Reflections after I watched the movie "Crash." The movie, which won this year's Academy Award for best film, depicts a diverse LA, though one where every race is at each other. I can't say whether the film is accurate, though I know most of my interactions with Southern Californians is positive and most of the inter-racial interaction in this film is negative. I also think that it has a hierarchy of racial evil: its depiction of whites and Asians is particularly negative (the Asian stereotype is almost disgusting and certainly unfair), while it is not necessarily easy on blacks or Persians. The two hispanics (one apparently Mexican, the other a Puerto Rican and Central American mix) are presented relatively positively. I think the movie is a combination of catharsis through finger pointing and cultural fatalism. It functions so as to make the viewer (esp. if he or she is white or Asian) to see oneself as hopelessly racist, or (for the blacks and Persians) as victims who have made wrong choices, and (for the hispanics) as just victims. In other words, it may actually increase racial tension rather than help one deal with it and or to look get past it.
Some inchoate thoughts about race from my own life.
I grew up in Carson, California. My grandmother lived in a neighborhood known as Keystone - it had become a heavily hispanic neighborhood. My family lived 6 blocks from her in a newer neighborhood. A few caucasians lived in our neighborhood, but there were also very many Filipinos, Somoans, Asians of various nationalities, and a few black families. A 1/2 mile from us, on the other side of the 405 freeway was the beginning of substantial black community - one that extended north up into Compton and then into Watts and South Central. I went to elementary and secondary schools in very diverse settings - I am fairly certain whites were never a majority.
The only time I can remember saying something racist was a time in the park near our home I called a black kid the N word. I was punched for it (I've only ever been punched twice - both times in Carson, by the way, and both times I deserved it).
My mom worked first at a Stacy's (like a Sav On) and then at Sav On from when I was 4 or 5 until I was in graduate school. The people she worked with were almost always of different races, and while my mom didn't get a long with a few people, most of her co-workers cared for her and she for them. She knew and used some racial stereotypes, but defied their constraints in how she actually lived (though she still rants about how - from her perspective - Asians drive).
When I went to college I went up to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. It wasn't racially diverse. Then I went to Pepperdine - which also wasn't very diverse. Then I went to Notre Dame, which also wasn't diverse (though South Bend does have a large black population, it was a very divided city; our neighborhood while we were there, a lower middle class one, had few if any blacks - the closest I came to interacting with minorities was riding the bus. People didn't talk much on the bus.). I lived for a time in the suburbs and countryside near Detroit - but in mostly white areas. Detroit and its environs is - racially speaking - a truly messed up area; its divisions are, to be blunt, demonic (not the peoples, just the divisions). Rochester College there has been attempting to find a way to serve the black community, but the divisions are pretty entrenched (I blame the politicians in both white and black communities).
Now I live in Malibu, where diversity at my son's school is the Australian families. On campus it is a bit different, but generally my world is not a diverse one - residentially speaking. There are a lot of hispanics who work here, but they live down in LA or over in the Valley.
So for 18 years I lived and breathed diversity and for 20 years I have been removed from it. I grew up in a lower middle class family in a city whose claim to fame were its industrial parks and I now live in Malibu, with an ocean view. In Carson, different ethnic groups was a sign of home; in Malibu, different ethnic groups are working or visiting here, but they are not living here.
However, when I go to church, I leave Malibu, driving down PCH into Santa Monica, taking the 10 east a few miles to west LA. The church I go to is very diverse - I am not sure if there is a majority racial group (though I think whites are the plurality). We have blacks, Chinese, hispanics, whites, and I am sure others. The church is in a diverse area, and it reflects that. It is also in an area with many impoverished - I've seen homeless people come in off the street to receive food or to worship with us.
I don't know what I bring to that church (I trust God uses me in spite of my pretensious self), but I feel like the church - for more reasons than just its diversity - is doing some very important things for me and my family. With respect to its diversity, it is no wonder that when we started going there I felt like we were at home - it is the closest thing to the environment I grew up in since I left home for college. It also gives me a vision of the Messianic future, when all nations will come the Mountain of the Lord and worship him. I pray I start to see that vision more and more regularly in the world around me. Thy Kingdom Come, Lord, Thy Kingdom Come.