Kriss: The road to 2042

Oct 10, 2016 by

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According to U.S. Census figures, white people will be a U.S. minority by 2042. Comedian Hari Kondabalu jokes this shouldn’t make white folks nervous, as the 51 percent of people of color aren’t necessarily a “united front.” Being a white minority seemed to work out well for the earliest colonizers of what had been a hemisphere full of indigenous people.

Stephen Kriss

Kriss

Philadelphia is already ahead of the 2042 trend. White folk make up less than half of the population. Black and white populations are each about 45 percent. I’ve grown accustomed to being in spaces where there are more people of color than white faces. My gym is mostly African-American. My church is majority Asian-American. My neighbors are people of color. My Franconia Mennonite Conference colleagues slip easily between Indonesian and Spanish, and we struggle together with Vietnamese. It’s a world that both challenges and invigorates me.

I slip easily, though, back into majority white settings. As I live longer and more often in the spaces in between, I watch subtle differences emerge, spaces where trust is still fragile. Times we don’t understand one another very well or listen long enough to get another viewpoint are legion.

People of color are not a single demographic. Neither are white folk. We are individuals with specific experiences that shape us, but we share cultural commonalities and expectations that surface subtly — often in times of conflict.

Sometimes, I find myself to be a cultural interpreter. Other times I need an interpreter. This doesn’t apply only to language or communication but to actions and behaviors. It can mean explaining words or emotions, or lack thereof. I’ve learned to be both guest and host. I find joy in both spaces, be it sharing pierogis, checking out the latest release from Kendrick Lamar, eating soto or fumbling through verb conjugation in Spanish.

The difficulty of our journey toward 2042 continues to emerge in our U.S. political reality. The killing of unarmed black men and women by police challenges our narrative of a postracial nation that elected an African-American president twice. Virulent responses to Islam and refugees indicate a posture of fear and insecurity, rather than being the land of the free and home of the brave. Ideas of wall-building that might keep us safely insulated from Latin America suggest we would make our own Brexit from the hemisphere, given the opportunity. (We might allow you to come along with us too, Canada, if you can behave.)

My friend Rance attends Witmer Heights Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pa. He approached an African-American bodybuilder for a conversation at a Target store. The man immediately assumed Rance was a Christian, otherwise he would have been too scared to approach him. I want to be the kind of person who represents Christian faith like Rance does. Unafraid of conversation. Unafraid of 2042 and changing demographics.

I want our church to be ready for that, too. We don’t often look like the shifting American demographic. Our dominating Anabaptist story is still one of folks descended from European migrants. I wonder what it might be like for us to become known for our approachableness, our capacity to embrace and be embraced, and to find ourselves and our communities transformed by the Spirit, by grace, oriented to both our own and the divine future.

Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor and follower of Jesus living in Philadelphia.


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