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Image courtesy of Amber Beery

The Insidious Racism of Assimilation

Assimilation is an insidious form of racism and sexism and ableism and all the other isms. 

It’s subtle, because it comes in the form of an invitation, not an explicit rejection. 

“Come on in, and be like me!” is not an invitation to community. It is an invitation to conformity. 

Communities thrive on change and growth, learning from one another, modifying our own needs at some times and asserting them at others. So assimilation can look like this type of change, but it is a one-sided change.

Community—rather than conformity—happens when we are in mutual relationships of giving and receiving. Where the newest members of a community are not expected to conform but to engage. Where the marginalized are invited in, but the people at the center also move and explore the margins. Where everyone changes as a result of everyone else. Where everyone endures the discomfort of self-examination and taking risks and trying new things. Where the people who have talked the most decide to listen and the ones who have stayed quiet feel safe to speak up. 

For those of us who are on the “inside” of institutions—schools, churches, companies—that have established norms, we can start asking questions about whether we are asking “outsiders” to become like us in order to enter in, or whether we are engaged in postures of mutuality, humility, and curiosity that can lead to renewed communities.

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