Discussing But I Don’t See You As Asian

READING RACISMHere we are again as  White Young Clergy Reading Racism.

Whether or not you are white, clergy or young, I hope you’re here because you want to be part of the change. You recognize that racism is a sin we haven’t atoned for. You can’t figure out how to arrange your schedule to be in Baltimore or Ferguson but you know that this matters. And you have to do something so you’re here to read with us.

A few weeks ago, we started reading Bruce Reyes-Chow’s But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race. The deal is this: we read one chapter every two weeks because we don’t want to bite off more than we can chew and there’s still plenty of time. There’s always time. We are only just beginning. (I hope.) So go ahead and order a copy now. We’ve shared in one round of conversation already and discovered — not even a little bit to my surprise — that blogs are possibly the worst format for such a conversation. So, we switched to Facebook. In the weeks to come, you’ll find that the whole conversation is over there and not so much here on the blog. As such, this is the last time I’ll post my reflections here. Head over the Facebook to find questions and join in the conversation with your thoughts. Without further ado, let’s get down to those questions. Shall we? Yes. Let’s.

  • To begin, this question comes from Maren who blogs at Gifts in Open Hands: which chapter … which phrase … touched or prodded or pinched you or reminded you of your experience with racism? I so appreciate this question and am so grateful that Maren added it because it’s the question that really matters. What sticks in your craw? What pokes at you? What stings a little? What doesn’t make any freakin’ sense to you? Right?! Isn’t that what this is all about!!?? Here’s the problem in my answering this question: I picked out all of the juicy bits for the questions that follow. I am really not sure what to add.
  • When have the words spoken by another hurt you?  How might it it have helped to talk about how those words “caused tension and discomfort”? This is one of those questions that speaks to the truth that I have been wrong. I have been wrong so many times that I can’t even remember how many times I’ve been wrong. One of my very best friends from high school — and still one of my best friends — is Korean American. I was raised or I was taught not to see color. It just wasn’t supposed to be there so I’ve said insanely stupid things like “But I don’t see you as Asian” and I remember the look on her face. I remember her terse reply, “But I am.” I remember the silence that followed and remember my confusion in what I had done wrong. Here’s what I still don’t understand: what people or forces or institutions raised this thought in me? Where did this color blindness begin? Why was it valued so much that I thought this was the right answer — and admittedly, I’m still struggling to see how it’s not the right answer. I have no idea where this came from but runs deep within me. I am not sure how to divorce myself from it so that all I can feel in myself is the tension and discomfort that I cause with my own incorrect assumptions.
  • In Chapter 3, Reyes-Chow owns his Asian identity as a central part of who he is as a person. What are the identities that you carry that you couldn’t be the same person without this particular identity? I am a New Yorker. I don’t feel as connected to this truth as I once did having moved three times in my adult life, but the sarcasm remains. The urge to speed walk is still there. So there’s that — and then I begin to struggle to name my own identities because they are not as neatly defined as they once were. In seminary, we were constantly made to name our social location before offering a response. So it would always sound something like this: “As a middle-class white woman, I think…” Perhaps those identities still hold but there are so many new ones that I’m not sure how to define myself anymore. Instead, I find myself wondering about what makes us human. Is there one thing that we all feel? Are there universal truths or do these identities mean that there are that many different ways of being human?
  • In Chapter 4, Reyes-Chow makes the claim that most of us know that the “history of the United States is made up of complex stories of migration.” How have you witnessed this truth in your congregation or even in your own family? One of the best decisions I made in seminary was to take a class that pulled back the layers of immigration in New York City. I can’t even remember the name of the class but I remember how it made me wrestle with the ways that we have labeled whole populations of people as “black” just because they were different or new. Or something otherwise terrifying to our comfort. One side of my family doesn’t know this story of immigration well. They’ve been here through so many generations that it isn’t a conversation. The other has the story of my Norwegian immigrant grandfather. How he sailed to New York City. How he called one of the Norwegian immigrant communities home and how this is a history I barely know. It wasn’t until that class in seminary that I started to ask questions about this and started to understand a little bit more about my grandfather’s unique mannerisms.

Enough about what I think. What to you think? How might you respond to these questions or anything else you might be thinking after reading the first chapter of Bruce Reyes-Chow’s But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race. Add your thoughts and ideas to the comments below or to your own blog. Be sure to include a link or send me a message so that I can share your wise words. Or just swing over to Facebook and join in there.

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2 thoughts on “Discussing But I Don’t See You As Asian

  1. I think what makes statements like “but I don’t see you as Asian” even more difficult to wrap our heads around is that they are usually said from a place of intended compassion. We are all human beings and we have more in common than different type of statements. I am much more likely to say a well-intentioned statement (which can still be super hurtful) than a blatantly hate-filled comment. The question I struggle with is are my well-intentioned although misguided statements any less hurtful than intended hate speech? And this is why I want to be part of this dialogue. I want people to call me out if I have caused hurt. I want to learn from my mistakes and help others to learn from their mistakes too!

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