I Don’t Want to Hear “I’m sorry if you’re offended…” or “I’m sorry but…”

This is not what comes to mind when I think of Christian leadership, character and integrity. (click on the Deadly Viper at Catalyst 07 video to hear…wait for it…Kung-Fu Fighting)

UPDATE: Nikki T-S has posted a comment on the Deadly Viper blog:
Hello all–
This is a very necessary and key conversation…
I’ve been in contact with Mike Foster and am trying to reach Pastor Soong Chan (and other members of the Asian Pacific Islander community) to set up a conversation to engage on this issue.
What do you think needs to be raised in that conversation to bring redemption, healing, and movement forward?

 

 

 

My response is frustration, anger and sadness, which makes me vent and write. This is what I sent to Zondervan and the authors. What would you say to them?

To Mike, Jud and Zondervan:
I am writing in regards to your new leadership & character series, “Deadly Viper Character Assassins: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership”. I’ve been looking at the promotional material on your website as well as checking out the Deadly Viper site, trying to understand how visual images of “Asian” culture and references to kung-fu enhance the actual content.

Please correct me if I am wrong, but the word on the street is that the simplified Chinese characters used on the cover don’t actually form a sentence but were used for graphic design purposes. Why does that matter? It matters because the Chinese language is an actual language and not simply visually appealing gibberish. Using it as a graphic design element because it “looks cool” marginalizes the language and the culture. Using random Chinese characters doesn’t make something more authentic, nor does it legitimize the connection between content and a marketing pitch.

As a Christian Asian American, I have grown weary of reading Christian leadership and character development books that are written solely through the eyes of Western/American majority culture. I can appreciate an attempt to weave in cultural values outside of our American experience to speak truth into God’s call to leadership and character. I applaud accurate depictions of my Asian American brothers as real men – not just caricatures of the emasculated Chinese food deliveryman or exaggerated martial arts warrior.

However, the marketing and packaging of this new material appears to have tried walking a fine line between appreciating another culture by giving context and fostering mutual learning and using it as a gimmick.

In response to your comment above, Mike, using Asian images, music and language is not the same as using cultural themes. I’ve been watching your DVD promo video clips. There is a lot of talk about self and community. Perhaps understanding and actually connecting those values through the lens of the Asian culture in comparison to the American culture might have helped your argument. It isn’t until the clip for Chapter 5 do you actually make a direct reference to a karate term.

Your private e-mail exchanges are not what set things off for many of us. Please do not dismiss our concerns as reactionary to a personal matter between you and one person. The use of these images on your website and then implying that a healthy dialogue is impossible because of the forum is unfair.

You have created a movement. I’ve heard that word coming out of your mouths in your promotional videos. Use this forum, your forum, to create space for what you write is a “critically important” discussion. I am not assigning motive or intent in your use of Asian images, but I am holding you accountable to what you say and do.

Are the authors, editors and publishers of this material open to a conversation about how dragons, vipers, ninjas and “cool” Chinese characters do not recognize Asians and Asian Americans as fellow-image bearers of God but simply use us as images?

Sincerely,
Kathy Khang

Update: This website takes a look at the Chinese (and Japanese) characters used.

18 Comments

  1. jimmy November 2, 2009

    Great Letter! I remember when Soong-Chan Rah approached another Christian publisher regarding a similar issue that was selling VBS materials one summer. I was quite ashamed of this. I later learned that my parents’ church, all Black, was using this materials. i attempted to get them not to use this materials. I was unsuccessful, but we need to build some sort of coalition that helps the Body of Christ across ethnic lines to defend the integrity of each community, just as Paul addressed Cephas (Peter) in Galatians.

    I join you in your struggle and disappointment over this issue.

    Jimmy

    Reply
  2. thelinkbetween November 2, 2009

    At this point, I’m simply speechless, so I’m glad you have the coherence to address the book. This is well stated.

    Reply
  3. Barnabas November 3, 2009

    I really like what you wrote Kathy.

    And just to note, the character there that is Japanese is also just the simplified Chinese character for learning / study / school.

    Reply
  4. Josh Deng November 3, 2009

    Wow. That video did it for me. It seems like these guys have a great message to share, but to package it in something that makes it obvious they did it just to “look cool” is ridiculous. And at Catalyst? The vision of Catalyst is not exactly globally geared, but they should know better. Please send this letter!

    Reply
  5. Bruce Reyes-Chow November 3, 2009

    Kathy – Thanks for a very thoughtful letter. While I wonder if anything can truly be done at this point, your letter give ample room to address what is a seriously lack of thoughtfulness on behalf of those whom you address. – Bruce

    Reply
    • Kathy Khang November 3, 2009

      Thanks, Bruce. One of the authors has responded on Soong-Chan Rah’s blog essentially wondering if this public conversation can become something else. At this point, I’m willing to help in the conversation, but the authors are the ones who have the forum – their website is bigger and draws more people than my little blog could ever draw. They have control over content of their website, and they can create a forum that invites dialogue and then respond to it appropriately.

      Reply
  6. Kathy Khang November 3, 2009

    I sent the letter yesterday, but we’ll see if I get a response. In the meantime, any help breaking down the Chinese/simplified Chinese characters would be helpful. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had “do you speak English?” screamed at me…now I get to scream back, “where did you learn your Chinese?”…at least I scream it in my mind.

    Their message has quite a following, and if I’m completely honest as a woman there is something about the language, tone, images and examples that I don’t resonate with at all. Regardless, I’m not trying to judge a book, dvd or website by its cover but by the use of Asian-inspired imagery that does not connect culture with content in an honorable, affirming or accurate way.

    Great message? I’m not sure. Something is getting lost in translation for sure.

    In the meantime, get the word out everyone. E-mail Zondervan. E-mail the guys at Deadly Viper.

    Reply
  7. dannyyang November 3, 2009

    the stuff on their website is gibberish:
    http://www.hanzismatter.com/2007/11/deadlyviperorg.html
    not sure about the actual book cover though…

    Reply
    • Kathy Khang November 3, 2009

      Danny,
      One of the authors said the characters on the book cover say “ninja”, “warrior” and “assassin”. I’m told by those who read Chinese and Kanji that the characters that appear on the website and dvd shots are random words.

      Regardless, it doesn’t feel like using Asian culture to discuss leadership development. It feels like random Asian images strung together to create a different package/image with very little direct connection to the way Asian culture addresses issues of leadership and community.

      Reply
      • elderj November 3, 2009

        What it is, is the current American cultural fascination with all things “Asian” without a clue or a care about anything substantive. It’s decoration to them: adding varying “cool” Asian accoutrement to anything to make it trendy.

        Reply
        • Kathy Khang November 3, 2009

          Seriously! I’ve heard it said that I should be honored that American culture thinks all things Asian are cool and hip. I would agree with you; it’s decoration when it’s not connected and fostering a deeper, meaningful understanding of culture. Sometimes it’s offensive. Sometimes it’s silly. Sometimes it’s both. It’s the same thing with Black hip hop culture, no? I saw plenty of kids dressed up for Halloween wearing baggy jeans, fake bling, shades and trying to walk with attitude. At least that’s what I think the walk was all about.

          But I still love Hello Kitty.

          Reply
  8. elderj November 3, 2009

    Good letter Kathy. I share your frustration and honestly a bit of weariness. How long will Christians continue this kind of inanity?

    Reply
  9. gar November 3, 2009

    Beautifully written letter. Thanks, Kathy.

    Reply
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  11. […] people are raising their voices across the blogosphere. David Park from NG.AC has contacted Zondervan to let them know that this kind of material is […]

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  12. Ed Hsu November 4, 2009

    Hi Kathy, just heard about this today so I’m late to the party. I’m severely disappointed and disgusted by what I see on their website. You would think a company as large and influential as Zondervan would be culturally aware (note I didn’t say “more culturally aware”). All they’re doing now is making their competitors look good, which is hilarious since Zondervan has a reputation for being more forward-thinking than many of its competitors (I realize that’s not saying much). Smart, Zondervan. The fact that we’re even talking about this, and this product imaging, in 2009 just makes Christian subculture look more culturally irrelevant.

    Oh, and “Boom Chicka Wah Wah”? Seriously, that’s the best Christian publishing can come up with? I can assure what publisher will NOT be getting its products out from my hands into those of IV students.

    Reply
  13. […] some S(*&t going down at Zondervan over one of their bible study guides that is pretty insensitive and racist towards […]

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  14. […] by the “SPLASH” of the Deadly Vipers controversy (read more: here, here, here, and here), I find myself  puzzling anew over the whole issue of how Asian-American identity is constructed, […]

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