Pentecost Reminds Us that White Men Are a Demographic…and They’re Not Happy about It

Posted on May 30, 2012

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The Census Bureau recently reported that in 2011 a majority of children born were non-white. Actually, in the words of a Census Bureau employee, “2011 is the first time the population of infants under age 1 is majority minority.” This news has been met with both fear and celebration, yet the way in which the national discussion has been framed, centering on growing “diversity” and/or a growing “non-White” population, in fact points to an ignorance of diversity and a profound lack of insight into what it means for someone to be “White.” Take, for example, this quote from a demographer, interviewed for a CNN article: “For a country that’s aging, we need young workers, and the growth of the minority population will contribute to the size of the young adult workforce . . . This is breathing new life into the United States.” This is breathing new life into the United States? Why? Because these babies are not White? The trouble with this conversation is that those who maintain control in our society remain behind the scenes, are seen as default citizens of the United States, and are not held accountable for their own identities as minorities are.

The Pentecost story in Acts 2:1-21, as Dr. Eric D. Barreto points out, celebrates difference and “helps us understand how God sees human diversity.” Indeed, when “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome”  all come together (Acts 2:9-10) in our own context, we could only hope that they might speak “in our own languages” (v. 11). But, therein lies the key to my reading: “our OWN languages.” The uniqueness of the individual, every individual from every part of the world, is celebrated in this passage, not drown into the background as a “White,” but thrust into the vulnerable midst of public conversation.

Yes, even the straight, White man is a demographic, but importantly this fact needs to be recognized in order to avoid the sort of masked bigotry which still takes place in locations as different as Florida and Minnesota where hateful political movements have been launched against minority groups. As Rachel Maddow reported on her blog, conservative activists have been “cracking down on voter registration” drives, limiting the possibility for vulnerable groups to reach the polls by targeting minorities, accusing them of being “non-citizens.” Even so, a large number of these minorities, as Maddow argues, have proven their citizenship. Minnesota finds itself in a very similar situation, where two constitutional amendments have found their way to the ballot this fall, one limiting marriage to a one-man-one-woman construction, the other calling for harsh voter-identification rules.

Rick Scott: Governor of Florida and a demographic

Indeed, herein lies the problem, because leading all of these movements are self-described heterosexual, White men, legitimizing their claims to power not by their own identities, but rather over-against the identities of others. They refuse to acknowledge their own fear of a loss of power and political influence and instead craft arguments that place blame for societal decay on the political identities of others. Thus, I ask, what might happen to our political discourse if straight, White men were entered into public discourse as a demographic and their identities were tied to those of other demographics? What if we took the Pentecostal message to heart and dug deeper for the voices of these men in power, exposing them in vulnerability?

If we look toward the call from Acts 2 I think we see that a celebration of “diversity” must move beyond an understanding of that word as something “non-White,” “non-heterosexual,” or “non-male.” Doing so simply allows abuses of power to continue unnoticed.

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