On Monday, we will celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. While most parishioners of St. Francis will enjoy this as a three-day holiday weekend, many others will use this day to reflect on our nation, state, county, and city in terms of race, especially our African-American brothers and sisters. This seems especially poignant given the increased violence people of color have experienced in the past year in the U.S. For several years, I have taught a doctoral course entitled, Ministry in a Multicultural Church. This course examines how church communities welcome, understand, and embrace the beauty and strength that await parishes composed of many cultures, nationalities, and races when they learnabout each other and how to bring them together effectively in a collaborative and respectful way, becoming true intercultural communities. One of the components of the course focuses on the reality of racism, a hot topic in this country and one that always generates a lot of debate. One of the key insights I have gained in my own studies on racism is how difficult it is for those belonging to the dominant culture, Euro-Americans in the United States, to discuss issues of race with those who belong to minority cultures. There are many reasons for this, some very understandable from a human perspective (e.g., I don’t want to look foolish speaking about something I know little about) and some simply resulting from belonging to the dominant culture which can overlook or ignore the issue because they are the majority, to name but two.
As is true of most dominant cultures around the world, there is a tendency not to notice the impact of the dominant culture on those from other cultures, to assume that everyone sees things according to the dominant culture or at least should, and to use their power to maintain their dominance. Here are but two examples of this. Of the 56 cultural groups in China, 92% are Han Chinese. Other minority cultures in China struggle for recognition, equality, and autonomy. One significant group is the Uyghurs who are being systematically oppressed by the dominant culture. Rwanda faced this issue with devastating impact in 1994 when nearly a million Tutsis, who comprise 14% of the population, were murdered by the dominant Hutus, who comprise 85% of the population. Dr. King led a movement to bring about equality and respect for African-Americans, indeed all people of color in the United States. The movement brought some positive change but there is still a long way to go in achieving his vision.
If you are like me, a member of the dominant Euro-American culture in the United States, I invite you to consider how you may initiate a conversation with someone who does not belong to your cultural group and listen non-defensively to what their experience of daily life is like as a member of a minority culture. It has been an eye-opening experience for me, one that has strengthened my commitment to work for greater equality and respect for people who are not like me and has resulted, in small but meaningful ways, in building up the Body of Christ in my Church and in my local community.