Thoughts on race and racism from a mixed chick.

I took this photo during the weekend described in this post. At the time, I was capturing the beauty of a snowy afternoon. Looking back on it now, I see the long road ahead and the work that is still to be done on race, ethnicity, and justice in America. It may be snowy and slippery; it may not be fun to traverse. But look: the road has already been cleared for us by those who came before. We’re already standing on the path. We just have to keep marching.

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.

-Barack Obama

*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:

Books:

  • 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

Articles:

Video:

Movies:

  • 13th
  • Just Mercy
  • Hidden Figures
  • Selma

Other:

Black Lives Matter.

As a Christian, Asian-American, and Chinese adoptee, I’ve often found myself “in-between” cultures and places.

This is a moment in the history of our nation and in my own life where I need to make it clear that I don’t stand “in-between;” I stand against white supremacy and systemic, state-sanctioned injustice and violence against Black people. I stand against the officers that killed George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others; I stand against Trump and a prideful, selfish, arrogant, propagandized “Christianity” that seeks to assert its own image and righteous personal status over mourning, grieving voices crying out for justice.

I stand against being labeled as a “model minority” who is just docile, easy-going, smart, respectful and complacent.

I challenge myself and my Asian-American, White, and white-passing Christian friends to listen, lament and take action. But first, please listen and lament.

As Christians, we need to acknowledge, question and challenge the fact that our own Christian identity is intertwined in centuries of colonialism, slavery, anti-blackness and the wielding of power over native bodies. Willie James Jennings, in his book The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, that opened my eyes to the deep, dark history of Christianity – extending back to European explorers and conquistadors such as Cortes who came to the Americas and enslaved native peoples in the name of the cross – says that in order to achieve reconciliation, “we must first articulate the profound deformities of Christian intimacy and identity in modernity. Until we do, all theological discussions of reconciliation will be exactly what they tend to be: ideological tools for facilitating negotiations of power; or socially exhausted idealist claims masquerading as serious theological accounts.” He goes on to say, “it is not at all clear that most Christians are ready to imagine reconciliation.”

We need to lament, repent and ask for forgiveness. This will require reading books, acknowledging that we are wrong, both in our own biases and our position within a system, an institution that has been wrong. It will require listening, paying attention, unlearning and learning again how to be well-informed, humble and resistant to institutions of power and oppression. I’m still working on how to understand my Christian faith in light of its dark roots. How to untangle and understand the true way of the cross and the way of Jesus in light of ways it has been misinterpreted and wielded as a weapon of oppression and violence instead of a lifestyle of love and grace. The truth, as my Pastor, Scott, reminded me of in his sermon this past Sunday, is that Jesus and the Gospel resisted Rome and institutions of power and oppression. Jesus stood with those who were sick, poor, outcast and hurting over and over again – lepers, paralytics, demon-possessed people, a woman who was to be killed for what she had done wrong (Luke 5:12-16, 5:17-26, 7:36-50). Jesus once went into the temple and overturned tables of those buying and selling, those who had turned his “house” into a “den of robbers,” those who were disrespecting a sacred space and taking advantage of others, using it for selfish and profitable means (Mt. 21:12-13). So as Christians, we need to actively resist and reject an institutionalized, propagandized narrative of power or self-righteousness and examine who Jesus is and where he would be in the midst of our modern struggles, because he was never on the side of institutional power or oppression. He was always with those who were outcast, mistreated and hurting. He himself was put to death by Rome. He is with those who have knees on their necks, those who got hit with rubber bullets and tear gas, those who are having tough conversations with friends and family or those lamenting and asking for forgiveness and understanding.

As an Asian American and an adoptee, and for my fellow Asian American and adopted friends, it’s past time for us to have conversations about race with our families. For many of us, most of our family members are Caucasian and may not be active in racial justice conversations or movements. Some may even be openly or more covertly racist. We are all embedded in a society of institutionalized racism, and it’s time that we positioned ourselves in a way that calls attention to that. There are lots of lists out there of things to do; I encourage you to find them and start reading, watching documentaries, listening to podcasts, writing out your thoughts and talking about them with friends and family. The New Jim Crow, So You Want to Talk about Race, White Fragility, The Fire Next Time, Invisible Man, Race Matters, countless other books – are a good place to start. And if anyone has suggestions of books that discuss race from an adoptee perspective, please let me know! We have an intersectionality to our story that others don’t have, where our families likely don’t share the same racial experience as us. Yes, we may be the “model minority,” stereotyped as cooperative, intelligent, driven and quiet, among other things – but we also have likely experienced racist or unjust assumptions in this current time of COVID-19 surrounding the inception of the virus in Wuhan. I’ve heard things specifically told to me in a joking way because I am Asian, “oh, you know it’s being called the Kung flu” or people eyeing me skeptically and avoiding me in grocery stores (more so in the beginning of the pandemic) because of my Asian features. It hasn’t been extreme, but still, it’s noticeable. Now is more a time than ever to start having conversations about race – examining our own racial and ethnic identities as Asian Americans adopted into white families, who share a culture that is different than our racial identity. What does this mean? Where does this position us in regard to a larger racial conversation?

Again, I’d implore you to take a stance. We can’t stay “in-between” forever, or give in to our “model minority” stereotype. We understand, on a level, what it looks like to feel out of place or in-between places. We can use our platforms to seek understanding, engage in conversation, listen to both sides – our Black friends, and Black voices in our communities – and then take that back to our White circles – our family members or friends. I think that our “in-betweenness” can be used to our advantage in that sense. Sign the petitions, make the calls, go vote when it is time, donate money to reputable organizations like Black Lives Matter, this great list by Reclaim the Block, Bail Project, Black Visions Collective, George Floyd Memorial Fund, Equal Justice Initiative, or countless others.

Thank you for reading all this, and please reach out if you have suggestions of resources for Asian Americans, specifically adoptees, in navigating racial topics. Or, if you have suggestions of informed theologians writing on race, lament or reconciliation – I am especially interested in Asian-American or Black theologians (at this time).  

Blessings to you all,

Joy

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – MLK Jr., Strength to Love