My junior year of college, a friend invited me to the Posse Plus retreat, a weekend where Posse scholars invite a plus one to learn together and discuss an important campus issue: in this case, the topic “Us vs. Them.” We had a lot of conversation about what divides us over the course of the weekend, including a game where we had to find our group based on a question. We covered siblings, spirituality, and of course, the ultimate divider: ethnic group. As a proud Wasian (biracial White and Asian), I never quite fit into these demographics when the topic of race comes up, but since we were in charge of defining our groups, I quickly found another Wasian and soon had a good group going.
Once everyone had formed a group, we went around the room and said our group’s name. When it was our turn, I stepped forward and confidently proclaimed us the biracial group–but no sooner had I said it that someone in a much larger group to my left called over and said, “Wait what? We’re the biracial group! Come on over and join us!”
I was absolutely shocked, and completely embarrassed, to find in that moment that I expected others to appreciate my uniqueness, but had not even considered that the people in the other group might identify the same as me. I had pegged pretty much every single person in that group as Black, not biracial.
Sure, I knew that the biracial category included many more permutations than White and Asian, but I had no idea until that moment just how much I had centered myself as the “typical” biracial person. Honestly, it’s not all that surprising either: it is my privilege as a Wasian to be recognized as biracial or blend in as White. Blasians, Afro-Latin@s, and biracial Black and White people usually don’t have that option: thanks to the one drop rule established at the founding of this country, they’re Black whether they like it or not (and don’t get me started on the fact that we have next to no positive terms to describe multiracial people).
Over the last few weeks, my heart has broken over and over again as we have seen in glaring detail how our country is built from the ground up to dehumanize and eliminate Black lives. We saw it when Ahmaud Arbery, going out for a jog, was hunted down by two men assuming he was a thief. We saw it when Breonna Taylor was gunned down in her bed after cops broke into the wrong house. We saw it when Amy Cooper called the police, accusing Christian Cooper of threatening her life when he just asked her to put a leash on her dog. And of course we saw it when a White police officer pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck for almost 9 minutes, while 3 other officers, including one Asian, looked on and did nothing.*
Black Lives Matter, period. While it’s never been clearer than in the midst of this pandemic that every single life is precious, this simultaneous health and economic crisis has laid bare the inequalities that are built into our system. Black people have suffered more severely from the coronavirus than their White counterparts, poor communities struggle to survive in the wake of massive layoffs, and with all of this going on, police and neighborhood vigilantes still continue to murder Black people. Non-Black friends, we need to stand up for justice. We cannot let this moment pass: it’s time to call for change throughout our nation, from education to the workplace to policing.
I love Dr. King’s remark: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” As we move forward from this moment, as we commit to fighting this fight and building change in our communities, I know that I can’t fuel my commitment to change with the outrage that I feel every time I open my Facebook app. In the last few weeks, I have so easily slipped into this outrage and anger towards the people who “just don’t get it.” But God’s response to me every single time has been the same: to seek Him and aim to be a person of peace in this ongoing conversation. Choose love over hate. Every time I start getting worked up, He has reminded me that Jesus came not for the righteous among us (who I would so love to count myself among) but for the sinners, and that though I like to ignore it, my sin is just as ugly as that of the cop who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
There’s a lot to be done in the wake of what we’ve experienced in the last month. For those who are new to this conversation, it’s time to dig deep and educate yourselves. For the Black community: thank you for doing this work that should never have been yours to take on. Let us do the work to educate ourselves and look for answers. For those who have been in this conversation for years, we’re reminded again of just how broken our country is, and how far there is to go–but I do also feel hope for change. I’ve seen these conversations and calls for an American reckoning with our past get swept under the rug for years at this point, with the same atrocities and conversations calling for change happening over and over again. Maybe this will be the tipping point that we’ve been waiting for.
So where do I go from here?
That moment at the Posse Plus retreat, three years ago, was a moment of clarity for me. It felt as though the scales had fallen from my eyes: I had always heard, but had never truly listened. So I continued to listen throughout the rest of that weekend, and the rest of that spring, and have continued to listen to Black stories and voices in the years since. I (mostly) have stopped asking “but what about Asians?” when Black people discuss their lived experience. When I actually started listening, I began to be able to see. It’s human nature to center ourselves in the universe, and some of this work for me is to continue to set my own story aside so I have room to truly hear our Black brothers and sisters when they speak. So often I have claimed my Chinese half, my POC-ness, as a way to step out of these conversations. Part of my journey right now is to own my Whiteness and the privileges it has afforded me in my life.
I’ve been learning (and unlearning) for a long time–my parents have been training me and my siblings in anti-racism from day one. But moments like the one on that snowy January day in Maine show me exactly how racism is built into our system, how we can’t just choose to be “colorblind” or “ignore race.” We all have our blind spots and we all participate in this society that favors light skin over dark. In our broken world, I don’t know that it’s possible to see true reconciliation this side of heaven. But I do take hope in the fact that heaven will be a place where every nation, tribe, and tongue kneels before the Father, worshiping him all together. I believe that every single one of us was made in His image, and that God looks at us, His creation, and calls it good. Until then, Jesus (who was brown, not White) calls us into relationship with him; to be more like him every day.
Yes, we need room to discuss anti-Asian racism–we need look no further than the beginning of this pandemic to recognize that. We need space to hear Indigenous, Latin@, queer, and differently abled voices too. But there’s enough pain and suffering to go around for everyone. We are starting to fight back against centuries of systemic oppression, where this nation built into its very fabric the idea that Black people are not truly people. So for now, take the time to listen to our Black neighbors. Protest, vote, donate, read. This change begins with you and with me. These are the moments that we as White, White-passing, and Asian people are being called into. Let us repent: recognize our sin and turn away from it. Let us embrace the discomfort. I’m ready to take the next step–even though it’s often hard, wearying, and we will learn things about ourselves that we don’t particularly like.
Will you come with me?
Nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change.
*The list has kept growing since I started writing as well: Rayshard Brooks. Tony McDade. Riah Milton. Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells. Robert Fuller. Malcolm Harsch. Toyin Salau. And more.
Some Light Reading:
- Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson
- Beyond Colorblind, Sarah Shin
- Be the Bridge, Latasha Morrison
- White Fragility, Robin diAngelo
- Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien
- Latasha Morrison, Jennie Allen, and Mike Kelsey, Where do we go from here?
- Lisa Sharon Harper and Jen Hatmaker: White Women’s Toxic Tears
- Mellody Hobson: Color blind or color brave?
- Hasan Minhaj: We Cannot Stay Silent about George Floyd
- John Oliver: Police
- Just Mercy
- Hidden Figures
- The LaunchPad Planner
- Revisionist History podcast (Malcolm Gladwell)