When I was little, it was always easy to tell what part of town you were in by the billboards. If you were in a “bad” part of town then the billboards would have Spanish on them instead of English. I can actually remember my dad saying to me that a reason we moved was because that part of town was going downhill. I think the underlying assumption was race as well but no one ever states that. I must admit that the part of town we used to live in is now what would be considered a “poorer” part of town. There is a large Hispanic population, many signs in Spanish, and a somewhat-deteriorated look to many of the buildings and homes in that area now.
I've noticed recently that many of the stores and signs and flyers that I receive have started to be bi-lingual. I got a Pizza Hut coupon in the mail the other day and said to myself, “Why is there Spanish on this flyer?” Then it hit me. Why in the world would that make me upset? Was it threatening to my well-being? Was it that I don't speak or read Spanish? I don't really think it was any of these. I think it was just the fact that it had been so highly ingrained in me that I am superior to anyone else (See this post for background on my personal ethnic identity). Coming from the perception that I am of the “superior” race has allowed me to think (possibly subconsciously) that I am afforded the right to be placed first and best. I also think this comes from being American, but I'll address that later. So when I see my language placed next to another language, I feel that I now have to share that right with other people. Or it makes me feel that I am no longer dominant.
I live in a state where there are large populations of other ethnic groups. Sometimes, whites are even the minority. I think this creates a problem for some people. I think it would definitely cause a problem for people in other states that clearly have a white majority. I have to stop and ask myself, “Why shouldn't things that I read be in more than one language if English isn't the only primary language spoken in a community?”
I should be able to say that there is diversity or that it is fair for businesses to attract customers who come from a different language group. However, I think people feel threatened by this. Their stronghold and identity is somehow meshed into their dominant language.
I think this holds true for most people who call themselves American. Their primary language is English. We don't like it when we hear people speaking in another language. We always assume they are talking about us and they just don't want us to hear them. We feel left out and we want to be aware of everything happening around us. When we try to communicate with people who don't speak English, we often raise our voices and speak slowly as if that will help someone who doesn't understand English. Why are we so stupid? I don't think I have ever encountered someone who speaks another language who would raise their voice in hopes that the mere level of their voice would help me understand their speech! Hardly any of our signs in public places have more than one language. Very few people in this country are bi- or tri-lingual. When you go most anywhere else in the world, there are signs in English and people who speak English. This may come from a purely commercial aspect, but it holds true.
Many people in other countries speak two, if not more, languages. I feel ashamed that I only speak one language and do not feel the need to learn more languages so that I can better communicate with people. Living in California, it should be mandatory that people learn Spanish as well as English. It also baffles me that so many people learn English as a “universal” language. It's one of the most difficult languages to learn. We have so many words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings, as well as words that can have more than one meaning. Likewise, we have an illogical system of grammar. And yet, we are continually hard on people who misuse the English language when they are first learning it.
Here’s my challenge for the church
We as Americans, and especially as Christians, should realize that most of us don't like that we are living in a global society where everything does not revolve around us. Secondly, we should adopt an attitude where we consciously place ourselves second to other people, especially those who are different from ourselves. Thirdly, we should spend more time dealing with race and identity outside of our safe “Christian” communities. I am challenging churches and pastors to step into the realm of racial identity and also to expand towards pushing and probing our congregation’s identity as Christians. Help them see how we, as believers, are viewed and how we place ourselves in the world as Christians.
I am a racist.
I am a Christian racist. I believe that as a Christian that I must somehow be better than all those “secular” people.
I'm not ok with these statements. I want to be someone who doesn't subconsciously get upset by a flyer or bank advertisement in more than one language. I want to be someone who transcends the label “Christian.” I want to see others as more important than myself.
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy on me. A sinner.