how many asians does it take?

All right. I’d really like to see this open letter go viral.

If you support it, sign it.

If you signed it out of obligation, don’t support it, or think it’s trifling — I want to know why.

The more Stan and I talk about it, the more excited we get. It may not be tantamount to MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech — I dare not make the comparison — but I think this edict carries a weight of its own.

When I read the letter, I think of my grandparents (rest in peace, lau-lau), my dad, my mom — those who had to keep their heads down for the sake of their families and communities. Assimilation was part of survival. My mom not having the words to say to correct a 13-year-old kid who he yells, “Ching ching chong!” while she waves at a school bus full of kids was part of that assimilation story. My childhood embarrassment of being Chinese, getting harassed, and then cornered for “being in America” — that was part of the assimilation story. The model minority. The silent minority. We’ve come a long way from flagrant abuse and discrimination, but all that has taken another bad turn. Systemic racism and privilege in the Evangelical Church? Yeah, it’s a real thing as seen here, here, here, and here, to name a few.

Apologies were given and received (in some cases), but the routine occurrence of these hurtful images, jokes, and mockeries are astounding. And the backlash of — “You’re overly sensitive. Get over yourself because it’s just a joke. What’s your agenda? What’s the point? Get back to being a Christian and looking after the poor.” — add insult to injury. Not to mention, those remarks miss the point by a long shot. We are the Church, and we are preparing the way for the true shalom of the Kingdom. That means turning systems of oppression on its head and calling out distortions of power on all counts, especially, especially when it comes to the Church. We hold the Church, the beautiful Bride of Jesus, to another standard.

I firmly believe that we, as Asian American Christians, have a unique standpoint in matters of racial reconciliation and harmony. I don’t know what that means or looks like, but I feel it in my spirit when I enter into conversations with different colors and classes of the Church. To engage in these matters, to be catalysts of cultural change, to give voice to the voiceless — well, our own voices have to be heard. I think of the generations before us and how they did what they felt they had to do to get us where we are. And now, here we are.

coup de grace

This and this and this brought back not-so-fond memories of Deadly Viper on a few levels.

1) I haven’t touched my research thesis, focusing on Deadly Viper as a case study, since I finished it last year. After the defense, I tucked it away on my hard drive amidst a fog and ignored it in a proper postpartum-depressed-like manner. (I feel a pang of guilt for saying that, but as my thesis committee reminded me time and time again — writing that damn paper is like is like carrying a child for 9 months. Towards the end, you want to pop. But we’ll save the guilty baby talk for another post.)

2) Why? Just why? Just, just, just…why? Just really why? Amen.

Ashamedly, I am out of touch with my Chinese heritage, a fact that I lament and try to reconcile. When I asked my husband what was going on, he managed to mutter the phrase “communist party” while he was scouring the blogosphere. I had to do a double take at the Red Guard propaganda screen capture and tap into my Highlights magazine Hidden Pictures prowess, but it really wasn’t needed. The red arm band secured over an olive green uniform. All of this took a matter of seconds to understand. Mao, the Cultural Revolution, Chinese communists, the land of my forefathers, my grandparents on the run, my parents born in Korea outside of our ancestral homeland.

What takes longer to understand is why a prominent White Evangelical chose this distressing image to display on his Facebook feed with hundreds of thousands of followers (not to mention with the impending launch of a certain megachurch in Hong Kong). And why, after people posted light concerns and extreme disgust over the image, he defended it as a funny-haha-joke and told the offended to get over themselves. What I mostly have a hard time understanding is why we can’t seem to get a decent conversation going about it. Hey, we got our 15 minutes of fame already, right? Warren gave a fragile non-apology apology camouflaged between 143 other commenters, and then another vague “I’m sorry if you” apology on his Facebook. And then nothing. And then this offended people group has to stew in their own mess that they made. This is our problem, right? We’re the ones with a bone to pick after silently sitting at the table for so long. We should just get over it. You know, laugh a little.

Getting a decent conversation about it doesn’t detract from the Cross and the Kingdom. The whole — “get over yourself, and get back to focusing on Jesus and winning souls for Christ” — drives me insane. It’s an absurd either-or scenario where Asian American Christians who decide to speak up about some harbored affliction are all the sudden less Christian or not Christian at all. Talk about undermining and discrediting your neighbors’ pain. And then stepping over or crossing to the other side of the street.

I’m not mad about what happened. I mean, I am, but I’m not. I like what Dr. Sam says about Pastor Rick: “…a good man is good not because he is right all the time, but because he owns up to his mistakes. I think he’s doing the best he can in his response.” And I do believe that Pastor Rick thinks this is the best he can do. I think that about Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite, too. I think they think…this is it.

This can’t stop at a vague Facebook “I’m sorry if you…” non-apology apology. Historically, Asians [in America] are notorious for being the silent minority, but I’m holding on to the hope that this stereotype is becoming outdated, especially in the context of Church and the Gospel and giving voice to the voiceless and reconciliation. Our narrative is twisted in the passiveness of Asian culture and the aggressiveness of American culture. To not be one doesn’t mean we have to be the other, though. I think we’ll find sure-footing somewhere. Back us up. Don’t tell my yellow skin to “lighten up” and find humor in racism, systemic or otherwise, throw out a [feeble] apology, and end the conversation.

writing from my blanket cocoon

I dropped off a homemade dinner for Stan tonight while he was at work. Then I tried to force him to make out with me in the call room, but I think his nose was congested. He said there were cameras in the rooms, so I pretend-slapped him to save my own skin. There are no cameras in the rooms. It was a very wifey thing to do — bringing him dinner, I mean. His attending came through the door as I was leaving, and he asked if I was visiting because Stan was on call.

“Yeah, I brought him dinner, too.” What I wanted to add was “Best wife EVER!” Instead, I trumpeted, “Best sife EVER!” and pointed at myself with both hands before I realized I said “sife.” Sarcastic humble brag gone awry. I hope my susband enjoyed his dinner.

I thought I was running late to make another dinner date. Every first Wednesday of the month, our church goes to Breakthrough to make and eat dinner with the men at the shelter. Sometimes, I think it’s common to resort to the thought that as much as you want to be a blessing to those you serve, you end up more blessed than those you came to bless with your blessings. This is blessology, people. I think it’s a way to psych ourselves out to keep doing what we’re doing. Maybe also to avoid pride. Like, I thought I was coming here to be awesome, but I found out I’m not awesome. You’re the one that is awesome. I also think it can turn into secret patronization.

Because sometimes, I don’t think it’s so awesome. Sometimes, the conversation turns awkward and neither of us have anything to say, the random guy I sit with for dinner or myself. The guy I’m talking to will say, “Hold that thought. I want to get you a napkin because you’re sweating.” And I’ll say, “Oh, am I? I feel fine…” Then I’ll rub my face and realize my face is just super greasy. “My face is just shiny from grease,” I’ll mumble. And he’ll laugh and say, “Oh, I’m just inappropriate. I like raunchy jokes.” I’ll force a chuckle, but I don’t care to laugh because nothing is funny. Plus, he used the term “raunchy” in the wrong context. And that’ll be the extent of our conversation.

So sometimes, just sometimes, I’ll think that nothing is awesome. I think this is okay, though. I don’t want to rely on blessology to get me to go anywhere. In ministry, there will be moments that don’t seem to add up to anything. You’re just there sweating in the kitchen and making awkward conversation about your greasy face. I think that’s okay.

the real

There is an expectation that we can talk about sins but no one must be identified as a sinner: newspapers love to describe words or deeds as “racially charged” even in those cases when it would be more honest to say “racist”; we agree that there is rampant misogyny, but misogynists are nowhere to be found; homophobia is a problem but no one is homophobic. One cumulative effect of this policed language is that when someone dares to point out something as obvious as white privilege, it is seen as unduly provocative. Marginalized voices in America have fewer and fewer avenues to speak plainly about what they suffer; the effect of this enforced civility is that those voices are falsified or blocked entirely from the discourse.

-Teju Cole