.
3. a point of difference.

I am not sure that clears much up. Unlikeness, variety, a point of difference – frankly, that doesn’t tell me too much. If I, a white woman, have lunch with my African American friend, are we promoting diversity? Or, are we simply two friends having lunch? After all, we’re really not that “unlike” one another – our backgrounds and educational attainment are pretty proximate, even if our skin tones are disparate.


Many of us have passed through something called Crossroads Charlotte. After Charlotte ranked 39 out of 40 communities regarding the levels of trust between races in 2001, community leaders came together to support an initiative where companies and organizations studied four potential futures and decided how and where they could impact these futures. These scenarios represented a different view of how Charlotte could engage or disengage its own diversity, a snapshot of how people of all races and classes might potentially interact with one another in a positive manner. Crossroads has worked to assist participating companies and organizations with initiatives that bolster the interconnection between different groups of people in our community, ranging from the Dragon Boat Festival sponsored by the Asian Chamber to community dialogues around Courage: The Carolina Story that Changed America sponsored by the Levine Museum of the New South to a Community Seder sponsored by Temple Israel. Between Phase I and Phase II of Crossroads, a lot of discussions regarding diversity have taken place and will continue. That’s a good thing.


Still, I think there is a lot we can do to understand diversity on our own, outside of a formal initiative or outreach. Go grab an international meal on the east side of town. Attend a worship service different from your own. Be open to new experiences and different people – up to and including a different recipe for your okra.

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