This fall, we have collaborated with Destino (Latino ministry), Nations (Native American ministry) and Impact (African American ministry) to write an article called, “Six Postures of Ethnic Minority Culture Towards Majority Culture.” We hope it provides language and categories to further discussion about these significant topics. We hope you take the time to read and discuss it with your teams, families, and churches or organizations.
You can find the article here, if you want to read in its entirety, or share it with others.
But to allow for easier reading and interaction, we have decided to break up the article into posts as well on this blog. We have posted a question that you can engage at the end of each post. No matter where you are on your journey, we hope you will feel inspired to share your own thoughts and stories here!
Posture # 4: Duty and Pleasing
By Adrian & Jennifer Pei, Destino Kristy, Donnie & Renee Begay (with personal stories by Destino, Epic, Impact, and Nations staff)
The fourth posture can best be described as Duty and Pleasing. Unlike the previous two postures, this one is actively engaged, seeking to work with the majority culture. On the surface, this often appears as a healthy spirit of cooperation and partnership; of “being in this together” and “making it work.”
However, without an awareness or processing of power dynamics, ethnic minorities can often unknowingly find themselves in a paternalistic or dependent relationship with the majority culture, instead of a truly empowering partnership.
Because the majority culture has been in a dominant position for so long, there’s a natural tendency for ethnic minorities to assume a role of duty or dependence in a cross-cultural leadership context. We are so used to not being in positions of power, that our instincts are to defer to others, or step aside. Sometimes it’s a deference to wait for approval, before making decisions or moving forward with leadership decisions. Or it’s a sense of duty or obligation to depend on the majority culture for direction, resources, or validation — because we want so badly to feel accepted.
We want to be clear – we believe that we should listen to, respect, and honor our leaders, regardless of their ethnicity. We are not advocating separatism or disrespect in any way. But there is a world of difference between respect and deference. Honoring someone is not the same as being dependent on them.
As leaders ourselves, we don’t want to be in a paternalistic relationship with those we lead. We want them to grow as adults, who are taking full ownership of their scope.
For ethnic minorities, it can be tempting to assume this posture for several reasons. First and foremost is a deep-seated belief that their culture is inferior to the majority culture. Some minorities consistently see negative portrayals or devaluing stereotypes of their culture in the media. Others have historically assumed “service” roles that are considered to be of “lower” status in society. All of this can create a deep sense of shame, which can impact how minorities see their roles and worth in ministry contexts as well.
Another reason ethnic minorities may take a “pleasing” posture is that many immigrants saw themselves as visitors to the United States; this was not “their” country nor home.* (Note: This is not true for Native Americans, who are the only non-immigrants in North America. Many forget that the first American settlers were also immigrants, fleeing their homeland, and their arrival to the “New World” was as visitors to an already occupied land.) Their primary hope was for a better job and life for their families. As a result, they didn’t want to cause any problems, and they taught their children based upon this philosophy. Thus, many minorities of today’s generation inherit a mentality to “not make waves,” but go along with what the majority culture might deem as good or right.
This posture can be very subtle. We can’t imagine many would claim that it’s what they desire, or are trying for. However, it is one of the most common and consistent relational patterns we have seen in ministry.
Do you ever find yourself seeking permission or approval from the majority culture for what you are doing, or needing them to tell you what to do, even if you don’t really need them to? Maybe you place your primary hope in decisions or statements made by your leaders. Or when they don’t get what they prefer or want, maybe you change your stance or approach to appease them. When they disagree with your ideas, maybe you are quick to give in.
If you find yourself identifying with aspects of this posture, consider what it might look like to stay engaged with, but not dependent on, your leaders. Consider how your ministry can lead authentically out of its culture, without needing permission or validation from the majority culture. How might your leadership and culture even shape the future and direction of your greater ministry context?
“What is a Minority? Beyond Statistics, to Power and Status…“
In recent years, many reports have come out about the fast rate at which ethnic minority populations are growing in the United States. The Census Bureau estimates that within a generation, over 50% of the population will no longer be Caucasian. CNN and the New York Times state that by then, “minorities may be the U.S. majority.”
But it is crucial to understand that a numerical minority is not the same as a sociological minority. For years, women have comprised at least 50% of the United States’ total population, and yet have struggled for equality. Even if ethnic minorities outnumber Caucasians in this country, they may very well be sociological minorities in regards to their social status, power, and privilege. Both minorities and the majority culture must deepen their understanding beyond statistics, if they are to minister in ways that model true equality.
Growing up as a Latina in the United States was difficult for me. In high school, I remember sitting with some Caucasian friends, as they casually commented about “the lazy Mexicans who were sitting drinking water under the shade, instead of working on their roof.” I don’t think it even crossed their minds that their offhand comment might be offensive to me. The community and media often portrayed that Latinos were inferior or a threat to society, and I began to feel shame about who I was.
More recently, I asked a group of Destino student leaders what their community could look like if Christ radically changed them. Their responded, “Finally people would know that Latinos aren’t lazy or stupid, because God would be using us in big ways.” They weren’t letting stereotypes determine their worth or dignity, but had a vision for how God saw them. – Destino Kristy
As a child, I distinctly remember when my father asked me to draw a picture of a girl. Without hesitation, I sketched the image of a Caucasian girl. There was no overt discrimination that caused this, but simply the internalization of what I understood to be the American cultural standard of beauty. Deep inside, I wished I could trade my Asian features for those of my Caucasian friends so that I could be accepted.
Now that I’m older, I still see ethnic minorities who unknowingly try to imitate the majority culture, whether in their hobbies, appearance (for instance, I see Asian American men who are ashamed of, and try to change their sometimes smaller body frames), communication styles, or approaches to leadership. It makes me wonder: how can we affirm the beauty in all of who we are, rather than changing ourselves to please others? – Jennifer Pei
For discussion (please post in the “Comments” below):