Let’s Do Us Differently!
How is it possible that for the second consecutive year, all twenty contenders in the acting category for the Oscars are white? Jada Pinkett Smith announced last Monday that she and her husband, Will Smith, will boycott the Oscars. Will did not receive a best actor nomination for his role as Dr. Bennet Omalu in Concussions. Jada said, “Maybe it is time we pull back our resources and we put them back into our communities, into our programs, and we make programs for ourselves that acknowledge us in ways that we see fit, that are just as good as the so-called mainstream… We are a dignified people, and we are powerful – let’s not forget it. So let’s let the Academy do them with all grace and love and let’s do us differently.”
The Academy voters are 93% white and 74% male. Director Spike Lee announced that he and his wife will also not be attending. While expressing gratitude for the honorary Oscar he received at the Governors Awards in November, Lee also lamented the recurring lack of diversity in this year’s nominees. The hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite… Again,” used last year by Twitter user @ReignOfApril, is trending once more.
According to our United Methodist Social Principles 2012, “Racism is the combination of the power to dominate by one race over other races and a value system that assumes that the dominant race is innately superior to the others. Racism includes both personal and institutional racism… Institutional racism is the established social pattern that supports implicitly or explicitly the racist value system.”
Institutional racism perpetuates white privilege. I have privileges in the United States simply because I am white. I don’t have to worry about being stopped for “driving while white.” I don’t have to worry about what I wear or where I walk or the company I keep. And I don’t have to worry about drinking the water that comes out of the tap in my home.
How is it possible that a city of 100,000 people in the United States that is surrounded by the largest freshwater lakes in the world has struggled with lead-contaminated water for two years? It wouldn’t happen in my city of Birmingham, located just fifty miles from Flint. Birmingham is a predominantly white and wealthy city while Flint is 56.6% African-American (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010) and one of the poorest cities in the U.S.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, director of the pediatric residency program at Hurley Medical Center, a public hospital in Flint, was one of the first people to raise her voice about the water and was dismissed. She said, “When pediatricians hear anything about lead, we absolutely freak out. Lead is a potent known neurotoxin. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, everybody tells us that there is no safe level of lead.” If General Motors stopped using Flint water because engine parts were being corroded, imagine the damage this poisonous water is doing to the brains and growing bodies of children.
Controversial filmmaker Michael Moore, who was raised in Flint, spoke at City Hall and declared that the situation is “not just a water crisis. It’s a racial crisis. It’s a poverty crisis… That’s what created this,” he said. Last Tuesday President Obama met with Flint’s mayor Karen Weaver and said the next day in a speech in Detroit, “We’re going to have her back and all the people of Flint’s back.” And Michigan Governor Rick Snyder finally apologized in his State of the State address on Tuesday night. The cost of fixing the Flint water infrastructure is estimated to be $1.5 billion. Let’s do us differently with all grace and love and get it done!
Most Americans don’t want to be racist. Nor do we desire to capitalize on our white privilege. We value the diversity that makes our country strong and want to do us, meaning all of us, differently. But we have some work to do.
Being able to communicate across cultures is critical for living in today’s world. People across the globe are interacting with different cultures and ethnicities like never before. We do it for work, we do it for play and we do it in our faith life as well. In order to successfully navigate our diverse world, we need to do us differently, which means become culturally competent. Cross-cultural competency refers to an awareness of how our own history affects our ability to understand and effectively engage people from different cultures. Many major companies in our country include mandatory cross-cultural training in the hiring process. In every case, bridging cultural divides requires cultivating relationships with humility and openness.
Our world is a very complex place, including the church. In particular, we are going to have to loosen our white American-centric hold on The United Methodist Church in order to make disciples of Jesus Christ in new places across the globe. How is it possible that our churches can become culturally competent?
Last week I attended a denominational meeting in preparation for our United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Oregon in May. One of the greatest blessings of our quadrennial General Conference is the opportunity to witness first-hand the global nature of The United Methodist Church and celebrate both the blessing and the summons to do us differently with all grace and love. 350 of the 864 delegates to General Conference are from outside the United States, primarily Africa, the Philippines and Europe.
Rev. Gere Reist, Secretary for the General Conference, shared how challenging it is to understand and fulfill the needs of these Central Conference delegates. 1,488 pages of petitions and reports will be translated into French, kiSwahili and Portuguese. But there are many different dialects of Swahili. Which one should be used?
Central Conference delegates will be given tablets onto which all of their materials will be loaded. Why? Because hard copies would take up all of the space and weight in their suitcases. But there’s another reason. How do you deliver books to a rural village in Africa where the only address is, “The third hut on the right after you get into town and turn left off the main road at the big acacia tree.”
The proceedings of General Conference will be translated into eight languages, including French, German, KiSwahili, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian and Swahili. The cost of translation services is $2.3 million. This year we’ll also have simultaneous voice translation. For the first time 1,200 delegates, bishops and official participants will do us differently by wearing infrared headsets so that non-English speakers can speak on the floor in their own languages and everyone will hear the translation at the same time. As many as 3,000 guests will be able to use a smart-phone app in connection with a dedicated wireless network to stream audio.
In addition to building relationships with United Methodists in other parts of the world, we will continue to be intentional about doing us differently by celebrating diversity within the United States. We have six “ethnic/language ministry plans” that aim to expand the ministry of the U.S. church in ways that emphasize the unique cultural context of each of the communities they serve (African-American, Hispanic, Korean, Asian, Pacific Islander and Native American)
Why is it necessary for disciples of Jesus Christ to be culturally competent and do us differently with all grace and love?
- White privilege can blind us to the ways in which other ethnic constituencies are marginalized.
- It is not possible to welcome all until we embrace different cultures, build relationships and intentionally provide opportunities for leadership development.
- Making places in our churches for people whose cultures, languages and ethnicities are unlike ours reflects the richness of the kingdom of God and strengthens our ministries.
- Let the children lead us. Our children and youth are very comfortable living in a multi-cultural world that is filled with different skin colors, languages, world views and traditions. They excel in doing us differently!
- By planning mission trips and cultural immersion experiences, we learn from the vibrant spirituality of different ethnic groups.
- Active engagement with individuals and churches of various ethnicities empowers a greater sensitivity to issues of racism, poverty, immigration, social exclusion and preservation of culture.
Oscars host Chris Rock is rewriting his monologue for the Oscars, I believe that Flint will recover, and I pray that General Conference 2016 will empower us to become more culturally competent. Let’s do us differently!