These are just three of the 165 African American men who have been shot by police in 2016 alone, according to the Washington Post.
Protests and riots against this epidemic have reached a fever pitch.
Out on the streets, I hear wails of pain, shouts against injustice, and cries for a response.
Within the Church, I hear weeping together, rallying together, dialoguing together.
But it’s been amazingly quiet in one corner.
The Asian immigrant church in America has been silent.
And the silence is deafening.
* * *
In William Barber II’s New York Times piece about the Charlotte protests, the African American minister writes,
“Charlotte’s protests are not black people versus white people. They are not black people versus the police. The protesters are black, white and brown people, crying out against police brutality and systemic violence.”
There is no mention of Asians.
Not only at this particular demonstration, but within the general movement towards racial reconciliation and social justice, we are—more often than not—conspicuously absent.
I have been in Chinese immigrant churches all my life, and never—not one single time—have I ever heard a pastor addressing issues of racism from the pulpit.
I cannot recall one single Sunday service where there was a time of communal lament for a tragedy that did not directly affect our ethnic community.
On social media, I hear very little from my Asian American community about the injustices that we see happening around us all the time.
And I have some suspicions about why.
Culturally, we are taught not to rock the boat.
Relationally, we value non-confrontational communication.
Emotionally, we are trained to subdue and suppress.
Socially, we are insular and content to play the part of “model minority”.
Regardless of the reasons for our silence in the past, something needs to change. The Asian immigrant church must “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17). If ever there was a group that has been oppressed, widowed, and made fatherless, the black community is it.
But before we start trying to correct this oppression, we must deal with the plank in our own eye. We must confront our own prejudice. There cannot be any denying that we have been handed down deep-seated biases and preconceptions about other people of color. The immigrant generation before us came from countries that were mostly mono-cultural, and the attitudes they had towards those outside their culture reflected that. My generation has inevitability inherited and internalized some of that xenophobia, so we must become aware of it and own it so that we can bring it to the light.
We also must acknowledge our own apathy towards the suffering of other people of color. We Asian Americans have generally done pretty well for ourselves. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center article, Asian men and women both have higher hourly earnings than their respective white counterparts. We also lead in educational attainment, being the demographic that has the highest percentage with a bachelor’s degree or more. This wealth and education affords many of us a life that distances us from the plight of other minorities. We can’t seem to relate to the overt discrimination, the closed doors, and the disgruntled protests because we have studied at top tier schools, have well-paid jobs, and live in affluent neighborhoods.
Yet as Christians who follow a Jesus who seeks out the marginalized and notices the forgotten, I think we must seriously examine what it means to identify with the hurting instead of disassociating from them. We must question our quest for greater success and privilege and consider what it might look like to stand in solidarity with those oppressed by systemic injustice.
Because the reality is, there is no us and them.
We are one.
The reality is that not too long ago:
- Asians were depicted as apes and primitives, a threat to the American way of life.
- Asians experienced prejudice and earned the lowest, not the highest, wages as railway workers and gold miners.
- Asians were not allowed to become American citizens, let alone study at its universities.
- Asians were prohibited by law from owning land, much less reside in middle-upper class communities.
The reality is that we are not so different after all.
But like in the story of Moses, perhaps we have been sheltered from the suffering of our own people. Perhaps we’ve lived among wealth and education and privilege too long, and we identify more with the dominant culture than the oppressed communities we originally came from. Maybe we feel like we’ve overcome our own obstacles and seek to simply live a quiet life away from all the turmoil and injustice.
But I hear God saying,
I have indeed seen the misery of my people…
I have heard them crying out…
I am concerned about their suffering…
And regardless of our race, God is inviting all of us into his compassionate heart, redemptive work, and vision of liberation. God is calling us all to speak up and take action.
Now we as the Asian immigrant church can choose whether to remain in our place of relative peace, or to enter the pain and the fray.
As for me, I’m jumping in.
I’m going to protest alongside my black brothers and sisters,
Let my people go!
I’m going to show up. I’m going to listen. I’m going to use my voice to plead the cause of the oppressed.
For I am fully convinced that by replacing our disengagement and silence with solidarity and protest, we end up reflecting more of God—
A God who shares in our humanity,
sympathizes with us,
advocates for us,
and stands in solidarity with us.