Being or becoming bicultural can provide insight for living as a minority in a dominant culture.
Studying and thinking about Drew Hart’s noteworthy book, “Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism,” stirred me to reflect on a potentially helpful mindset for minorities living in a dominant culture.
“The term bicultural describes a state of having or inheriting two or more cultures (for example, one of an ethnic heritage and one of culture lived in) or two or more ethnic traditions.”
That is the opening sentence of a helpful article about the subject in an iResearchNet piece about biculturalism.
Stephanie Geddes of Massey University in New Zealand gives the following explanation of the meaning of being bicultural: “Biculturalism implies the existence of two distinct cultural groups, usually of unequal status and power, within a society united by one economic and political structure. Bicultural individuals identify with core elements of their culture of origin as well as the dominant culture.”
Geddes adds, “Bicultural individuals successfully integrate into and participate in important aspects of both cultures, values and belief systems.”
While becoming bicultural can cause problems for some individuals, most experience far more benefits than difficulties.
We celebrated my daughter Kathy’s birthday recently. This brought to mind her 6th birthday, which we celebrated in Japan after she and her brother, Keith, who is two years older, arrived in that fascinating country with June and me on Sept. 1, 1966.
By that November, when we celebrated Kathy’s birthday with a family overnight trip to Hakone National Park near Mount Fuji, we were well on our way to becoming bicultural.
Being bicultural, though, doesn’t usually mean an equal balance between two cultures.
Our children went to English-speaking schools and we spoke only English at home. Our dominant cultural identification continued to be as English-speaking Americans.
Still, the children played with their Japanese neighbors, we became active in Japanese-speaking churches, and we enjoyed participating in Japanese cultural activities.
In my career as a full-time faculty member at Seinan Gakuin University in Fukuoka, Japan, I was elected to administrative positions of increasing importance – not because I was a “gaijin” (foreigner/outsider) but because in spite of being a gaijin, I was an integral part of the Japanese cultural and educational milieu.
For June and me, as well as for our children, being immersed in and accepting of Japanese culture did not mean giving up our American cultural identity.
But we were largely able to become bicultural and to enjoy being a part of two cultures without having to choose one over the other.
Hart, the author, is a youngish Anabaptist pastor and college professor; his book is a good and helpful one.
Last month, I joined several others in reading and discussing his book before he preached at Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City.
Hart is an associate professor at the predominately white Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, his alma mater.
In many ways, he is a black man who has “made it” in the predominant white culture, but he is painfully aware of the racism and the injustice that still is a part of that culture.
What he says about racism must be taken seriously, and what I say next about becoming bicultural does not downplay the persistent problem of injustice or the pressing need to be aware of and to combat racism in American society today.
Still, I got the impression from reading Hart’s book that he thought he largely had to give up his African-American identity to fit in with the dominant (white) culture.
That is when I realized that deliberately seeking to be bicultural could be a possible solution to his and other African-Americans’ unease at living in the majority culture.
For those within minority cultures, becoming bicultural and being able to function well in the dominant culture need not lessen their identification with or appreciation of their primary culture.
For people born into a minority culture, becoming or being bicultural is certainly a possibility that promises many positive benefits.
Leroy Seat was a missionary to Japan from 1966-2004 and is both professor emeritus of Seinan Gakuin University and pastor emeritus of Fukuoka International Church. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, The View from This Seat, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @LKSeat.