I had a much more mellow post written. I swear that I did. But as I reflect on what I think is right to say, I know I need to make the point more strongly. As I scroll through my Facebook feed the vast majority of my Black friends and colleagues are posting and writing about what is happening in Ferguson in response to the murder of Michael Brown. There is grief and anger. There is pain. There is the frustration of having to explain to people AGAIN why this is upsetting. There is the pain that non-Black Americans don’t seem to understand why this is so upsetting. If you haven’t been following, then you can read up through these posts.
A small portion of my justice minded Asian American friends are posting on it and maybe one or two White folks. But for the most part my feed is alternating between repostings of articles on Ferguson and videos of cats and pictures of food. Others have already addressed the White community, and many Black writers have articulated the issues surrounding Ferguson better than I can.
But I felt it was important to talk to one of the communities that I am most connected to: Asian American Christians.
Why are we so painfully silent as debate and tragedy and grief are raging around us? Will any of our churches take time to pray for grieving families on Sunday- not only Micheel Brown’s family, but the family of John Crawford, a man that was shot in Walmart for holding a toy gun. Or Eric Garner, the father of 6 that was killed through the use of an illegal choke hold by police in New York.
My mind turned back to last summer where I led a group of Christian college students into responding to the Trayvon Martin verdict. I took a group of mainly Asian American and White students through a journey where they could have compassion and grieve over what had happened. We taught them to care about what the Black community was saying, instead of ignoring it by saying “that’s a Black people problem.”
That type of response, “It’s a Black problem” deeply troubles me as a Christian and when spoken among Christians. I encountered it again this summer. I led 50 students who were living in the inner city for 6 weeks for an urban project. The crisis of children crossing the border was making headlines and we began a conversation: what is a Christian response to this situation? We also looked at the issue of mass incarceration and systemic injustice against Black men. But suddenly, a group of students that had started the summer by saying that race was not an issue for them, couldn’t stop using race as an excuse. I’m not Latino, so that’s not my issue. I’m not Black, so I can’t relate.
This excuse bothers me. I’m not a Black man and I have never been harassed by the police, but I can use my mind and imagination to figure out that if I was stopped and harassed by cops repeatedly with no just cause- for example, under New York’s now defunct stop and frisk policy- I might feel angry, scared, powerless, and like the system was against me. I could read thoughtful articles that help me understand. (This article by Questlove broke my heart ) No, I haven’t experienced it, but as a human I can understand emotions that are common to all people. For some reason, Christians, who have never experienced human trafficking or the sex trade can muster a lot of compassion for these issue, but then stay oddly silent and distant on the issue of police violence against Black men.
We don’t see the image of God in these young men. We don’t see their beauty, intelligence, and human dignity. So many of these men are actually just boys. But we don’t see. I remember when Brittany Spears and Destiny’s Child came out. Everyone saw Britany spears as a teenage girl, but everyone viewed Beyonce as a grown woman- even though they were the exact same age. We look at white and Asian youth and see youth that needs to be protected. We look at Black youth and see adults, or worse: just “other,” not people we can relate to.
Jesus heals blind people repeatedly in the gospels. And these healings function, in part, as parables for the spiritual blindness of the people around him. Asian American bothers and sisters: we are blind. We aren’t seeing the pain of our brothers and sisters.
Jesus repeatedly healed lepers, who were numb to pain. They too are a parable. Asian American brother and sisters: we are numb to systems of injustice around us.
It troubles me that the church is so central to the Asian American community- especially the Korean American community – and the church is so central to the Black community, but the two have so little unity and compassion for each other. We claim to believe in the same God, and the same Savior who adopted us all and made us family. If we are family, then when one person mourns and grieves, we all grieve. It’s a dysfunctional family that ignores the grief of another family member, or even worse says “Your grief is not real.”
So, here are my thoughts for my Asian American Christian community. There is so much that needs to be addressed to correct for the sinful and broken ways in which we have essentially adopted a broken White evangelical view of race and justice. But these are a few starting points.
First- it’s not a Black problem- It’s a mothers and fathers losing their babies problem.
I don’t have kids. But I think about it through my relationship with my Godson.
He is 16. When he got teased in junior high I would lay in bed and have to walk myself through the legal ramifications of hurting the small children that were making him so sad at school. Because his pain was upsetting to me and it hurt me, because I love him. In two years he will be the same age as Michael Brown and getting ready to go to college. In two years he will not be a dangerous threat that needs to be gunned down. He will be a young man, who sometime acts like a boy and sometimes amazes me with his courage as a man. He will be stepping into adulthood in a wonderful and precious way. If he were to be killed, unarmed, one night by a police officer. You can believe I would absolutely lose my mind with grief, with anger, and with a cry for justice. A few days ago I was trying to explain to his 10 year old sister what was happening in Ferguson. I said, “If Auntie Erna had a son and a policeman hurt him for no reason, what do you think Auntie Erna would do? She said “ You would rip his face off.” So a ten year old gets it- why don’t we get it? Someone hurts a child you love- you get angry, you take action, you grieve. And yet many in the Asian American Christian community watch these protests and hold them at arms length, as if they can’t understand the response they are seeing.
Why are we so numb and oblivious to the grief of our brothers and sisters? If we, Asian American Christians, really believe that we are one family in Christ, then we must respond accordingly. We must respond with compassion and grief at the loss of life.
To this day Koreans and Korean Americans are still upset that Japan has not acknowledged the injustice suffered by many Korean women who were trafficked as sex slaves (often refereed to as comfort women) during World War II. We are upset that Japan hasn’t acknowledged the injustice done to our grandmothers decades ago. And I understand that. It is unjust and dehumanizing. So why can’t we muster compassion and sympathy for parents that are watching their sons being dehumanized and murdered today?
Think of Jesus and his compassion on the widow at Nain. He saw her grief. He saw the implications it would have on her life to lose her son. And he responded with compassion and action. He didn’t say, “I’ve never been a woman,” “I’ve never been a widow,” “I’ve never lost a son, so I don’t relate” He could see grief and pain, and he responded with compassion.
It’s not a Black problem. Parent losing their beloved children is a human problem.
Second- I am grateful to Western Christianity for a lot of reasons. Missionaries came to my mother’s village in South Korea when she was a child and introduced my aunt and my mother to Jesus. I grew up in church in part because of their influence. And I’m grateful for that. However, Asian American Christianity has adopted some jacked-up aspects of White American Christianity.
- We view everything through an individualistic lens. In contrast, the majority of Scripture is addressed to communities, people groups, and countries. But we read it completely individualistically. This makes us blind to issues of sin beyond individual sin. We don’t see sin in systems, and communities, and countries.
- Our view of justice is to give a man a fish. As Asian Americans we have a value for charity – we tutor, we hand out food, we give clothes. But I believe we had adopted a broken Western view of justice and service. There are three lenses: (1) give a man a fish or (2) teach a man to fish. But if the pond has a giant wall around it? Then (3) tear down the wall. We have locked into “give a man a fish,” which makes us feel good about ourselves, but doesn’t address problems at their root. And it doesn’t address our own version of White savior Christianity.
- We pretend to be colorblind while using the church to reinforce our ethnocentricism. The Asian American church played an important role serving second and third generation Asian Americans. But it has become a context where Asian American Christians never encounter or interact with believers of other ethnicities. And it has made us ignorant. It has made people of other races caricatures and instead drawing from each others cultures- we’ve grown isolated and ignorant to the pain of our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s time to change- or, in Christian vernacular, to repent.
I understand that as Asian Americans we are still figuring out our place in these dialogues. Historically these issues are rooted in Black and White dynamics and I respect and understand that. But compassion is never wrong. Getting educated is never wrong. Fighting injustice is never wrong. Mourning with those who mourn is never wrong. Repenting of ambivalence is never wrong. Let’s start there and learn as we go.
Let’s engage. Lets have compassion. Let’s address this in our churches and small groups. Lets show up to protests and vigils and prayer meetings. Lets learn, sit at the feet of Black leaders, and Black Christian leaders, and the Black community.
Let us mourn with those who mourn. Asian American Christians, let us learn to cry out for justice for all.