The First Shall Be Last…

As youth workers, we try really hard to help our students truly see people who get overlooked by the rest of society. Types of people who are judged to be inferior in some way, whether because of socio-economic status, race, or whatever other arbitrary qualifications someone might apply. And this is good. Helping our students see human beings and not stereotypes is a good thing.

Consider a hypothetical situation involving the premise that a youth pastor has a group consisting of only white students. (This is neither to condemn nor condone such a context.) A group of all white students, by default, will likely come with some learned biases.

In our hypothetical scenario, imagine that the youth pastor, after taking the students through a fast-food restaurant—as youth workers are wont to do—overhears one of the students make a flippant comment to the other students about one of the employees: “I just wish they would learn the language of the country they’re going to live in.” More likely than not, the student means nothing malicious by the comment, but the statement illustrates a learned xenophobic bias.

The youth worker’s aim at this point is to guide the student into a more loving way of thinking. He or she might ask the student a few questions, such as:

  • Why do you think that person is living in this country?
  • What might have happened in her home country that would cause her to move to a country where she didn’t know the language?
  • Why might she be working a cash register job—probably part time—for low pay, instead of something that would come with benefits?
  • Do you suppose that person has a family, and children to care for?
  • What kinds of hindrances might she be facing that would keep her from fully studying and learning English?

Obviously the goal is to get our students thinking about people’s circumstances rather than making generalized assumptions. It is also likely that the student learned such bias from someone, whether it be a parent, peers, or someone else.

How do you handle situations like this in your youth group? Racial and xenophobic are not the only biases students bring to our groups. What other contexts have you encountered? What scriptures do you draw from to help your students understand that your goal is to challenge them to love, acceptance, and humble perspectives?