I am the mother of three white kids, but they grew up in the world David Brooks describes in A Nation of Mutts.
Some of you know the story about our TBC being invited to introduce President Obama when he visited their high school in 2009. The faculty had been asked to select a minority student to introduce the President, and they had picked our daughter – a white blonde. She was, in fact, a minority student in that school as the faculty knew, but upon seeing her head shot, The White House requested someone who looked more traditionally “minority.” (Note: The young man who replaced her as The Presidential Introducer insisted that she join him after he was invited to visit the Oval Office later that semester – such a generous thing to do.)
As David Brooks writes in yesterday’s NY Times, very soon the United States will be “a nation of mutts, a nation with hundreds of fluid ethnicities from around the world, intermarrying and intermingling.” Expect our children or grandchildren to be friends with kids named Enrique Cohen-Chan or Amira Zhang or Tasanee Adebayo.
The truth is that most of our churches remain predominantly white and filled with Smiths and Kowalskis and MacDonalds and Romanos and deVries. Some of us say that our congregations reflect who actually lives in the neighborhood – which is why they are predominantly white or predominantly brown. But I’ve found that we actually live in more cross-cultural communities than we realize. We just haven’t noticed. Or we haven’t wanted to notice.
Conversation with church elders after eating in one of six Mexican restaurants on Main Street in their small town:
Me: Do you have many members from Mexico?
Elder: Mexicans? There are no Mexicans in town.
Me: Actually all the restaurants up the hill are Mexican restaurants, and they seem to be run by people from Mexico. Everybody spoke Spanish in there.
Elder: Nobody speaks Spanish in our town.
It’s hard to welcome The Other if we don’t even notice them.
Teaching multiculturalism is standard in today’s public schools. But our churches are way behind the curve. By the time our congregations notice the need for cross-cultural literacy, third and fourth generation people will want to connect with organizations that teach their particular heritage, according to sociologists. But we in the institutional church could still be trying to figure out how to welcome The Enrique Cohen-Chans of the world.
Image is one of my favorites: Prom 2007.