The Minority Experience (Adrian Pei) -- A Review
THE MINORITY EXPERIENCE: Navigating Emotional and Organizational Realities. By Adrian Pei. Downer’s Grove: IVP Books, 2018. 215 pages.
Being a white male, I've never had to navigate the minority experience. Yes, I've occasionally found myself in a space where I am the minority figure, but even then, my place in the broader majority culture has given me a certain amount of power. I cannot change who I am, but I can listen to voices whose experiences are different than mine. This is why the slogan "all lives matter," usually uttered by white males, fails to catch the reality of the human situation in the land that I call home. It is, therefore, from this vantage point, as a member of the majority culture, that I read Adrian Pei's important book The Minority Experience.
Adrian Pei is an Asian-American evangelical Christian who has had to navigate the “emotional and organizational realities” of working within a white-majority Christian organization. Pei was once a staff-member of Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ), serving as associate national director of leadership development of the Epic Movement, the Asian American ministry of Cru. Today he is an organizational development consultant and leadership trainer. It is out of his experience with Cru that this book emerges, and the story is told with complete honesty and openness. It’s not a pretty story, and yet we see transformation take place within the organization. Thus, this isn’t a “tell-all,” but rather the story of how organizations often struggle to make sense of diverse realities, putting minority persons in difficult spots. In other words, in white majority organizations, the reigning vision is that everyone should assimilate to that culture.
The book is addressed first and foremost to minority folks, especially minority Christians, who are seeking to name the challenges they face living in a white majority culture that often assumes that white culture is normative. Thus, the way to succeed is to assimilate, which means letting go of one's cultural/ethnic identities. Having faced this challenge, Pei suggests another path forward, which involves not assimilation but empowerment. For those of us living in the majority culture (me), this book invites us to listen and try to comprehend realities different from our own.
As for the book itself, Pei divides his nine chapters into two parts. Part One focuses on "Understanding the Minority Experience." Much of this story is autobiographical. This is lived experience of "self-doubt" (chapter one), "pain, power, and the past" (chapter two), "domestication" (chapter three), and "weariness" (chapter four). The titles of these chapters give us a sense of the challenges faced by minority persons living in the United States (and I would expect other Euro-centric nations). The emphasis is on the effects on the present by the past. This is the great reality that most white Americans fail to understand. Patterns of behavior and experiences that mark the past set in place barriers and boundaries that are difficult to overcome. Much of this has to do with power differentials that are systemic in nature. Change is often painful, but necessary.
In Part Two, Pei seeks to redeem the minority experience. That is, he builds on the descriptions provided in part one as the foundation for offering suggestions as to how change can take place. Pei seeks to move things forward by first speaking of the challenges of organizational development (chapter five). Here he speaks of working to diversify organizations, something that remains difficult (and which is currently creating political backlash in the United States). There is a chapter on "seeing pain with eyes of compassion" (chapter six), in which he explores the pain of invisibility, noting the “blindness of positivity.” There is a desire to tell uplifting stories of progress and success, but in doing so overlooks the need to deal with real challenges. Thus, the compassion here is directed at those experiencing the system as members of the minority cultures. I’m reminded here of the challenges faced by Asian-Americans, who are often deemed “honorary whites,” and thus their experiences are ignored. Chapter seven is titled "stewarding power with hands of advocacy." In this chapter Pei addresses the ongoing problem of sabotage, which often involves minority communities being pitted against each other. In response he offers guidance as minority groups can move toward advocacy for one another. Then in chapter eight he seeks to reframe the past with wisdom. Here he speaks of partnership between minority and majority communities that will reframe the realities of the past so as to empower the future. It is a work not only of reconciliation but healing unjust systems. Finally, in chapter nine, he speaks of the challenge and opportunity. The challenge is one of empowerment, and the opportunity is one of partnership. For this to happen, those of us in the majority culture must first listen and then step aside, allowing others to take the lead. That won't be easy. It’s difficult to step away and allow others to take the lead. Yet, as Paul reminds us in Philippians 2, it is the way of Christ, and it is in Pei’s presentation, the way forward.
We are living in a time of increasing demographic changes. Before long the United States will be a majority minority nation. That means no racial-ethnic community will have more than 50% of the population. Not everyone is comfortable with this, which is why we’re seeing anti-immigration and anti-minority sentiment on the rise among a significant segment of the white American population, much of which is at least nominally Christian and often evangelical. Despite the resistance, change is coming. Having wise guides like Adrian Pei will help us move into this new reality in ways that can bless all of us.
One thing to remember is that Pei is an evangelical Christian, and as such he reads scripture through what some might find a conservative lens. There were a few places where I found his reading of scripture different from my own, especially regarding atonement theology. Nonetheless, the book is an important statement concerning the minority experience. Thus, is to be recommended highly!