A white friend of mine showed me this video (2:48, embedded below) this weekend of Aamer Rahman, a comedian painting a picture of reverse racism. I thought it was great. Next to me, I noticed my white friend fuming. He was outraged and practically yelled: “If you want to get somewhere in the conversation—this is not how you go about doing this!!!!”
The thing is, I don’t think Aamer Rahman (or the many with his sentiments) are necessarily trying to get somewhere in the conversation. And if they are—well, perhaps what they want people to get is this: that centuries and centuries of abuse happened in the name of race, culture, ethnicity, and that we still live with these systems today. Things are not better today, and it would really help us out if white folks remembered that. If white folks remembered that, then we can take the next step in the conversation…
I tried to tell my white friend this, but my white friend was way too angry to hear me out.
In defense of my white friend—he already is at this next step. He gets that he has more privileges that he’s white—that’s it’s easier for him than a black man in the United States. He is a good friend and we have a really good relationship. As his Asian friend, I know he gets this. (This is why it was safe for him to show me the video and tell me his reaction.) My white friend here is ready for that next step in the conversation—but he’s just one.
What this means for our conversation? Can I tell you first why I liked the video?
Why I liked the video:
- Race, white supremacy, whatever is a real problem, is still a live problem.
We can’t be “colorblind” if this is happening in other parts of the world too. The fact that it’s a global issue means, it is still a live problem—even if the most stubborn of us don’t think it is here in America. We cannot deny that it is a real problem — because it is happening the world over also.
- Race, white supremacy, whatever, is not just an American invention.
I’ve been to Urbanas where I’ve talked to Europeans who don’t get the emphasis on racial reconciliation.* I also hear sometimes here in America that race is our own special thing. I do think that America has it’s own take on race—and that needs to be dealt with. But this problem is not just here—but worldwide. Here’s an Australian comedian of Bangladeshi descent joking about it. (And what makes the joke funny, is that it has some resonance, some hint of truth.)
- While putting down others, xenophobia, and subjugating other lands have been around since the dawn of time, something really extraordinary happened with European colonization. It happened on a mass scale, a world-wide scale. It still affects people today. If we Christians care about the world—we need to think about how we interplay with the world, what “ideas” other than Christ that we’re exporting. And look, God’s already given us an opportunity to learn about these things, without leaving our own towns. We could best learn about these things right where we’re at, with the people next door or in the next neighborhood over or in the next church over. It is an opportunity to sharpen what we think of Christ and the Gospel. It is an opportunity to learn better to love God and neighbor.
What this means for our conversation (between Christians)
- We need critical mass to keep remembering.
In terms of Christian America—we of course, have critical mass at some churches, etc, but we need that critical mass to grow beyond those churches. We need people to remember, to know their histories, the consequences and meanings behind history. By this—I don’t just mean white people. Plenty of Asian American I know do not know their own histories, the history of America, the world—even a kid’s version of it (which would be enough).
- My friend is right. Putting down whites is not the way.
I get why comedians like Rahman would have an edge to them, and I think that’s okay. Rahman does not claim to be a Christian—his purposes are probably different. Jesus loves us where we’re at, and for us Christians, if we want to meet Jesus—well, it’s better to be real about where we’re at. But overall, this is not the way. This is not the Christian, Christ-like loving way to move forward. I’m sorry, but Soong Chan Rah’s The Next Evangelicalism, while I agree with his thesis, I do not agree with its way. This is an influential book in many evangelical circles that calls out white supremacy, and well, attacks the white church in the same manner of its complaint. (I also found some of the sourcing kind of weird.) Let me say this again to be clear: His thesis is right on, but his anger, his tone, how he takes out the white church is not cool with me. It is not Christ-like. I get that this is a justifiably infuriating topic. I get that he’s prophetic. And perhaps this book is really more to rally minority Christians, that you know what—this crap happening is real. That in itself is a super needed cause in itself because many Asians Americans do not want to see understand race/ethnicity/cutlure—but it is ultimately not the way. My friend is right, a white person will not hear that way. And that is not how Jesus will necessarily approach them.
- White guilt is also not what we’re looking for either—but conviction, trust in Jesus.
Of course we want them to get it, but the goal isn’t to make all white people to feel bad and guilty. Asian Americans and other minorities who have benefited from the system too—we don’t want people to feel bad and guilty. What we want is conviction, that this is wrong—that WE ALL benefit and/or are screwed up by the systems in place. We want to look at things soberly, as they are. That’s how Jesus sees things. And from there—or as God gets us there, look to Jesus together—to look to Jesus for how we should feel about ourselves, and also what we should do.
- We need to filter things more through the lens of Jesus’ story than from secular thought about race, etc.
If I can say for the record—I think it is amazing, amazing, amazing that the secular world cares about injustice, race, poverty, globalization, reconciliation, righting the wrongs of the past. This should be the purview of Christians—but the secular world seems to care more. (A seminary history prof used to say that this is because the Western world used to be Christian; these ideas are indeed from Christ–I think he’d quote sociologist Rodney Stark. I honestly haven’t read Stark, so I cannot say this for sure.) I think it’s amazing that things like affirmative action were once (still in some places) tried. James 1: every good and perfect gift comes from God! But their gift is still not perfect. Our Christian ones aren’t either. Too often, I hear multiethnic ministers parroting secular conventional wisdom about these things without any pause of how it relates to Jesus’ story and the cross. I’m not saying secular conventional wisdom about race, etc is all bad—I just gushed about about amazing it is that things like food stamps exist. But we need to filter more things through the lens of Jesus’ story than from secular thought about race, etc. Instead of taking our cues from them, we need to be initiating, living, breathing moving out of our own convictions to love God and neighbor. We need to not be afraid to come up with our own experiments and trials. We need to come up more with our own Bible centered stories and images. We need to come up more with our own terms.
- We need to focus on Christ and treasure the glimpses of the Gospel we see in walking forward in multi ethnicity.
By this I mean, we need to know how we see God more because we’re trying to love God and neighbor, because we’re trying to love ourselves. We need to “know” this for real, in a supernatural way—which I suppose is out of our control, though we can improve our chances for it by putting ourselves in a better position to see and meet God though prayer, obedience, etc. Loving God, self and neighbor especially considering race, culture and ethnicity–can be immensely hard and painful—and this is the only thing that will keep us going, this is the only thing that will re-center us and re-focus us, and keep us from turning it to something else. This is the only thing that will change our hearts, and mold us more into Christ. “This” is a relationship, a real living relationship with Christ. I wish people talked more about how they grew in Christ because they learned about race/ethnicity/culture whatever. That at the end of the day, is what convicted once-colorblind me.
I’m sure I’ll come back to these things later. But for today, those are my 2 cents.
[I know I promised Part 2 of the last post—it’s coming. I’ll do that too this week.]
*Urbana Student Mission Conventions of the last decade have been talking about this because it’s sponsor, InterVarsity’s really into racial reconciliation. Many experts think that Urbana is the main mobilizer of missions since its inception (1940s?). It’s mainly an American conference, but the one I went to had people from over 100 countries.