Cultural Integration Vs Segregation: How To Move Forward In America

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Today we can connect with other cultures and people easier than ever–whether through media, by physically going to other places, or by simply living in diverse places. This exposure helps us learn about each others’ lifestyles, removing the fear of the unknown that can divide us, and encouraging understanding, growth, and peaceful living.

Example: If you would have told me fifteen years ago that I would’ve interviewed a witch doctor in Tanzania, I would’ve thought you were under some spell. The idea of a witch doctor to me then was a strange, dangerous man to stay away from. Now? Well, I still probably wouldn’t hang with the guy, but I’m not alarmed by him, influenced by fearful hearsay.

Over the years, I’ve become more intimately aware–and so, more comfortable–of a variety of cultures, religions, and ways of other people. Openness serves us well in these times of greater integration.

Yet integration also inevitably means friction.

Differences can alarm us–some differences more than others; some people more than others. The flip side of integration, then, is that it can exacerbate clashes. And the ever-voluminous media increases the ease with which we hear about such clashes. We’ve heard about several just this past weekend–including here in Minnesota.

What we can conclude, then, is that integration isn’t inherently good or bad. It’s merely a catalyst through which potentials are realized.

Incidences such as explosions and stabbings naturally have people react with wanting to restrict integration. Keeping the bad people out is common sense. But thinking long term, we need reexamine this double-edge sword of integration: while integrating clashing cultures has been dangerous and deadly, nothing erases the fear (which leads to clashes) like exposure. Fear-based ideas can disintegrate over time in the face of contrary evidence.

Example: I tutored a devout Muslim Somali family for a couple of years in my 20s. I believe this exposure, facilitated by a Christian organization, will not be forgotten by the three teenagers I worked with. Nor will their gratitude for my time and their graciousness offering me tea and samosa be forgotten by me. All this will contribute to peaceful understanding about and between our respective cultures.


Anyway, the cat’s already out of the bag. Increasing integration is contemporary living–especially in America and West. (I believe even the idea of the nation-state is regularly being undermined by modern technology.) This doesn’t mean we ignore the risks. We need to be level-headed. But the polarization of this issue means one political side wants an open door to all, downplaying the clear risks and harm of integration. While the other wants to build walls, ignoring social development and the benefits of being global citizens.

Despite policy polarity, I’m encouraged by seeing all the activity being done outside of government thanks to technology, ease of travel, non-profits, global business, and global media. Swaths of activity is connecting humanity. I was able to interview a witch doctor, tutor Somali youth in St. Paul, help start a computer lab in Tanzania, visit a grade school in Thailand, and teach English in China. These sorts of acts being done today by millions all over the globe, I believe, will drive us toward the intercultural, interracial, international peace we desire.

There is no quick fix. We simply need to be cautious of the risks (and act accordingly), open to the lifestyles of others, and gracious to those elsewhere who need help.

Progress toward peaceful coexistence will continue.


1 Response

  1. When you have a moment, do a Google search for the report issued by President Obama’s Task Force on Welcoming New Americans. It was released last year. Pay attention to the discussion on integration vs. assimilation. It’s a radical shift, and history will likely judge it harshly. Multi-ethnicity is one thing. Multiculturalism is an entirely different matter. I’d like to hear of one country – just one – where multiculturalism has prove successful. You’re quite right when you say multi-ethnicity is neither bad nor good. It’s simply the ingredients available to assembling a society. The question is, will the ingredients, taken together, yield a successful mix?

What say you?