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A recent blog by Pastor Ken Fong got me thinking. In his article, Fong mentioned that while attending the recent Q conference held in Atlanta (speakers: Rob Bell, Rick McKinley, Donald Miller, Richard Cizik, James Emery White, et al), he observed that he was just one of a handful of Asian American attendees in a sea of 750 mostly white males. What is more, while there, he tended to congregate with the other AAs, especially during meal times.

Fong then mentions a book (Why are all black kids sitting together in the cafeteria)which posits that black children tend to sit together in the school cafeteria because, with the environment so ethnically and culturally daunting, they tend to band together for comfort. Fong, reflecting on his own tendency to cluster with AAs at the Q conference, discloses: “I think I was surprised how, after all these years, I was still susceptible to that tendency, too.”

Fong’s observation on AA’s tendency to cluster is, of course, an accurate one. It is also a tendency which white conference attendees have taken note of, often with great bemusement. Tim Challies, reformed blogger extraordinaire, attended the Resolved Conference a couple of months back, and afterward expressed his confusion over the clusters of Asian Americans he saw at the conference. He writes, in a side-note:

“Here is what is no doubt a politically-incorrect aside, but I hope someone, and hopefully one of my Asian-American friends, can help me out. Why do Asians move in groups? We Caucasian folk tend to move and to hang out in twos; maybe threes. Asians seem to roam around in packs of six or eight or ten. What gives?”

He received a number of comments back; some are astute, a few are downright (unintentionally) hilarious.

I suppose the answer to Challies’ question is a multi-faceted one, but it may not be all too different from the reason why whites tend to group together when they find themselves in a foreign country. Law Professor Frank Wu, in his stellar book Yellow, puts it much better than I possibly could, so I will quote directly from him. Although he is writing about African Americans, Asian Americans could easily be interjected here as well.“African Americans cannot disregard race, except when they are among a crowd of African Americans. The very act of congregating in a group, which allows them such an escape, only provides white Americans with another negative visual cue. Paradoxically, it takes the race conscious act of forming a group to beget the color blind ideal of being judged on one’s merits. When people of color are numerous enough, we form a critical mass. We cease to bear the burden of being representative, and we can relax as our race recedes into latency. We do not generate a stereotype with our every action, because we are not uniform except in the most superficial sense of skin color. Yet when African Americans come together, they risk the accusation of self-segregation, as if African Americans could be segregated without whites also being segregated.”

What Frank Wu wrote is applicable to the Asian American in America, and it is also applicable to the white American in Asia where exclusive clustering of whites is readily seen. (Interestingly enough, one place where you don’t get the minority group clustering together is with white males in an Asian American church. These minority white males almost never hang out, much less even acknowledge the other’s existence. They eye one another with caution, with the hidden animosity of two male mountain goats on the same mountain.)



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