A Letter to My White American and Asian American Brothers & Sisters

October 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

(This letter was written by another one of our staff on the trek Spenser, and despite his many disclaimers, he is an incredible writer and this letter gives you a taste of what a blessing my team was to me in shaping my faith and perspective)

My Dear Friends,

The original intent of this email was for my White American friends. I’m writing this email because I care about you and I want to share with you about what’s been on my mind lately. I’m not a great writer and English is my second language, but I will try my best to articulate my thoughts. I also acknowledge that the topics of race, racial identity, and racial dynamics are relatively new to me. As I share, I ask for your grace as I continue to work out my own identity and how I should interact with my brothers and sisters from different racial backgrounds.
First, I do recognize that I have been blessed with my White brothers and sisters who are willing to listen to me and read this email. The reality is that many others from Majority Culture don’t care about what I have to say. So thank you for listening.
One of the things I learned in Thailand this summer was discovering my own racial identity and having my eyes opened to racial dynamics both cross-culturally and within our American team. During debrief and orientation, I saw how people from Majority Culture, though unintentional, easily assume what is correct and what is the norm. These include how the Gospel is interpreted, what Justice is, how to live justly, and assumptions about our upbringings. I saw this especially clearly as the top leadership of our program were all White Americans. Without seeing these situations through the racial lens, I saw many of our students of color accommodated to majority culture. This is especially true when indirect collective culture interacts with direct individualistic culture. As a person of color myself, this really sucks. It sucks because by vocalizing and explaining ourselves, we are still accommodating. In order to be heard, I have to adjust myself to majority culture. It does make me wonder about what the world would look like if the privileged and powerful majority culture were not so individualistic. What would our world look like if the majority culture were collective and more considerate to the people around them? This is in no way to say that there are no brokenness in indirect culture and that White culture is bad. Nonetheless, I am sharing this with you, my White friends, because I want to ask you to listen. Some of you already do this exceptionally well, but I still ask that you continue to listen to the people around you. Listen well to the minorities around you. Listen to your Asian brothers and sisters. Listen to your Black brothers and sisters.
Since my time in Thailand, I am realizing how real racism is and how we need you, my White brothers and sisters, to not stay silent. As you may know, Mike Brown, an unarmed black 18 year-old who was two days away from starting college, was fatally shot by a police officer while he had his hands in the air. As an Asian American, I know how easy it is for me to be apathetic about the situation. Quite frankly, I feel the same apathy from the White community as well. We tell ourselves, this is not our issue. A black kid died in St. Louis, big deal. Nonetheless, I do plead that you would take a moment to grieve, mourn, and empathize with the situation. An innocent 18 year-old young man was killed because of the color of his skin. An innocent young man….because the color of his skin. This is not news to America. We are all familiar with the case of Trayvon Martin. Just in July, Eric Garner, an African American male, died from an illegal chokehold by the police for breaking up a fight. You can watch the whole incident here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1ka4oKu1jo . Three weeks ago, John Crawford, another black man, was killed for holding a toy gun at a Walmart in Ohio. The reality is that the outcomes of these stories would be very different if the persons involved were their White counterparts. These stories are sad and disturbing, and we need you, my white friends, to speak up and be on our side.
Just last week, I was waiting in line at a breakfast cafe when a White man pushed me with his elbow while saying that I should give him space to eat his breakfast. Maybe in this case I was too sensitive, but I doubt he would have acted in this manner if I was White. I also doubt that this man is straight up racist. Most definitely, he has good friends that are non-white or even Asian. But at that moment, I was another skinny Asian man that can be pushed around, and he knew there was no consequence to his actions. Maybe you’ll say that I was too sensitive, and maybe I was. I saw this situation through the racial lens. But friends, the case of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, or John Crawford are real racial situations. I am not being too sensitive for my Black brothers and sisters. As an Asian American, I can walk around a police car in my low-income neighborhood at night and feel at peace. My Black counterparts, however, has to fear that he would get stopped or even shot.
Just yesterday, I was researching about real estate developers at work and I found that all the executive directors are White. Friends, do you see what I see? The whole system, in every aspect of life, is set up for White Americans to succeed. Media, news, magazine covers, police, and the working world. After work, I read an article by Arthur Chu, a 2nd generation Chinese American journalist who wrote about his experience as an Asian American trying to fit in to majority culture. You can find the article here: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/08/12/men-without-a-country-mike-brown-trayvon-martin-my-father-and-me.html. My emotion is stirred as I read this article. I deeply identify with the author. At the same time, I also know that racism becomes a whole different level for my Black American friends. Arthur Chu said it well. “The white racist looks at me and sees a stolen job or the slow decline of national prominence, but he doesn’t see a rapist, a thug, a barbarian at the gate. I fear being snubbed and sometimes spat on but rarely shot. And that is a very important difference.”
Today in 2014, racism still exists. It does not exist like the way it did before. Relatively few Americans would admit that they are straight up racist. But modern day racism is subtle, and it is masked in day to day racial stereotypes. Nonetheless, it is real and it still takes lives and destroys the future of many people of color.
So friends, if you are White, I pray and hope and ask that you would break the apathy and speak up for your brothers and sisters. You are truly privileged and you have the access to power structures. You have the protection of the police and the law. When you speak, people hear. When you tell other White folks that this is a racial issue, they actually listen to you. So please, learn to listen well to people of color, and speak on their behalf. If fact, if you don’t speak, that communicates something too. It communicates that we minorities are just crazy and ultra-sensitive people. This is how power dynamics work, friends, whether you speak or not, something is being communicated. This is because you have power, and again, people listen to you. To my Asian American friends, this is our business too.
So do something. Quite frankly, I don’t know what to do either. Sending out this email is my attempt of doing something. At times, I feel like a fool writing this email. But we must do something. Justice for the oppressed is everywhere in the Bible. So please, talk to a friend, tell your families. Follow what is going on in Ferguson, and be educated. Listen to your minority friends, and speak for them. As Christians, let us not pretend that this world is ok, that racism does not exist, or that it is not our problem. Let us mourn, grieve, and cry out to our God. May we hurt with our brothers and sisters in Ferguson, St. Louis as Apostle Paul urged us to be one body.
If you need to read up on what is going on in Ferguson, this is a good summary about what happened: http://sarahbessey.com/things-tell-ferguson/
Also, if you would like to talk more, please feel free to call me or email or text or facebook me. Thank you for listening, my friends.
May His Kingdom Come,

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