The underrated secret for minorities: lead the majority

Sam Smith – Black Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry’s prominence in the Harry-Meaghan wedding is one more example of the power of an underrated strategy for minorities: lead the majority. As noted here before, there is ample historic precedence, witness the Irish role in American politics, the Jewish impact on our culture, and Martin Luther King’s impact on whites.

Back in the early nineties I wrote in Shadows of Hope:

For multiculturalism to work, we need a willing suspension of our politics as well as the creation of places where this can happen, both neutral places and places where we can participate in another culture that will leave us feeling that something good has happened. Outside of restaurants and ethnic nightclubs, this is now rarely available in America. We are not taught the pleasures of diversity, only its problems and burdens.

We are seldom invited to enjoy other cultures, only to be sensitive towards them and — unspoken — to feel sorry for them. Thus, inevitably, we tend to think of multiculturalism in terms of conflict and crisis. The restaurant analogy is not trivial. Political scientist Milton L. Rakove, credits Irish dominance in Chicago partially to the fact that the Irish ran saloons that “became centers of social and political activity not only for the Irish but also for the Polish, Lithuanian, Bohemian and Italian immigrants. . . As a consequence of their control of these recreational centers of the neighborhoods, the Irish saloon keepers and bartenders became the political counselors of their customers, and the political bosses of the wards and, eventually, of the city.” As one politician put it, “A Lithuanian won’t vote for a Pole, and a Pole won’t vote for a Lithuanian.  A German won’t vote for either of them — but all three will vote for an Irishman.”

We badly underestimate the importance  of non-political factors in a multi-cultural society. Thus we rarely notice that among the most typically cross-ethnic places in America are shopping malls, sports stadiums and ethnic restaurants. I was easily introduced to civil rights by having an appreciation of black culture gained as a jazz musician. And now we have two black preachers – Michael Curry at the royal wedding and William Barber II of the new Poor People’s Campaign – showing how to do it.

It is interesting, and significant, that Barber;s efforts – shared with white preacher Liz Theoharis.- have not only attracted the support of Rev. Curry, the black bishop overseeing a largely white religion. but a remarkably diverse group of backers including:

350.org
A Philip Randolph Institute
About Face (Iraq Veteran’s Against the War)
Advocates for Youth
AFSCME American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO
American Federation of Teachers
American Friends Service Committee
Coalition Against Corporate Higher Education
Coalition of Veterans Organizations
CODEPINK
CWA Communications Workers of America
Democratic Socialists of America
Earth News Channel
Food and Water Watch
Franciscan Action Network
Jewish Voice for Peace
Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
Movement for a People’s Party
Muslim Peace Fellowship
Muslim Public Affairs Council
National Council of Churches
National Economic and Social Rights Initiative
National LGBTQ Taskforce
National Physicians Alliance
National Welfare Rights Union
Physicans For a National Health Plan (PNHP)
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Progressive Doctors
Progressive National Baptist Convention
Students United for a National Health Program
Unitarian Universalist Association
United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society
United Steel Workers (USW)
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
Women’s March

Bishop Curry and the Poor People’s Campaign are strong reminders that to produce change in a varied world you have to bring people together and not just cite their differences. For example,
according to the Institute for Policy Studies, “nearly 41 million Americans live below the federal poverty line. In absolute terms, White people made up 42.5 percent of this population (17.3 million), and the next two largest groups are Latinx (11.1 million) at 27.4 percent, and Black Americans (9.2 million) at 22.7 percent.”

A good society is not merely dependent on good politics; it requires institutions and individuals to help us see life as something more than just politics.  And Bishop Curry and the Poor People’s Campaign have given us some good hints as to how to do it.

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