Without understanding anti-Asian racism in at least some depth, it’s difficult to know how best to address it. (See Part 1 and Part 2.) But understanding by itself isn’t enough, of course. Here are some possible ways to address Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) hate. At least one of them should be a good option for you.
Believe Asians When They Tell You They Experience Racism
It is exhausting to appeal over and again to the commonalities we have as image bearers of God (Gen. 1:27). When we ask others to care for us, we are often met with logical arguments minimizing our factually based, lived experiences. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve shared instances where someone has called us a racist Asian slur or treated us in patterns consistent with how other Asian Americans have experienced life in America (in and out of the church), only to find someone say, “That couldn’t be true. I’m sure you’ve misheard that. That’s hard to believe it actually happened.”
In Part 1, we examined the rise of overt bigotry against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) during the pandemic, including terrible, terrible violence, often aimed at women and older people. In Part 2, we will examine why.
The answer begins in our history, in the role people of Asian descent have played in this country for nearly 200 years. There is a ready-made narrative about Asians in the U.S., sometimes kept in the background, but always available when it would be useful—or emotionally satisfying—to find a scapegoat to punish.
Prof. Soong-Chan Rah of Fuller Theological Seminary wrote some years back that in the U.S., Asians are viewed both as a “pet” and a “threat.” They are seen as a pet, for example, when Asian women are fetishized, or when held up as a “model minority” in order to shame other people of color and argue that racism is dead. But they are perceived as a threat when others consider them inscrutable, sinister, untrustworthy, clannish, and—in particular—perpetually foreign.
Anti-Asian hate crimes have been all over the news for a year now and, if anything, seem to be getting worse. They’re not new, of course, but they are on the rise, driven, almost certainly, by the pandemic and the pre-existing condition of racism. Why is that? And what does it tell us about race in the U.S.?
There is a lot of resistance to the idea that we should tell the truth about the racism embedded in our nation’s history. Part of that resistance is motivated by a desire to deny the power of racism today. Just bring up the topic and you’ll see how many people get over-the-top angry, a sign they sense have something deeply personal at stake. On the other hand, some genuinely believe that events from 50 or 150 or 500 years ago couldn’t possibly make a difference today. They think the past is dead.
Faulkner was right, of course, about the past not being dead, and there is a boatload of data on the intergenerational effects of wealth and poverty to support his argument that the past is always present. (See selected references at the bottom of this page.) I think we should be data-driven when possible, to keep our thinking grounded in the facts rather than assumptions, myths, or ideology. But every data point represents a story. This is mine.
“The Golden Calf is one of the most famous stories in the Old Testament. The Israelites, newly freed from Egyptian slavery, have a crisis of faith while God is speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai. They melt down the golden jewelry to construct a physical god — a statue in the shape of a calf — to worship in place of their abstract, invisible deity. It’s a story about the allure of idolatry, how easy it is to abandon one’s commitments to principle in favor of shiny, easy falsehoods.
I never thought much about whose land I lived on until I worked with a group of Native Americans on a series of pow wows from 2005 – 2009. One of them had a dream—a literal dream—of offering a pow wow to Hope College as a gift of reconciliation. The settlers who founded the city and the college drove nearly all Natives from this place shortly after they arrived, and yet he was offering this gift to us. His gesture moved me deeply. It still does.
One of our students told me recently that she is reading Isaiah 1 in light of the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Here are some selected verses from that chapter, from a section entitled “The Wickedness of Judah” in the New Revised Standard Version.
2 Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth;
for the Lord has
I reared children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against me. 3 The ox knows
and the donkey its master’s crib;
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.
Our grandson turned four a few weeks back, and was happy to show me the birthday crown he got to wear at pre-school that day. His pre-school is part of a Spanish-immersion elementary school, and his crown had “Feliz Cumpleaños” written across the front. I began to sing Feliz Cumpleaños to him, and he got a quizzical look on his face. His eyes narrowed, he cocked his head, and finally he asked, “Do you go to preschool?”
Dr. King was assassinated 50 years ago today, on April 4, 1968. I was eleven years old and living in Holton, Kansas. I don’t remember a thing about it.
I remember 1968. I remember the North Vietnamese Tet Offensive, and Lyndon Johnson’s announcement that he would not seek re-election. I remember the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, and the presidential election. But I have no memory of Dr. King’s murder. Not a thing.
As we point out elsewhere on this site (See Looking Back, Looking Ahead: Racial Differences in Time Frames), there are many important differences in the ways White people and people of color view race. For example, many White people look back at the past and think about how far we’ve come. Many people of color look toward the future, to a time when we will have reached racial parity, and think about how very far we have to go (Eibach and Erlinger, 2006).
Beyond that, from what I’ve observed, White people and people of color also view the past differently. People of color, quite naturally, are horrified by the past. They take it personally, and often re-live it vicariously through family stories. White people, to the extent they think about it at all, have a distant, muted response. Most White people express a dispassionate disapproval, a tut-tutting, if you will, about events they perceive as . . well . . unfortunate. They think about slavery and the racial terror that followed rather like they think about old-time medical practices, like using leeches to suck blood from sick people—ill-advised, certainly, but unworthy of serious reflection, and unrelated to life today.