The United States is already a majority – minority nation when viewed through the prism of children under age five years old. According to the US Census Bureau, more than half of these kindergartners and their younger siblings are children of color. By the year 2020, a majority of all children under age 18 will be of a minority race in America. And so, for the kids we see in the school yards and playgrounds today, the age of American pluralism has nearly arrived.
These kids may never know a time when America was painted primarily white instead of the beautiful multi-colored hues they see when they look at their peers. I’m trying to not be too Pollyannaish about this. I fully realize that many of these children live in hyper-segregated communities and go to hyper-segregated schools, but the fact remains: they are growing up in a world significantly different than that of their parents and grandparents. By the time these kindergartners reach adulthood the entire United States will be full on a majority-minority country. And there is nothing anyone can do to stop it.
And, isn't that really what this “make America great again” movement is all about? Isn’t it an attempt to ensure that white and Angelo-Saxon, Judeo-Christian people and values continue to dominate the culture and the political agenda? Kathleen Parker, a Washington Post columnist, wrote a moving piece on this very issue. She offers that America is just an idea that is now in peril and “democracy, freedom, civilization – all hang by a thread” brought on by those who want to divide us. The view of America – the melting-pot nation - is being ripped apart by the brickbat brawl that has been our political discourse for longer than anyone would ever have imagined.
I do wonder, what is being asked of us in this unique time and place in American history. We are here in this period of cultural friction and political transition and I believe we are being called to be the bridge generation. Now, we can be a draw bridge and lift up our deck and try to impede passage of time and progress or we can be a strong Golden Gate kind of bridge; one that beckons travelers safely forward across vast and swift moving waters.
If we want American pluralism to be something that unifies us in our differences and makes us stronger in our diversity, then we have to work for it. America – the one that we aspire to be - is not yet here. The America we can almost see across that long arc of time is one that each of us needs to usher in on a day by day basis. And how do we do that?
First, I believe we must make a commitment to the children. Now. We must agree to hold them in our arms and safely walk them across the bridge to an America that loves and cherishes them. Not one that singles them out because of their race, ethnicity or gender preference. We must love them for who they are.
And, when a bully stands up and calls these children out (or their fathers or mothers or sisters or brothers) because of their race or heritage or religion, we must stand firmly with the children. We must be a fearless witness and call out the racism and bigotry for what it is. We cannot let these children and their families sit in the middle of a bridge alone with the surging waters of hate raging just out of reach of them.
With the horrific killings in Orlando we can see the blood soaked evidence of hate and bigotry, just has we’ve seen it occur more than 16 times a year since 2007.
We are the adults in a country in transition. It is our job to ensure that the transition is as peaceful as possible. The kindergarten babies of today need those of us who are older to walk with them so they can safely journey to the America we want our country to be. Perhaps the American poet Langston Hughes said it best in his 1938 poem Let America be American Again when he wrote “O, let America be America again-- The land that never has been yet-- And yet must be...”
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.