I hear a lot of bullshit about living in “bubbles” here in the United States. Specifically, I hear about how we live in liberal or conservative bubbles, where we only hear viewpoints similar to ours, and this is detrimental.
I really hate this bullshit.
I grew up in a predominantly white, predominantly Christian, very affluent suburb. The majority of minority students in my school system were East and South Asian. My extracurriculars kept me surrounded by a similar demographic.
Then I moved to the city. Through my academic and professional life, I began to interact with a shitload of people who were not originally from the United States, but came here to study, to teach, to practice medicine, to do research. I began to interact with people who were born here, but who were first generation Americans.
And just walking around and living in the city, I began to interact with people of all classes, ethnicities, countries of origin, religions, and so on and so forth. It is normal to me to be on the train and hear conversations in Spanish, in Chinese, in Arabic. It is normal for me to see signage in different languages. It is normal for me to pass by stores that sell Indian bridalwear, or a Russian pharmacy, or a Chinese specialty food shop.
Normal. Normal. Normal.
One day this past fall, I was sitting and waiting for the bus. An older woman sat beside me and began to talk to me (at me, to be honest; I don’t make conversation with strangers most of the time). She complained about how climate change meant that she had to drive out to another part of the state to see the leaves change, to experience a proper autumn. She said, despairingly, that you just couldn’t see the change in the city.
I commented that I’d grown up in a rural suburb, where I’d gotten to experience the spectacular leaf change she was talking about, but I preferred to live in the city.
“Why?” she’d asked.
“Well, public transit,” I explained. “I don’t have to have a car anymore. And there are stores everywhere and lots of great places to eat. And it’s much more diverse. I grew up in a mostly white suburb–not very diverse.”
As the bus pulled up, she asked me, “Why would diversity be important?”
I was a little stunned that anyone would even think to ask that question, so I didn’t have a ready response. Luckily, once we got on the bus, the conversation was over, so I could just curl up in a seat and relax till I got to my stop. But her question bothered me, and it wasn’t until the election that I could articulate an answer.
Diversity fosters empathy.
That’s not to say that you can’t be empathetic if you don’t grow up in a diverse area. I didn’t grow up in a diverse area, and I’d like to think I’m still empathetic. But diversity absolutely fosters empathy.
So when people talk about bubbles, I call bullshit. I’m a progressive liberal for a lot of reasons, and one major reason is that I live in a diverse city, and I work in a diverse field. That is not a bubble. That is not the same as being surrounded by like on a regular basis, and being afraid of the Other.
Sharing political ideals is not living in a bubble. Subscribing to factual news is not living in a bubble. Refusing to tolerate fascist bullshit and cutting people out of your life when they espouse it?
Not living in a bubble.