These past weeks, the bright spotlight shining on American race relations has shifted. It is now focused squarely on the college campus. Students at Mizzou, Yale, Ithaca College, Claremont McKenna College have been protesting the lack of progress in climate, recruiting, and retention for Black students and faculty.
As a result, some of them now live under racist threats of violence from some who object to their protest.*
This joint statement comes from leaders from national campus ministries serving Asian American students. We feel compelled by the Lord to speak a few words of confession, empathy, and exhortation regarding current events. Many of our staff members working with Asian American students have ties with the Black student community - some of them very deep ties. These staff have been standing alongside Black students, serving as supportive presence at Black cultural centers, and advocating for Black students in their churches. However, this is not the typical posture for Asian American Christians.
On behalf of our fellow Asian Americans:
We acknowledge that many Asian Americans have hesitated to identify publicly with our Black brothers and sisters. Some of us are surprised at the level of pain and outrage we see. This may be due to our cultural norms of restraint combined with our value for long suffering. Many of us, especially more recent immigrants, are less familiar with the American tradition of protest and advocacy. Or our own experience of discrimination may have been less severe. Our own perspective can blind us to the perspective of others.
Some of us do identify with the experience of discrimination, yet we still hesitate to publicly identify with our Black brothers and sisters because we are afraid of the backlash occurring against the Black community. Frankly we can be good at minimizing conflict. Our fear of suffering can keep us from identifying with the suffering of others.
We acknowledge that our hesitation can communicate that we don’t care about the deep pain of marginalization on campus, even when many of us have experienced it ourselves. We are sorry. Please know that we deeply and truly believe that God desires justice. We know that the gospel invites us to reconciliation among people as well as reconciliation with God. We sincerely want to grow in Christlike compassion, empathy, and justice.
Now an exhortation to our fellow Asian Americans:
We are all at different starting points in our understanding and comfort in engaging social justice. That’s OK. But it’s not OK for us to remain at that starting point. God wants to grow us, and use us, in this critical moment.
Here are some steps of response:
- Pray for racial reconciliation in our country and on the college campus. Don’t just pray for conflict to go away, but for reconciliation - that is, for estranged parties to actually move toward each other on the basis of grace toward the goal of justice.
- Act on your compassion, and then let your empathy lead to understanding. Don’t be paralyzed by the genuinely complex questions surrounding these issues. They should not cloud the overarching reality that racial inequity exists and is causing deep pain and frustration. Go to places where Black students are on campus to express support, even if you don’t have a full understanding of what is going on.
- As you pray and empathize, listen to the stories of people who have experienced marginalization. Regardless of how much you personally identify, find ways to re-tell the stories you hear. There are people that will only hear these stories if you tell them, and that will only believe them if you vouch for them.
- Learn more about the perspective of African Americans and justice advocates of various ethnic backgrounds. Find a mode of learning that helps you …blogs, podcasts, books, and (surprisingly) comedians can be really helpful. You don’t have to agree with everything, but read expecting to grow and change in at least some respect.
Our country, and the college campus, has been fractured on the basis of race for a long time. The unrest we see is simply a built up frustration that things haven’t changed AND an emerging hope that people are noticing - and that some things might actually change.
Our expression of solidarity is motivated by our shared conviction that all people are created in God’s image, and by our confidence in the redeeming, reconciling gospel of Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for the sins of this world. We would like to humbly offer ourselves in support of the hope that, increasingly; God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Asian American Christian Fellowship, Jon Liu, Melanie Mar Chow, Victor Quon, AACF Campus Ministers, Leadership Team
Epic Movement (Cru), Margaret Yu, National Executive Director
InterVarsity Asian American Ministries, Joe Ho, National Director
Ohana Partners (Navigators), Tom Steers, Founder & Elder
Southeast Asian Catalyst, Ken Kong, Director
*We also recognize that there have been third party allegations of violent behavior on the part of protestors at Dartmouth, as well as various confirmed instances of profane verbal confrontations. For many, including Asian Americans, these can present barriers to our engagement with the real justice issues. But we further recognize that 1) in most cases polite requests for change have been ignored, while disruptive protests have produced change, and 2) violent protests are a wrong expression of a right cause in this case, whereas the racist threats are a wrong response to a wrong cause.^