This past weekend I spent Saturday and Sunday with 21 other people working on our skills for multicultural dialogue and community. The training was led by Terry and Jim from Visions, Inc., an organization I became familiar with through my studies at Episcopal Divinity School. We talked a lot about race and gender and the many differences which too often divide us. You can imagine that some of us were apprehensive before the weekend began, and there were times when the conversations were difficult and challenging. AND we laughed a lot and got to know one another better. We were all tired at the end of Sunday afternoon (as we headed home to watch the Superbowl, or not!) We were also glad to have been a part of the training.
Multiculturalism is more than diversity. It's not merely tolerating others, or making sure everyone gets represented in the headcount. Rather, it's about appreciating the differences between us, valuing them and being enriched by them. Multiculturalism is about real relationship that challenges us to become more than who we are alone. And real relationship always involves conflict. It's inevitable that we're going to hurt and offend one another. Being committed to multiculturalism means becoming more aware of the ways in which I hurt others - knowingly and unknowingly - and of the ways in which I make assumptions about others based on stereotypes and preconceived notions. It also means learning to talk to one another about those conflicts.
It's not easy and it's not quick. It's an ongoing process that never ends. On Sunday evening I wasn't sure that I was up for an ongoing process! Do I really want to examine every interaction I have with someone else?! Not really. But I do want deeper relationships with the people around me who have so much to offer. I don't want to hurt others because I'm insensitive and unaware of the ways in which being white, straight, educated and employed gives me power and privilege in this society. I want to practice the self-giving love of Christ and step into the reign of God that is standing open before us. So, I'm committed to genuine multiculturalism that challenges me and makes it possible for me to better understand and appreciate those around me.