Pax Ethnica

I’m enjoying this account by Meyers and Brysac of their travels to five multi-diverse societies in France, Germany, India, Russia and the United States in search of “how and why diversity succeeds.”

I’ve started with their section on Queens, New York (where I live), the largest of NYC’s five boroughs and where 2.3 million people speak 132 languages. I was particularly struck by an interview with Borough President Helen Marshall, who recounted a fine example of politics (with a small ‘p’) at its best.

She tells of an incident in the early 1990s (a time of heightened ethnic tension in the city) when a manager at a Korean-owned and all-Korean employee C-Town supermarket in Elmhurst was accused of assaulting a young African-American boy he accused of taking money from a change tin on the counter.

Although a boycott of the store was planned, Marshall, then a state assemblywoman, and a few more community leaders decided to intervene and negotiate with the store owner to resolve the crisis. The owner explained that in Korean culture, if a child was misbehaving, adults felt it their responsibility to reprimand the child (irrespective of their relationship to the child. [I don’t know enough about Korean culture to verify but surely it doesn’t involve assault]).

The end result was that the boycott was shelved and the owner of the store apologized, admitted his employee over-reacted, and agreed to add workers who were fluent in English as well as to hire an African-American manager.

I’m unaware if the employee accused of assaulting the boy was charged (if he did assault him, he should have been) but the intervention by Marshall and others to mediate resulted in a resolution that met the demands of the community and prevented the situation from escalating.