Assimilation Not Required

Assimilation, Cultural Competency
Assimilation, cultural competency

I grew up in NYC, one of the most diverse cities in the U.S. My neighbors and classmates were Black, White, Latino, Asian, new immigrants and original inhabitants, Jewish and Sikh, poor and wealthy; and we were a community and yet we were not. We coexisted in similar spaces and yet unique cultures and circumstances dictated how the lives led behind the doors of apartment 7a were different from those playing out just down the hall in 7c.

The notion of community has shifted and morphed at different points in my life –at times that shift was driven by location, at other periods, by age or chosen family, and I have been made better for it. Today as we engage in impassioned dialogues about race relations and challenge long-held assumptions, I sense community is yet again being redefined. And I am left wondering what that community is being formed around.

I planned to write this post during a period of calm. One where I could think clearly and take my time. Yet, when exactly is that? Because whether it is local or national news the onslaught of racial inequities and injustices never seem to cease. There is simply no rest for the weary.

And oh, there is a weariness that comes with having to call out the names of those who have fallen victim to an oppressive system of injustice. It is the well-meaning naming of lives lost and atrocities committed — that has become as commonplace as “how ‘bout that weather?”. It is a conversation opener, an acknowledgment, a call for space held, and yet for many has been reduced down to hashtags and the latest round of sweeping statements.

We call upon individual names so that we do not forget and yet in the same breath ask that in the name of unity this particular instance be forgotten.

While there is no doubt that it is time for us to band together and denounce hate and systemic racism as a whole, it is a stop-gap at best and we will not see the change desired until we begin to address the root causes of systemic racism.

As a multi-racial, gendered, religious, varied nation, it is time to rethink how we define community. What might it mean to lean into the ideals of a pluralistic society in more than just name? Who would we be if we were able to recognize differences without actively seeking to penalize for them? We are stronger together… yet stronger together does not (and should not) require assimilation or absencing of one’s authentic self.

We dismiss acts of violence and hostilities as cultural liabilities.

If only you spoke better English, wore your hair a different way, shared my political views, you would not find yourself on the receiving end of aggression.”

Yet, the very notion of asking another to “be more like you” is an egregiously hostile act.

“Yield your very being so that I might be comfortable.”

“Alter your essence so that I will not be made afraid by your presence.”

Do we exist for one another only in times of tragedy? Might we seek opportunities to understand each other on a personal level rather than allowing the adulteration of the narrative — because it is told by those whose story it is not to tell?

Can we, instead, hold space for one another?

Can we understand each other’s pain, bearing witness to how the destructive tentacles of hate harm us all? How do we see that which has been rendered invisible just long enough to understand we do not have all the answers?

For certain, there is work to do. In this moment we all need to identify and carve out our own work and path forward.

And still, I am imagining the reshaping and building of intentional community. A community that commits to avoid minimization of differences or the tendency to apply one’s own lens to a universal truth; as if it ever existed. A community that challenges assumptions, questions daily, and disrupts and dismantles systems of oppression. Boldly proclaiming that we are NOT having the same experiences.

With a lens toward sustainable change, I am imagining a community that sees the value in listening to understand lived experiences, one in which multiple truths can be held simultaneously, and one evolved enough to establish a shared language before arguing the nuances.

This is not solely about a willingness to stand in the gap during times of divisiveness and crisis, but also to recognize and celebrate the contributions gifted through difference as a daily practice. One where the care and stewardship of humanity overrides scarcity mindsets or individual fears about getting it wrong in the moment and seeks out a greater purpose.

I am envisioning a community willing to take chances… How will you show up?

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