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

The Salt Collective: Embracing Being the Token

The Salt Collective: Embracing Being the Token

Today I’m over at the SALT Collective!


“I am the only one. On most committees or organizations, I am usually the only one. The only woman. The only young person. The only racial “minority.” The only liberal. And most recently, the only mother with young children. It was something I grew accustomed to rather quickly, this being the token fill-in-the-blank.”

This was the opening to the chapter I wrote in Streams Run Uphill: Conversations with Clergywomen of Color. A book full of theological, sociological, cultural reflections on the experience of clergywomen of color I had the privilege of editing turned into continuous fodder for my own reflection on the complicated intersections of race, gender, economics, and more.

Being a Presbyterian minister now for over ten years I’ve spent much time struggling to articulate what it means to be the token, a standout and a novelty – a Korean American clergywoman. Though I’ve come to feel comfortable in my clergy-skin teaching, leading worship, administering sacraments, and preaching from the pulpit, I still wrestle with the gaze of the wider public when I am out and about with my collar on. The white tab in the center of my neck surrounded by the somber black seems to cause a double-take by those who walk by me. It’s the clash of the traditional images of the office with the (relative) youthfulness of my face, my being a woman, and my East Asian heritage that perhaps elicits this response.

But, I haven’t always worn a collar – it’s not terribly common attire for Presbyterian clergy. Generally, Presbyterians like to blend in a little more.

I chose to wear one because I wanted to stand out.

Read the rest at the SALT Collective.

Killjoy Prophets, Asian America, Evangelicalism (Part 2)

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In seminary I took a course called Cultural Hermeneutics team-taught by two professors. One would go on to become one of my favorite teachers and the other would become my senior thesis advisor. A close friend, at the time and now, Erica Liu, along with a handful of other Asian Americans and I sat eagerly looking through the syllabus on that first day of class. We would be introduced to African American, Latin@, African, and Asian frameworks for reading the Bible and doing theology. But…where was the section on Asian American hermeneutics? It would be an understatement to say we felt let down.

But, the professors were both very open to revising the syllabus right away and added a section including some relatively new resources by Asian American theologians. This is what made me love and respect these teachers – their willingness to listen to us, and even be changed by our stories and questions. What’s more – they gave us a platform to present as a group at the end of the semester so we could speak directly from our own contexts. We were grateful for this opportunity.

Since then for well over ten years the syllabus for the class has continued to include Asian American voices. Nevertheless, the struggle to chisel out space for Asian American histories and stories in the here and now remains very real. Everything from the impact of cultural assimilation to the insidious tenacity of orientalism to the pitting of Asian groups against one another to the problem of the continuous exportation of Western values remain as barriers to the development of authentic and genuine Asia America. What’s more is that all these are perpetuated by the institution of the church, and even more specifically, the evangelical church, not only as instruments of coercion and oppression but part of the larger power of empire and white supremacy.

“… the connection between imperial politics and culture is astonishingly direct. American attitudes to American ‘greatness,’ to hierarchies of race, to the perils of ‘other’ revolutions (the American revolution being considered unique and somehow unrepeatable anywhere else in the world) have remained constant, have dictated, have obscured, the realities of empire, while apologists for overseas American interests have insisted on American innocence, doing good, fighting for freedom.” – Edward Said

Orientalism: We Aren’t Rugs

For some reason the term “oriental,” as a label for those of Asian descent continues to remain in the vernacular of US American culture whether it is the 80 year old grandmother making a side comment about the dry cleaners or the college freshmen from small town USA talking about the international student that sold her a mattress. Often, the simplest explanation is the persistence of objects and products like “oriental rugs,” which for some reason excuses this terrible throwback to marginalizing Asians and Asian descendants.

Oh, but we aren’t being racist when we use this term for rugs and food. However, the reality remains that the very essence of orientalism is present even in these seemingly innocuous remarks: It is “the perspective that these societies are static and undeveloped—thereby fabricating a view of ‘Oriental culture’ that can be studied, depicted, and reproduced. Implicit in this fabrication, writes Said, is the idea that Western society is developed, rational, flexible, and superior.” (From good ol’ Wikipedia). Likewise, Andrea Smith echoes this in her analysis of white supremacy: “The logic of Orientalism marks certain peoples or nations as inferior and as posing a constant threat to the well-being of empire. These peoples are still seen as “civilizations”-they are not property or “disappeared”-however, they will always be imaged as permanent foreign threats to empire,” (From her chapter “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy”). What this means is that Asians, by virtue of being forever foreign, and thus a threat to US empire, they are often depersonalized and subject to emotional, spiritual, and yes, even physical violence by all of Western society.

It is the church that often feels and acts inculpable when it comes to perpetuating orientalist attitudes. Everything from Rickshaw Rally to Rick Warren shows that the undercurrent of racism remains as it manifests itself in Christian culture. And yet, the prolongation of orientalism does not simply impact Asian American identity because it is about the way race is constructed at all levels. To reiterate from the last piece: “Asian American identity development is key in understanding racialization and cultural identity, however it oftentimes gets us stuck within the subordinated subject-position in location to whiteness. It is easier to say what we are not than continue moving on to tease out what we actually embody. Part of moving forward is unlocking that subject position to understand how racial hierarchy models are not horizontal. Our experiences as Asian Americans are not comparative to non-Asian people of color, but relative in social location.”

Why do we continue to speak of the effects of orientalism? Because the experience of depersonalization – objectification, subjugation, and the basic stripping away of dignity remains as Asian Americans continue to be seen as projects and products of the Christian cultural machine. These effects are present even in the most well-intentioned communities that have committees that act like keepers of the quotas and focus on representation within institutions of whiteness and white supremacist frameworks. The vestiges of orientalism exist in the myth of Asian Americans as the model minority.

Frank Wu describes this phenomenon, writing that the phrase “You Asians are all doing well anyway” summarizes the model minority myth, which is the dominant image of Asians in the United States. As a group, besides being intelligent, gifted in math and science, polite, and hardworking, we are seen as being extremely family oriented, law abiding, and successfully entrepreneurial. Asian American historians write that this portrayal began in the mid-1960s, a time of massive racial upheaval. The term was first used by the press to depict Japanese Americans who struggled to enter the mainstream of American life and to laud Chinese Americans for their remarkable accomplishments.

According to Helen Zia, as this new stereotype emerged on the American scene, Asian Americans became increasingly the object of “flattering” media stories. After more than a century of invisibility alternating with virulent headlines that advocated eliminating or imprisoning America’s Asians, a rash of stories began to extol our virtues. Thus the model minority myth was born. This label filtered into college textbooks where it further promoted this image of Asian Americans as minorities who “made it” in this “land of opportunity.”

As discussed earlier: In order to truly reject the model minority myth, Asian Americans need to decenter whiteness in racial justice activism. It is more helpful to understand that despite these “positive” stereotypes of Asian Americans they have only been created to juxtapose the negative stereotypes attributed to Black people. Positive stereotypes were created to justify the logics of racism, by attributing success of a minority group to cultural factors…Asian American stereotypes are a result of white imagination, and black stereotypes being one manifestation of the afterlife of slavery; a way to blame Black people for their own struggles rather than understanding how the state has embedded anti-blackness into the very foundation of the U.S.

The harder question – how does this implicate our church communities?

Missionary Position: Saving Our Souls

Erica Liu, campus pastor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote a paper on the context of second generation Asian American ministries while she was a seminary student. According to her research what was happening in the U.S. was an extension of what was happening abroad in the countries of origin of many Asian Americans. “Evangelicals hit Asians on both sides of the Pacific Ocean as they proselytized the Asians.” All of it was couched in the language of mission – salvation and conversion. But, there wasn’t just a religious agenda, there was a cultural one, too.

She writes:

…Christian missionaries went abroad to bring the gospel to Asians. After cheap labor became unnecessary, anti-Asian sentiment became more intense and laws were passed by the U.S. government which not only discriminated against Asian Americans but prevented Asian immigrants from entering. However, this did not deter the missionaries as they created societies which sent them into China, Korea, and Taiwan. The impact that these missionaries had upon later Asian immigrants is discussed by Rudy Busto as he reiterates the work of Karl Fung:

These conservative evangelical immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan, Fung observes, came out of a history of intense conservative Christian foreign mission work and were strongly attached to the “absolute authority and clear direction” of evangelicalism in the wake of massive social upheaval after the communist takeover of China in 1949 ((Busto, Rudy V. “The Gospel According to the Model Minority?: Hazarding an Interpretation of Asian American Evangelical College Students.” Amerasia Journal (Vol. 22, No. 1), edited by Russell C. Leong. Los Angeles: Asian American Studies Center, University of California at Los Angeles, 1996, 136.)

The double-pronged missionary work abroad and in the US reinforced this evangelical culture – the music, the Jesus-language and just-prayers, and narrow theological view of humanity and God. In the US the impact of evangelicalism on Asian Americans served to essentially “white-wash” the communities so that their ministries mimicked white evangelical communities to a tee. This forces us to question whether or not becoming Christian is synonymous to becoming white.

Liu goes on: “Chang states, At Yale, the Campus Crusade for Christ, which was 100 percent white in the ‘80s, is now 90 percent Asian. The InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Stanford has become almost totally Asian, while at Harvard it is increasingly common to spot t-shirts proudly emblazoned with “The Asian Awakening.” On many campuses, Asian Christian gatherings have even become a standard part of the undergraduate social experience. Not only have evangelical groups succeeded in bringing Asian Americans in their fold, but they have made them into one of their strongest groups of evangelizers. Chang notes that, “Asian American students have become the targets of choice for Christian missionaries of all stripes.” IVCF hosts a mission conference every three years called Urbana which focuses on encouraging college students to become missionaries and evangelizers. When it started in 1946 there were few Asian American students in attendance, but in 2000, 5067 Asian students (26.9% of the total) were counted. The success which evangelical Christianity has had amongst Asian American college students can be seen by the sheer number of Asian Christian associations which exist on campuses (for instance, Berkeley has 64 according to Chang).”

In other words, conversion is a tool of exceptionalism.

The myth of exceptionalism is certainly present in evangelical communities. Asian Americans are expected not only to be extremely biblically literate, but leaders, and within Asian American evangelical communities this is present in the hierarchy of roles especially rooted in gender. Whatever the successes the colonialistic perspective is that Asian Americans are a successful project. We make institutions look good. We make churches look good. We make America look good. We bring surface level diversity within a  multiculturalist project.

Whether the conversion happens here or abroad it is analogous to (religious) colonization. I am influenced by Frantz Fanon, a postcolonial revolutionary and psychologist whose racialized identity began with a conception of himself as French as he had grown up in the French colony of Martinique until he moved to France and discovered that he was not seen as French but as black. It was the language that had larger implications for his consciousness: “To speak … means above all to assume a culture, to support the weight of a civilization” (Black Skin White Masks 17). Likewise, evangelicalism has required a specific language and to “speak” it gives the Christian follower a sense of belonging. When the Asian American enters into a predominantly white Christian evangelical community where her legitimacy is questioned she can only prove herself by proficiently speaking the language.

What Fanon’s analysis of race, colonialism and orientalism gives us is the psychological effects of subjugation through language. The internalization of culture and power relationships through language has a deeper effect on the colonized mind, and it is the more subtle and insidious structure of language that binds those outside the dominant group. For Asian American women there is the double bondage of race and gender that creates a unique experience of oppression. The evangelical language of submission is reinforced by continuous sexualization – both overtly and implicitly – of Asian American women, and even in those communities that profess to be progressive and open, the biggest transgressions often seem to be when there is an attempt to broaden conversations but this meant stepping out of the expectation of being quiet, submissive, and amicable. Ultimately, evangelical language and culture ends up being the opposite of redemptive and transformative – it dehumanizes – but not only those in “minority” groups, it dilutes the humanity of those in the dominant group, too.

“If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time…But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

-Lila Watson

Asian American Assimilation: Are We White Enough?

What is it about evangelicalism that historically seems to attract Asian Americans? Theories range from ties to Confucian culture to the space given to be emotive to the ease in which Asians were able to conform to wider American culture.

Whether it is joining a white evangelical ministry or being part of an Asian American evangelical community the end result is the same. It is the steadfast reality that to become acceptable to the dominant group the requirement is assimilation, and assimilation means not only consuming but also being appropriated by white culture. Asian Americans being appropriated by white culture ranges from everything including being a buffer to other “minority” groups. Julia Carrie Wong wrote a stellar piece about complicity and what that does to boost whiteness:

For the past 50 years, Asian-Americans have been the so-called model minority — the minority group held up by politicians and the media to demonstrate the potential for success for people who aren’t white. It is no coincidence that this narrative arose alongside the black power movement in the 1960s. Asian-American success over time became a rhetorical bludgeon used to deny the real and ongoing effects of institutional racism and white supremacy on African-Americans. Ronald Reagan, for example, called Asian-Americans “exemplars of hope and inspiration” while denouncing black women on welfare. The existence of Asian-Americans was a way to deny the significance of whiteness and the hardship of exclusion from it.

When Asian American communities mirror the existence and influence of evangelical communities without constructive critique, and deny the way that this is also an instrument for  the power of the white narrative, they end up reifying white culture. Whiteness is the narrative. Whiteness is the normative. Whiteness becomes equated with authority, legitimacy, and even salvation. Wong asks compellingly: “The truth is, no one really knows what a society that does not privilege whiteness would look like in the U.S.; we haven’t seen it yet. How might we build such an alternative structure?”

This is where the Killjoy Prophets comes in as one bearer of possibility and hope. By centering those voices that are considered the least of these – the voices of women of color – we open ourselves to new ways of being and relating to one another. Judith Butler, philosopher and gender theorist, speaks to categories of identity around gender and sex, but really to humanity when she writes: “We can only rearticulate or resignify the basic categories of…being human…to the extent we submit ourselves to a process of cultural translation…it is a process of yielding our most fundamental categories, that is seeing how and why they break up. It is crucial to recognize the notion of human will only be built over time in and by the process of cultural translation…it will constitute a loss, a disorientation, but one in which the human stands a chance of coming into being anew,” (From Undoing Gender).

Women of color theologians continue to push me towards pneumatological expressions of doctrine and faith expression. This ongoing dialogue -“the process of inculturation is one of integration, in the sense of an integration of the Christian faith and life into a given culture and also an integration of a new expression of the Christian experience in the Church,”  – it is rooted in a posture towards the movement of the Holy Spirit, who seeks to connect and integrate, and make whole. To integrate and make oneself literally a person of integrity, a whole person, means openness and engagement of the fluid and ever-changing nature of culture. It results in an intentional incorporation of other cultures with the attitude that they will help us understand our own stories even amidst conflict and differences.

Similarly, in The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other, Kim describes these new creations in terms of hybridity, which “becomes a form of resistance as it eliminates the dualistic and hierarchical constructions of cultures and illustrates that cultures grow and are dependent on constantly borrowing from each other and affecting one another. Hybridity becomes an important tool for liberation.”(Grace Ji-Sun, Kim, Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011), 96.) In scripture, this is expressed in pneumatological terms as well: “Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” (2 Corinthians 3:17). I would go further to say that hybridity is not only a tool for liberation, but also an expression of liberation.

The way hybridity operates is by shifting “the conceptualization of identity because identity is no longer a stable reference point. It creates a new paradigm in which liminality, instability, impurity, movement, and fluidity inform the formation of identities,” (Grace Ji-Sun, Kim, Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011, 96). The nebulous nature of this paradigm echoes Judith Butler and is also an expression of the Spirit, and while a lack of structure produces unknown vulnerabilities and may seem terrifying to many, it is a doorway to a new way of being as inspired by the Divine through God’s Spirit.

Even as this is written, I’m mindful of the celebration of Reformation Sunday, and the reformers and prophets of old associated with the Protestant church. It seems fitting that the foundation of my own faith tradition is rooted in a legacy of protesters for that is part of the etymology of Protestantism. My prayer is that we will continue boldly in this decolonization project, and as Marlon Bailey reiterates over and over – intervene in white settler colonialist discourse through knowledge production by being self-reflexive and honest about our own complicity in oppression but not end simply with new discourses. Mobilize, organize, and make that change even if one conversation at a time.

By Mihee Kim-Kort, Emily Rice, Suey Park

Streams Run Uphill: Highlighting Other Voices

Streams Run Uphill: Highlighting Other Voices

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This week Jim Kast-Keat of Thirty Seconds or Less will be hosting the writers’ voices of Streams Run Uphill: Conversations with Clergywomen of Color .

“Where streams run uphill, there a woman rules.” -Ethiopian proverb

After Making Paper Cranes I found myself desperate to uncover the meaningful and pertinent experiences of the rare but growing number of other clergywomen. I needed to know that I wasn’t totally alone in this journey. I needed to hear from the ones that looked like me. Those that are other in that they are non-Anglo. Those seen as exotic, foreign, and mysterious.

Some have accents. Some look and sound “American.” Some look incredibly young. Some are bilingual. Some are quiet. Some are vociferous. Some are incredible preachers. Some have a healing pastoral presence. Some are mothers. Some are single. Some are gay. Some are recent immigrants. Some are second or third generation. They serve in Asian American, African American, and Spanish-speaking congregations, or, like me, they serve congregations that look nothing like them. I hungered for the life-giving words that came from our unique calling and the acknowledgment of the distinct challenges we faced from the moment we decided to say, “Lord, here I am. Send me.”

Because there are times I question whether or not my call is as real as others around me – those who seem to have the unwavering support of their congregations and communities, those who seem to have little struggle beyond the “usual” in ministry, those who look so comfortable in their robes and in the pulpit.

All of us – the writers – felt it behooved us to share a little glimpse of the struggle – that perhaps this would be an encouragement for women of color pursuing the call to ministry, but also women of color in any leadership type position in whatever context, and even the congregations who are led by women of color. I grow increasingly convinced that women of color voices need to be centered in the kingdom of God, and that the way to a deeper faithfulness by the church is to position themselves towards these lives and perspectives.

Thank you again to Jim Kast-Keat who provided the space and inspiration for these voices this week:

Larissa Kwong Abazia
Yana Pagan
Laura Cheifetz
LeQuita Hopgood Porter
Cheni Khonje

Short-Term Mission Trips, Protests and Sharing the Narrative

Short-Term Mission Trips, Protests and Sharing the Narrative

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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…”