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There are many discussions about race that are being flung around. Some are thrown hard and fast.
This is not one of them.
This is a slow reflection on my own journey as a minority, as an American, as a Christian, as a human being, and what I think it means as our society is trying to move forward to being peaceable and honorable towards others.
Let me start by saying something very clear:
I was a racist, I am a racist, and I’m working towards the opposite direction.
I was a racist…
Nobody is born to be perfectly culturally sensitive. Of all people, I was not.
Like many Chinese-Americans, our parents subtly (or unsubtly), taught us that black people cannot be trusted. In addition to this, other things outside my control reinforced that: living in a separate neighborhood than black people, being exposed to the media’s agenda and perception of them, and not being in a context where I could befriend them until middle school. Not trusting black people? Check.
Okay, as a minority, I didn’t like white people. I grew up in an Italian-American neighborhood experiencing some gentrification from Chinese people moving into the area. A vivid memory I had was walking down the street minding my own business where I witnessed some white kids instigate a fight with a Chinese kid.
They knocked down his can of soda, and the Chinese kid asked “What’d you do that for?” to which the white kids replied, “because you’re motherf*cking Chinese!” before the ensuing beatdown. I remember running away in fear that my complexion would lead me to danger.
That combined with the hundreds personal stories following after of white people belittling people of my culture, of experiencing white privilege from the outside, of being confused about my own cultural identity…Being bitter towards white people? Check.
Those are my confessions. And a confession needs to be made because we all have to start somewhere.
I feel that this is important because, while the conversations about racism are completely valid and completely necessary (keep talking!), many of the conversations assume people, like myself, should have arrived at the place of a “perfect non racist”, when in fact, nobody is.
Like my story, every human being carries a set of experiences, values that they are unaware they carry, language that they are unaware they use, assumptions that they are unaware they have about other people, and trauma and pains that they are unaware that influences their treatment of others.
I feel that this is important because many of the heated and current conversations about race just sound like “YOU’RE A RACIST!”. And for people who understand that racism is bad, who know they’re not there, it fosters an environment where people are afraid to engage in those conversations because there is not grace for where they currently are.
I am a racist…
I say that because I am. That fact is beyond my intentions of not being racist. I have so much room to grow in terms of loving & honoring others, in both heart and execution.
Sometimes I’ll read an article, a video, or a social post from an angry person of a different race, and my honest first thought is not, “Well it’s about time someone said that!”, it’s more “Oh man, I do that…”.
In ways that I can’t see, in behaviors not yet perceived, I am still perpetually discovering ways I unconsciously dishonor others. And the only way the mirror of my life lessens in its fogginess is through the conversations I hear from those I am trying to love better and with greater skill.
…And I’m working towards the opposite direction
I was not perfect, I am still not perfect, but I’m learning to walk in the way that is right.
That, I propose, is the type of conversations we need to have as Americans about race (with an emphasis on the first two).
One of the most potent lessons I’ve learned from therapy is that I can only change by being fiercely honest about where I am at. If, however, I operate in an environment (like a judgmental family, judgmental friends, judgmental church, and in our case, a judgmental country), that doesn’t facilitate towards brutal and articulated honesty, I will not change.
Grace is never an excuse for continued behavior. I understand that racism is not okay, that we should not stay where we are at, and that there are instances of violent racism that do not deserve such gracious tones.
But as our conversations about race continue, I pray that a sentiment of honesty and grace would be integrated into our conversations. There are legitimate places for conversations of anger, passion, prophetic judgment, but I propose we also need places for conversations of progress through honesty about where we are at, confessions of falling short, and grace for our humanness.