Dear Asian American Christians at UCLA

2 days ago I watched this video.

Black Bruins

 

 Here is what I’m wondering.

How will Asian American Christians at UCLA respond to this video?

 Here’s the ethnic breakdown of the undergrad population at UCLA.

 

American Indian orAlaska Native

157

0.56%

Black Non-Hispanic

1,083

3.88%

Asian or Pacific Islander

9,954

35.63%

Hispanic

4,799

17.18%

White, Non-Hispanic

8,115

29.04%

unstated, unknown, other

938

3.36%

international

2,895

10.36%

( this data pilfered from wikipedia)

Asian Americans/ Pacific Islanders make up a significant portion of the UCLA population, almost 10,000 undergraduate students and they are the largest ethnic group on campus. Pew Research says that 42% of Asian Americans identify as Christian. So that would be about 4,700 undergrad students.

I’m going to reduce that number to account for that repressed Korean kid that is off partying like a rock star every weekend, that dutiful daughter that is telling her parents she is going to church but isn’t, and all around general dissipation of religious fervor in college.

I’ll take it down to 3,000 practicing Asian American Christians at UCLA.

 This blogpost is for you.

You’re my people. I grew up in the Korean church. I’ve worked with Asian American Christian college students for over a decade. We need to talk about how to respond.

There is a lot of imagery in the Bible, especially the gospels, that talks about how the Kingdom of God is like a great banquet.  All of Jesus’ countercultural decisions to sit with unexpected people and share table fellowship with them revealed that the Kingdom of God was about a radical new type of community. When he invited women, and Samaritans, and tax collectors to share table fellowship with him- he painted a new picture of family.

When I think about the church I’m saddened because we have made the Kingdom banquet table segregated. Like MLK said- “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” I know in heaven we aren’t going to be sitting at racially segregated tables, but for some reason we choose to do that today.

If you were at my house being served a wonderful dinner and someone on the other side of the table starting crying I hope you would not

–       tell that person to stop crying

–       tell them  that your political party doesn’t think their crying is valid

–       Tell them that you’ve never cried for that reason

–       Say I can’t relate because I have never cried for that specific reason. Because we can all mine our human experience and relate to sadness and pain.

–       Or in what might be a more Asian response- look away because you’re embarrassed for them

 

I hope that we would stop what we were doing and that we would listen and respond with compassion.

So why do we do the exact opposite of this in Christian community. We all sit at one table, where God is the host and we have all been invited to become family around that table. Yet when is comes to being real community over racial issues, we often look away.

When the Trayvon Martin trial verdict came in this summer I encouraged the students I work with to respond with compassion- not politics, or judgment, or rhetoric. We are all at one table and a part of the family, our Black brother and sisters, are in pain. They are upset and they are angered. Can we listen and respond with compassion, humility, teachability, and action?

When I watched this video a few days ago it stirred the same response.

For Christians who claim that what we have in common in Christ far outweighs what separates us- this is a moment to sit up and listen. How can we listen and then respond with compassion, humility, teachabilty, and action?

This is what I hear as I listen to the spoken word piece.

  •  Listen!
  •   There are experiences in our culture that communicate that we ( Black people) are not valuable because of the color of our skin
  •  UCLA is contributing to that experience through the following action or inactions
  • Spending lavishly on administration but not on retaining Black students
  • Directing resources towards sports and athletes but not the recruitment and retention of Black students
  • Not acknowledging the reality of systemic injustice that shapes the lives of Black people
  • Frustration and anger over the removal of Affirmative Action- a program that took steps to address systemic inequality
  • They are not asking for a handout, they are asking for a level playing field

I hear pain and frustration at there being so few Black men on campus and anger and frustration at the administrations unwillingness to address this.

 

 Being family means addressing this on every level.

This video is talking primarily about systemic issues. Systemic issues can be hard to grasp when they don’t affect you negatively. But this is what it means to have privilege, you don’t have to think about a problem. As believers, the incarnation of Jesus puts away the option to hold others people’s pain at arms length. Jesus had the most privilege in the universe- and rightly so, and he laid it down so that his life could be close to people in pain. Jesus was born under a violent and unjust political system that called for the murder of all young boys. He fled as a political refugee to Egypt. Jesus suffered police brutality. Jesus was taken to trial on trumped up charges. Jesus can understand the systemic injustices and pain suffered by many Black men in our country- because he chose to experience similar injustices.

So we as Asian American Christians can not hold the pain and frustration of Black men at UCLA at arms length. Many of them are brothers in the faith. If we are family sitting at one table,then  isn’t their pain our pain? Isn’t the injustice they suffer the injustice we must choose to care about?

As Asian Americans, for the most part, we don’t like engaging systemic injustice. We are more comfortable with interpersonal solutions. But that isn’t enough.

Let me draw on a more extreme example- to make the point

It would not have been enough for a Southern White Christian to be friendly towards a Black person in slavery, even really good friends with them. Though that relationship could have been gratifying, to ignore the fact that “your friend” was a slave would be a blindness verging on absurdity. If that Christian didn’t fight the system and structure of slavery- their friendship with that person would have been patronizing and paternalistic.

 Real community means interpersonal friendship and systemic engagement.

Similarly it’s not enough to say- I have a Black friend, I’m not mean to Black people at UCLA, sometimes we have a joint worship night with a Black Christian group. If the system itself is broken, and you as a student at UCLA participate in that system, you cannot stay silent. If the voice of a marginalized few is speaking out- then those in power must join in. At UCLA you have the power and privilege of being a numeric majority and moral responsibility as believers.

I know it’s awkward because as Asian Americans you are a numeric majority at UCLA but a minority in the US. And that is a tricky position. When Jesus came to the temple and saw that Gentiles were being cut out of worship he didn’t just walk around and look for Gentiles to befriend and say, “Sorry, it’s sad how there are all these tables set up here blocking your worship.” No. He got mad. And as a Jewish religious leader he had power to do something and he knocked those tables over. Jesus was under the occupation of Rome- in that way oppressed. But empowered in the temple as a Jewish teacher, hence privileged. He used what privilege he had, in spite of being marginalized in another sphere.

It’s another post to discuss perspectives on Affirmative Actions, and the history of the issue at the UC’s and explain systemic injustice in a more thorough manner.

But the video is enough of a starting place. Someone at the table is speaking up.

How will you respond?

One caveat-  I acknowledge that the Asian American experience is varied and I’m not assuming that all of us come from financial privilege. There are many painful experiences of poverty and injustice in the Asian American community, especially in connection to immigration. This post does not negate any of that. Don’t you hope that when we speak up- others will listen with compassion and action? I am simply suggesting that right now is a moment to listen to our Black brothers.

 

Here are a few ideas.

  • Share this video with friends and talk about it in an honest and deep way. Ask- what is a Christian response to this video?
  •  I don’t know much about it- but it looks like there is a conference that will be addressing some of these issues on November 14-16. It’s at UCLA- it can’t get any easier.  Student of Color Conference    Attend and learn.
  •  Do a Learn In- Get together with friends and use those college brains of yours and research the history of this issues. Get educated. Learn why it’s important. You don’t need to wait until someone in the Black community sits you down and explains it. Though personal stories are important, you have all the resources you need to learn.
  •  Find out what kind of organized protesting and action is happening- and then participate and use all of our magical Asian American community skills to get a grip of people there.  (I foresee  Boba at justice rallies.)
  • Sign the Petition. Read peoples reasons for supporting the petition.
  • Talk to leaders of Black student groups- ask for opportunities to learn, build relationship, and partner.

 

Jesus cares about what is happening to Black men at UCLA.

Jesus cares how His people choose to respond to injustice.

What could it look like for 3,000 Asian American Christians to stand with there brothers?

 

There is a window of opportunity here. I pray we will respond with compassion and action.

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