Diversity in Human Interactions The Tapestry of America Drs. John D. Robinson and Larry James, Editors

Oxford University Press, 2003

“…Our population is becoming increasingly diverse, so we will increasingly face problems brought about by differences. This book is about communications; about crossing the divide that cultures and society sometimes widens rather than lessens. We hope this book will teach you how not to be afraid to talk to each other and to understand our uniqueness. We believe that only through frank and honest discussions can we become fully aware of the differences that make us unique. Only then can we really enjoy the beauty and richness of the multicultural artwork that is the human tapestry of America.”(From Diversity, “Introduction: Weaving the Tapestry,” by Dr. John Robinson and Larry C. James.)

In this book, Drs. John Robinson and Larry James organize the ideas and insights of the best and brightest thinkers into an intimate and compelling tour of diversity in race, ethnic differences, aging, sexual orientation, disability, and religion. Each chapter is written by a member of that group, and is also a renowned scholar or educator. The writing is clean, with an economy of words and theory that brings the information into sharp, meaningful focus. The reader is let into the inner circle, in a frank and honest way, to grasp the experience of another.

John told the Times that this readability did not come easily. “When I wrote it, Larry was at Walter Reed, because he’s military. We would get a chapter, I’d go over to Walter Reed and get a private or a sergeant, and have them read it. If they could understand, it was okay. If they couldn’t, it went back to the author. I wanted the man on the street to be able to read it and say, ‘Oh, I got that, I didn’t know that.’”

“We had some very high level academic people writing those chapters and to try to convince them to write a non-academic style was hard. I sent it back not because of the academic rigor, but because it was too rigorous.”

Diversity in Human Interactions can be used as a tool for human-relations training or college textbook. But anyone with an interest in social interactions will find it a fascinating tour through human experience, and a treasure chest of insights about differences.

“It is used by the military and several universities,” John noted. “It’s used by a few corporations, when they do their diversity training. Because I did not want a theoretical book, when you read it you won’t see theory. You’ll see what it’s like to be, for instance, Asian. What do Asians want to be called? What do Hispanics want to be called?”

A chapter by Diane Willis and Dolores Subia Bigfoot, titled “On Native Soil: The Forgotten Race: American Indians,” explains how the Chippewa call themselves Ojibway, The Dine’ people are called Navajo, and the Tis-Tsis-Tsas are called Cheyenne. The Winnebago recently returned to their original name, Tohono O’Odham, moving away from the name thrust on them by others and history books.

“Native American is one of the worse terms we have,” John explained. “Indians don’t like to be called Native Americans. They want to be called Cherokee or Choctaw or even American Indians. Because Native American was a congressional term, it included Alaskans, Native Hawaiians, and American Indians. So American Indians loss their identity in that term,” he explained.

“Na Kanaka Maoli: The Indigenous People of Hawai‘i,” a chapter on Hawaiians, is written in a different style, with a different voice, than other chapters. John, who travels to Hawaii regularly said, “It’s one of the few books that has a chapter on Native Hawaiians. And when you read it, the style of writing is completely different from the other chapters.”

“What Difference Does A Difference Make?” by Beverly Greene, “… sets up the whole thing,” John said. She writes about why people want to see differences, the positives and the negatives, and deeper insights into the understanding people have of others.

How did John conceive the book? “It was because of Anne Rice,” he said, an author he admires and would occasionally cross paths with in New Orleans. “Anne Rice wrote a book called Feast of All Saints,” he said, “which is about New Orleans, antebellum era, pre and post.” Her book explained the diversity of the city for John. “From there I said, humm… I need to write something a little more academic, that people could use.”

“The big publishing companies came after it when we told people what we were interested in doing,” John noted. “Larry and I were approached by about six different publishing companies. We chose Oxford University Press, because of the name and they offered us the most assistance with the most autonomy.”

“It’s still selling extremely well,” he said. “Frequently I’m getting notes from Oxford saying, ‘Did you know that some University or corporation picked it up?’ Because of the way it was written. It can be used by anyone. The guy in the mailroom can read it, as well as the CEO of the company. It’s timeless.”

Dr. John Robinson, author of Diversity In Human Interactions, came to Louisiana in the 80s and now is professor at Howard U. Medical School, in D.C. He is Vice Chair of the Psychology Bd there, and holds the ABPP in Clinical Health Psychology.

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