Unintended racial consequences

In our racialized society, even innocent decisions can have unintended racial consequences.

I saw this years ago when I was doing research on Latino college student enrollment in my part of the country. I discovered that there was about to be a huge wave of Latino students making the jump from high school to college. As a missionary to college students and someone excited about Latino student ministry this was ... well ... exciting.

But there was a catch.

These students were almost certainly going to enroll at college campuses where InterVarsity had no campus ministry presence. Not only did we not have a presence, we didn't have any intention of reaching out to these campuses. Why? There were all community colleges.

Community colleges have proven to be remarkably difficult places for campus ministry. Few if any residential students. High transfer rates. Low perceived status in the community. I've written extensively about this challenge elsewhere (here, here, and here for example).

No one has ever said to me: "I don't want to do ministry at a community college because it's full of Latino students." I don't believe that there's any racial animus driving the decision to avoid community college ministry. But staying away from community colleges has an unintended racial consequence: we aren't where the Latinos are.

This pattern is repeated over and over and over again. Where is the new church campus going to be located? Who will we hire? How do we fund our missionaries? All of the decisions made in response to these questions have racial consequences.

People of good will, people who abhor racism, people who get excited about multiethnic community ... even these people can make decisions that strengthen racial division and oppression. Side effects.

Have you ever noticed this?

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