Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Few Thoughts on Diversity


One of the things I most enjoyed about my several days at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary was the diversity of students in the TEEM program (see previous posts).  I’ve been to a number of gatherings where diversity was celebrated, but mostly it was in the form of there are some blacks here, let’s make them feel welcome in our white group.  Or, there are a couple of white guys here, let’s help them feel comfortable in our black community.  You know the routine, and have probably been a part of it at one time or another. 

The diversity of this group included Caribbeans, Africans, Indians, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders, and a collection of North Americans in a variety of colors and ethnicities.  There wasn’t any dominant culture into which anyone could be welcomed.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  All but we eight Episcopalians were Lutheran, but it worked out OK.  

Three of us in a small group discussion talked about where we grew up and when we first became aware of people not like us.  It turned out that each of us grew up knowing only our own tribe, found moving to other places where there were other tribes both exciting and filled with anxiety, and admitted that we are still most comfortable in the midst of fellow tribe members, even if they are not personally known to us.  That was common ground from which our three member community found enough to form the potential for friendship.  

Like any workshop, the moment came and went, but it accomplished the work of a few moments to live comfortably in a different frame of reference, and that is something that is not easy to achieve. 

So often when the members of a dominant culture want to be inclusive of outsiders, they offer a form of hospitality intended to welcome others to become one of them.  For example, a former congregation went through a period wanting to be open to Hispanics in the community.  With the very best of intentions, they thought they could welcome our immigrant Mexicans into our very Anglo Episcopalian space with a few Spanish language prayer books on a table near the door, singing a few songs in Spanish, and maybe reading a lesson or two in both languages, all with the expectation that visitors would soon be just like us, except for language.  It never panned out for obvious reasons, one of them being that many of our immigrant Mexicans have been here for several generations.  Moreover, thinking of them as ‘ours’ unintentionally and offensively implies ownership.

I think the diversity we desire is neither tolerance nor integration.  I think it is something akin to the experience at PLTS in which we recognize, respect and honor the variety of cultures and ethnicities we each bring to the gathering.  Recognition, respect and honor will always lead to friendship.  True integration will probably be the function of sex over quite a few generations.  At least that’s what Michener and Schlesinger thought, and I believe they were right. 

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