Adrian Pei’s ‘The Minority Experience’ – A Book Review

The Minority Experience: Navigating Emotional and Organizational Realities. By Adrian Pei. Downers Grove, IL, USA, IVP Books 2018. Pp. 208. $17.00.

The Minority Experience
Few books evoke the kind of deep reaction I had when reading this volume for review. Adrian Pei’s The Minority Experience articulates in writing experiences and emotions that I have felt all my life, as a ‘Chinese’ in Southern California, as an ‘American’ in China, and as a ‘Chinese’ in the UK. In each of these places, my presence as a minority has been magnified by others, intentional or not. Pei’s work wrestles with these kinds of experiences and explains how organisations can do more in addressing the deep-seated challenges of the minority experience.

The first part of the book speaks to ‘Understanding the Minority Experience’. Pei highlights a systemic problem with organisations which seek to diversify through meeting quotas and visible difference. Pei, quoting Fuller Seminary’s Daniel Lee, states that this kind of ‘cosmetic diversity’ (pg. 39) does not really address the deeper questions of pain, power, and the past that many minorities have experienced. Pei explains:

Understanding the minority experience is not so much about demographics or cultural competence as it is about grasping the realities of pain, power, and the past. The impact of pain shows minorities’ psychological sense of self-doubt, while the impact of power can be seen in the rejection minorities experience from a history of white domestication. Finally, the impact of the past can be understood as we grasp the weariness that comes as minorities have had to battle and endure faceless, systemic barriers and injustices. (pg. 105)

The second part of the book moves on into ‘Redeeming the Minority Experience’. It focuses on how different organisations can seek to better address these deeper concerns. Drawing from biblical archetypes and minority Christian voices (Asian American, African American, Native American, etc.), Pei explains that Christian organisations need to recognise pain with compassion, to redirect power for advocacy, and to reframe the past with wisdom.

The book is decidedly focused on American issues and, while it may have some value for other Western contexts such as Canada, the UK, Australia, or New Zealand, it is not meant to address concerns of more privileged minority experiences such as white Americans in Asia or Africa. Having said that, I wonder if greater care could have been taken for the different kinds of minority experiences in the USA, a country with a very complicated racial history. What about the so-called ‘model minority‘ motif and how this is meant to distinguish between those who have assimilated to the majority context and those who are seen as less assimilated and ‘problematic’? Should Asian Americans fight against the ‘injustices’ of affirmative action in the admission processes of Ivy Leagues such as Harvard University?

Adrian Pei’s The Minority Experience has given a voice to minorities who feel like they are hardly heard by the majority culture. His focus is on addressing biases in Christian churches and parachurch organisations, such as Cru and IVCF. Furthermore, the wisdom he offers has practical implications to many non-Christian groups as well.

Thanks to IVP Books for providing me a review copy of this book.