Tag Archives: Orientalism

Race, Inclusion, and Unity in Christ #DisunityBook

This post is my contribution to the #DisunityBook club over at the Theology of Ferguson, a personal & theological reflection on Christena Cleveland‘s Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart, specifically, CHAPTERS 9 AND 10.

I dedicate this essay to Lizandra, Daisha, and Christian

It was early December. Tamir Rice, a twelve year old child who had not even gone through puberty had his life taken away. Why? because like any other boy usually, he was just playing with his toy guns. The only difference was: his skin was of a different hue. This, I mind you, was following the tumultuous summer of anti-black violence by police forces, nonviolent protestors being labelled as “rioters” and “trouble-makers” by the White Supremacist media. Having participated in protests and vigils, I was tired. Having had made sure to keep up with #Ferguson as a hashtag educational movement and news outlet, my mind was exhausted. I was in dire need of a spiritual Sabbath. I longed for a worship service where we as a congregation could celebrate Christ’s victory over the Enemy, oppression, and death. Apart from one awesome sermon at church, I did not get to hear God’s Word for the church located in a post- Mike Brown world.

Finally, an opportunity arrived. The local seminary and my alma mater invited the community to join the faculty and students for an “Advent of Justice Event,” a memorial for victims of racial profiling and police murders. I was pumped, I needed a renewed energy and to be in God’s presence. I even invited my good friend Ryan who is a local community organizer, activist and I must say, a really good blogger that Christians should listen to. We decided to go along with a few teen-aged members of Ryan’s at-risk youth non-profit organization. There we were, Ryan who is White, myself Black, a Mexican-American teen, a Jamaican American, and a bi-racial high schooler walking into a white walled chapel, picking up our black and white glossy bulletins and (used, yes used) white candles. We were asked to come to the front in a nearly empty chapel, and so we sat in the front pews, stuffed, not really able to move around, limited to clapping really. And then it happened. The (White, male, progressive) school president took the stand and began to pray that this service would remind whites like himself of THEIR PRIVILEGE. On one hand, it was nice to see this president there, showing a sign of empathy with Black victims of racial violence. On the other hand, this was the same school president who called my friends and I Nazis for our protests and petition for a more diverse curriculum. Had this president had a change of heart? Or was it more of the same?

What was supposed to be a service that memorialized the suffering of the marginated in fact became (with about a few notable exceptions), a ceremony that placed Whiteness and White Privilege at the forefront. “Everyone wants diversity, but no one wants to actually be diverse” (Cleveland, 184). Dr. Cleveland goes on to observe that calls for unity can oftentimes be confused cries for more hegemony by the dominant culture,

“Similarly I’ve witnessed plenty of so-called unity events in the body of Christ that are so heavily influenced by white culture that any other collaborating cultures are rendered invisible. This typically happens when the majority culture takes an “our way or the highway” approach and requires minority culture to assimilate to the majority culture. This can be unintentional but it has grave consequence, not only because it is oppressive but also because it leaves no room for much-needed diverse cultural expression” (Cleveland, 170).

This “Advent of Justice” event was exactly what Cleveland had described: a progressive pep rally for unity rather than a liberating shout for solidarity and justice. It all began with a member of the dominant culture (with a problematic history of opposing diversity initiatives) making the service service about his feelings, his experience, his place in the world rather than those who are outcasts. The worship style throughout the service was mainline Protestant, Euro-centric and exclusive. The urban youth who had accompanied Ryan and I were made to feel uncomfortable. The liturgy was unwelcoming not because of any words that were spoken, but the invisible forces that went unseen and unspoken of. As a Progressive seminary, my alma mater prides itself on being ecumenical, and even to some extent multicultural with Black Church Studies, Jewish Studies, Latin@ Church Studies, and Asian (Korean) Church studies programs. Yet it is only willing to accept diversity if it is on White Mainline liberal terms. Thus the decline of the presence of People of Color on campus (their visible absence) has much to do with the invisible structures of institutional racism. A reality check is needed: anyone who works in the school district knows that in less than a decade, Fort Worth will be a majority-minority population; populations neither of the local seminaries (conservative or liberal) have any long term investment in.

Cleveland argues that the creation of “positive cross-cultural interactions” starts with the debunking of our biases that objectify others. In chapter 3, Cleveland points to Orientalism (seeing all Asians as the same, for example page 53) and anti-Black racism (viewing all black males as inherently violent, for example) as part of the cultural biases of being a part of Western Society. White Supremacy is a very divisive system; that is why Andy Smith argues that orientalism/war, genocide/colonialism, and anti-Black racism/slavery the Three Pillar of White Supremacy. The quest of liberation and reconciliation go hand and in; along with persons like Miroslav Volf, as well as black theologians such as J. Deotis Roberts, contrary to populist NeoAnaBaptist opinion, the emancipation of the oppressed IS NOT opposed to Church unity; on the contrary, it is part and parcel to it.  As followers of Jesus, if Christ’s promise is to be with us and to keep teaching us in the midst of the homeless, the hungry, and the prisoner, the least of these (Matthew 25), then our notions of church unity cannot be separated from solidarity with the oppressed. The Church cannot exist without Christ, and therefore the Church finds its very being right in the middle of those who society scorns.

One of the other solutions that Cleveland suggests is for those of us who want to work for reconciliation is for us to use the inclusive language of “we.” I think that this was part of my thinking when I talked about Inclusive Language as part of Jesus’ “Going the Second Mile” Ethic.  I not only learned this from my engagement with pacifist theologians like [ TW ]  John Howard Yoder, but also my first mentor, Womanist ethicist Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas.  I remember distinctly in my classes at seminary that some of my classmates were afraid of taking her classes.  Were they afraid of having their White Supremacist narratives challenged by “the Angry Black Woman?” Did they have this fret that they were going to be excluded and silenced in the class discussions? Interestingly, much like Cleveland emphasized using “we” to be inclusive and affirming of others’ subjectivity and humanity, so did Floyd-Thomas in our classroom assignments, and in her book Mining The Motherlode: Methods In Womanist Ethics:

“Essential to naming the moral dilemma is the researcher specifically articulating her context and the community, (We,  as_______ ) as a community of which she is a part which is both responsible for the perpetuation of the problem and accountable for resolving the crisis.”

Indeed, the advantages of using “we/us” terminology has its advantages, and I do find this part of Cleveland’s work to be the most challenging. There is an advantage to the inclusiveness of Womanist valuing of traditional communalism (inclusiveness).  However, there needs to be caution taken for there are those, as my friend Sarah Moon has pointed out, who abuse the language of “we”, the practice of forced teaming in order to stifle real differences and legitimate dissent.  What balances out this universalism is a politics of difference where the radical subjectivity of the false notions of objectivity and essentialism are replaced with an ethic of responsibility.

What should unity look like? Christena Cleveland rightly points us to Jesus the Liberator, who in his life taught us how to engage others nonviolently and cross-culturally. I would go further than Cleveland however when she suggests that we embrace dual identities with our identity in Christ as a primary identity. In the Epistles, the apostle Paul can be a Pharisee, a Jewish Christian, a Roman citizen, and the apostle to the Gentiles. As for myself, I can be a Christian, a Black Christian, a Black Critical Race Theorist, an avid Chicago White Sox fan, the firstborn son and grandson for one side of my family, and  a DC Comics fan (Green Arrow, YEAH!) I would argue that we have multiple identities since we are held accountable to multiple communities  and that while our identity in Christ de-stablizes all of these identities, the Holy Trinity works in us by conforming us to be like Christ to each of those communities by the power of the Holy Spirit.

when progressives revel in cultural ignorance #CancelColbert

For my previous thoughts on #CancelColbert, see “men at work: how sexism operates.”

Very briefly. Last post on the #CancelColbert stuff. I just wanted to go on record with this. Recently, a progressive blogger posted a “Mission Accomplished” blogpost celebrating how Stephen Colbert had become victorious over the anti-racist slacktivists who “wanted” his show cancelled. Not only does the author in question get everything about the campaign wrong unlike my friend Jason, but he also managed to show just how much he valued cultural ignorance over cultural intelligence.

A few quotes from the Mission Accomplished post in question:

“I think I’ve made myself pretty clear about my disdain for people who are overly politically correct.  While I get the need to be sensitive towards some issues, it’s gotten to a point where I feel like sometimes people can’t say anything anymore without it offending someone.  Which I always find funny in a country like the United States where both liberals and conservatives go on and on about freedom of speech – yet both sides will often throw a fit when anybody says anything that they disagree with or find offensive.”

Oh and this goodie!!!

“I just think the people who were actually offended by this need to lighten up a bit. The entire tweet was meant to mock Snyder’s foundation by using offensive language in a fake foundation to show how ridiculous it is that Snyder created a foundation for Native Americans that includes a name many of them find highly offensive.”

So basically, what we are being informed is that the author regrets not having the liberty to offend people, even in the pursuit of a just cause. Basically, right wing attacks versus “political correctness” almost always boil down to a person desiring the right to offend other people. Because he is white, the author does not have to reflect on the racial stereotypes associated with the Colbert Report’s now deleted, infamous tweet. The author does not have to consider the racist laws that were enforced in the name of White Supremacist myths levied at Asian-Americans, especially during the creation of nation-wide railroads. In Texas in those days, one judge even ruled it was LEGAL to kill a Chinese man. LEGAL. The legacies of these injustices have been passed down through today, and ironic racism is still racism. Native Americans really do not need Colbert or Suey Park’s allyship, actually, and they certainly do not need Comedy Central’s hipster racism to raise awareness of the First Nations’ cases against being made mascots. Just look at the recent Navajo Nation vote (7-2) in favor of opposing racist sports team names.

If you want a good case for being culturally intelligent, look no further than this Guante youtube video. Class dismissed:

Anti-Asian Racism And The Church: A Few Thoughts

The Purpose Driven Life book cover

The Prejudiced Driven Life

Five years ago for a conference, I engaged Rick Warren‘s The Purpose Driven Life; here was my conclusion to the section on PDL:

“Warren’s silence on the issues of racial and economic justice is indicative of the silence of many European-American churches that choose to remain quiet while instances such as the hanging of nooses in public spaces continues to occur; thus, churches with predominantly minority members are left to shoulder the burden alone in confronting domestic terrorism.”

For the rest, see my paper at Academia.Edu: A Vision From The Almighty

Little did I know that this one little insight into the weakness of Warren’s theology (what I viewed at that time as a Reformed, trimmed down version of the prosperity gospel) would reveal itself over the past five years, and really, the past 6 six weeks.  In September, Rick Warren posted a “humorous” picture on Facebook suggesting that his ministry team worked really hard, just like members from the Chinese Revolutionary Army from almost three decades ago.  Of course, this is only funny for people who’s mothers’ weren’t raped and tortured or villages oppressed.  Warren was called out by a Christian minister Sam Tsang, and Pastor Warren responded in kind by taking down the offending photo as well as offering a non-apology apology. Tuesday, Rick Warren hosted a church-planting conference where anti-Asian racist skits were performed to the sounds of “ORIENTAL” music.

The shame of all of this is that whenever anti-Asian/Pacific racism happens, the only way evangelicals “adjust” their behavior is when they are called out after multiple blog-posts. This is exactly what happened a few years ago with Dr. Soong Rah Chan and the Deadly Viper saga. It’s the cycle of linguistic violence, Sinophobia, and anti-Asian/Pacific racism that leads to curriculum like Rickshaw Rally which reinforce negative Chinese and Asian-Pacific stereotypes.  We are able to detect White Supremacist mythologies by their double standard; if a Hong Kong based pastor had made a joke about 9-11-2001, USian Evangelical Christians would be up in arms. This is a double standard because what humors us is predetermined by the belief that some people’s lives are more valuable than others.

Racism as I have expanded upon on many occasions, is prejudice + power, and we should do well not to forget this. Yes this power is quite fluid, but in this instance, it’s obvious who the victims are (usually it’s as plain as day if you know basic history, but I digress). The purpose of my anti-racist writing, laying out the challenge that white supremacy poses to Christian theology, is for the purpose of worship. That is justice leading to reconciliation. If it is unjust for Asian Americans to be the targets of jokes and Christian curriculum endorsing White Supremacist mythology, then these issues must be addressed so that trust, faithfulness, and proper worship can take place.

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