BY CARLEY ESCHLIMAN
On July 1, 2018, the New York Times posted this article detailing the thorough assimilation policies for residents in Danish “ghettos”—most of whom are immigrants. These laws prevent an immigrant from entering Denmark’s welfare system through what one Danish citizen called an undignified “cat door” and include restrictions on daycare, education, and so-called “re-education trips” (long visits to a child’s home country).
As someone who likes to believe that people should desire to learn from the mistakes of the past, I am horrified at these terrifying policies in Denmark. However, I note amidst my horror that these laws are not just a Danish invention or a Danish problem.
It is my own. I am familiar with what it means to force people into a culture—as a victim and as the perpetrator. I am fully complicit.
The vast majority—87 percent—of Denmark’s population is of Danish descent; a similar majority is found in my hometown with Whites of non-Hispanic origins. Although my home is free from legal frameworks demanding assimilation, the citizens’ actions demand it apart from the law.
I would like to quickly note that there is a difference in the levels of severity of assimilation seen in Denmark and my hometown, as indicated by the actual policy present in Denmark. Nevertheless, unwritten laws can be just as severe and, more scarily, difficult to name and call out.
In my hometown, the unwritten laws of assimilation target both those in the majority and those outside of it.
In my hometown, there is conflict and tension just beneath the surface between the majority and those outside of it. I am referring to something much more than “peer pressure.” I allude to a systemic domination, one which excludes those who cannot match the White, comfortable, American way of life that the majority demands.
This past month has led me to think about what being “in the majority” truly means. I, as a White American with financial comfort, am firmly a majority member in my hometown. Due to privilege assigned at birth, I have never had to fear for my majority status. And yet, I and others in the majority cannot rid ourselves of the feeling that we are one mistake away from losing our status—even though such a thing is nearly impossible.
To fight this internal dialogue, we push ourselves past external proof, like appearances, to achieve absolute oneness with our peers, adopting the same moral frameworks, the same manner of dress and speech, the same likes and dislikes, and so on. There must be no question that we belong—not just by sight, but in every way possible.
Perhaps this daily striving and reassessment of being “in” or “out” is great enough to blind the majority from recognizing their privileges. Since the majority struggles—at least to some degree—to believe they are worthy of their status, they do not perceive the ease and security that they have had since birth.
And so, I think of the average Danish citizen as one desperately attempting to fit in with the majority, even as he already inhabits a highly coveted majority space. Perhaps Danish citizens see these assimilation laws as a non-issue because what they enforce is all too familiar already. In turn, they presume, the immigrants and children of immigrants—the remaining 13 percent of citizens—likely have the same desire to be as majority-like as possible. Who doesn’t want to belong?
But all of these insecurities and policies are based on a very old and very dangerous lie: that group belonging (and, as a by-product, security) can only be found through uniformity. And, I have found a satisfying truth to defeat this lie in the teachings of Christianity.
In the Christian Bible, the consuming desire to assimilate is seen throughout time and space. And every time this lie is uncovered, God challenges it.
At the beginning of time, God identified His people (the Jews) and set them apart to follow Him. The Jewish Law found in the Old Testament of the Bible illustrated how God’s people were to identify themselves and learn to know God more fully. Time and time again, God reminded His people of their responsibility to be unique from other cultures and resist assimilation with other nations. (Look at 1 Peter 2:9-10, Deuteronomy 17:16, Numbers 25, 2 Kings 21:3).
But God also rebukes homogeneity within the Christian people. After the death of Jesus in the New Testament, the ability to be a part of God’s chosen people was extended to those beyond ethnic Jews as Jesus commanded his disciples to go out and “make disciples of all nations” [Matthew 28:19]. As more and more joined the church, early writings by the Apostle Paul stressed the importance of diversity among new believers. He says:
“If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be?”
(1 Corinthians 12:17-19)
The unity that believers find as members of the Church does not need to be found in any commonalities outside of Biblical teachings. Being a Christian does not require complete uniformity in ethnic identity, nationality, political ideology, mannerism, a love of coffee, or the like. God values and demands diversity; after all, He created us that way—each with our own unique gifts and talents. I have mine, and you have yours.
I challenge you to think about the ways in which you have been complicit in assimilation policies of your own. What power does the allure of being a majority-member have in your heart? How has it—and does it—affect your actions?
Then, once you have given these matters good thought, pray for Denmark. Pray for the majority-White American Midwest. Pray for those so caught up in belongingness that they fail to acknowledge that being part of the “in” crowd does not require complicit uniformity, but rather, active care and respect for each others’ strengths.