Are We Ready for a Truly Multi-Ethnic, Multi-Cultural Nation?
The US Census from 2010 is quite revealing – the complexion of the American populace is changing. The percentage of Americans of European descent that makes up our population is decreasing every year. In fact, the trend is speeding up faster than many thought possible.
From 2000 to 2010, the percentage of white Americans has dropped from approximately 69 percent to 63 percent. More importantly, the percentage of Americans under 18 who are members of a minority ethnicity has climbed to nearly 47 percent. And the engine of this demographic change has been the increase in numbers of Hispanic Americans, but they’re not alone.
The verdict – before too long, we will be a majority-minority nation. Four states are already there. So, what does that mean for us as a nation and as local communities?
The City of Troy, where I live and work, claims to be among the most ethnically diverse cities in the state of Michigan. While it continues to be majority white (around 72 percent, as opposed to 81 percent state-wide and 63 percent nationwide), it is becoming increasingly diverse. Nearly 20 percent of the population in this city is Asian, especially South-Asian.
This diversity is quite present in the school system, though it is clearly not reflected in its political leadership. Are we ready for what is coming? My sense is that there is great angst and fear of what the future holds for us. There is great pessimism in the air. And all of this sentiment has political, cultural, and even religious implications.
This fear has the tendency to push people into tighter, more ideologically-focused communities. There are clear signs that “Nativist” sentiments are growing. Only some 22 percent of white Americans believe that is demographic change is a good thing. This is seen in the way in which people seek to either defend the status quo or seek to go back to what is envisioned as a golden age, the age of Leave it to Beaver and Mayberry.
But such a vision is monochromatic and reenvisions an America that is dominated by a white Protestant Euro-centric vision (though Catholics seem to have found a way into the mix). Religious communities have long been monochrome, but there are clear signs that the two political parties are dividing along white/non-white lines. That reality, in my mind, is not a good thing, because it politicizes ethnicity. It is also an issue for our religious communities.
I’m a pastor of a predominantly white Protestant congregation that would love to be more diverse, but finds it difficult to bridge the cultural differences that are present in our religious life. I’m also a leader of the local interfaith group, which expresses much more fully the diversity present in our community, not only ethnically but religiously. I am part of that minority of white Americans who apparently are comfortable with the growing diversity in our nation.
The path forward isn’t an easy one. Cultural differences are real. It takes courage and humility to build bridges, but since it’s unlikely that the trend toward increasing diversity will reverse itself, what shall we do? I would suggest that for people of faith there are resources that can be tapped into that can help us build the bridges. In my own tradition, as well the Jewish tradition, there is the duty of loving one’s neighbor. Other traditions have similar understandings. But, for us to build bridges, we must build relationships of respect.
Won’t you join me in this quest for peace? Our future as a nation and as world depends on our willingness to lay aside our stereotypes and our prejudices.