Silence and Race

I’ll be honest. For a long time, I have sat at the edges as I’ve watched the Zimmermann case unfold, hiding in the background and avoiding any controversy. My wife and I have had few quick dialogues about updates we’ve heard or posts we’ve seen on facebook, but none of our exchanges have lasted more than 2 or 3 minutes.

As a Chinese-American, this type of veiled silence is often normal and deadly. Like a festering wound left untreated, it eats away at my soul and the collective well-being of our brothers and sisters. Of course, there may be an initial acknowledgment that something is amiss, perhaps even a certain amount of expressed sorrow shared on social media. But then, soon after, there is that silence that typifies so much of my own response. There isn’t an immediate uproar about insensitive comments, not even a response. Though I’m not Japanese, I’ll have to borrow this proverb because I think it illustrates a shared value that is often true for many, but not all, Asian Americans: “The nail that sticks out gets hammered.” While this proverb has some great truth, this is not a time for us to remain silent.

I’m not here to pretend that I understand. There’s plenty behind this case that I will never understand. I’m not black. I’m not white. I’m part of the in-between. I will never know what it’s like to be stopped by an officer because of my skin color. I will probably never experience the looks of distrust or fear that others face daily when they enter into a neighborhood. I will not get it on that visceral, internal, gut level way that my black friends do.

I’m not here to take sides, but…. I’m torn up, and my heart goes out to all those involved and touched by this case. No amount of words could ever bring back Trayvon to his family and friends, and no amount of words could ever describe Zimmermann’s experience over the past several months and what he still faces beyond this trail. Given the complexity of this case, there’s not much more that I can write that will be helpful here. However, as I read posts and reactions to this case from different perspectives, I cannot escape this reality: race still divides. Yes, the civil rights movement has secured on paper an equality for us all, and yes, we’ve progressed in so many ways. But underlying all of our suburban neighborhoods, city planning, justice systems and cultural consciences, there’s something that’s seriously rotting in us around the issue of race. And it stinks, guys. Our perceptions of race still carry significant implications on how we treat one another. Have doubts? Check this racial profiling video out (Thanks K Khang!)

I’m here. I’m here to pray for the day when Christ comes to heal all that is wrong and bring it to right. I’m here to listen to my brothers and sisters and learn from their own experiences. I’m here to commiserate when appropriate. I’m here to encourage dialogue and growth rather than unquestioned assumptions or unhealthy silence. I’m here to take a stand for racial reconciliation, even as I find things in myself that need to be repented of. And I’m here to offer my voice rather than my silence.

A Plea to Asian Americans and Others Like Me. It’s easy to avoid being that nail that sticks out, to sit on the sidelines when you’re not primarily or essentially affected. But we’re not meant to live on the sidelines. When real injustice perpetuates itself in instances like racial profiling, God’s Spirit nudges us a bit because it runs counter to the Person of Christ and our very humanity as it is meant to be. It’s almost like he’s trying to shake us out of our slumber, saying “Pay attention! Don’t ignore this!” And if we really take a step back and consider what’s at stake, we would see that we really can’t afford ignorance. It’s too costly.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to guilt or shame you into caring. Indeed, God intends for us to live in, through and by grace. But He also intends for us to participate in his kingdom breaking in as He makes all things new and transforms us “till we have faces.” So let’s get in the game. Talk with your friends. Ask what’s going on. Listen. Learn about the ways that racial profiling affects your own perspectives. And where we still might fall short, let’s lean on the One who will renew all things for his glory.

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