Remarks on Racial Reconciliation Invitation to Speak at KVOI’s “4Tucson at 4” Radio Show
Dax W. Crocker
(Note: not everything on this document was shared during the radio show) October 23, 2014
The term “racial reconciliation” presupposes that inter-racial harmony existed at some point in the past otherwise there would be no need for reconciliation. Reconciliation is like the word religion which most scholars agree comes from a Latin root that means to reconnect. Religion, as a term, presupposes that at some point in the past humans and God had a good-working relationship. Christians, like me, believe that this relationship was interrupted by sin and then reestablished through our acceptance of our wrongdoings followed by God’s forgiveness of them through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The same is true with racial reconciliation. Something happened in the past that interrupted the relationship between the two races, or three of four. And it won’t be reestablished until wrongdoings are accepted and forgiven. Let me say this one more time: true racial reconciliation cannot occur until both parties accept their wrongdoings and they forgive each other. That was the basis of the Civil Rights movement. And white Americans finally accepted that having enslaved Africans and then, following the Civil War, having ostracized them was not only wrong but evil. These were acts committed by people who had lost a part of their humanity. Interestingly enough a form of Protestantism was used to legitimize slavery. And another form of Protestantism, one practiced by black preachers, was used to heal the relationship. Today even though much work still needs to be done, we can say that racial reconciliation has begun between whites and blacks in the U.S.
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But as a Latino I rather speak to our sometimes troubled relationship with whites. Our relationship as a group with other minorities like African Americans and Asians has been at best very limited. In regards to our relationship with whites, it has been less troublesome than the relationship between whites and African Americans. But still, it hasn’t been good most of the time. Before the disconnect America was an exporter of missionaries to Latin America (and to rest of the world). We owe America the Protestant Gospel. However, during the last almost 75 years America stopped sending missionaries and has instead been sending soldiers, covert and overt, to dominate Latin America's governments. The beginning of the disconnect between Latinos and white Americans began with the Mexican-American war, followed by racial discrimination of Mexican-Americans during the early 1900s. From there, things only got worse when the United States intervened in Latin America toppling democratically elected governments, who, I have to say, were democratically-elected communists. I, for one, am a member of the Central American diaspora. We are millions of Central Americans who migrated north when the United States and the Soviet Union were fighting proxy wars in Central America. Then after peace came to Latin America we had NAFTA. Since the 1980s NAFTA has been creating a new sizable middle class in Mexico, of which my wife’s family has been beneficiaries. And now there is a NAFTA-version for Central America which is doing the same. But these treaties have also been creating a new class of deeply-poor people who are also migrating to the U.S. by the tens of thousands. They are losing their livelihood, their lands and jobs to American companies that are buying Mexican businesses and farms wholesale, and downsizing their workforce. However, I think that the turning point for the worse began shortly before the last recession as some conservative whites began to manifest their dislike of our presence in this country, because Latinos began to multiply at a faster pace than whites. It has been portrayed in
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the news and other outlets as “illegal immigration” but I don’t think that is accurate. Illegal immigration has been going on for decades and no one complained. Both federal and state governments, and the American society as a whole, looked the other way because by definition illegal immigration means cheap labor with no rights—it is good for business.
One of the first to propose that Latinos present a clear and present danger to American society was Samuel Huntington. In his book Who Are We: The Challenges to America's National Identity, Huntington proposes that Latino culture and American Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture are incompatible and that if Latinos are allowed to stay and multiply America’s future is at risk. This notion of Latino-danger was compounded when the 2010 census came out. I was looking at the numbers the other day. Approximately two million one hundred thousand non-Hispanic whites are born in the U.S. every year and two million of them die. This leaves a surplus of about one hundred thousand new whites in the U.S. every year. Compare that to about nine hundred thousand new Spanish-speaking Latinos born in the U.S. every year and only about one hundred fifty thousand of them dying. Meaning that there are at least seven hundred thousand more new Latinos every year and only one hundred thousand new whites—you do the numbers. And as the Baby Boom generation continues to age there will be more whites dying than being born. In contrast, the Latino population is young; most Latinos in the United States are in their 30’s. Most whites are in their 50s and 60s. Within 30 years some estimates have whites as the largest minority, no longer a majority, in the U.S. representing only about 40% of the population—they have traditionally represented nothing less than 70%. They will be followed by Latinos with about 30%, blacks 20% and Asian and others 10%. You can clearly see that this is the true source of hostilities against Latinos in the U.S. It boils down to hegemony and who will dictate the future of the country.
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To top it all off, as the country continues to become more liberal, minorities (youth, women, Latinos, blacks, Asians, homosexuals, etc.) are beginning to reverse the trend of assimilation; they are accepting diversity. You can clearly see this trend in churches: the younger the pastor and the congregation the more diversity you see in their meetings. The older the pastor and the congregation the more segregated they are. Furthermore, the “Melting Pot” is seen by most millennials (those born right before and after the turn of the century) as a thing of the past and they are beginning to accept the idea of a “mosaic-America” instead. This is because most of them grew up in a multicultural environment in public schools, a lot of them are biracial, and most of them have now—in contrast with their parents—developed social skills that makes them feel secure enough to be able to deal with multiculturalism without feeling the need to assimilate the "other." On the other hand, Latinos, I am one of them, are resisting having to get rid of their language and culture in order to prove our allegiance to the U.S. We are picking and choosing what parts of white culture, African American culture or Latino culture, for example, we want to adopt or keep. We no longer feel the need to assimilate. And we are passing on our language and culture to our children. Thinking about this metamorphosis the country is experiencing, as a member of the clergy, I believe that racial reconciliation should be our priority. I fear that as time goes by more “Fergusons” are going to happen and at a bigger scale. And more structural violence will be exerted against Latinos—forcing them to assimilate or leave the country. We need racial reconciliation—not assimilation.
Let me explain the difference between assimilation and racial reconciliation. To assimilate is to socially digest the other group. It is to break down the group into individuals and dissecting the individual into culture and language, which is his ethnic identity, and absorbing him or her into the dominating group to the point that little if anything is left of their former
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identity. That is assimilation. Let me give you this example: when blacks were assimilated after being brought from Africa they lost all of their former identity including language, culture, religion and even their names. When Europeans started migrating en masse to the United States the assimilation requirements were relaxed just a bit allowing them only to keep their cuisine and their last names but they had to drop their language and most of their culture. Nowadays you can take an educated guess as to someone’s European heritage, whether this is Scandinavian or French, for example, just by asking them their last name. But that is all they have left of their heritage.
Let me also say that the reason why assimilation, instead of reconciliation, has been the preferred method in the United States, when dealing with racial relationships, is that it is “easier” and more convenient: “if we all look alike, think alike, and speak alike,” the rationale goes, the faster and more efficient we get things done. And it is cost effective too, because when we have a common culture and language we don’t spend time and money transmitting to the other group what we want. The problem with this idea is that it only values people for their economic output. American assimilation, for me, is a capitalist program wanting to streamline production. It completely bypasses and devalues the richness found in diversity, especially in bilculturalism and bilingualism. For example, one of the two theses I wrote while at the University of Arizona was on the history of bilingualism and bilingual education in the United States. While doing my research I found, among other things, that children that are raised from very young as bilingual and bilcultural persons, even though in the beginning they lag slightly behind their monolingual monocultural peers, once they catch up—usually by the end of elementary school—they manifest the ability to adapt to changing circumstances easier and faster than their monolingual monocultural peers. In today’s fast-changing world this ability is of the most importance. But
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research also shows that bilinguals, when tested, usually find more uses for the same object than monolinguals—that is what bilingualism and biculturalism do to you: they enable the person to see the world from more than one perspective; it enriches the person. Not so with assimilation. Assimilation subtracts, it limits the person and societies to only see a monochrome world. I would go as far as saying that monolingualism and monoculturalism are byproducts of nationalism and that these are in part the source of racism—they lead you to believe that the right worldview is the way you see it. And I’d like to add that if our national leaders would at least be culturally, linguistically, and let me add, religiously competent or at least literate of other groups, we would have a lot fewer wars around the world.
So, yes, diversity is more expensive and it subtracts hegemonic power from the dominant group, but in exchange it enriches our lives and makes us appreciate the world from different perspectives. It’s like having had a black and white TV and then having a color TV—those of you who are old enough can relate to this! I remember when dad brought home the first color TV—it was like watching a whole new world. That is sort of what happens when we have racial reconciliation and racial tolerance and we endeavor to see things from the perspective of the other culture. Some have even argued that one of the reasons why Europeans have stopped waging war against each other is that multilingualism and cultural exchange have now, after the last War, been encouraged among their citizens. When I lived in Europe I saw this first-hand.
But the point I am trying to make here is how we can achieve true racial reconciliation. I think that if we want to really achieve it, we must pay attention to those who have already been able to do it successfully. I am going to give you two real-life examples. Because I am a minister and a student of religion I will give you an example from the Bible, I can’t help it! and the other
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is a modern-day example from a part of the world that had previously experienced ethnic wars and is now experiencing true racial reconciliation.
Let me give you first the modern-day example. Last month we had the honor of having at Yale Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov. During his remarks he said to us “There is no tolerance if there is no other.” That called my attention. For true racial reconciliation to take place we have to allow otherness. If we attempt to achieve racial reconciliation with “cultural oneness” in mind—we will not achieve it. This is because; in order to achieve cultural homogeneity we have to engage in a sort of cultural and linguistic circumcision. I’ll come back to cultural and linguistic circumcision in just a moment. But let me first say that if someone knows about racial reconciliation is President Ivanov. Macedonia is part of the former Yugoslavia, a place that gave birth to the term “balkanization”—this term, by the way, has been used irresponsibly, in my opinion, by some Arizona government officials to refer to Latinos and to our desire to teach our children from a Hispanic perspective how the American Southwest became part of the U.S. The actual Balkans, however, are a group of countries in Southeast Europe that have for centuries experienced ethnic hatred and bloodshed. But how has this Balkan country, Macedonia, a country that is so religiously and culturally diverse achieve racial reconciliation? I am going to quote from an article written by one of my classmates at Yale, Cecil Tengatenga
President Ivanov described Macedonia’s model of coexistence as “integration without assimilation. We have never practiced just tolerance,” explained President Ivanov. “We practice respect. We have never assimilated diversity.” … [President Ivanov] remarked that [Macedonia has] developed a model of coexistence…in which identity [does] not depend on religion [or language]. Referencing [the book of one of our] Theology [professors] at Yale, Miroslav Volf’s, Exclusion and Embrace, President Ivanov emphasized the importance of preserving and
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respecting diversity. “There is no tolerance if there is no ‘other,’” [he said]. “Tolerance is possible only when there is a balance between belonging and distancing.”
In other words, belonging and distancing can be interpreted as biculturalism. You can have a mother-culture and a mother-language to which you belong and a second culture and language to which you feel a little distant but they still live with you and you with them. The key words here are co-existence and integration; they are the opposite of assimilation. So, even if biculturalism and bilingualism are not adopted, just coexisting—respecting and valuing the “other”—will enable you to appreciate their worldview and achieve lasting racial reconciliation and peace. Now, where do you think racial reconciliation formulas like this one come from? The Bible! That is why the other example I have for you for racial reconciliation is found in the New Testament.
In Ephesians 2:11-19 and Acts 15:1-31 we find what I call "the ultimate biblical example and formula for true racial reconciliation." What we find in these passages are a legal and social road map to how Christian Jews and gentiles overcame the racial divide by modifying national religious and civil law so that gentiles could become citizens of the nation of Israel—with all rights and responsibilities—by only asking of them to comply with what the Apostles, in Acts 15, understood to be non-negotiable national/religious values: the core values. And it was "the law" Paul said that served as a wall of separation. Is it then to much of a coincidence that there is a literal wall of separation between two people erected by American law at our southern border? So, if according to Paul and the other Apostles civil, religious and cultural norms and laws are the walls that prevent racial reconciliation, why don't we modify them? The push-back comes from the fact that traditions are hard to break. But the bigger reason, I have found, why modifying the law is such a battle is circumcision. “You mean to tell me”—some said— “that I
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had to cut off a part of my most intimate identity and now these gentiles will be given a free pass?” That is the same complain some have today when Latinos propose “you don’t have to drop your mother-language and culture in order to prove that you are an American.” “But my ancestors, when they came from Europe had to forsake their culture and language,” some say. Well, that was then. Things have changed. This is not 19th or 20th century America. This is 21st century America. The Apostles understood that if they wanted Christianity to expand, assimilation had to stop. National and religious identity had to be around non-negotiable values, not unnecessary circumcisions—whether physical, cultural or linguistic. Gentiles were allowed to keep their language, culture and uncircumcised status as long as they pledged allegiance to the core values of Jewish identity. The result was the rapid expansion, like wild fire, of this new Jewish way of life, this new way of understanding Jewish identity and citizenship, later known as Christianity. And from the conversion of Constantine in the 300s AD to just after 1517 when Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Gutenberg, European Christian citizenship and identity did not include common language and culture. Diversity was the norm. With the expectation that you accepted the core values of the Church. It was during and after the Reformation that nationalism and assimilation began to replace diversity and coexistence.
Let me elaborate a little more on this point. The reason why the Church expanded its work so rapidly and so extensively without the sword, before the Crusades, is because gentiles (i.e. barbarians, nomads, "savages" and all "uncivilized" people) were allowed to keep their language and culture as long as they adopted the core values of Christianity. These former barbarians took the gospel back to their native lands and sometimes they also brought missionaries with them and spread Christianity by teaching their Old Countries the values of the Christian faith. The same can happen if Americans open-up to this formula. Latinos are going to
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go back, and now they can do it faster and easier by way of using modern ways of communication e.g. the internet, social media, etc., and "infect" their Old Countries with the American values we all cherish: the right to life, liberty, pursue of happiness, justice, anti-corruption systems, free enterprise, etc. The opposite of what conservatives fear is going to happen: Latinos are going to make Latin America look more like the U.S. than the U.S. like a Hispanic country, with the exception, if we open-up, that Latinos are going to modify America with community and family values prevalent in Latino society—which are in some areas different and better, in my opinion, than American values. That is what the descendants of Europeans did to Europe: they intervened in the affairs of their forefathers' lands and now Europe has a democratic system imposed on them by the children of European immigrants.
Let me end with this. When the Church made the decision to accept gentiles into its ranks they were living in a time in which the separation between Church and State did not exist. It is anachronistic of us to say that bringing down the wall of separation, the law, was only meant for “heavenly” or “spiritual benefits.” This leads us to ask: when the Apostles invited gentiles to become “citizens” what did they really have in mind? I assume, based on the fact that Church and State were intertwined at that time, that in their minds the decision was not meant only for religious purposes. It meant that gentiles were given citizen rights to both earthly and heavenly aspects of Jewish life. But the Apostles were not the "official" legislative body of Israel, the Sanhedrin was. However, they took the bold and risky decision to speak on behalf of the “true Israel:” those who understood the change of times. This is called today civil disobedience. And we see it all over the U.S. in relation to “illegal Latino immigrants.” Plenty of cities, states, from California to Connecticut, churches and citizens at large are disobeying cultural norms and sometimes civil codes and are extending a hand of fellowship to Latino immigrants. States and
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cities are issuing them driver’s licenses and I.D. cards. Churches are extending sanctuary and citizens are going every day to the Sonoran Desert to leave water bottles, clothes and maps to “illegal” migrants crossing the border seeking a better future. What is the goal? To make these immigrants feel at home, to feel welcomed. This is only meant to say one thing: “we want racial reconciliation.” “We want to remove the wall of separation, the law.”
Again—is it too much of a coincidence that we have a literal wall of separation between two peoples erected by American law on our southern border?
If the United States was serious about stopping illegal immigration why haven’t we instituted a Marshal Plan for Latin America? The U.S. has spent roughly $90 billion dollars in the U.S.-Mexico Border to stop Latino "illegal" immigration and drug trafficking—it has not worked. After WWII the U.S. spent the equivalent of (in 2014 $$) $160 billion in the Marshall Plan for Europe—it worked: large-scale European migration to the U.S. stopped and Europe is now a prosperous continent with no war. This goes to prove how investing in human socioeconomic development works whereas investing in inanimate walls and federal agents chasing economic refugees does not. The latter only leads you to believe that illegal immigration to the U.S. is so by design. It is meant to lure the lowest castes of Latin America to come and fill the jobs that used to be allocated for African Americans: “the nanny,” “the plantation laborer,” “the maid,” etc. And these are jobs that many deem to be “too low” for white Americans to take. Now, coming back to Gentiles and Jews, Paul seems to articulate best this notion of gentile-Jewish-citizenship. He calls Christian Jews who engaged in "civil disobedience:" the “true Israel” and Christian gentiles: former aliens and foreigners, now citizens. However, the idea of gentiles becoming citizens of Israel—religiously and nationally—is somewhat opaque to us because they were under Roman rule. But what if Jews had been a sovereign nation? What
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would former gentiles, now citizens of Israel, be entitled to and required to keep, besides religious costumes? I assume that if Acts 15 and Ephesians 2 were happening today with no Roman rule over Israel, gentile converts would have been issued a passport, a driver’s license, and free access to the synagogue, among other things.
For Further Consideration Questions to Consider on any of the Topics Described Above for Group Discussion
How can this ultimate formula for racial reconciliation be applied in our American context?
What are the core values of American society that immigrants should be required to adopt?
Are language and culture core values? Or are American core values life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, religious freedom, justice, free enterprise, enabling people to become all they want to be, etc. These are the core values—the reason why all of us are here.
What does being circumcised really meant for the ancient Jews? And what type of modern circumcision(s) do societies today require foreigners to undertake in order to be accepted as citizens? And are these really necessary?
What would be a reasonable and acceptable type of circumcision for immigrants to undertake in order to be accepted as full members of a 21st century American society? What part of their identity should they drop in order to prove themselves? —From times immemorial people have had to prove themselves to the new group they choose to belong to by shedding a part of their identity. Some, like the Jews perform circumcision. Fraternities and sororities perform some type of hazing. Women take on their husbands last names.
And last but not least how can Latinos and whites achieve racial reconciliation in the United States? What “sins” need to be forgiven on both sides in order to achieve peace and reconciliation?