Asian Americans: Let’s Stop Thinking That We’re Switzerland

I haven’t blogged in, well, a long, long time.  But the verdict that came down last week in the Martin-Zimmerman case in Florida was just the catalyst I needed to sit my butt down and pound out a post.

Having heard today that some African Americans have taken their frustrations to the street, resulting in violence and, I believe, several deaths of White Americans (tragically, who were in the wrong place at the wrong time; ironically, like the late Trayvon Martin was), let me first add my small voice to the growing chorus in this country to re-channel the anger and outrage into efforts that–once and for always–establish equal rights and true justice for every person in this still-fragmented nation.  What would or should that look like?  I’m not really sure at this point.  Neither am I convinced that all that needs changing is going to take place sooner than later.

I do know this.  We can’t simply sigh, shake our heads, and do nothing.  I know that for most Black Americans, saying nothing now and doing nothing now is clearly not an option.  Not if they hope to make America safer for their children and grandkids.  And for White Americans: if you’re instinct is to argue the legal merits of this verdict, e.g., “Florida does have that Stand Your Ground Law;” or “The prosecutor either failed to make a strong enough case against Zimmerman or the evidence that was presented simply didn’t persuade the jury.  But that’s how our legal system works.”  Even if you think that arguments like these are valid, keep a lid on it, okay?  You’re only going to come across as blissfully ignorant of your White Privilege and you’re liable to (at best) alienate your Black friends or coworkers or (at worst) be on the receiving end of a well-deserved tongue-lashing from them.  Instead, ask them how they’re feeling.  Even better, visit a local African American church for the next several weeks and just marinate in their post-verdict juices until they tell you that you are truly starting to grasp why they’re so outraged and frustrated at this country’s uneven justice system.

For those of us who are Asian Americans, it’s easy once again to sit this one out.  To pretend we’re Switzerland–all spic and span and nicely neutral–while the Whites and the Blacks grapple in the Octagon.  Heck, this commotion might even involve some Brown Americans, since Zimmerman sure doesn’t look that Caucasian.  Black, White, Brown, but no Yellow.  So it’s doubtful America will see many or any Asian Americans protesting the conditions that allow verdicts like this to occur far too often to people of color.  Just not the color yellow.

How much do you want to bet that scarcely any Asian American churches (Christian, Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim, etc) this past Sunday–in the immediate aftermath of the verdict–mentioned it or prayed about it?  And even though Zimmerman looks like he might have some Hispanic blood coursing through his veins, I’m guessing that most Hispanic American churches didn’t talk about the verdict either.  But you bet the house and everything that’s in your garage that every Black American church was focused on that unpopular verdict.  Their members went to their churches EXPECTING to hear it addressed from the pulpit.  If they didn’t, I’m sure many would have thought that their pastors and their churches must have lost their collective minds. 

Other than the more liberal, Mainline churches, I’m also guessing that the majority of predominantly White American churches–including the famous mega-sized ones–also skipped this opportunity to bring the headlines into the worship service.  And it’s doubtful that most of their members were disturbed by this blind spot or deliberate decision.  And to be fair, my guess is that most of the Asian American churches–especially the more conservative ones–saw no need to deal with or even mention the verdict.  And yet we too are people of color.  What gives?

Of course, we Asian Americans aren’t subjected to racial profiling as African Americans are.  So why should we get upset or get involved in redeeming our judicial system?  This isn’t our fight because we aren’t the victims of uneven justice.  No Asian Americans were injured or killed in the making of this ugly chapter of America’s history.  We can be Switzerland.

Maybe you think you can.  But I can’t.  Because I have a almost 15 year old nephew in Northern Cal who’s already 6’2″ and Black.  Yes, his surname is “Fong” since his dad is Chinese American.  Yes, his mother is a blonde White American.  And yes, his big sister is Eurasian American.  But put him in a hoodie on a twilit night in a small town in the South and there’s a good chance that he will be looked at with suspicion by the local gendarmes and patrolling vigilantes.  Even though I’m not Black and even though my child is not Black, I’m close enough to this issue to be concerned about racial profiling of Black Americans.  If something like this happens to my nephew-with-the-Asia-last-name, I will be outraged and on the warpath.

But as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  I’m here trying to figure out what I can do to END racial profiling of Blacks.  To ensure that Justice doesn’t see the color of a person’s skin or the contents of their wallet.  I want to be part of making the future sidewalks of this country SAFE for my nephew and those he resembles.  I’ve got family in this game, so I can’t afford to be Switzerland.

But what if you’re Asian American and you don’t have any Black relatives?  What will it take to get you to stop thinking like you can remain on the sidelines?  The fact that so many of our Asian American churches are predominantly homogeneous, without even one Black person in the congregation, is a major reason why so many can’t appreciate how African Americans are feeling.  Our church has about a dozen different API groups in it, with a small but active number of Whites, Blacks, and Browns.  If we are truly the Body of Christ and the whole body is affected when even the smallest part suffers pain, then it shouldn’t take a large number of African Americans in an Asian American church for the Asian American members slowly to feel their pain and the reasons for it.  But given the general human proclivity to surround ourselves with people most like us, it’s doubtful that many Asian American churches will ever feel like home to most African Americans.  It’s sort of like the chicken-or-the-egg conundrum: If more Asian American churches were truly hospitable to African Americans, they would have known to deal with the Martin verdict last Sunday.  But since most AA churches aren’t looking to welcome African Americans to join, they lack this sensitivity, fail to engage these kind of issues, and thus don’t feel like communities where Black brothers and sisters would want to join.

The homogeneous habits of all of us results in churches that are far from diverse.  That lack of diversity–racially, culturally, socio-economically, etc.–is one of the major reasons why so many of our churches–not just the Asian American ones–fail to champion the causes of those we don’t know and we don’t love.

I’m going to see my nephew tomorrow.  And I’m going to give him a really big hug.


About pken1997

3rd gen American Born Chinese, originally from Sacramento, CA, but moved to LA in 1978 to finish seminary @ Fuller in Pasadena. Joined the staff of Evergreen Baptist Church of LA in 1981 and became senior pastor in 1997 after the church 'hived.' Re-imagined our church to be Faith Village, a picture and preview of what God is doing in and for all creation. I was a trustee for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Westmont College, and the Asian American Drug Abuse Program. I wrote one of the first books on the future of Asian American churches ("Pursuing the Pearl") and was the Bible expositor at Urbana 2000. I am a organizational transformation consultant with The Genysys Group and a North American delegate to the 3rd Lausanne Congress on Evangelism in Cape Town, South Africa (Oct '10). I've been married since 1981 and our daughter was born in 1999.
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7 Responses to Asian Americans: Let’s Stop Thinking That We’re Switzerland

  1. Hannah says:

    Thank you, P Ken.

  2. readme says:

    P Ken,
    where were you when Shaq, shortly after given an award by NAACP, mocked Yao Ming with racially insensitive “Ching Chung POW” slurs? Do you know what type of example that sets for black kids across the country? why don’t you write about black on asian violence in schools and in cities across the US? or write about discrimination against asians at top tier universities?

    • pken1997 says:

      Appropriate challenge. I wasn’t as aware of those incidents and, until last week, wasn’t blogging about anything for some time. Going forward, with enough space and time to ponder, I hope to be more active in my commentary.

  3. Priscilla Walton says:

    Thanks PKen, for the first time thought about how this would not just affect my husband, but also our children. Always appreciate your thoughts. I’ll be in your hood the next two weeks, maybe we can meet!

  4. Pingback: Diverse Christian Perspectives on the Trayvon Martin Case | Jesus For Revolutionaries

  5. Pingback: Still Thinking About Skin Colors | A Thousand Moments

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