WHAT YOU SEE IN THIS PHOTO IS THE FUTURE OF AMERICA: Whites as the "majority-minority." It's my family's holiday photo from a few years back, showing our three "biological" kids along with three whom we adopted from abroad (one from China, two biological sisters from Ethiopia). If you're surprised to hear that European-descent Americans will "soon" (2043) be outnumbered by non-European-descent Americans, rest assured that I remain equally (and continuously) surprised to find myself the father of a Scot-Irish-German-Chinese-Ethiopian-American family (with three immigrants).
Actually, whites are the majority-minority already in four US states (Hawaii, California, Texas, and New Mexico), and will achieve that status among US children in approximately three years. A done deal, as they say, but certainly a stressful one that can engender all sorts of "take back America!" social tensions. But as we know from history, the most "mixed" societies tend to be the most resilient, while the most racially homogeneous tend to be most brittle. It's just that such resilience isn't a given, nor is it something with which we are born. It's something we learn slowly, on a day-to-day basis. It's an accumulation of experiences. It's anything but a trivial skill or characteristic.
There's a lot of political controversy right now over the question of accepting Syrian refugees - particularly after the Paris terror strikes (as it has been discovered that one of the assailants snuck into Greece posing as a refugee). Roughly half of US governors are - under rather dubious claims of authority - declaring their states off-limits, while others are saying they'll be happy to take them. At first glance, it's easy to write off the former as "racists" or "Islamophobes," but it's both premature and unhelpful to do so. Because oftentimes it's a matter of strong variations in social resilience, which - again - comes down to experience.
Two recent Washington Post stories explore these variations. The first introduces the reader to the "first majority-Muslim U.S. city" in Hamtramck, Michigan. Muslim politicians there recently won the majority of city council seats, and that's naturally created some tensions in a city long dominated by Polish Catholics. Simplest example: mosques in Hamtramck are allowed to issue their five-times-a-day call to prayer. Unprecedented? Hardly. Christian churches have long been free to ring their bells to call the faithful to services. But still, if you've ever traveled to a Muslim country as a non-Muslim and heard the call, it's truly a different frame of reference - something to which it takes a while to get used.
And that's what's largely missing on this particular political "hot potato": the vast majority of Americans (94%) don't - according to another WAPO article - interact with Muslims on a daily basis. I'm not pointing fingers here: my Chinese daughter is the first Asian with whom I've spoken on a daily basis. Ditto for my two black African girls. Does that exposure now make me an expert on either group? Hardly. But does it make it a lot easier for me to interact with Asians and blacks on a day-to-day basis? Yeah, it does. It also makes me highly interested in social and political and economic issues that touch upon these groups.
This is not a call for some facile, kumbaya personal epiphany among all Americans. I'll leave that argument to the preachers. It's merely an appeal for patience. America is 50 states, some of which are better prepared to accept an influx of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees - a flow that, in and of itself, represents a global disaster-management task. But some US states are not - at this time - similarly resilient. They may lack the experience with Muslims that makes Michigan more adept. They may already be struggling to process historically heavy Latino immigrant flows (think of states bordering Mexico). Point being, not all 50 states are equally endowed with this form of social and political resilience right now.
So here's a potentially controversial proposal: let's encourage Syrian refugees to go where they're most welcome right now, without demonizing those states where politicians say no. Over time, the success of those more resilient states will set a competitive example. It's happened many times across US history with regard to numerous waves of immigration. It's also recently happened with gays and lesbians. States learn to want their business, their tourism dollars, their investments, and - ultimately - their permanent presence. Laws are changed, attitudes are adjusted, communities become more accepting, and we all grow more resilient in the process. Simply put, the more diverse the perspectives we accumulate, the better able we collectively are to surmount current and future challenges.
Something to consider this Holiday Season.