Sixth Americans

Michael Emerson in his book People of the Dream: Multiracial Congregations in the United States coins a new term: Sixth American. He draws from David Hollinger’s work, Postethnic America, where he talks about how the how the United States is a racial melting pot.  Emerson writes, “Immigrants come to the United States as ethnics, as people of a particular nationality or region.  But they learn in the United States that for political, social, cultural, and even religions reasons, they are to meld into a racial group.  They are expected to do so, and they garner advantages by doing so” (Emerson, 98-99).  So there are actually 5 different melting pots: Indian/Native American, African American/Black, European American/White, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian American/Asian.  Therefore, Hollinger concludes that there are five different types of Americans and individuals in each group are expected to conform to the cultural norms of that group.  People are expected to socialize with those primarily in their own group, marry within the group, and live in neighborhoods populated with others in their group.

Yet what Emerson uncovered in his research of multiracial congregations in the United States was a group of people that didn’t fit these categories.  They may physically look like one of the five groups mentioned above, but their social network is racially diverse.  If each group above is a melting pot, then “Sixth Americans live in multiple melting pots simultaneously,…not a racially homogenous world with some diversity sprinkled in…[but] a racially diverse world with some homogeneity sprinkled in” (Emerson, 99).  One’s pastor, doctor, lawyer, butcher, teacher, banker, and friends, are more likely to be of different races than one’s own.

I find this an interesting concept.  Of course, our ability to be a Sixth American is limited by our geography…but only to some extent.  Our country is fast becoming more racially mixed and more people are falling into this “Sixth American” group – especially among younger generations.

Being in seminary where I am with its commitment to diversity (age-wise, racially, and somewhat theologically) helps me understand what this Sixth American group is all about.  I value the many relationships I have with people who are from a different racial background than me.  They offer me a different perspective than my own.  It has helped me realize that racial diversity is something valuable and something to be cultivated, especially in our churches.  There is a richness when one is immersed in cultures that are dissimilar from one’s own.

I wonder what a church for Sixth Americans would look like.  How would people worship?  I’d imagine that there would be songs and liturgies from traditions and languages all over the world.  I picture that no one racial group would hold a majority.  Or it might be something else entirely.  I’m interested in hearing feedback about the concept of the Sixth American.  Does this appeal to you?  Are you one?

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~ by mellanella on May 12, 2007.

2 Responses to “Sixth Americans”

  1. It has been amazing to me to see the growth in multiracial friendships. While a part of me feels most comfortable in the white pot, other parts feel more connection in the sixth. When I was in seminary, I felt the most comfortable sitting at the dinner table with all the students from outside the United States. Today, I am married to a bi-racial woman. There is no single pot that she can fit in, nor will there be for our kids.

    At church I continue to interact with people from diverse countries of origin. I feel richly blessed by connection with them. Even before I realized this diversity, I noticed the diverse worship styles. On my first Sunday there, the choir closed with an African tune that the previous church I attended also sang. However this church took it a step further and sang it in the original language. From that moment, I knew I would be at home there. This church still has room to grow to be more multiracial and multicultural, but it is certainly home for now.

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