06/27/16
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When are Black and Asian American People Gonna Talk?

Today, on the drive back from being in the woods, I opened up facebook and apparently it was Jesse Williams day. Dozens and dozens of people were reposting his speech from the BET awards. The second I got home I watched it, multiple times. How did he deliver so much fire in such an understated way? (And was he chewing gum?) His speech was amazing! It deserves to be talked about and engaged with on many levels. It was awesome!

In the sea of Jesse Williams posts, the Very Smart Brothas write up, and Shaun King’s reflections on Justin Timberlake‘s tweet I saw another post. I follow this fabulously angry and militant Filipino brother on FB, his page is titled Love Life of an Asian Guy and he had a RANT about a performance at the BET awards that used Geishas and ninja swords and “Asiany” clothing. After trolling the internet for a video of the performance I watched a very out of focus video that someone filmed off their TV. It was stuff like this.

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I was glad to see that some black folks on twitter had commented on the misuse of Japanese cultural imagery and felt the dissonance of celebrating blackness while exploiting Asian tropes and stereotypes.  There is a lot of frustration with white artist who appropriate from black culture, so it saddens me that none of the organizers thought that this tired stereotype might be inappropriate at the BET awards. The whole incident brought me back to a questions I’ve had for a long time.

 

WHEN ARE BLACK AND ASIAN AMERICAN PEOPLE GOING TO TALK TO EACH OTHER? 

This is under a bigger question of when are people of color going to start talking to each other, but let me start with just these two communities.

 

WHEN DID ASIAN AMERICANS BECAME THE NEW HOUSE SLAVE?

We can’t start talking without doing a little housekeeping. I believe that as Asian Americans we should care about the institutionalized and systemic oppression of black people in our country. Particularly as Christians, it troubles me when Black folks show up for their community and Asian folks show up for their community, but we don’t show up for each other’s communities. When we see each other as the enemy we simply reinforce white supremacy. And what we have in Jesus is supposed to bring us together. And even though a lot of evangelical Christianity is being a racist, misogynistic, homophobic circus right now,  I still actually believe that what we have in Jesus should bring us together. When we, as Asian Americans, align ourselves with the model minority myth in any way, we are aligning with white supremacy and anti-blackness.

Here is the shortest history lesson possible. It used to be that Chinese people were seen as the yellow peril,  dangerous outsiders that needed to be expunged, and with whom we should be at war. It’s the type of imagery and language most often used toward Muslims and people from the Middle East in our contemporary culture. There were violent lynchings and massacres of Chinese people during the late 1800’s. Asian Americans were the perpetual foreigner, hence the justification for putting Japanese Americans in internment camps. Think about that people- internment camps. But at some point they flipped the script, “You’re not the yellow peril, you’re our next generation of house slaves. If you never complain about white supremacy, we will say that of all the ethnics you are the best ethnics and we will let you work in the big house.”

The problem with this is, if we are the good minority group, then who is the bad minority group? Surprise- it’s black people! And we have to think about who is creating this absurd hierarchy in the first place. Surprise- its white people! And once again we are submitted to and accepting a system where white people get to rank  everyone in reference to each other and put themselves at the top. And we have said yes to this. Many of our communities have shamefully and willingly adopted a white supremacist based anti-black worldview. It’s the price of admission to get ranked above black people.

THREE PILLARS

People of color are not marginalized in the same way or to the same degree. But we need to take responsibility for the ways we are complicit in each others marginalization. The most helpful tool for understanding this came from Andrea Smith and her three pillars of white supremacy.

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The first pillar affects black people. The system is slavery- slavery can take on many forms- from actual slavery to mass incarceration. Before the 13th amendment the majority of people in prison were white, but Mass Incarceration has re-enslaved black people.  Capitalism is the driving justification for this commoditization and exploitation of black bodies.

The second pillar is Genocide, its vehicle is colonialism, and it impacts Native Americans. It is the narrative that indigenous people are gone, have disappeared, and it allows non- Native people to inherit Native land, resources, culture and spirituality. It lives on the myth that Native Americans no longer exist and hence all that was theirs can now rightfully belong to white people.

The third pillar is Orientalism. It exoticizes and “others” certain peoples and nations as an ongoing threat to empire and the only solution is war. This expresses itself in immigration policies, internment camps, and anti- Muslim sentiment. We must always be at war with this “other” to survive. Currently people form the Middle East are most often put in this category, and we have been in some form of war with the Middle East for decades.

I give all credit for this framework to my  Andrea Smith, whose work on this topic is fire and your should read it! ( And I don’t yet have a good answer for how Latinos fit into this framework.)

This framework lets us step out of the oppression olympics  and lets us acknowledge that white supremacy has impacted us in different ways, and the insidious thing is that we have said yes to being complicit in each others oppression.

 

LETS SHOW UP FOR EACH OTHER

The thing that is hard to for me to say is that in the last ten years, many of the most ignorant and painful things that I have heard about Asian people has come from black people. And on the flip, some of the most ignorant things said about black people have come from Asian Americans.

We have bought into white supremacist narratives of each other. And I’m so tired of it. And I’m so tired of all the conversations around race still revolving around white people. I want to have a conversation where people of color get in the same room and learn each other’s stories. A space where white people and getting white people to pay attention to us is not pulling all the energy.

I do not say this to minimize the need to dismantle institutionalized racism and call white people and white systems to account. But as long as we only address white people we keep them at the center. We need to hear each other’s stories, understand the ways that we have been complicit in each others marginalization. Asian American folks need to repent of the ways we’ve said yes to anti-blackness and been willing to profit from it. Black folks need to own that they have seen Asian Americans as perpetual other.

I can’t imagine what would happen if we were really educated on each others issues. But more importantly, filled with deep love for each other, and as a result showed up for each other. I truly believe we might be able to do some real work.

My dream is to create space for people of color to gather and enter into deeper conversation with each other. It is why I am so grateful for a time to be with women of color this fall. (You should come to the WOC gathering in LA!) How can we amplify each others stories? How can we mobilize for justice together? How can we dismantle racism together?

 

 

 

05/25/16
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Where are my Asian American women heroes?

imagesIn the last few years there has consistently been stories about the lack of diversity in Hollywood. Black people only win Oscars for playing slaves and maids, never modern day characters of complexity and agency. Asian American men are never love interests, hence #StarringJohnCho. Lupe Ontiveros, a Latina actress, has been cast as a maid over 150 times. On the other end of the spectrum you can get a movie made about a white man with a dizzying amount of variety- badass scientist on Mars, hilarious sarcastic action hero Deadpool, earnest and sexy lover of the truth Captain America who fights billionaire genius inventor white man Iron Man, emotionally broken white man vigilante that dresses like a bat versus sincere and earth saving alien that always manifests as a white man. I’m just listing the lead characters of some of the top grossing movies of 2016. You can also get a movie made about a white guy who is in love with a blow up doll, who is a serial killer, a mobster, a lonely widow, just about anything. The stories we tell, reflect something of who and what we value. It can be easy to dismiss the deeper reasons for this conversation about representation. It can seem superficial. And as a woman of color, sometimes I have a hard time putting into words the impact it has on me, because I’ve never known anything different.

About a year ago I had the chance to meet an artist at a conference in Memphis. It was Bay Area, Korean American artist Dave Kim. I was intrigued. I come from the generation of Korean Americans where everyone was supposed to play the piano and be a doctor, dentist, or lawyer. So meeting Korean American visual artist was a little bit like seeing a unicorn, I was intrigued. I asked to see some photos of his art and he showed me photos of his paintings and a mural he had painted in the Bay Area.

This is the mural.

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And then he explained. The mural tells the story of Yu Gwan Sun, a Korean freedom fighter. On the left side she is young, with her friends. On the far right she faces death for her cause. She was an organizer of the March 1st Movement, a protest against the occupation of Korea by Japan. She became of symbol of Korea’s fight for freedom through peaceful protest.

Here is a video of Dave putting up the mural.

I was so taken aback by this Korean American brother who, would not only paint the story of a woman, but of a freedom fighter. I had never in my life experienced that. A woman of my ethnicity, from my culture, who lived passionately for justice. I have never heard my own story told back to me. I have never heard it told by someone who thought it was worth their time, and energy, and creativity to tell. I didn’t realize how much this had impacted me until I was talking to someone else the following day. We were all chilling in the lobby after teaching our seminars and I introduced Dave to someone new and I began to talk about his mural.  As I described the mural, I teared up. I was crying in the lobby with strangers. And I had to pause and figure out why I was feeling so stirred. I had never seen someone else say, a woman like you, a Korean woman like you, with the passions you have- that is a story worth telling.

Either woman like me are totally absent from stories, or we are prostitutes, masseuses, or martial artists or the wives of white hipster. Ironically the reality of this was pressed home when I was back in Memphis a few months later.  A young man walked up to me and said “You look like that person in the Rush Hour movie.”

I was confused, I look like Jackie Chan? “Which one?”

“You know, the masseuse.”

The only Asian woman’s story he could draw from when he saw me, was that of a  masseuse/ prostitute.

YURI KOCHIYAMA

A couple days ago my FB feed was filling up as Asian American friends posted Google’s image13220816_10153596005353372_8171781156352047127_n of the day, which depicted Japanese American activist Yuri Kochiyama. It would have been her 95th birthday. Born in Southern California, imprisoned in the Japanese internment camps, she and her husband eventually settled in New York where they raised their six children. She was one of the few non-black people deeply committed to the Black Nationalist movement. She met Malcolm X in 1963 and joined The pan- Africanist Organization of Afro American Unity. And she was present in the Audubon Ballroom when he was assassinated.

pic4I had heard of her a few years ago, but I will be honest, she didn’t really register. As much as I can articulate the way that our history has centered on white men and has dismissed, minimized, and erased the history of people of color, especially women of color, I am still colonized in my mind. And the fact that I had never heard of her, made it hard for me to believe she was really a person of import. Her story surfaced again a couple years ago when she died. And again, I felt like she couldn’t count. If she was really a role model, I would have heard of her before now, right? But then seeing her on google the other day, she finally registered in my conscious. It took hearing about her multiple times.  And there was something validating about seeing her on the google search. As dumb as it may sound, a mainstream voice was telling me she was important and worth knowing impacted me. So I looked up more about her life and I was so inspired.

Malcom-X-Yuri-Kochiyama-time-magazine It hurts me to see the way that misogyny and white supremacy have seeped into my own thinking. It hurts me that I would devalue someone that I should identity with deeply. Malcolm X has been one of my heroes since I read his autobiography in high school. To realize that an Asian American woman had been there, doing the work with him, it stengthened me. This last December, at a conference where I was leading worship,  I had a chance to stand with my African American brothers and sisters and add my voice and heart to the cry that Black Lives Matter.

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And it changes me to know that I follow in the footsteps of an activists like Yuri Kochiyama and Yu Gwan Sun.  So I thank you Dave, you introduced me to Yu Gwan Sun. And I thank you Google, cause you validated an important story. And thank you Yuri- for being a pioneer. Its not lost on me that it was two pieces of visual art that moved me forward in my process. Artists- keep using your art to be prophetic, to affirm, validate and expand the stories we are telling. We need you. Our country needs you. That kid in Memphis needs you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

03/12/16
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How a Trump Rally Restored my Faith in Humanity

Caveat- This post is not trying to explain or justify my POV as a WOC Christian activist. I’m not doing an apologetic about why Trump is bad news  (others have written plenty on that). Usually I try to define terms and explain my POV more. This is not that post. This is for those who already understand why I would go to a Trump rally to protest, specifically as an expression of my love for Jesus and my commitment to justice. And for those who understand my passion for multi-ethnic community.

When I arrived in Chicago three days ago I didn’t even know Trump was coming to town. Mostly out of curiosity and a bit on a whim I registered myself and my friend Terrance for the rally. Tickets were free.

Word spread among the crew I was with and more tickets were reserved.

The night before the rally I turned to Terrance. I had spent a portion of the day watching videos of black men getting punched at Trump rallies.

Terrance is a friend, pastor, worship leader, active in Christian community development, and a spazz that makes jokes in the most serious of conversations. He is also an African American man.

“So Terrance- are we going to this thing to observe or to protest?”

“Erna- my body is a protest.”

I went to sleep meditating on that answer.

By two in the afternoon, the day of the rally, I was in a room with my fellow protesters.

I hadn’t realized that my friend Bethany had decided to attend. Bethany is a passionate social justice leader. She runs a program for youth, she’s a grant writer, Latina, and oh yeah- she’s 7 months pregnant.

The thought of going to a Trump protest with a Latina woman that is 7 months pregnant scared the crap out of me. I have been watching video after video of the hateful treatment of protesters. And have watched the shocking video of a man sucker punching a protester leaving a rally.

“Bethany- are you sure you want to go? Is it wise?”

Instantly- with tears in her eyes, total confidence in her voice “I..AM..GOING. I am second generation Mexican American. My great grandmother was Indigenous Mexican. My kids are scared. ( She was referring to the Latino youth she works with.) I want to be able to look them in the eye and say that I made them see our humanity.”

So that was the end of that conversation.

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Praying before we leave for the rally

We discussed different possible disruptions. We had no idea what to expect in terms of other protesters. We knew there would be some outside of the event, but not sure how many would be in the rally itself. We prepared for the worst.

We assigned three people to Bethany and two of us to Terrance. We practiced blocking Bethany from people that might push her or shove her. We chose a song that we would sing. We prayed.

We were dropped off several blocks from the event and within an hour we were seated in the auditorium. There were far more people of color than I expected. I assumed most were not Trump supporters, but you never know. There were several yelling matches that broke out, and the atmosphere felt like a bar at 1am on a Saturday. People were gunning for a fight- just for entertainment.

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Terrance and me at the rally

Soon two people were yelling at each other and it became clear that an entire section was college students from the school- there to protest. We all sighed with much relief. There were other protesters in the room.

As we waited, several snapshots that locked into my brain.

A group of 5 young Latino college students were walking around our area. And one young woman was carrying a sign that said- UNDOCUMENTED UNAFRAID

I teared up immediately.

There is no way, as an 18 or 19 year old, I would have had the courage to walk into a room of Trump supporters and hold up that sign. Shoot- I was afraid. Afraid for me, for Terrance, for Bethany. I was afraid for her.

There was something beautiful about her courage- saying I am here. I am a person. I won’t hide.

A few rows in front of me were a group of Middle Eastern college students. All of the women were wearing hijabs. One young woman had an hijab that was a US flag. Ever so often she would turn around and look back at the rows behind her. She was quite beautiful. Not only in the superficial sense, but the beauty of being herself. Bringing her body into a space where people have been encouraged to reduce her to a caricature. Courage and beauty everywhere.

I can’t recount every detail.

There were a few yelling matches. One black man in a muscle shirt ardently supporting Trump. One old grandma with a cowboy hat and head to toe flag outfit walking around yelling at the crowd.

It was already 40 minutes after things were supposed to start when it was announced that the rally was cancelled.

It’s hard to explain what happened in the next 30 seconds, but my favorite thing was watching half the crowd go through some sort of transformation. I unzipped my jacket to reveal my protest shirt-the name of a dozen black men that have been shot by police. Like Clark Kent, white people who had been down on the floor, pulled opened their button up dress shirts to reveal “White supremacy is the enemy” written with puffy paint on t-shirts. Signs were pulled out of backpacks, coats, and pockets. A giant rainbow flag was unfurled and several young women waved it together. Everything people had been waiting to do once Trump was on stage exploded, as well as delight and triumph.

I’m clearly a sucker for college students. I’ve been in campus ministry since 1997. But I fell in love with college students all over again. Their passion. Their incredible courage to be themselves. Their willingness to bring their full identities into a space of hostility. To say “I will not be turned into the enemy or into a caricature.”

Ironically it may be the most diverse crowd I have ever been in. The spaces where I usually experience racial diversity, marginalize the queer community. The spaces where queer folks are centered, I don’t usually see Muslim people.

Everyone was chanting together together. First “Shut It Down!” But then “Education not Deportation” and “Si se Puede!”

It was a good night.

The size of the protest reflects the fact that organizers have been on the ground for a while in Chicago, especially in response to Laquan McDonald. I have to give the city credit for showing up. I was honored to add my voice to theirs for this one day.

We were bracing for hostility and to see the worst. Instead I saw something beautiful. Thank you Chicago. And special shout out to the students of University of Illinois- Chicago. You did it.

 

 

Addendum- Since I have seen a lot of news reports and FB comments describing the event as very violent. I will speak to what I saw. I was inside the Pavillion. So I can’t speak to the dynamics outside between 5pm and 7pm. Inside, I witnessed 4 to 5 scuffles as people waited for the event, a few very angry Trump supporters and a few angry protesters. Some people were just gunning for a fight. But overall I found the energy less tense than I expected. There were several scuffles after it was announced that the rally was cancelled. There was a very jubilant celebration by protesters in the pavilion after the cancellation. I thought the police were appropriate in their use of force, for the most part. I would not have described the night as violent. I would describe it as tense at multiple occasions.

01/14/16
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The Power of Silence and the Power of a Yell

In August, I was in Ferguson Missouri to mark one year since the shooting of unarmed Michael Brown Jr. I was attending Rev. Traci Blackmon’s church and they were honoring some of the parishioners who had been serving faithfully behind the scenes for the last year. It was really beautiful. At the end of it one of the women came and stood at the front of the church.

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.

 It is our duty to win.

 We must love and support each other.

 We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

 She would call out one line and the congregation would echo it back. As each line progressed her voice grew louder. She finished the chant once and began again. Her voice was loud- yelling, which I rarely hear in church. And as she repeated the chant a second time- tears were pouring down her face.

By the time we got to the end of a second time we were yelling back at the top of our lungs. WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT OUR CHAINS.

This was the first time I had heard this chant and came to learn that it is commonly used among activists at protests.

What moved me, and has stuck with me, was all the history and emotion and courage that was held in that chant and in that women’s passionate outcry.

Black women, who have led on the ground in BLM,  have been pushed to the margins of our culture in so many ways. By race. By gender. Often by class. Their voices were marginalized in the feminist and suffrage movements. Their voices have often marginalized in their own communities. Their sexuality has been fetishized and distorted. Their beauty disregarded. Their point of view repeatedly pushed to the side. I can not do it justice in a few sentences. But knowing that history, I was moved to see this woman cry out. To yell out. To demand to be both seen and heard in the midst of all that mariginalization- that was a powerful act of dignity and courage.

In the face of violence, systemic oppression, harassment and fiscal exploitation at the hands of the police and the justice system in Ferguson- to cry out, to not lose hope, to fight tirelessly on the streets for a year. That was a powerful act of dignity and courage.

To put her heart out there, to reveal the pain, the tenderness, the fatigue, and to renew a vow to continue in the work. That was a powerful act of dignity and courage.

The moment encapsulates some of what I find profound, beautiful, powerful, and courageous about the women leading on the ground in Ferguson and in other parts of the BLM movement across the country.

In my culture, and in much of East Asian culture there is another tool. And it is silence.

This is captured by a look that I see on the face of older Asian women. A pause, a moment with eyes closed, clenched fist, a breath in, and then steady onward movement.

I see this in the face of Japanese American women who were sent to the internment camps. Stripped of dignity, humiliated, caged. When they walked out of those camps, to rebuild lives, holding the pain of that experience- they walked in silence. That was a powerful act of dignity and courage.

In the face of my own mother, who spent many years as a caretaker to my aging father. Staying with him, when many said she should divorce him because he was too old. She spent much of her youth caring for an old man, in silent suffering. Keeping our family together for my sake. That was a powerful act of dignity and courage.

In the face of immigrant women like my aunt, who had respect and place in her home country, but day in and day out is treated like she is stupid and less than because she can’t speak English very well. The way she carries on- bearing and carrying countless indignities to give her children a better life. That is a powerful act of dignity and courage.

I share this reflection because I think that there is so much misunderstanding between the Asian American and African American communities- the two communities in which I am most vested. One thing we share is women of great dignity and courage who sacrifice profoundly for the next generation. And yet when Asian Americans hear the yell- sometimes they miss the beauty and sacrifice and courage behind it. And sometimes when African American women see the silence, they miss the beauty and sacrifice and courage behind it.

Someday I hope we will realize we could be sources of each other’s healing.

We will realize that neither group of woman is comfortable talking about their pain.

That we have let the heavy fog of white supremacy lay like a blanket over us and our interpretations of each other. That we have believed lies about each other.

Maybe as we choose to see each other as we really are and hear each others stories, the fog will lift.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

01/11/16
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Asian Immigrants and Black Lives Matter

Last week I had the pleasure of leading worship for Urbana- InterVarsity’s triennial missions conference. It was a fantastic experience. One of the highlights was a session where we led gospel worship and heard from local leader and activist Michelle Higgins. You can read a bunch of other posts about the ripples of that night. But at one point in the night, I asked people to respond to Michelle’s talk by being more open to listening to what people are saying through Black Lives Matter.

A few days later I was texting with my friend Christine, who is Chinese American. Here is the exchange.

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This texting exchange felt significant, it put something to words that I had felt below the surface. In my last post I talked some about why Asian Americans are uncomfortable with disruption and protest. For those of us who had parents that came over after The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965,  there is a shared experience. Many of our parents generation experienced great suffering in their homelands. My mother grew up on the tail end of the Korean war and ever so often I get small glimpses into the poverty and the pain. She’ll say things like

  • Your uncle doesn’t eat bean sprouts, because that’s all we ate when we were poor.
  • I had a teacher who paid for me to go to school. But then he could not help me anymore and I had to drop out of middle school and work in a factory.
  • I went to my brother to ask for a blanket, during the winter. Because winter is very cold in Korea. But he said he could not help me. And it hurt him so much.
  • When I came to this country people yelled at me to go back to Vietnam.

These moments are dropped in passing in the midst of other conversations. Sometimes with tears. But it seems like the pain is never really processed. And because so many others have a similar pain, it is dismissed.

And then the next generation has its own dance with stories of pain. I remember about 12 years ago, InterVarsity Los Angeles was focusing on issues of racial reconciliation. And there were some painful moments. But my friend Yii-Shyun and I had a hilarious and bizarre conversation comparing our suffering to that of our parents and grandparents. Statements like- “Grandma I know it was hard when you had to hide in a cave during the winter during the Cultural Revolution but.. I’ve suffered too… sometimes my staff partner doesn’t understand my culture.”

“Oh mom- I know it was hard when you barely had food and had to eat grass pounded with old rice and had no blanket for winter- but sometimes my organization doesn’t understand my biracial identity.”

Through humor and tears we were acknowledging that we carry the last generations pain with us- and it is not resolved. And it dwarfs our suffering. But we feel dissonance in our own life experience as well.Working on those organizational dynamics are important, but I want to focus on the unresolved suffering in our history.

There is a cultural value for absorbing and swallowing pain.

There is shame in revealing suffering or poverty.

There are very few acceptable cultural ways to ask about these past experiences. And even fewer ways to show compassion. ( Aziz Anzari actually does a pretty sweet job of tackling some of this in his show Master of None- episode 2)

Many first generation immigrants have painful stories locked inside. But some of the limits of our own culture lock those stories away and the pain is never healed. I truly believe that there is healing in telling your story and being heard with compassion, empathy, and kindness.

It’s not just stories from the motherland that are locked away. Many have misunderstood how painful the Japanese internment camps were to our Japanese American brothers and sisters, because so little of that pain was put to words.

But it was painful. It was humiliating and awful.

So we have very strong cultural factors that lock stories of pain inside. And the broader culture has interpreted this as meaning that we don’t feel pain and suffering as deeply as other people. I would suggest that part of why Asian Americans have a hard time hearing and showing compassion towards the story of black people in the US- is because they have shown very little compassion to their own stories. We have unaddressed pain and it makes it difficult to engage with another community’s pain.

This is where we need cross cultural community. Because an all Asian community will reinforce this cultural approach to narrative and pain. But sometimes another context, an outside voice, a different way can be introduced by an outsider.

As Asian Americans we need to find a way to present our pain and our stories to Jesus and to each other. I think our parents need room to share, lament, cry ( that really awkward painful cry of older Asian folks) and then actually process and receive healing.

And the grace we have received could become be the grace we extend.

Perhaps as we watch the black community seek compassion, dignity, and justice for its community. We can begin to do that for ourselves as well. And we can stand together with them. And hopefully they will stand with us. Since this is what is means to be Christian community.

11/4/15
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We Need More Disruption

Here’s a special glimpse into my marriage. In the first few years we were married, whenever I was upset about something- we ended up having two fights- the thing I was originally mad about, and my husband’s dislike of my tone of voice when I brought it up. After having some version of the same fight over and over again- I agreed, I would bring things up “nicely.” I would use a gentle tone of voice to bring up what was bothering me. So we tried this method for a while.

I would bring it up nicely.

Nothing.

Bring it up again.

Nothing.

So then I would be pissed- and I would bring it up again- in my angry voice.

And he would say, “Hey, you said you wouldn’t use that tone of voice.”

“You don’t listen when I use my nice voice.” And I would list out the times I had brought it up “nicely” and his lack of response. “So you can’t tone patrol me if you don’t respond to my nice voice. It’s actually you- that requires this tone of voice.”

This reminds me of how White and Asian Americans respond to the activists in the Black Lives Matter movement.

141213170300-08-protest-1213-ny-horizontal-large-galleryI hear white and Asian American Christians bothered by the disruption- stopping a freeway, interrupting a Bernie Sander rally, marching the streets.  The critique is, they seem angry. They are disruptive. It is uncomfortable. It is annoying. And my answer is- yes. Yes they are. Yes it is. But you wouldn’t listen when they used their “nice” voice, so this is what it takes. Interruption is what is takes to get dominant culture to even consider change.

White America, and frankly that portion of Asian American that is flowing with the dominant culture’s worldviews, won’t listen to “nice tone.” I spent the last few days in St. Louis filming activist, theologian, preacher, and worship leader Michelle Higgins. She talked about the fact that most activist consider interruption and disruption a last resort. They have tried phone calls, letters, meeting with local leaders, and community organizing. But when that doesn’t work, when it doesn’t get people’s attention, you have to interrupt. They used “nice” methods to seek change. Too bad, nobody would listen.

1211084 I know I don’t like being interrupted. I understand our general dislike of interruption. Even in conversation it’s annoying. But that doesn’t make it wrong. White America hates all forms of disruption and interruption to its normal life.

Take the civil rights movement. Civil rights activists peacefully, non-violently, and calmly interrupted lunch
by sitting at a counter. They were greeted with hateful slurs, had food poured on them, and were surrounded by angry mobs of white people. They were interrupting the most mundane thing- lunch at a diner. And in the most peaceful way possible- sitting in silence. And white people lost their damn minds about it.

Lets remember- Black Lives Matter is a message to non-black people. Black people know it. They are trying to interrupt the normal flow of life to get everyone else’s attention and say- our lives, our bodies are treated with violence. Will you wake up and care?

And the repeated answer is- no.

No we will not.

For systemic racial change to happen- cities, neighborhoods, schools, and organizations need to be interrupted.

They need something to stop the normal flow of life. Because normal life is racist.

I understand disruption and interruption are never comfortable. So is police brutality. And Black children being shot. And Black children being handcuffed. And Black people being treated with violence.

Jesus actually used disruption all the time. Look at his life and ministry.

He opens Luke with a teaching on being good news to the poor and it is well received. But when he gets particular and calls out the Jewish people on their own ethnocentrism and pride- they want to throw him off a cliff. He is interrupting their worldview and they don’t like it.

Jesus drives out the merchants - John 2:13-16

When Jesus interrupts dinner conversation by telling people they are being proud. It’s more than awkward. It interrupts what could have been some pleasant dinner talk.

When he overthrows the tables in the temple because they have blocked the court of the Gentiles, lots of business people would have been angry. It interrupted business as usual.

Jesus interrupted and disrupted all the time to get people’s attention and tell them to change. But we in the U.S. have castrated Jesus, and made him into Precious Moments Jesus, and we can’t believe that he was as passionate and disconcerting as he was.

Being interrupted is jarring and it requires humility. It required wanting to change and wanting to learn. It requires being confused and not knowing what to do, because you have to stop your normal habits.  It required not being derailed by criticism or insecurity.

Asian Americans and Interruption

I’ve thought for a long time that Asian Americans move away from the Black Lives Matter movement because interruption is extra uncomfortable for us. A lot of Asian American communication is about nonverbals. It is about not needing to say something. It is about saying something at a level 3, but the hearer knows it is really a level 8. And in our culture, interruption is incredibly rude- especially to someone older than you or in authority.

And here is the Black community- disrupting and interrupting. Here they are challenging authority. I think that it feels foreign us. I think we see protesters, we see their anger and the emotion, and we interpret it through our communication lens.

They seem too emotional.

Too angry.

Rude.

And they are making public spaces uncomfortable.

But we are missing the truth in the message, because we are uncomfortable with the method. We wouldn’t listen when they used their “nice” voice. So it is us who requires interruption.

 

We Need More Disruption, Not Less

More churches need to be interrupted. Stop doing regular church every Sunday. Engage with the violence and injustice directed towards Black people in our country.

More Christian organizations need to be interrupted. Stop trying to care for people of color, while not having any people of color in leadership.

More Christian ministries need to be interrupted and take a prophetic stance about race and injustice, instead of staying silent because so may donors are white and uncomfortable with Black Lives Matter.

My own organization could use some interruption.

We say we value mulitethnicity, but have we let Black Lives Matter interrupt us? Have we talked about it with our student leaders? Did we incorporate it into our New Student Outreach in any way? Did we incorporate anything about multiethnicity into our Fall Conferences? Did we do more than pray for Black staff that are underfunded?

Or did we go on, business as usual, not being interrupted?

We may not like it. But frankly, I think we need more of it. More disruption. More interruption. Until justice and real change have come.

 

PS- Don’t worry- the hubby and I worked that dynamic out. In case you think we are tragically stuck in that dynamic 8 years later.

10/22/15
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Women Of Color in Justice Work- We need this!

Recently I was invited into a very special opportunity, the chance to help plan a gathering for women of color (WOC) in social justice work. I was very excited. I have had serious fan girl status toward Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes since I saw her facilitate a panel at CCDA’s national conference last year. And then I got her book, Too Heavy a Yoke- Black Women and the Burden of Strength and my respect kicked up to the next level. She was heading up this planning committee and I was pumped. The whole planning team is amazing women doing amazing work.

But as I started to think about the gathering, I got stuck. It was hard for me to put into words the need for this gathering. And my job is putting things into words!

I knew I was excited to be with other WOC.

I knew it was needed.

But I couldn’t explain why.

I’m used to talking about issues of race, but rarely the intersection of race and gender. I’m constantly talking about social justice, but rarely my experience as a women leading out in social justice work. I’m used to talking about class issues, racial conflict, and leading groups into conversations around race- but never in a context where my experience as a WOC leading into these things is centered.

Even though I talk about intersectionality all the time, I realize I’m not very fluent in the intersection of race, gender, and social justice work in my own life. Dr. Barnes summed it up perfectly. This is what is on the website regarding the gathering this November 14th and 15th.

 To be a woman of color committed to racial reconciliation and social justice in the Christian church––whether evangelical or mainline––is to be a perpetual outsider. Many of us are culturally and theologically isolated in the spaces where we live, work, and minister. Our existence at the intersection of race and gender invites unique experiences, different from those of our White sisters and our brothers of all races. Sometimes those experiences include struggling to be heard and valued by the very communities and organizations that we serve. When the burden of isolation becomes too much, we are tempted to walk away from CCD ministry and give up on the vision of beloved community.

I do often feel isolated. People label me as liberal, but I think of myself as evangelical and trying to be Biblical.  I’m fighting to be taken seriously as a women leader in the church. But when I am in the pulpit, I have to be careful not to get “too racial”, or share my own racialized experience of the world because it makes white people uncomfortable. When I lead out in social justice contexts, I have many wonderful partnerships with men, but we rarely bring gender into the conversation. And I watch as women, who work in the hood, are undervalued because people want men to step up and lead.

I want to invite you to join me in Memphis Tennessee for a gathering of Women of Color in social justice work. Come for the entire Christian Community Development Conference or come for the 24 hour gathering for Women of Color. You can get all the info you need at www.ccda.org

I think it will be good for our souls and our spirits.

10/11/15
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Real Native Americans and Mattress Sales

I can honestly say that for most of my life I have given no thought at all to Columbus Day. Similar to Ortho-Mattress-Columbus-Day-Sale1
President’s Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day I think of the holiday in terms of mattresses going on sale and hopefully getting a day off of school.

Recently I have embarked on a new season of learning. I have begun a Master’s in Intercultural Studies. The program is in partnership with George Fox seminary- but run by NAIITS– the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies. So the program is taught by all Native American/Indigenous Christian professors, and many of my classmates are Native and Indigenous people.

I am a newbie to this world. I have only taken a couple classes, attended one conference, and just begun to learn about smudging, sweat lodges, and indigenous spirituality and worldview.  So what I offer is purely 101, or maybe even less than 101. I’m offering the pre-req’s before 101.  Here are a few lessons that I have been learning as I have entered into this new community.

Not all Indians are dead.

Kind of an abrupt statement. But I have learned that for someone like me, educated from the perspective of the dominant culture- the narrative is that Native Americans are a part of our history. Something along the lines of “It’s kind of sad what happened- but that was a long time ago. All the Indians died and we don’t need to really worry about them today.” We are taught to think of Native Americans as part of our past, not our present. This is part of how we reconcile ourselves with our colonial, genocidal, and racist history- we think of it as something that was perpetrated a long time ago by other people, not something that we need to be affected by today. Real, living, non-historical Native Americans, are troubling to this comforting worldview. My comforting worldview.

Everyday is talk about Colonialism Day

When I am in predominantly African American contexts or with activist minded POC, we talk about race all the time. We talk about systemic injustice all the time. We talk about what is bothering us about our churches, organizations, cities, and white friends- ALL THE TIME. We process the stress and dissonance of our racialized experience ALL THE TIME. It’s just normal. It’s just talking. But when white, and some Asian American folks, get around this they experience dissonance. It seems extreme, like we are making everything very racial. It has to be a special occasion (usually a crisis) for most white and Asian American people to talk about race.

Well I experienced this dissonance as I entered into my NAIITS context. Talking about colonialism and settler colonial issues is not special occasion talk in my new circle. It is everyday talk. I called something a hoe-down- which is part of my charming and whimsical slang, and got told, causally over lunch, that it was very colonial of me. I had to laugh at myself. When is the last time someone casually callethought-i-was-nnjcwtd me colonial!?!

At the NAIITS conference the Indigenous people introduce themselves by their tribe and geography, and everyone else introduces themselves by name and as a settler. I’m a settler!!! Ha- no free pass cause I’m a WOC. I have to own my identity as a settler on this land. Not just on special occasions, but everyday. It’s just normal talk. It seemed so militant at first. I was no accustomed to having this as a normal lens on life. But it would be weird to say to my Native American classmates and teachers- “Why do you keep referencing this totally normal part of your daily experience and worldview? It’s not something I usually talk about, so lets stop.” That would be ridiculous. Now after a short time, talking about how colonial I am, is as normal as talking about my next hair color.

So here we are at Columbus Day 2015. Most of us know that Columbus did not 11800361_894716260622089_5228560746448242866_nin fact “discover” this land. And we have become aware, to varying degrees, that he was a raping, pillaging, enslaving, violent man. Read this biography of the man for a helpful history of his life and the holiday. But what can be done and who wants to expend any real effort? Well, Native Americans have been expending effort to end Columbus Day as a holiday for a long time- since 1954 in my hometown of Portland.

So my application of my 101 lessons is to proactively support the trend of cities changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. I know that many people will write off this change as politically correct and irrelevant. I disagree. It matters. It matters who we want to honor in our history. It matters that we are willing to even think about our history and our present. And it matters that we begin to bear the fruit of repentance in any way we can. So if Indigenous people are lobbying for this change- why wouldn’t we listen to them?

Indig.PeoplesDayI for one will pay attention to October 12th for the first time in my life. And I will celebrate Indigenous people and their presence. I will continue to try and learn from them. I will urge my community of friends to honor actual real Native American leaders and stop using them as costumes, mascots, and festival gear.

Do you want to listen to some North American Indigenous voices to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day? Don’t just turn to history, listen to contemporary voices. Here are a few interesting options.

Unexpectedly, MTV took an episode of its Rebel Music series to feature several next generation Indigenous artist. Here is a write up on the mic about several artists they are featuring. And below is the episode. Absolutely worth the 30 minutes.

Here are some additional resources, mostly Christian Indigenous perspectives.

Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys by Richard Twiss

Shalom and the Community of Creation by Randy Woodley

God is Red by Vine Deloris Jr.

Singer Cheryl Bear’s music

Band Broken Walls

Here is a list of cities from www.usuncut.com that have changed Columbus Day to Indigenous people’s day.

  • Albuquerque, New Mexico – The city’s formal declaration”encourages businesses, organizations and public entities to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day, which shall be used to reflect upon the ongoing struggles of Indigenous people on this land, and to celebrate the thriving culture and value that our Indigenous nations add to our City.”
  • Lawrence, KS– Since September, students from Haskell University in Lawrence, Kansas have been taking initiative and pushing for the city to honor their ancestors by declaring October 12th Indigenous Peoples’ day. Just this Wednesday, they won.
  • Portland, OR– Portland’s City Council declared Indigenous Peoples’ day on Tuesday, something tribal leaders have been seeking since 1954.
  • Paul, MN– In August, St. Paul followed Minneapolis by declaring Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day. Minneapolis passed its own resolution last year.
  • Bexar County, TX– The resolution was passed Tuesday, and local activists intend to press for the same thing in San Antonio.
  • Anadarko, OK– In September, Anadarko declared Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Anadarko Mayor Kyle Eastwood signed the proclamation while surrounded by tribal leaders from the Apache, Choctaw, Delaware, Wichita and others.
  • Olympia, WA– Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones presented Olympia’s proclamation at a rally in August. Nearly 150 people showed up to support the initiative.
  • Alpena, MI– In September, Mayor Matt Waligora declared Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The city says they desire “to develop a strong and productive relationship with all indigenous peoples, including the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe, based on mutual respect and trust.”

These cities are following in the footsteps of Seattle and Minneapolis. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City    came close to passing it in September and will try to pass it again on October 13th, the day after the holiday.

 

Happy Indigenous People’s Day!

Indig.PeoplesDay

 

 

 

08/12/15
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24 Hours 365 Days Later in Ferguson

This post is to let you walk through Sunday August 9th, 2015 with me. It is not a reflection on what I learned about about the BLM movement. That is still coming. But since I had the privilege and opportunity to be in Ferguson on the one year mark of Michael Brown’s death, I wanted to let you experience it with me, since what I saw changed me and it will help you get closer to the people that are leading this movement on the ground.

6:30 AM

It’s already warm, and very humid as I and several friends/co-workers arrive at the Canfield apartments. Pastor Blackmon, a local pastor who has worked closely with the local activists has invited clergy to pray at the Michael Brown Jr.  Memorial. There are stuffed animals in the middle of the streets, but otherwise it is a very ordinary street running between two apartment complexes. But it is also sacred, because the activists in this suburb ignited a national movement. It is a picture that the sacred and the ordinary often look exactly the same. The profound and mundane are intertwined.

As I look around the circle of about 90 people that are gathered. Half are Black clergy. The next IMG_2392largest group is white women clergy, many wearing collars and stoles representing mainline denominations. There is a small group of Jewish clergy. And then a mix of white men, a few local activists, a few people like myself who are visiting. There are queer leaders and activists.

I am painfully aware that I and my friend Amy are the only Asian Americans in the circle. There are no Asian American clergy or pastors here.

I am aware that there are very few evangelicals present.

IMG_2375We spend 20 minutes praying.

When we are done most people linger for a while looking at the memorial, greeting each other.

I hear someone say this in passing “Everyone here is on the margins. On the margins of the margins.” And that rings true. Women clergy are on the margins of the church. Black people are on the margins of our society. Even more, trans and queer black people are further on the margins. And this feels like church. A version of the Kingdom that isn’t full of fear, always drawing lines and pushing people out.

Rather dramatically and fittingly, thunder starts rolling over us, and giant drops of rain drench us as we walk back to the car.

IMG_2388

11am

Half our group is participating in a silent march in Ferguson, with members of Michael Brown Jr.’s family and the family members of other shooting victims from around the country.  You can read Sean’s reflections on the experience here. We arrive at Christ the King church which is pastored by Pastor Traci Blackmon. Out front there are 179 crosses, one for each person who has died in a shooting death in St. Louis in the last year. I heard her preach yesterday at the Black Scholars event, and she was amazing. I was looking forward to hearing her preach again and must confess I was disappointed when I saw another name on the church sign.

The choir began singing and everyone was wearing a shirt that read

Black lives matterIMG_2381

Black love matters

Black votes matter

Black church matters

This encouraged me. Beginning with the week that Trayvon Martin was shot, I do not attend church, or only attend black churches after a shooting. I can not bear to be in a house of worship that does not even address the grief and pain that is happening in our country.

A place that claims to worship Jesus, who was a victim of police brutality, but does not talk about police bruitality today. A place that claims to worship Jesus, who died with a racial slur hanging over his head, but does not talk about the value of black lives. I can not sit in fellowship there. To claim to worship Jesus, but ignore the systemic oppression and violence against His people. It is a sin. I can not sing songs in that place.

So to enter a sanctuary, where every member of the choir is wearing a shirt that affirms Black lives. I am already ushered into the Lords presence.

Then the sermon by Dr. John Dorhauer.  What can I say about a white man who absolutely shocked me by preaching on white privilege in the deepest, most radical, and relevant way I have ever heard. Who exegeted and expounded on the image of the lion laying down with the lamb in ways I had never considered or imagined. He did so without guilt, apology, or centering himself in the narrative. It is the sermon I have longed to hear, and frankly hoped to hear in my own organization, but never have. Brother John, as we started calling him, spoke to my heart, soul, and mind in a profound way.

Here are some quotes.

  • There is only one pathway forward according Isaiah 11, and it is the one chosen by the lamb
  • The lion’s only task- to ask the lamb what it wants and what it requires so that it will willingly choose to lay down with the lion.
  • White privilege must be laid down at the feet of the lamb.
  • The lion must give up its memory. Its nostalgia for its own power.

We end with a chant that I hear again that evening. A rally cry. A woman stands in front of the group and says- repeat after me. She yells-

It is our duty to  fight for our freedom

It is our duty to win

We must love each other and support each other

We have nothing to lose but out chains

And she yells it a second time, at the tope of her voice, with tears coming down her cheeks.

IT IS OUR DUTY TO FIGHT FOR OUR FREEDOM!

IT IS OUR DUTY TO WIN!

WE MUST LOVE AND SUPPORT EACH OTHER!

WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT OUR CHAINS!

I am breathless by the time she is done. There is so much passion and commitment in the room. I am humbled. My heart is laid out before these everyday people that are on the streets daily, laboring for a new civil rights movement. And their complete commitment and devotion is inspiring and humbling. I really had no idea, the depth of commitment of the local activists.

7:00pm

We arrive at Greater St. Marks to hear Cornel West. The evening is opened by Rev. Osagyefo Sekou. (photo below) He is one of the clergy that has been leading on the ground in Ferguson.  He begins with a song

I hear my neighbor crying, I can’t breathe….   Sekou Boston keffiyeh

We’re calling out the violence of the racist police

We ain’t gonna stop until our people are free

Its a powerful opening.  He then gives an opening word and  introduces Dr. Cornel West.

Cornel West gets up and it is electric. He is passionate. He opens with,  “I’m not gonna take much time, cause the focus has to be on what’s happening on the streets. I’m not here to talk. I’m here to go to jail. ” He ends by calling the church out of hypocrisy and mediocrity and back to the prophetic.

When he is done I am breathless. It was a very short speech.  I’ve never wanted to chant someone 11873411_701936519933724_668913951796881565_nback on stage to make them keep talking. And he was true to his word. This is Rev. Sekou and Dr. Cornel West about to be arrested the following morning. They were at the St. Louis DOJ calling for expanded police reform.

After Dr. West a panel of amazing activists was sitting on the stage

  •  Rahiel Tesgamariam- follow her on Urban Cusp @urbancusp
  • Rev. Starsky Wilson  from St. Johns Church
  • Bree Newson- who removed the confederate flag from the South Carolina State house @breenewsome
  • Michael McBride- a Bay Area pastor that has been leading out on the west coast @pastormycmac
  • Rev. Leah
  • Pastor Blackmon- local clergy that is leading on the ground @pastortraci

Here they are after the event.

11822550_943656832360402_534587742321122885_n

Please look up these leaders and learn about them and follow them on twitter. They are critical voices to this movement and the ones you should be learning from. If you say you care about this movement, then you must take initiative to self educate. You can watch the entire event here.

More than what they said- which was insightful. There was something powerful about seeing this group of Black leaders, women and men, queer and straight, clergy and artists- leading and speaking unapoligetically as Black people. It made me realize that in the majority of contexts I am in, Black voices and leadership are not centered. But more than that, Black people are not thriving, they are not in a healthy environment.

Even in my own organization, which claims to hold a value for multi-ethnicity, Black leader must always cater to the feelings of the dominant culture. Their voices and perspectives are never centered. Even when black staff gather on their own, it is to respond to something the organization has or hasn’t done, or to figure out how to survive an organization that is not about their flourishing.  I have an entire post dedicated to this topic coming, so I won’t expound on this. But the contrast was marked.

The room was an electrifying contrast to almost any other space I have been in. It was unapologetic and it was church in the truest sense. Unafraid. Not trying to push people out. Fighting for justice.

I and my friends turned to each other when it was over. “I’m ruined for normal life.” “How am I going to go back?” We just kept repeating these questions to each other.

We left to grab dinner, but the restaurant we stopped in on had already closed its kitchen. Word that things were getting rowdy on the streets had spread, and they were getting ready to close. Unfortunately, things took a turn and shots were fired between two groups of people who appear unconnected to the protests. There was an officer involved shooting of an armed man later in the evening.

We ended up at the Waffle House across the streets from the hotel, emotionally hung over from all we had seen and experienced in one short day. Beyond words. Feeling changed forever.

If you want to hear more voices, check out the hashtags #FaithInFerguson and #FergusonTaughtMe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

08/8/15
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Ferguson- a primer

As I have told people that I’m going to Ferguson for the one year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death it has raised a lot of questions.

Wait- which shooting happened there? Weren’t cops shot there? Didn’t Michael Brown attack the officer? So in light of that, I am providing a short recap ( full of my own editorializing) and framework to help us enter into reflection and engagement at the one year mark of the Ferguson uprising.

On July 17, 2014 Eric Garner was approached by police for selling loose cigarettes on a corner in New York. Though chronologically this happened before Michael Brown was shot, thgarnerxx-4-webe story did not gain momentum until after the shooting in Ferguson.

For context, New York is known for its stupid and racist policy of stop and frisk.

Stop and frisk is an incredibly wide spread practice, used disproportionately on Black and Latino men, where people are stopped and searched and harassed by the police for no reason. This has never happened to me- as a member of the least likely to be harassed by the police demographic in the US- mixed white and Asian and a woman. But I believe the many Black and Latino men that have spoken up about this, I have watched videos of the practice, and it is harassment and dehumanizing and wrong. If it was done to rich white people in New York- the practice would have ended a long time ago. White people would never tolerate being handled by the police in this way.

I provide that information because it appears to me, in the descriptions of Eric Garner’s interaction NBA-players-wearing-I-cant-breathe-shirtswith the police, that he is frustrated that police are harassing him again. In the course of questioning him, they decide to arrest him, and when he swats away the officers hand as he is putting on the handcuffs, the officer pulls him back and throws him to the ground using an illegal chokehold. Eric Garner repeated numerous times that he could not breathe. (This incident is why protesters use the phrase I Can’t Breathe.) The medical examiner found the chokehold, chest compressions, and poor health as the cause of death and it was ruled a homicide. Many felt that because the interaction was caught on videotape that the officers would be held accountable, however on December 3, 2014 a grand jury decided not to indict the officers.

Sidebar #1

Let’s all just stop and ponder if anyone believes that you should die for selling cigarettes on the corner.

Sidebar #2

Our culture has a presumed guilt when it sees Black people and presumed innocence when it sees patrick-killer-smilewhite people. Let’s do a little exercise.

Imagine this man was standing on the corner, selling loose cigarettes to some people. And when the police tried to handcuff him, he is angry and indignant and can’t believe he is being arrested and swats the officers hand away. Do you imagine this man ending up dead? Would he “deserve” it? What he had made a fortune betting on people losing their homes in the economic downturn? I use this example, because as much as people say they are colorblind, they assume, solely based on race that this man is an innocent and good individual. Even if there is evidence to the contrary.

Back to the timeline.

Several weeks later on August 9th Michael Brown was shot. There is video footage of him leaving a convenience store after stealing some cigarillos (which from what I can gather are mini cigars) He shoves a clerk out of the way and leaves with his friend. Now lets all stop and ponder for a moment if we really think that someone should die for that. Was it a smart move? No. Legal? No. Should you end up dead for it? No. He was physical, but he did not use a gun, nor did he beat anyone up. He stole some stuff from a mini-mart. Not a great decision, but not a violent crime.

Sidebar #3

michael-brownHe was also teenage kid trying to figure out what he was going to do after high school. He was hanging with a friend. He was not a monster, a demon, not the embodiment of evil. He was not invaluable as a human because he stole stuff from that mini mart. He was made in the image of God. And committed far less violent of a crime than King David and the Apostle Paul. White people have been very quick to dismiss the value of his life and I don’t see a Biblical basis for that.

Here’s a partial summary from wikipedia.

The entire interaction eventually resulted in Officer Wilson firing at him several times, all striking him in the front, with the possible exception of the two bullets fired into Brown’s right arm. In the entire altercation, Wilson fired a total of twelve bullets; the last was probably the fatal shot. Brown was unarmed. Brown was moving toward Wilson when the final shots were fired. Witness reports differed as to what Brown was doing with his hands when he was shot, but no credible witness said that he had his hands up in surrender.

 However, early reports said that Michael Brown was facing the officer with his hands up in a sign of surrender. Activists across the country then adopted the image of standing with hands raised as a symbol of unarmed Black people being shot by police.

congress_handsupdontshoothoward-hands-up

 

As shooting after shooting has continued over the year, as body after body has piled up, it has become painfully clear that black people and white people see the world completely differently. I really believed that white people would become more engaged and more concerned as the bodies piled up. But for the most part, they have not.

Here is my summary of how black and white people interpret these moments differently.

White people

Unless the person being attacked has no criminal record, an intact family, and is in the middle of singing Open the Eyes of my Heart- they are probably a thug. Which is a euphemism for bad Black person that probably had it coming. So we don’t need to be troubled or sad, cause that person was a bad person and hence their life was not that valuable. And somehow all black people can end up in this category. Where their lives aren’t valued. Also it doesn’t count as racism unless the officer is wearing a klan hood and yelling racial slurs. Because white people are always innocent unless proven guilty. And video, work history, and past acts of violence apparently don’t count as proof. Proof is demanded, and yet can never established.

There is a tiny circle and things are only racist if they fit inside this tiny circle of very specific circumstance.

Little Racism

 

 

Black people

Who, let’s just remember, were right when they spoke up about slavery being wrong.

Were right when they spoke up about Jim Crowe being wrong.

Have always been a prophetic voice to white people about their own blindness and racism. And they have never been greeted with agreement until 50 years after the fact. White folks love to claim MLK now, but back in his day, white folks thought he was moving things along too soon, and too fast, and too radically.

Black folks see racism as a big circle. It is a web that permeates all of our society where white people are constantly given the benefit of the doubt (#crimingwhilewhite) and Black people are treated with suspicion and fear and often violence. They are speaking up about a giant circle- law enforcement, the criminal justice system, the war on drugs. ( If you haven’t read The New Jim Crowe- just do yourself a favor and read it so you won’t have to tell you kids 20 years from now you decided to stay ignorant during a significant time of change in our society.)

So the Black community saw the shooting of Michael Brown as inside the large circle.

 

Big Racism

I would sum up this year as white folks repeatedly saying – nope that does not fit in the tiny circle. And black folks saying- it’s in the circle. And the circle is big. And your ignorant self is in the circle too cause you’re so blind.

And all year long, as each shooting has happened, this conversation has been repeated.

Then it happened, in an awful moment. The most explicitly perfect example of the little circle happened. A group of Christians- pastors, community leaders, and the type of people who show up to mid week Bible study welcomed a weird white kid into their Bible study and prayer meeting. And when it was done he murdered them because he is a white supremisict and he wanted to start a race war.

So I thought- well at least White folks will have to put this one in the little circle. It’s racism.

Yup. That one was racism.

That’s troubling.

That wasn’t right.

But instead everyone focused on the forgiveness of the family members towards the shooter. Which is the family’s right to do. But actually distracted white people from the real issue. The Charleston shooting  not only should have been a perfect example of little circle racism, it pointed to big circle racism.  I mean, “good black people” had been murdered while racial slurs were being yelled. Maybe white people would have to actually listen when Black people said racism was still a thing.

But one of the deepest affects of white supremacy, is that you never let anyone tell you the truth about yourself. You never have to learn from a Black person that isn’t Oprah.

Syncretism all day long

The weakness of white reform theology is that it has been over informed by the Western secular value of individualism. It is completely syncretistic. This syncretism blinds white Christians to corporate sin. I understand white people not wanting to feel culpable for systemic racism. But, white Christians should be able to open their heart to this idea. Being a sinner is one of the foundational tenants of our religion. So when someone suggests you might be sinning, the answer should be “Sounds about right. Because I am in fact, according to my religious world view, a jacked up sinner.”

In addition the fact that the Bible is addressed to a GROUP of people almost ALL the time should help us. Entire countries, entire tribes, entire groups of people are called to account by God. And no, not every individual in that group was committing the sin, but Scripture is very corporate in its worldview. American Christians are not.  Syncretism at its finest.

After the shooting in Ferguson, activists rose up and organized and protested the injustice of the big circle of racism. And white people sent in the army to shut them up. And the activists didn’t’ give up, and they didn’t shut up, and they catalyzed a movement that is known as Black Lives Matter. And it is courageous, grassroots, and we should pay attention. I spent the last two days listening to Black academics and pastors and repeatedly called for a new theology and new view of church, that is formed by what is happening on the streets of Ferguson.

I am in Ferguson because I want to testify that Jesus was a revolutionary that would not have lived quietly in an ethnically segregated suburb attending an ethnically segregated church, turning a blind eye to the violence being done to black people across our country. I’m here because Black Lives Matter.