Week 10, Day 3: Racial Justice
I didn’t live in the United States until I was twenty-three years old. Most of my early education took place in Hong Kong, which meant that, in school, I only had a cursory brush with American history; we spent more time learning about the World Wars, the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Boxer Rebellion, the Cultural Revolution, and other events that were closer geographically to us. I learned some about the American War of Independence, the Civil War, and slavery; I read about General Custer’s Last Stand in a book; I remember watching Alex Haley’s Roots in class, and I learned about Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights struggle.
But it wasn’t until I actually came to live here that I came to learn more about the unique creature that is race in America — not only the depth and intensity of its complicated, and at times ugly and brutal, history (the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans and African Americans, Reconstruction, Jim Crow), but also its continuing effects today, and what all of that means for my place in all of it as an Asian-American.
Just as I seek in my spiritual life to learn from those who are wiser and who have gone before, I have also sought to learn the stories of those who have historically been marginalized and adversely impacted by racist actions and racist policies, those whose voices were often underrepresented or silenced — through Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Erika Lee’s The Making of Asian America, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, for a start. I have read — and continue to read — books by authors, activists, and theologians both past and present that expose and examine the place of race and our response; I have listened — and continue to listen — to the experiences of friends, mentors, and forebears of color.
I have been saddened — but sadly not surprised — by the depth of sin that has not only allowed white supremacy to worm its way into every institution, contributing to our mass incarceration crisis, our criminal justice system’s biases and faultlines, our immigration and asylum policies, and our inequalities in health care, education, life expectancy, and experience. I have taken the implicit bias test and discovered that, even in spite of all of my conscious and conscientious efforts to work for more just and equitable and compassionate relationships across race and class lines, the lenses I have are cloudy. (Harvard University has a number of implicit bias tests, which you can select from here.)
DC is a microcosm of the country as a whole. On April 16, 1862, nine months before the Emancipation Proclamation, the District of Columbia Emancipation Act freed the capital’s population of enslaved African Americans, and we continue to celebrate Emancipation Day to this day. DC’s U Street was once known as Black Broadway, playing host to cultural icons such as Duke Ellington, Zora Neale Hurston, and Langston Hughes. In the early 1970s, the Black population of Chocolate City was over 70%. Of course, that’s not to say that there wasn’t still racism and segregation, redlining and whites-only stores; and even today, wealth is largely held by White residents and gentrification is pushing the Black population outside the city, with developers buying out long-time residents or replacing affordable housing with luxury condos.
For me, the pursuit of racial reconciliation and racial justice is driven not by some political correctness but by the gospel, by the kingdom call to treat every person as made in the image of God, and by the future we are heading toward.
READ: REVELATION 7:9-17
John, the author of Revelation, had been exiled to the isle of Patmos by the Roman Empire as a consequence of growing anti-Christian sentiment and persecution. It was there that he came to see a diversity of peoples and nations — “from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9, NIV) — united not under the subjugation of the Emperor for the cause of Rome but united in worship of Christ the King, a oneness born of love and choice rather than a consequence of coercion.
As with justice as a whole, racial justice involves us as individuals but is not — and cannot be — restricted to us as individuals. Even with all of the books I’ve read and documentaries I’ve watched, my greatest learning has come from other Christians of color, who have helped me understand God and Scripture and the Holy Spirit from their perspective and experience, who have helped me not only see God in different ways but also helped me figure out who I am as a Christian and as an Asian American.
And I still feel way behind on the journey; there is still so much for me to learn. So I choose to follow and to support those who are a few steps ahead of me. One of the key lessons of my racial justice journey is that I don’t always have to lead. Sometimes the most important thing for those with privilege to do is listen, learn, and let others lead. (Of course, as a person of color, I’m also learning when to speak up!)
REFLECT & RESPOND
Head: When you think about race, how do you see the gospel shaping your perspective?
Heart: When you consider race in America, what makes you feel hopeless? What gives you hope?
Hands: Read up on the stages of racial identity development. (You can find the stages of racial identity development here.) Consider what a next step on your journey toward racial justice might look like; talk through it with a loved one — and your small group.
Ask God that his justice and peace might prevail between peoples.
"The opposite of poverty is
not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."
- Bryan Stevenson