Book Review: Adrian Pei’s “The Minority Experience”
Editor’s Note: This review first appeared at Christ without Compromise, the author’s blog. It is reprinted here with permission.
Listening. It’s something none of us are really good at. All of us need to grow in this area. We must become better listeners. As part of of the majority culture, I am constantly trying, as a pastor in a minority context, to listen. This is what Andrew Pei’s The Minority Experience asks of us, in the majority white culture: listen. Please hear what we have to say. Please listen to our experiences. We are not invisible.
Pei, as an Asian-American who has worked in majority culture institutions and ministries (para-church Cru and their Asian counterpart Epic) asks us to listen in on the minority experience so we may better understand the struggles, challenges, and often heartache that our minority brothers and sisters experience everyday.
He defines minority, not so much as ethnicity or race, but in relation to the ones who hold the majority of societal and cultural power (Loc. 97, 154). He clarifies the distinction between ethnicity and race. “Ethnicity refers to the various ancestral attributes that distinguish a people group…” while race “is a category with a history and purpose of social power” (Loc. 111). The idea or category of “race” was created for oppression. (Loc. 118).
Asians, Latinos, and African Americans are growing into the majority, soon to eclipse whites, but they remain at the boundaries of societal and cultural power. Therefore, they remain in the cultural minority.
The Minority Experience is divided into two parts. The first part focuses on understanding the minority experience by delving into Pei’s three foci of pain, power, and past. Chapter 1 deals with understanding the pain and the self doubt that flows out of that pain. Chapter 2 looks at all three (pain, power, and past) as distinctive of the minority experience. Then chapters 3 and 4 focus in more specifically on push toward domestication because of majority power and the weariness of the past. I am scratching my head a bit why chapter 2 wasn’t an introductory chapter. Why start with pain, then pause to cover all three again, and then hit play to finish with power and past?
The second part focuses on redeeming the minority experience specifically within the context of organizations. Chapter 5 focuses on how organizations may diversify. Chapters 6 through 8 seek to address pain, power and past redemptively. We must see pain with the eyes of compassion. We must steward power with the hands of advocacy. And we must reframe the past with a heart of wisdom. Pei ends the book with a challenge and opportunity. He ends by writing:
The biggest challenge of race, politics, and any polarizing issue in society today is not who is right or wrong. Those debates will likely never end, nor be resolved. More importantly, how do we engage people who are different from us? That is the great challenge and opportunity of leadership today (Loc. 1752).
His book calls us to consider three elements of the minority experience: pain, power, and past. I believe these categories are helpful ways to think through the minority experience. For example, the “Black Lives Matter” movement incorporates elements of all three: pain, power, and past.
Pei stands against the tendency of the majority culture to try to flatten out the pain and experiences of minorities with the expression: “All lives matter.” While this is true, it misses the point. “Black Lives Matter” is a call to see blacks as human beings. It’s a call to affirm the dignity of African Americans. When “All Lives Matter” is thrown out, conversation ceases and the pain of being a minority is silenced. We must not silence one another. We must become better listeners. We must be willing to hear the stories of pain experienced by others. This pain exists because of the power held over minorities by white culture and there is a long history of this oppression which continues on today.
When “Black Lives Matter” is confronted with “All Lives Matter” it says that your pain doesn’t matter and makes the past irrelevant. But to listen is in itself an act of dignity and value. Listening to one another expresses love, and showers dignity upon them. As Christians, it is giving rightful due to the imago dei within all.
The second half of The Minority Experience focuses in on the organizational dimension. Pei asks, “Are we willing to listen and absorb stories of pain from minorities in our organizations? Are we willing to confront imbalances and abuses of power in our organization? Are we willing to explore the impact of the past in the United States and in our organization?” Questions like these are valuable mirrors we need to peer into in order to become better listeners to the minorities in our organizations. Pei’s focus plays out in the para-church Cru, but asking such questions would be just as valuable for churches and their leaders.
An element of The Minority Experience I deeply appreciated was Pei’s voice adding to what has been predominantly a very black and white issue. He recognizes that Blacks have in many ways led the way forward for other minorities. It’s good to hear voices from Asians, Latinos, and others. Pei’s voice and the other diversity of voices he brings along with him are much needed elements to the discussion. Pei writes, “When people of color bring their voices together, it helps grow the sense of common good and flourishing for all that God intended.” (Loc. 1554).
The church is the ultimate minority group. This is the broader portrait that we as followers of Christ find ourselves in. We are outsiders in this world. We are other. We do not belong. We are oppressed, despised, and often relegated to meaninglessness. The church has a shared pain, a lack of power, and a past history of suffering.
Obviously, some may object that Christianity is anything but a minority. The reality is, Christianity has always been and always will be on the fringes of culture and society. Any semblance of Christianity that appears to be part of the majority culture is only a christianity that has capitulated itself to the world.
The true church, the remnant people of God, has always been culturally weak throughout history. And even if there were perceived times of power where Christianity seemed to rule the majority and hold all the power those times are gone. Christianity, with each passing day, is more and more relegated to the boundaries of society at best and shoved into dark corners with the hope of it never coming out again. True followers of Christ are the spiritual minority.
Therefore, I would have loved to have seen Pei trace these themes of remnant, church in the diaspora, etc. throughout Scripture and apply them to the current ethnic minority situation. I believe there is room for a lot of fruit if we would place the ethnic minority experience into the framework of the broader spiritual/Christian minority experience.
It would have been helpful for Pei to have written a foundational chapter which focused on the biblical-theological themes of pain, power, and past. This would have helped situate the ethnic minority experience into the broader framework of Scripture’s storyline.
The “bible parts” at the end of each chapter felt a bit tacked on. This book would have been better served to have a separate foundational section which dealt with the biblical material from a redemptive-historical outlook. Instead of brief snippets of biblical examples from minority backgrounds it would have been more instructive to trace the larger themes of pain, power, and past through the scriptural flow of history in both testaments. Without this, the book feels a bit weak and lacks a bit of the punch of Scripture necessary to cut through the majority culture’s inability to listen.
And with those biblical themes being traced he could have ended on a chapter of hope: how the Gospel of Jesus Christ offers hope to the ethnic minorities who are in Christ. Ultimately, how does the good news of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection address the pain, the power, and the past of the minority experience? This was briefly hit on, but in reality this and only this is the answer which offers any hope. The Gospel deserves a broader reckoning in the story of the minority’s experience.