A few months ago, Time Magazine posted an article called “Religion and Race: Can Megachurches Bridge the Racial Divide?” It’s alright. Worth a read if you’re into background, because what I’m really going to talk about is the more in depth interview with the article’s author David Van Biema on Sojourner’s blog.
The article talks about racial diversity in American churches, which have been notoriously unintegrated in the past. One of the questions it raises is this: What does a real multicultural church look like? A multicultural organization needs more than a quota of different skin shades and cultures. Two things that the interview highlights are a diverse leadership team (the leadership should reflect the membership so that people feel like the leaders represent their voices) and a culture that reflects a multiracial membership (an organization isn’t really multicultural if it’s goal, intentionally or unintentionally, is to make everyone assimilate into a white culture).
The other thing that the article brings up, and that I wish that they had talked more about is this: Who wants multiculturalism and who needs it? All white environments are usually looked at as bad, like they’re saying, “We don’t like integration, we refuse to move forward into a multiracial society.” Whereas when a monocultural non-white group wants to say monoracial, it’s more like they’re saying “We like our own culture and we believe that this is the best way to preserve it.”
While being overly insular can make you miss out on great experiences with people unlike you in some ways (but often a lot like you in other ways), I believe that there is a place for monocultural organizations, especially when there is a lack of space for them to voice their opinions elsewhere. For instance, when talking about Asian American issues with Asian American youth, they are often unwilling to share the same things in a multicultural setting, or the non-Asian voices take over the conversation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a mainly Asian American group of people, when suddenly a non-Asian says something like “I wish you people could learn to love yourselves”, or “I really think that your parents shouldn’t be allowed to do things like that”.
What I consider less often is whether there is a space for explicitly white (not counting ethnic specific organizations here) organizations. The knee jerk response I often hear to this is “The entire world feels like a club for whites. Why do they need even more space?” For sure, white-only clubs in the past have been fueled by racism and ethno-supremacy (like the fight over school integration, or the Texas Rangers, or the Native Sons of California, or the KKK), but will there ever come a time when this idea is worth revisiting?