Book Club: Lean In But Only If You Like Me

OK, dear readers. I don’t know about you, but chapter three was tough for me.  As if wanting to succeed and having ambition isn’t taboo enough, now we women get to really get emotionally naked and talk about likeability. Well, let’s get naked.

Sandberg dives in with some personal anecdotes to put flesh on the idea that cultural norms tend to associate men with leadership qualities and women with nurturing qualities creating a double bind for women. If a woman lead, she’s basically screwed because if she comes off like a man then people don’t like her, and if she is nice people like her but she can’t get ahead or get anything done. (I know I oversimplified, but I’m not writing a book here.) I’d like to add that it is a double bind for White women. For women of color, there is a racial/cultural twist that adds to the complexity of the issue – it’s a braid.

If a Black woman raises her voice she can quickly become “that (fill in the blank with your synonym of choice) Black woman.”

If a Latina raises her voice she can quickly become “that (fill in the blank with your synonym of choice) Latina.”

If an Asian American woman raises her voice she can quickly become “that dragon lady.” I get to pick the description because this is me.

Sandberg doesn’t have to fight the stereotypes of geishas, those waitresses who can’t speak English,  those nail techs at strip mall nail shops who speak in their foreign languages that make English-only-speaking customers worry if they are being made fun of (maybe for once it’s not about you), “I love you long time”, petite & subservient women who cover their mouths when they giggle. Sandberg isn’t straddling multiple cultures in the same way most women of color have to do, and if she does I wish she had included that in her book.

Her suggestions for overcoming the likeability issue is to own one’s success (p. 44), substitute “we” for “I” (p.47), and emote and quickly get over it (p.50). Again, easier said than done.

Let’s tackle emotions because I have a lot of them at any given moment. My dad says I wear all of my emotions on my face the moment I feel them. My mom has always joked that I am the crybaby of the family. When my younger sister was in trouble and getting disciplined, I would be the one crying.  That being said, I still cry a lot and I’ve struggled with processing emotions appropriately.

Getting over it quickly isn’t always possible nor do I believe it is the best thing to do in all cases. Yes, sometimes it’s better to take a breath and carry on. Earlier this summer during a fabulous road trip to the East Coast another driver did not appreciate my reminder that the left lane is for passing and shared his ill-manicured middle finger with me, and I responded in kind. I really should’ve just muttered under my breath about the rules of the road and moved on.

But sometimes as a leader, as a friend, as a parent, I have the opportunity to take a breath, name the emotion, connect it to what is going on for me in the conversation. I can help others by explaining what may be obvious to me but confusing to the person watching me: I’m angry, frustrated, sad, disappointed, etc. and it’s difficult, confusing, hurtful, etc. And then instead of hijacking the meeting by addressing my emotion, I can release the meeting to move along with the understanding that this is where I am coming from. It may slow things down, but in a world where we are often misreading each others’ cues – whether it’s through email, tweets, Facebook posts, or in face-to-face conversations, I believe we actually do need to name those emotions more and more.

So after my older son called me out on my expression of anger and frustration, I explained to him that I was ticked off and frustrated but that I shouldn’t have flipped off the other driver. I should’ve been satisfied with honking my horn and flashing my high beams.

Sandberg goes on to say that women need to own their successes and essentially speak in more communal terms when it comes to succeeding, at least in the business world.

Asian Americans who have a grasp of their mother tongue or culture experience the stark contrast between White American Western individualism and their cultures of origin. My Korean name does not start with my given name. It starts with my family name, my last name first because it isn’t about “me” or “I’ but about “we” and “us.” When you go to a traditional Korean restaurant you may have your “own” main dish but all the banchan – the side dishes that fill the table – are meant to be shared.

The feedback many of us Asian Americans have heard is that we are not assertive enough, we don’t self-promote and talk about our successes. But as an Asian American woman if I get into a shouting match and match tone and posture with a male colleague during a simulation in a leadership seminar, I get a talking to about my anger, aggression, and emotion, even if I try to get over it it comes back in evaluations and folklore. The male colleague does not.

Women don’t shout and point fingers. Asian American women certainly don’t shout and point fingers. And Christian women of all shades don’t shout and point fingers.

So what’s a woman to do?

I do think that as women we need to better own our successes whether they are in the business world, in our communities, in our churches, in our homes. I think the wins are important to name, recognize, and celebrate not just for ourselves but for us, our friends and family. And we, as Christian women of all shades, need to bring an end to the Mommy Wars. There is too much in current pop culture that wants to chip away at love that endures and success that brings us closer to “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” that can easily get lost as women argue about of working outside of the home versus working at home by focusing on our families. Success in our workplaces, in our friendships, in our marriages are worth leaning in to achieve, and I do believe that can come for both men and women in both the secular and the sacred.

What does that look like practically? For me it has meant owning my skills and talent for writing. I’m still figuring out some of the major details, but in the meantime I’m learning to say things like, “I am an author” without giggling. I am also making time to write for fun, to improve my craft, and to make some extra money while writing about things I am passionate about and believe furthering the conversations will bring us closer to kingdom come.

So what do you think? How difficult is it to own your own successes? Has success cost being liked? Do you like this post? Do you still like me?

🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Book Club: Lean In With a Men’s Book Club

My problem with Sandberg’s “Lean In” is that men who should read the book, who need to read the book, may not pick it up because it’s for women.

Most of the leadership books I’ve read are men’s books – leadership seen and practiced through the lens of men & masculinity in a business world developed by and and for men. I read, interpret, contextualize, and adapt the material through my lens as a Christian Asian American woman. But I read them. Lencioni. Maxwell. Depree. Covey. Rath & Conchie. Collins. Gladwell. Their books aren’t touted as men’s leadership development books, but they are written through that lens. Any personal stories included in the text reflect it. Sometimes their acknowledgements reflect it. And if I wanted to get really nit picky about it I would say most of these business leadership books (and even the Christian leadership books) are written through the lens of White majority male culture, even as our country’s population makes a shift away from a single majority.

My experience as an author for “More Than Serving Tea” only confirmed what I had suspected for years. The book was written by women for women, but never meant to be exclusively for women. Male pastors told me they had recommended the book to the women in their churches though they themselves had never read the book! Why not? Because why would a male pastor need to read a book that might minister and connect with more than half of their congregation?

So it came as a bit of a surprise to be asked to be a part of a book club discussion on “Lean In” with a group of Christian men. Deep respect for Fred Mok, English pastor at Chinese Church in Christ – South Valley in San Jose, CA, who cold-contact emailed me.

“I found your blog through your book and noticed you’ve been reading through ‘Lean In’.

 Our church men’s group  (4-5 guys) is going to be reading “Lean In” as our next book and would love to have a phone or Skype interview with you about the book as part of our club. This would be a great opportunity to get a prominent Asian American Christian woman’s perspective on some important issues.”
We set a time, and the men sent me the following set of questions to get me thinking about what they were wondering.
1) One of your recent blog posts mentions self-promotion. This is a value vital to success in Western society. But as Asian American Christians, we are not subject to those values. What might it look like to honor our Asian American communal and self-effacing heritage and lead in Western society without the arrogance of self-promotion?
2) Based on your blog post about “If I wasn’t Afraid?” you talked about Sandberg’s motivation “comes in to nudge me back”. What does that mean? What do you need to be nudged back from? Did you mean nudged forward, since Sandberg’s emphasis is to motivate women to be more aggressive in their approach to getting ahead in the workforce? But, if you did mean “nudged back”, then what conflicts as a Christian women and mother is nudging you back?
3)  In chapter 1, Sandberg discusses gender stereotypes and how this starts with children. (For example, bottom of page 20 and following.) Certainly it has been cited for many years, the types of toys given to boys versus girls, and the examples of wood or metal shop versus cooking classes. What is your ‘take’ on this?  To what degree is nature versus nurture playing a role?
4) To what degree does the church cast women into stereotypic roles? Can you discuss any personal examples?
5) How does being married to an Asian American man make it more difficult or easier to take a seat at the table? [does being married to an Asian American man put you at a disadvantage from someone like Sandberg? Do we, as Asian American men, have more expectations for our wives]
6) If you were to give advice to your daughter about pursuing a career, how close would you hew to Sandberg’s party line to “lean in”?
7) What’s it worth from a kingdom of God perspective for women to experience increased corporate advancement [Sandberg’s goal]? 
8) In chapter 4, Sandberg writes about careers are more like a jungle gym than a ladder – but what’s driving jumping from one job to another? From this chapter, it seems like money. Get in early and get rich. She says she joined Google because she believed deeply in their missions. What’s that? How did that change when she jumped to Facebook?
Easy. Right?
What I walked away with was a deep sense that our time on Skype was an example of iron sharpening iron. It’s easy for me to pontificate and then pat myself on the back after I blog. I don’t do this for a living. I have a limited readership. It’s a platform but not really. I have some skin in the game, but I can disappear for the summer like I did.
But when one of the men asked me why women needed a voice at the table, why did it matter that women aren’t equally represented in various public and private arenas I had to stay engaged and talk with him. He was being honest and sincere, not belligerent or snarky in the way a tweet or blogpost could be construed. He thought it was good for women to be in politics and business, but he really wanted to understand why this book and the issue of gender equality was so important to me as a sister in faith.
And I had to take a quick breath and not put up my guard, not go on the offensive and charge into the conversation like I had been attacked, because I hadn’t. I had to remind myself this wasn’t a debate, but I could learn to lean in by listening to his question and his tone of voice and responded honestly and openly.
I said women may have more opportunities open to them now, but because we haven’t legally been allowed in the game as long as men there was some catching up to do. I mentioned that women’s suffrage had been legally secured less than a century ago, that women have not had the same access to education, and that women are still paid less for the doing the same jobs men do. I talked about the challenges women of color face – the ugly complexity of racism combined with sexism. And that I stressed that because we women experience the world differently we bring a unique voice, leadership, and influence.
I also had space to explain that there is a time and place for men’s groups, just like the very book club these men had formed, but that even in that space there was a missing piece as they delved into a book written through a lens with which they were unfamiliar – a woman’s voice and experience.
And right then and there I think there was a moment of understanding. We may not fully understand each other, and we may not even fully agree with one another. But we can really hear, listen to, and learn from one another.

Another Lesson on White (Christian) Privilege From Cleveland

“I want everyone to know that the acts of the defendant is not a reflection of the Puerto Rican community here and in Puerto Rico.”  Cleveland Chief Assistant Prosecutor Victor Perez, at a press conference announcing initial charges against Ariel Castro.

When you are White, you never have to apologize for what another White person does, especially the really, really, really bad stuff. That is White privilege.

If you are White in America you are assumed to be an American. Not a U.S. citizen. Not naturalized. Not a legal resident of “fill-in-the-blank” descent. Just American. That is White privilege.

If a young White American bombs a federal building killing more than 160 people or guns down 20 elementary school children and 6 adults, no White American, male or female, in fear of retaliation, gets in front of the media and apologizes for White people. No officials during a press conference remind the audience that the acts of the defendant are not a reflection of White America. That is White privilege.

The kidnapping/rape/sick-to-your-stomach case in Cleveland is both unbelievable and hopeful. I desperately want more hopeful. I hope people like Charles Ramsey are in every neighborhood. I hope more missing children are found. I hope for justice and healing.

But I don’t know what to feel after hearing Maria Castro-Montes’ apology on behalf of the entire Castro family. I don’t know what is appropriate after hearing Cleveland’s chief assistant prosecutor address the pall of suspicion that falls over an entire community because of one person’s actions. (BTW, I can’t find a link to Perez’s comment I use at the start. I heard it on NPR this morning.)

Anger? Confusion? Disappointment? Resignation?

Why aren’t law enforcement officers and neighborhood religious leaders in front of the media apologizing for failing these three women, their families, the neighborhood? The women and a child were enslaved in their community. This didn’t happen in Puerto Rico. This happened in Cleveland. In America.

When news of a shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech started poring out, I remember emails and calls from colleagues and friends. We held our breath until the identity of the shooter was confirmed. And then we kept holding our breath. Koreans and Americans of Korean descent apologized. Young Asian American men were told in hushed voices and in knowing looks to lay low for a bit – retaliation  doesn’t necessarily distinguish between Korean American and, say, Chinese American. We felt under suspicion by the way media coverage used words to distinguish, differentiate, and define, reminding us that we were actually the “Others”.

I can’t do this turmoil in my heart justice. I can’t. I can’t believe Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight were enslaved and hidden in the middle of a neighborhood. I am amazed at their courage and at the story of their freedom. I am thankful Charles Ramsey didn’t ignore a woman’s scream for help. And I can’t stand that Ramsey’s past became part of the story and his words are becoming a minstrel show. I can’t stand that Perez felt it necessary and then publicly distanced an entire community from one person’s sins.

It’s only in God’s presence I can know deeply in my soul that my Asian-ness, what I often feel is my other-ness, is a reflection of God’s image. It is part of the plan. Just a part of the whole. We are all human, created male and female, in God’s image. Connected. Castro’s sin isn’t mine or Perez’s or anyone in the Puerto Rican community, but we are connected to one another through our humanity and our brokenness. We all sin.

 

In that way, my disappointment lies mostly with Christian leaders who stay silent on the issues of racial and social injustice, claiming those issues are not the gospel. How can what is happening to my brothers and sisters of any race or ethnicity not be a part of me and a part of how Jesus’ Good News changes the broken into wholeness? How can we as believers not come alongside Perez and Castro-Montes and say this isn’t about you being created in God’s image, your ethnicity and your race, but is about a broken majority culture our Church has both ignored and embraced?

That, my friends, is White Christian privilege.

 

Book Club: Lean In & #firstworldproblems

“But knowing that things could be worse should not stop us from trying to make them better.” Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In, p. 5

“It could always be worse” has never been a salve for my soul. Knowing that someone is suffering more than I am doesn’t make me feel better. It usually makes me feel worse. The #firstworldproblems meme meant to be a bit cheeky, snarky and thoughtful (?) makes me think I spend too much time online and not enough time actually trying to change the things I can change.

There are the little things, the personal things I can change. Turn that frown upside down. Go to bed at a decent time. Walk to the library. Recycle. Reuse. Compost. Garden.

But what are the things that require a bit more heavy lifting? Sandberg’s book has gotten me thinking about leadership and the many venues in which a woman’s leadership can play out. Where do we see the problems and then choose to make the effort to make them better?  Certainly women choosing to lead doesn’t  just mean pregnant women get special parking (though that would’ve been great when I was pregnant with my first child), right?

In my evangelical faith circles, I have to dance this complex dance of affirming God’s will, working within cultural and organizational boundaries/rules/expectations, being encouraging as well as challenging, blessing others to make choices I would never make, asking for the blessing for choices I make that others would never make, and making sure it is all done in prayer, reflection, community, and humility. Sandberg hints at and takes some shots at complexity because she chooses to bring her gender and life stage into play, but in the end many of the solutions are appropriately business-like – cut and dry, you will either choose to lean in or not.  After all of the late night conversations over tears and tissues with girlfriends and female colleagues about the challenges of leading while wearing a bra, I appreciate reading a woman’s voice telling me “we can dismantle the hurdles in ourselves today” (p. 9).

So, who are the women who are  making things better? Who are the women you all look at examples of this?

I can think of several. Nikki Toyama-Szeto. Joanna Lee. Janet Cho. Jessica Lynn Gimeno. They are just some of the women I look to because they are doing more than laughing over #firstworldproblems and living out Jesus’ prayer in their spheres of influence: Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.

 

In Times Like These We Are All Americans. Not Really. Let’s All Be Human.

By the time I finish editing this post, the name of the third victim killed in the Boston Marathon bombing will be making its way around the interwebs. Look at how the news media writes about her, her country. Please take a look at the comments on those stories. Maybe you will be surprised. I’m hoping to be surprised by our humanity, but so far not so much.

Because in times like these, we are actually not all Americans. Tragedy, despite what newscasters might have us believe, can often be quite divisive. I’m well aware of the many random acts of kindness, and how Bostonians literally opened up their homes and shared their resources. But when you heard about the bombing, did you think, even for a moment, “I hope the perp isn’t (fill in the blank with your choice of race, ethnicity, citizenship, etc.).”? I did. Remember Virginia Tech. That was only six years ago. The South Korean government apologized on the shooter’s behalf.

In times like these, the “other” is always to blame.  Don’t forget the erroneous reports about a Saudi national being held for questioning. Unless you are an American, and dare I say look “American”, your involvement, your presence may be called into question. There were plenty of people on the scene that looked like Timothy McVeigh or Terry Nichols. One comment on a news article read: “…we have enough problems without involving the Chinese.”

But the Chinese are involved. In fact, the world is involved. As far as I know, the Boston Marathon draws an international running community together. And she was there to watch, just like thousands of other fellow human beings.

She was a Chinese graduate student at Boston University, not much older than my own daughter, and very much like many of the college and university students I interact with through my work with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. In fact, before turning on the news I knew through Facebook this young woman had attended an InterVarsity graduate student fall conference. She had friends. She had a roommate. She was known. And she was loved.

This morning I heard a talking head on the television say that her name had not yet been released because her parents had not yet told her grandparents. Her parents were concerned the grandparents would not be able to handle the news.

In a culture like ours, where free speech and an individual’s right to bear arms like a battalion headed into war are sacred, where news and misinformation are often confused for one another, where the news cycle never stops on any front, it may seem odd to want to keep such important, personal, yet devastating news from loved ones when people are wondering “who is the third victim”. But for Eastern culture, familial ties run deep and are visceral. Perhaps it is because we in America expect to see a grieving loved one bravely face the cameras or give the media a quote or statement. We respect the grief, but we want to be allowed to be a part of it. But for this young woman’s family, the grief might just physically overcome the grandparents. Or perhaps, her activities here could call her entire family into question under a government in a culture that seems so unlike “ours”.

We may never know all of the details of her life, but that shouldn’t make her less human, less a victim, less important. I do not know if she and I shared a faith in Jesus, but in times like these I don’t care whether or not she was an American. She was my sister, bearing the image of God just as the unnamed Saudi national, Martin Richard and Krystle Campbell.

May the Lord have mercy on us all.

 

Rice Pudding and Other Cross-cultural Adventures as an Outsider

I eat a lot of rice – white, brown, sweet, wild, steamed, fried, with Spam, and with kimchee. It’s “just” rice, rice cakes, rice noodles, rice crackers, rice porridge. When I buy rice it is not in a box. It is in a 20# bag, which I empty into my rice dispenser. The rice cooker (mine plays a song) takes up precious countertop, right next to the toaster oven and the coffee grinder. I have spoons for serving rice.

But until Sunday I had never had rice pudding, and I didn’t know you could eat it with lingonberries. The occasion was my church’s 35th anniversary. My family has been there for at least 5 of those years. The festive, celebratory mood was obvious, and knowing that my church has been such a key place for so many throughout the years continues to give me hope that I too will feel a deeper sense of belonging in the years to come.

But I get impatient, and I get cranky. And I wonder if it’s OK that Sunday is the most segregated day of the week for Christians because on Sunday I really felt like the best I could do was eat and leave. I had to ask what “that dish” was, which I learned was rice pudding. I recognized the salmon and the ham & rolls. Thanks to my mom’s days at Motorola I recognized versions of broccoli salad and jello salad. And thanks to Ikea my boys and I recognized the meatballs and lingonberry as well as the blue and yellow. I felt like a guest at my own church.

I’ve been told by others that I am not alone, and that it takes time. But when you are in the moment(s), time is not what I want to give.

It was a homecoming for many, but it was another cross-cultural adventure for me. I felt so outside inside of my own church, and I am still wrestling with how I as a regular attender can engage well when on most Sundays my family and I stand out.  Our traditions are not part of the present or the past, and we are still trying to find our way to places to impact the present and future. I don’t want to get rid of the rice pudding or meatballs, but I really do think potstickers and seaweed would go well with the salmon.

Because it is in the breaking of bread (or breaking out the rice in its many versions) and in the act of fellowship amongst sisters and brothers in faith we should find that the differences matter because there is space to delight in the variety, creativity and abundance that is from God. Look around. God doesn’t paint all the leaves one shade yellow. Our differences don’t define us; our Creator does.

But that’s easy to say when no one is there to point out the differences and say “we celebrate God’s goodness this way, with this food, with these people”. At the last church we were a part of, we wrestled with the same issue. The church was started specifically for second-generation Korean American youth who were growing up in immigrant, Korean-speaking churches. (And if that doesn’t make any sense to you, please ask for a longer explanation because I would welcome that.) The youth grew up, got married to Koreans and non-Koreans. We had children. We celebrated milestones with kimbap, Korean-style wings, jjap-chae, and dduk. And we assumed everyone would know what it all was and would enjoy it because that is how we all celebrate. And we were wrong.

And so I take a deep breath and discover that rice pudding is OK (better with the lingonberries) though I prefer rice cakes or the meatballs. Because the idea of creating an inviting and welcoming space isn’t limited to Sundays and a church.

They’re not racist. They just don’t know.

My sons, ages 13 and 10, spend two evenings each week on a golf course because I parent out of my own personal brokenness, which includes an acute awareness of life experiences and skills I was not exposed to growing up. Tennis lessons. Skiing lessons. Swimming lessons. Golf lessons.

Check. Check. Check. Check. (My daughter got the first three. She escaped golf because she has immersed herself into the world of dance for the past few years though it’s not completely out of the picture yet.)

One of my goals has been to expose my children to things I didn’t do and at one point or another felt like I had missed out on. This all despite the fact that I also wrestle with my own personal prejudices against sports like tennis and golf because they have in one way or another represented privilege and access to opportunities and networks my parents and I did not have.

So it did not surprise me to see a very diverse group of participants on our first day at the course – diverse meaning White or Caucasian children were in the minority. Golf, whether you are in business or in medicine, more if you are male but increasingly so if you are female, is one of those “life skills” that also translates into opportunities and networks that non-White communities continue to learn about and enter into.

(And wouldn’t you know that in the crowd of parents one of the other Asian American parents and I recognized each other after having last met about seven years ago!)

But I was a bit annoyed when I found out my sons were asked the following question by a young Black boy on the putting green:

“Are you guys related to Bruce Lee?”

My sons know me, and they have had their many questions about race, ethnicity and culture answered even when they didn’t know there was a question to be asked. They have been encouraged to recognize and value both similarities and differences. So C quickly qualified the young boy’s question with his own response:

“Mom, don’t worry. He wasn’t being racist. He just didn’t know. Bruce Lee isn’t even Korean, right?”

C was correct. Bruce Lee isn’t Korean, and the question wasn’t racist. The young boy didn’t know, and because of what he has and hasn’t learned and been exposed to about Asian Americans through school, community, church, media or family, he tried to make a connection between what he knew (Bruce Lee) and what he was currently experiencing (two Asian American boys). The boy was doing what anyone trying to make small talk might do when you are young or older and trying to make a new friend – find common ground. It wasn’t racist. The boy isn’t a racist. He just didn’t know.

But as I have sat and walked around the course for the past few weeks I’ve been wondering at what point do we move from not knowing to being responsible for what we don’t know. I have been the receiver of much grace and the giver of the same as people of different races/ethnicities/gender/faith find themselves making mistakes as well as being stupid, prejudiced and racist. I have found extending grace easier when the offender acknowledges the offense. It really becomes extending grace when the offender sees no offense.

So I’m still mulling over C’s response to an innocent question that on another day would have made my tired blood boil had I been the one being asked about my relationship to say Lucy Liu, but was tempered and amazed by C’s response, which was to simply tell the boy he wasn’t related to Bruce Lee.

And then they proceeded to sink a few golf balls.

Sa-I-Gu. April 29.

It’s been 20 years since the LA riots.

For me it was one of those “I will remember exactly where I was” moments – sitting in a hotel in Indiana after interviewing at a newspaper. I was a graduating senior, still waiting to get a job offer, collecting rejection letters (editing them in red and hanging them on the apartment refrigerator), and hopeful. For those of you old enough to have seen the riots unfold live, do you remember where you were and what you were feeling?

I watched footage of the verdict. The crowd’s response. I watched the footage of the beating and the rescue. I watched as a broken system cowered away from the angry protesters and left entire communities without “protection”. I watched the footage of looters begin to tear apart Koreatown, and I listened to news commentators talk about race relations in terms of Black and White.

And when I got back to campus a few of us from the Asian American Christian Ministry got together to pray and sit. There was one underclassman whose family owned one of those stores in Koreatown. We prayed with him as he wondered whether or not he should fly home, and whether or not there would be a store or community left by the time he landed.

And while Koreatown burned, so few of our voices and faces were included in the images, the public discourse, the whole picture. Perhaps the coverage was different in CA, but in the Midwest we were at the mercy of national news distributors and so much of the coverage focused on Black and White. Yellow was expendable, and not part of the problem nor the solution. We seemed expendable. And I felt ignored, and then I realized I wasn’t just sad and scared. I was angry.

It solidified my desire to be a journalist, and to be a different voice in some newsroom somewhere. It’s why I’m still so committed to challenging college and university students to consider how living out the Gospel in their everyday lives will help bring about God’s kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is heaven.

Because April 29, 1992, was far from heaven.

A Case of “The Others” – Asian-owned Businesses in Black Neighborhoods

Why are so many dry cleaners owned by Koreans?

Why are so many nail shops owned by Thai or Vietnamese?

Why are so many donut shops/convenience shops owned by Indians?

Why do Asians and Asian Americans own businesses in Black neighborhoods?

Why are they taking our money?

Why are foreigners who don’t speak our language and disrespect us take our money out of our communities?

Are these stereotypes or archetypes?

I’ve heard all of those questions posed in various ways, most recently from Marion Barry, former mayor of D.C. and recent victorious incumbent in Democratic primary race for the D.C. council seat he has held since 2005. He celebrated as cameras rolled by saying,

“We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go, I’ll just say that right now, you know. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go, I’ll just say that right now, you know. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”

You can take a look at Barry’s twitter feed  and read the WP article to get a sense of how things unfolded. It’s typical. A politician/public figure says something offensive, people offended speak up, figure claims it’s taken out of context and apologizes (in this case Barry actually says, “I’m sorry.), tries to do what he/she should’ve done in the first place and put things into context.

But the context is complicated and entrenched in broken systems run by broken people and then communicated to the masses by more broken people (myself included) who are missing each other because, in some cases, they aren’t even talking with and being heard by one another. Creating “simple” dichotomies makes it easier – us against them, respect versus disrespect, rights and entitlements, etc.

I know this because as a newspaper reporter in Milwaukee I reported this story. A Korean American owned beauty supply store in a predominantly Black neighborhood became the target of a protest. Black community leaders wanted to know why Asian store owners were rude, didn’t employ anyone from the community, didn’t contribute to the community. Store owners didn’t want to talk.

But I understood why they didn’t want to talk. Why they didn’t hire anyone from the community. Why they didn’t contribute.

My parents owned a dry cleaning business for years. My parents, who hold degrees in engineering and accounting, turned to small business ownership to help pay for college and weddings and to provide so much more. They didn’t hire anyone from the community. Why pay someone when my sister and I could work for free and my parents were willing to be there everyday (except for the two days off I remember they took for our weddings!).

A significant difference for our experience was that the dry cleaners was in the suburbs, but my parents experienced many cultural clashes in an effort to make a living and provide a service that was in demand.

Most customers were fine – pleasantries exchanged and business as usual, but there were plenty of customers who looked down on my parents as if they were uneducated foreigners. Few of them ever had to say anything because those of us who learn to be invisible, blend in, assimilate learn to read the looks, the tone, the small gestures because we learned to “speak” American even though we continue to be questioned about actually being “American”.

So I took that experience as the child of one of those Asian store owners first to my White editors and then to the Korean-American beauty supply store owners. The readers, the editors, the community leaders, the store owners and I all learned from one another.

We learned that we all considered each other as “the other”. We learned about how exchanging money – one-handed, two-handed, eye contact, a nod or a look – can be rude to one and normal to another. We learned that the owners were Americans, just not American-born. We learned that there was great pain and suffering in the community, and community leaders wanted participation, not handouts. We learned about cultural differences and expectations. We learned about prejudice, misunderstandings and misinformation.

I can only hope that Barry will take the time to learn that he didn’t just offend Asian who own dirty stores but offended Americans, some of us who happen to be Asian Americans. I hope we stop to learn about the corrupt, broken and racist systems and policies that limit Black entrepreneurship.

I hope we learn that life is more than Black and White and that we all need to develop cross-cultural competencies. All of us.

Yoga, Praise Nights, Harvest Celebrations, Christmas Trees and Easter Eggs

Every now and then on late-night television a commercial for Time Life music collections sends me back into the 70s, 80s or 90s. Or the commercial makes me want to plan a romantic night with my husband or remind me of how I drowned in relationship (or non-relationship) drama in my youth as the commercial hawks a collection of love songs. But the one commercial that wigs me out the most was the one for Christian worship songs. (This is the newer version. The older version was shorter but weirder, IMO.) The shots panning the homogenous crowd, eyes shut, arms raised high, waving and swaying while the band/worship team/song leader belts out lyrics about the “blood of Jesus” or “the lamb that was slain”.

Do I look like that when I’m blissed out for Jesus in church? (Not at my current church.) Do we Christians really look like that when we are “worshipping”? Do we really look like we are at a rock concert but instead of lighters we wave little candles that are recycled for use at prayer vigils and Christmas Eve?

It’s weird. But so is dressing up like a superhero and knocking on stranger’s doors asking for candy. Or putting up a plastic tree and decorating it with more plastic and synthetic materials so that we can put piles of presents underneath it. And then break out a birthday cake for Jesus. Or filling up plastic eggs with candy and spreading them out on the lawn and having masses of children collect them, grab them. hoard them like they’ve never seen so much candy (except when they saw that much candy on Halloween).

What makes one tradition “Christian” and another “not Christian”?  Why do some Christians think it’s OK to put up a Christmas tree but not OK to go trick-or-treating? Is it the Star of David ornament we put up on top of the tree that makes it OK even though historians can connect evergreens and the use of them in non-Christian traditions? Is dressing up in costume OK and getting free candy OK so long as you don’t go door-to-door but you go to the big church in town? Is beating up on another man OK so long as you are a Christian and you let everyone know God is on your side but practicing yoga is not because it is demonic? Is it OK that my sons are second- and first-degree black belts in an ancient Eastern martial art and my daughter dances to pop music? And if it isn’t then would it be OK if my sons started watching Christian MMA and my daughter danced to Christian contemporary music?

Sometimes I don’t get my own people, which is nothing new since I am still “getting” myself.

Perhaps its the blessing of growing up tri-cultural – Korean, American and then Christian Korean American. Growing up we adopted many “American” traditions – Halloween, Sweet Sixteen celebrations and  my personal favorite, the “I’m 18 so I am an adult” tradition. We also held onto many Korean traditions – bowing to our elders on New Year’s Day and eating very yummy rice cake soup and celebrating the first 100 days of our children’s lives. And then things become a “new and improved” version of both – having our children participate in the dol-jan-chi or fortune telling on their first birthdays (with a pastor to pray for the meal), having Santa come at our Korean immigrant church Christmas Eve services (our Santa was Korean, why isn’t yours?), having a big fat Korean American wedding where a cavalcade of pastors bless the married couple who wear both the Western wedding attire and then switch into Korean wedding attire and perform a blessing and fertility ceremony.

Now that I think of it, Christian Korean Americans might be dancing with the devil. Maybe we should stick to having dollar dances and throwing bouquets and garter belts.

There is a constant ebb and flow to our adaptation of culture and faith and practices that embrace and honor both but ultimately requires wisdom, discernment and a good dose of Christ’s humility and love. If I avoided everything, every situation, every topic that the Western Church deemed unChristian I’m not sure I could remain in this world but not of it.

Where have you drawn the line?