When I recently wrote about two images of immigration, I wasn’t thinking of the situation in Ferguson, MO, as analogous (nor the situation in any other U.S. city with meaningful racial/ethnic diversity). Perhaps that was short-sighted of me.
Some things are easier when a country is homogeneous.
I recently had the opportunity to listen to a talented scholar, born and raised in South Korea, talk about her chosen field of professional work and scholarship: advertising. When asked by a student why she came to the U.S., she simply noted that South Korea is a small and extremely homogeneous country. Out of 49 million residents, it is estimated that there are only about 20,000 who are not Korean.
That works out to 0.04% of the population.
Japan is similarly comprised, though slightly more diverse. Roughly 98.5% of the 127.1 million residents of Japan are Japanese (with only fractions of a percent that are Korean, Chinese, and a broad category of “other”).
This doesn’t mean that these countries don’t have problems where the interaction of minority members and majority members occur. It just means that there aren’t very many such interactions, overall, and there is so little political strength behind these minority groups that, even if there are problems, it’s hard to bring them to light.
And then there are countries like the U.S., where diversity is a reality of extraordinary proportions, a country whose Summer Olympics teams in recent years look . . . well, kind of like all of the other nations’ teams combined.
With diversity (and not just racial/ethnic diversity, but that’s the focus today) comes challenge.
As long as everyone I deal with experiences life in much the same way I do, my way of thinking and acting probably will work out just fine. Others will understand what I intend and will respond in ways I can understand as well.
But in a diverse society, not everyone experiences life the way I do. Nor do I experience life the way they do.
This is where our stereotypes kick in. This also is where our presumptions, and our fears, and our unresolved personal dilemmas kick in. And I do mean kick.
Watching events unfold last night after the grand jury in St. Louis concluded without indicting Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, one heard and witnessed powerful stereotypes, persistent presumptions, deep-seated fears, and our nation’s own unresolved and very personal dilemmas spark confrontation and conflict.
I was not on the grand jury. I will not assume, consequently, that I know what they saw, heard or thought. I only know they (yes, nine white and three black jurors) did not choose to indict Darren Wilson on any of various possible felony counts.
I can understand why some (and not only some who are African-American) will see in this one more example of institutionalized racism in one of its more brutal and self-satisfied forms. Law and order can be code for repressing those who would disturb an inequitable order, and that’s what some have seen in this case.
I also can understand why some (and not only some who are white) will see in the violence in Ferguson and elsewhere evidence of a segment of our society that does not respect the rights of others even as it screams for its own rights to be respected, a segment of society that steals or destroys what it is unwilling to secure by honest labor. A call to protest can be a cover for naked violence, and that’s what some have seen watching the news last night and today.
What I understand most deeply is that this is not how I want my community to be. This is not the society in which I want my children and grandchildren, nor the children and grandchildren of my neighbors and friends, to grow up.
I don’t want our justice system to be unjust. I want every legitimate demand for justice to be heard and addressed. And I don’t want to quash the freedom of speech out of fear of violence. But I don’t want simple violence and disorder to cloak itself in the mantel of freedom.
So I will listen. I will seek to understand how others experience the realities . . . maybe even discover that there are some realities of which I am unaware.
I will welcome these opportunities. Indeed, I will seek them out.
And I will not go to war against my neighbor . . . whatever his or her beliefs, or color or concern.