Not An Ally: Getting to Work

3378vangoghvine_00000002657I didn’t come into an awareness of my racialized self until late college, and didn’t really engage the issues around it until seminary, and even then wrestled with whether there was a third way beyond the black-white paradigm of racism because it felt like there wasn’t space for me. For my parents. For my siblings and cousins. Stories of picture bridesVincent Chin and the LA Riots haunted me. Where do we fit in? I would often ask myself. We’re not white or black but the whites treat us like we’re black unless we “act” white and the blacks treat us like we’re white unless we “act” black. It wasn’t until the murder of Trayvon Martin that I began to realize that it is undeniably, in Jon Stewart’s words – “black and white.” That anti-black racism is alive and flourishing. 

It took me a while to get there but it’s all a process, right? To realize that it’s not oppression olympics and that there’s no way to compare the impact of antiblack racism and simply, white supremacy. The three pillars of white supremacy are intertwined but separate and distinct – the one thing in common is the notion of white heteropatriarchy and supremacy as the norm. It’s the center. Bottom line. Full stop.

I woke up the morning after the #ameshooting in Charleston to my Facebook and Twitter covered in photos of the terrorist killer and stories about the nine dead and … whining, screaming kids already going at it outside my door. I couldn’t take it. I did my own crying and screaming all the way down to the kitchen trying to get breakfasts and lunches together, trying to get them to stop shoving each other, trying to get them to put clothes and shoes on and get ready for camp.

After I yelled at them for the 518th time to stop hitting, stop pushing, stop crying I stopped and took a breath. I pulled out my laptop and queued up the newscast video from NBC and told them:

“Last night a bad man (Should I have called him a bad man? Should I have called him a white man? Should I have called him a bad white man? A troubled man? An angry man? A mean man?) walked into a church with a gun and shot and killed 9 black people.

It was a church like our church (Should I have compared the church to our church? Should I make any comparisons even for the sake of understanding? I shouldn’t have said like our church) that we go to every Sunday. The people were sitting together praying and reading the Bible and he walked in and killed (I’m not sure they know what kill means? Should I have not brought up guns?) them. Now there are people who won’t see their mommy or daddy or brother or sister or son or daughter anymore (What does this even mean?).”

They were quiet. Commercials about body lotion and luxury cars came on in between videos of the newscast that derailed the conversation. The twins asked questions. Anna asked, “Did the man shoot Jesus?” Desmond said, “Your hair is black.” Anna said, “Is the man going to shoot our church?” Desmond asked, “Can I have pretzels?”

Ugh. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything?

Eventually, they figure it out, assures Seth, a writer-friend of mine, who shared a story with me about his eldest son asking about the confederate flag, what it is and why it’s all over the South. He basically walked his son through the Civil War. Thinking through the ideological conflicts and what the flag represents even today, the son asked: “The people who still display these flags – aren’t they traitors to the country?” Seth replies, “That’s a really good question, isn’t it?”

This is the work. With my own kids. Even if I have no idea how they’ll respond and what kinds of questions they’ll ask me. Even if it means taking them to protests and demonstrations and have them shout “Black Lives Matter” with me when they don’t totally understand the words. Even if they fall asleep in my arms as we stand in vigil for lives that were lost this past year. Even if we sit in the pews of an unfamiliar church in town to pray for a similar church in Charleston, South Carolina.

We tell them the right stories. We tell them the real stories.Click To Tweet

We show them how we live and love and what we believe by speaking up and pointing out that those flags need to come down. Now. Why? What we say or do or pursue – it matters.

Because part of the work is yes, making space and listening, but now is also the time for so much more as Rev. Tawyna Denise Anderson calls us to in this movement. Now is the time TO SHOW UP (yes, I’m shouting). Now is the time for not cringing and shying away from the “awkwardness” of race conversations, now is the time for calling it EXACTLY WHAT IT IS then talking and questioning, now is the time for the messy work of tearing down and building back up again. As my sister Austin says, “I need you to know those are the only two choices. There is no such thing as neutrality. You are either nurturing love or hate. There is no middle ground, no third way, no alternative.” Austin, Micky, Darnell, Broderick, Denise, Laura, Chanelle, Michelle, Christina, Monica, Bridgett, Mashadi, Nyasha, Grace, Kimm, LeQuita, Tara, Cheni, Erick, Derrick, Kesha, Kwame, LaMont, Jessica – I’m in this with you.

So, right now, for the kids, “it’s the bad man who shot the nine people.” Later maybe it’ll be “the white man who shot and killed nine black people.” Then maybe it’ll be “the white American terrorist who murdered nine black people in a church.” It’s a process for me. It’s a process for them. And by God they will get there, and they will be working right alongside us. And it’s going to be in the church where we learn these stories and perspectives, too.

It is, precisely, because race and racism is a reality, and because of everything that has come out of those constructs are ongoing, that we need to talk, write and catalyze these conversations in order to become aware of the depth of this disease, even as it has infected the church. – Ruth-Aimee Rosario-Belonni

No more talk of allies. We’re hitting the ground running every single day. We’re going to see it and call it out every single day. We’re getting in the trenches with our brothers and sisters every single day. I don’t care if people question my motives or methods, or question my platform, or question my mistakes because fuck, I’m going to make a ton of mistakes a long the way but that’s no excuse, or question my expertise or background or my investment because I’m not black. I don’t have time for that – you’re either in this now or you’re in the way. It starts now every single day whether I’m in college, seminary or the mother of three children who aren’t even five years old.

KEEPING IT REAL: Jon Stewart on Charleston Church Shooting! It’s like Jon Stewart is the only white dude with a name who keeps it real and has the back of the wrong doings happening to black people.

Posted by ROCK-SOLID on Thursday, June 18, 2015

Deeper Story: Erasing Voices, Erasing Bodies

Deeper Story: Erasing Voices, Erasing Bodies

radio mic

It’s the last post over at Deeper Story.

I dreaded preaching.

In seminary we had to take PR201 and PR202 and then eventually some kind of elective on homiletics. The professor I had for the intro level classes was a white, ol’ school, 1950’s type preacher with a Billy-Grahamesque radio voice. He was so critical of the women in the class, and particularly me, so much so even the students who were not supportive of women’s ordination (yes, we had those at Princeton) often came to my rescue during his feedback. I remember going back to my dorm room after one class and crying in bed feeling utterly un-called to the preaching vocation, and wondering should I even bother.

Read the rest there

 

Short-Term Mission Trips, Protests and Sharing the Narrative

Short-Term Mission Trips, Protests and Sharing the Narrative

IMG_1222.PNG

The first time I went to Mexico was a mission trip. A church youth group. An earnest youth pastor. And boxes of tracts in Spanish.

One purpose. We went with the intention of saving the poor and ignorant. Clearly, they needed Jesus. What was most important to their lives was the salvation of their souls.

Meanwhile, we played, we sang together, we ate and received their hospitality, we toured the area, and we felt like we were doing God’s work. We were their saviors.

II

For five years we travelled to the Dominican Republic to work “hand in hand” with one church community. Mostly youth, but we had parents, older adults, and even children who were on these mission teams. One summer we helped pour a foundation. The next summer we built walls. Always, we ate together, we worshipped together, we lived together. Always, we cried the last night as we held hands during the worship service. Always, we wondered how they would survive until the next year.

Each time we went back it was like a family reunion – we saw Dominican children grow up so quickly, and were amazed that they were able to expand the building and community even more.

Without us.

II

Clarkston.

The largest refugee settlement in the country is in Atlanta, GA. Ghanians, Ethiopians, Cameroonians, Chin and Karin, Indonesians and other South Asians. A local church has provided space for leaders from two of the ethnic groups to gather for worship and build a worshipping community.

We got on a bus with the pastors and leaders, and they took us to the safe apartment complex because the other one had three buildings burned down by individuals seeking retribution. Right around when the local elementary school let out so many children and parents are migrating in one direction. Driving into the community made me flashback to when we would drive into the Dominican community each summer, and the people would stare at us. Curiosity. Anxiety. Uncertainty on their faces. We stopped right in the center, we got out, and in twos, we walked around for about 10 minutes. Some of these refugees said hello, and others ran in the other direction.

Afterwards, we sat in the newly renovated sanctuary listening to the pastor and a young person speak animatedly about the wider impact having this space was making for their community of refugees from the Republic of Congo. This beautiful African refugee boy had a smile that lit up the room every time he shared stories about his friends coming to the church with him.

And all I could think – I kept praying, “Please God, please God, please God, keep him safe. Keep him safe and alive.”

II

We aren’t missionaries. We aren’t saviors. We aren’t even really terribly necessary.

It’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around whether it’s better for me to show up somewhere or to send money. There are times I criticize upper-class churches who are well-endowed and funded by their community, and all they do is write a big check every year to each of the different service agencies and non-profits in town. Because all the ways that these moments of standing in solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed – being with the Dominicans and Haitians – it has continued to shape me – that’s immeasurable and priceless. I treasure the experience of mutual ministry, and the profound hospitality and compassion that happens in these seasons, and the profound experience of each other’s humanity. To go and listen, and be taught, cared for and loved by these people was a healing balm.

And then I can’t help but cringe at the thought of how much extra work we actually created for our Dominican friends because they would have to stay longer to correct our shoddy brick-laying and building walls. It probably would have been better to just send the money I raised for transportation, airline, and everything and hire more Dominican workers.

We take up a lot of space. Our bodies. Our voices. Our privilege. Do we really understand what it means to walk into a community or tragedy full of our privilege? As much as we want to share, stand, walk with those we’ve hurt with our complicity, do we realize that we will never be totally without or innocent of our privilege? We will never be free of the privilege. We will never be able to totally check that privilege. We will never be free of the guilt of our privilege. And maybe we need to sit – quiet – in that discomfort.

Do we see the possibility that our perspectives and voices are not really necessary? And that if there’s anything that is even remotely helpful it is to stop talking, stop teaching, stop taking over, and just listen, and really listen, listen and point to the others who have been speaking, resisting, and protesting for years?

What if being a part of the narrative means to actually stop being a part of the narrative?

Because we begin to assume the very people who created oppressive institutions will somehow also be the solution. We see a growing number of race “experts” talking about and blogging about Ferguson as if they hold the knowledge and tools necessary to absolve racism–but end up trying to absolve their own guilt and complicity. How many of the people writing about race have never even bothered to organize in their own communities to end violence? How many of these experts will no name state violence, knowing they benefit from the continuation of state power? What does it mean when those we uphold as leaders of the church and leading voices in race politics get their paychecks without having to give up any of the privileges afforded to them by their own status? What we have is an overabundance of people talking about race and injustice, and too few willing to take up the cross. We need to build co-strugglers and not allies. We need to stop talking over those most directly impacted by structures of violence and instead center what they have been saying for years. Especially as middle class East Asian Americans, we need to learn how to put down the microphone.

Let the right people drop the mic.

Ferguson is not a stepping stone to talking about orientalism and the perils of war. Ferguson is not merely a conversation starter to recenter Asian American narratives. We need to understand how we have relative and not comparative histories alongside Black people in America. The reality is it becomes too easy to point fingers at whiteness without realizing how we, as Asian Americans, can often further the chasm between Blacks and Whites. Equality with white people is not equality for everyone. Solidarity with black people is more than an intellectual understanding of anti-blackness. Our politics are who we choose to center, listen to, be in community with, and organize around. We need people to silently stand behind the most marginalized without looking for the glory that comes with visibility and credit for being a follower of Christ.

“Be therefore imitators of Christ…”

Race Revelations: Matters of Racial Identity and Community

There’s a ton of series’ on this blog. I wanted to do it lately to keep all these different interests organized in some way, but also make me continue to engage and pursue dialogue about them.

So, next up (and not totally different from the Making Paper Cranes series) is Race Revelations.

From Desmond Tutu: Ubuntu..is to say, “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.” It took me a long time to realize my liberation and freedom are bound up in all. What this means is that I can’t be silent about racial injustices, especially not now when my babies are in this world, too. But, it also means that I can encourage and make a place for others to realize who they are is wrapped up in so many systemic layers. Privilege. Disadvantaged. Upper-class. Oppression. Race and culture. This will be a series that offers raw stories of those who’ve discovered who they are in relation to the Other.

I constantly have numerous conversations with a lot of different folks about race and racial identity. Often with Anglo Americans we talk about what it means to realize how they view and treat the “Other” in our midst, whether it’s walking down the street or being served by one. With those who are people of color like myself there are stories ranging from encountering racism to realizing and embracing our unique ethnic heritage to what it means to be married to someone of a different race.

This could really go so many ways. But lately all the talk about being American, and the DREAM Act, immigrants, etc. I can’t stop thinking about it. I want this to be a space where we we can engage race in a way that’s critical, thoughtful, and in the end, helpful. By helpful, I’m thinking in terms of connections – within one’s self and with others. Theological would also be super if it pertains to you.

As the babies get older I realize how much I need to start reflecting on ways to talk about identity. So, if you’d like to write a reflection for this series, please leave a comment below or hit me up at FACEBOOK or TWITTER or email.

Looking forward!


Kee Won Huh: What My Racist Teacher Taught Me
Alex Hendrickson: Why I Deal with Race
Caela Simmons Woods: Raising White Kids
Erin Dunigan: Flesh-Colored Glasses
Meredith Holladay: The Power of Story in The Help
Aida Haddad: The Dream Act

The American Dream: Immigrants, Fathers, and Holidays


We were sitting in People’s Park off Kirkwood, which is one of the main student drags. I was with 3 other girls for our summer weekly Book Nosh, and we were about to dig into some of the characters of CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce. Everyone was slurping up some iced coffee drinks and other summery liquid confections, and in a wonderful mood, I think, with the air cooling down, the sun slowly setting though it was still quite light out. And then 2 young men walked up and asked out of the blue;

Can we ask you a question? What do you think about the American Dream?

Apparently they were doing some kind of project for a journalism class. Their professor encouraged them to talk to random people about their thoughts on the American Dream. I was pretty much at a loss for words, but in general, I agreed with the other girls’ descriptions of “opportunity” and “success” as well as how it is a pretty antiquated label. I can’t think of the last time I actually heard anyone use it unless to make a joke or with sarcasm.

My mind turned toward my parents. I imagine that some version of the American dream drove them to immigrate to the US. After being here for thirty some years I wonder how they would have described the American dream to these students.

Thinking about our immigrant history I have to turn towards Jose Antonio Vargas’ story. He wrote an incredible essay for the NY Times “coming out” as an illegal immigrant, and then recently I saw a TIME tweet about an article called “Inside the World of the Illegal Immigrant” and his project Define American:

There are an estimated 11.5 million people like me in this country, human beings with stories as varied as that of the U.S. itself yet who lack a legal claim to exist here. It’s an issue that touches people of all ethnicities and backgrounds: Latinos and Asians, blacks and whites. (And yes, undocumented immigrants come from all sorts of countries, like Israel, Nigeria and Germany.) It’s an issue that goes beyond election-year politics and transcends the limitations of our broken immigration system and the policies being written to address them.

How difficult it was for my parents, even for my father, who did everything “right,” in terms of the naturalization process. And that’s a part of the picture that most don’t understand about immigration. It’s much more than simple legality or citizenship. And I don’t have to get into how there is something wrong with the discourse, which is at the very least, dependent on vilifying language. The words that qualify immigrant, and not just “illegal,” tend to dilute the wide range of possibilities and circumstances that people face in this country. These are human beings, not just potential tax-paying citizens or machines for the factories. My parents tried their hand at so many businesses, and all kinds of work, and I remember how much dignity they set aside, not only to scrape by, but to be visibly accepted as real US citizens pursuing the same goals of work, home, and family.

With Father’s Day coming up, I’m mindful of my family, too, and specifically, of Andy, of course. How fortunate the babies are to have a father who is present. He comes home for lunch often, and will sometimes see the babies then, and he is usually in charge of their baths. On his “off days,” he spends it reading them the same 4 books a thousand times, wrestling with them on the floor, and trying to get them to eat scrambled eggs and PB and J sandwiches. Not to mention copious amounts of poopy diapers. He’s amazing.

And, I’m thankful for our fathers, too. Andy’s father, Tom, is gracious and compassionate, thoughtful and sensitive. Andy is really similar to him in so many ways. Tom exudes a quiet strength so no matter what is happening it just feels calm and reassuring when he’s in charge. Likewise, I always felt like if my father was involved with anything it would work out fine – he helped me with school projects and writing assignments, and later in life, perspectives on ministry. I can’t imagine what life would be like without him, or Andy or Tom.

Going back to the American Dream…Tom and my father clearly embody it in different ways. And yet, at the core, despite one having Czech roots and the other staunchly Korean, one who does a mean chipped ham sandwich and the other who grows peppers and perilla plants every summer, one who has been in ministry for over three decades and the other involved with church for so long before becoming ordained for ministry…they both absolutely prioritize family and relationships. The American Dream may not be applicable anymore but whether it’s appropriated by immigrants or reinvented by the majority culture, it can still be interesting to think about with others. Because there really isn’t an American Dream anymore…it’s just the Dream, and every human being has one, and has a right to live it out.

I think that’s what I take away the most from the dads in my life: They have dreams and they go after them hard. I can’t think of a better reason to be thankful this weekend when we celebrate fathers – those fathers that stick around, those fathers who have to work and travel all the time but still call every night, those fathers who check up on their 30-something kids, those fathers who know they don’t have it all figured it out but keep trying anyway, those fathers who know that meetings will come and go but that soccer game is important, those fathers who dream big, and keep dreaming for their kids, whether the kids are in the same country with them, or in another country waiting for the paycheck their father just got and mailed to them for groceries. Maybe that should be the New American dream…a new way of doing and being American, and that’s fighting for life and survival, at whatever cost.