Beauty Pageants & Bible Stories

A former Navy reservist killed 12 and then turned the gun on himself yesterday, so why on earth am I still  blogging about racist comments directed at Miss America 2013 Nina Davuluri?

Because even things that don’t seem to matter can give me an opportunity to pause, learn, reflect, and apply to life. And everything I learned about beauty pageants I learned from the Bible before I watched my first Miss America pageant.

Felt-board Queen Esther became queen because her predecessor, Queen Vashti, refused her very drunk husband’s order to display her beauty to all the people, despite the fact that she was busy doing her own thing (Esther 1:11). King Xerxes and his wingmen/wise men decide she must be punished because if the queen can refuse to prance around in front of his drunk highness and his drunk friends then all women in the kingdom would assume they too could refuse their drunk husband’s requests. In order to put all women back in their place, a proclamation announcing the queen would be replaced and that every man should be ruler over his household (Esther 1:22) is sent to the entire kingdom “to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language”.

Esther becomes queen because she is beautiful and because she keeps her family background and nationality a secret. I don’t know what the Persian beauty standards were at the time, but Esther isn’t Persian. She is Jewish, and she hides it. And because she is beautiful she is rewarded. Sort of.

She wasn’t crowned Miss America. Miss America gets scholarship money, a national platform for a year for the cause of her choice, and the support and scorn of a country that worships and destroys all forms of beauty. Esther was crowned queen in title with no power, no platform. Would it be too crude to say she was a sex slave who was called into the king’s presence whenever it pleased him to see her? Or should I write “see” her? The kind had a type – beautiful virgins – and he liked to keep several around and name one queen. One day it’s Vashti, and then the next it’s Esther. It’s a man’s world, and it’s rolling with  beautiful women.

And that was part of the lesson I learned growing up – Queen Esther and Queen Vashti were beautiful, and there is a great deal of power and danger in that. You are set apart if you are beautiful. You are desirable if you are beautiful. And sometimes you have to hide who you really are to be considered beautiful. And then I learned all of that from the world around me, except that there were too many things I couldn’t hide. I couldn’t hide my “almond eyes” or flat nose. I couldn’t hide my un-American last name or the smells from my home. I couldn’t hide my brown hair and brown eyes. And as a little girl I played with dolls and watched beauty pageants – faces that never, ever looked like me or my mother or sister or aunt or anyone in my family. I was a chink and a gook and a jap. I was told to back to China, Japan, Viet Nam, but never Korea because most of my classmates had not yet learned of the Korean conflict. Even in high school I heard those words coupled with other profanity and saw words written on posters when I ran for class president. Some things you never forget because it’s important to remember. Kids are kids, but kids grow up to be adults to are examples to others…

Fortunately God does a lot of redeeming in my story and in Esther’s story. For Esther to find real power in her God-given identity she has to claim what she has hidden and denied. Her uncle, who once told her to hide her identity as a Jew asks Esther to use whatever power and access she has to speak out for her people, to speak out for what is right. Her uncle never says he was wrong, but he is asking to behave differently. She has to side with her people who are under threat of genocide, by defying the rules. She must risk death by approaching the king without being invited and hope he welcomes her, recognizes her (because it’s been more than a month since the king has seen this particular queen). She finds her voice, her identity, her power, and she speaks out against genocide, against the racist hate mongering, and she does it with strength and conviction and grace.

I’m still writing about the racist comments that may have disappeared in the constant flow of tweets, FB statuses and 24-7 news outlets because the Miss America pageant, as outdated, bizarre and sexist as it seems, the idea is as old as time. It’s as irrelevant and sexist as it relevant and sexist, which is to say I have no idea how God might redeem the Miss America pageant, but it’s not beyond God to do such a crazy thing. I’m not particularly fond of nor a fan of the pageant, but honestly if I could have won thousands of dollars in scholarship money because of my beauty I would not have thumbed my nose at that chance. And according to a PBS documentary on the Miss America pageant, someone like me or Ms. Davuluri or Vanessa Williams couldn’t have participated in the pageant in its heyday anyway.

But now we are a post-racial society with a lame duck, second term African American president and a Miss America of Indian descent.

The racist comments thrown at a beauty pageant winner matter because even if the laws say we belong, our neighbors, the ones I as a Christian am supposed to love, are spewing hate. My neighbors, who may even claim faith in the same God and Jesus I do, are the brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends and neighbors, of people who are using violent, ugly, racist language to remind me and millions of other Americans we don’t belong, are not welcome, are less than. Some of my neighbors are wondering why I’m spending so much time on Miss America when 12 people lost their lives in a shooting in Washington, DC.

It’s not either or.

You may not be on Twitter, but that doesn’t mean racism doesn’t exist. There are racist tweets about the shooting in DC just like there were about the new Miss America. Did you hold your breath when you heard about the shooting and hope, “Please, don’t let the gunman be White.”? (If you don’t understand the question, just trust me. There were plenty of Americans, Christian and not, who were hoping that the gunman wasn’t Black, Brown or Yellow.) The gunman, the murderer? He was Black. Did you hold your breath when you heard about the new Miss America and think, “It won’t be long before the racist comments hit the airwaves.”? (Are you thinking, “Why would anyone think that?” Trust me. There were plenty of Americans, Christian and not, who knew this racist stuff was going to happen.) The pageant winner? She is Brown. You can be the beauty or the beast but in America neither is safe from the vicious words and hearts of some of my racist neighbors. You can’t win.

But this isn’t about winning anymore than Esther’s story is about winning. What I also learned in the Bible is that God invites the most unlikely people in the most unlikely circumstances to do the most unlikely things. So who knows what is to become of the Miss America pageant or Twitter or who will be the heroes and the villains in the next tragedy. Esther’s story is about speaking truth, stepping out in faith, fighting for justice, finding your voice, leaning on others, owning your power and space, even if you think it’s crazy, or not your place, or something you’re really not interested in getting involved in right now because it isn’t your thing like risking your life or your reputation or your time on something as little as few hateful, vicious words written in English about someone who is my neighbor.

Beauty Pageant Bull

Huffington Post calls comments about Miss America "dumb" and "obnoxious". Let's call it what it really is. Racist.

Huffington Post calls comments about Miss America “dumb” and “obnoxious”. Let’s call it what it really is. Racist.

***Let’s be clear about this, dear readers. The reaction to Nina Davuluri is not dumb or obnoxious, as The Huffington Post would have us believe. It is racist. Don’t tell me it’s just a stupid beauty pageant because that doesn’t make it better or OK or less racist or problematic. Please don’t suggest that the comments may only reflect a minority of Americans. This past December, 77% of Americans identified as Christian. So, if the racist comments are coming from the 23% of Americans who don’t identify as Christians, we Christians should be a wee bit more vocal when this kind of very un-Jesus behavior rears its ugly head. God help us all if any of the comments come from the 77% – the majority, who identify as Christian.

You may now go back to your regularly scheduled reading. Thank you.***

We all have a lot of work to do. It’s Monday morning, and I am just finding the top of my desk.

But this can’t wait because none of us should wake up to racist bull on a Monday.

I have not watched a Miss America pageant in decades. I have never been in a beauty pageant, though many of my mother’s friends suggested I ought to try my hand at the Miss Korea pageant because back when I was young the art of blepharoplasty had not yet been perfected and culturally accepted. Back when I was young Miss America was always about the blonde, blue-eyed beauty winning. It was just like high school.

This morning my twitter feed and FB page had many, many posts about the new Miss America.  Nina Davuluri, Miss New York, was crowned Miss America. Davuluri is the first Miss America winner of Indian descent. The first runner-up was Miss California, Crystal Lee, also not White. They are incredibly bright, talented, and beautiful women because beyond the bikinis these women also have brains. And because Davuluri is both beautiful and bright, she can’t win. We are uncomfortable with the idea that a bright woman can also be incredibly beautiful and, gasp, sexy. She can strut her bikini body and head to medical school.

More power to her.

But what really stinks is the racist, hateful, ignorant garbage being thrown out there about our Miss America by Americans because she is brown. Please note that many of the tweets and comments are by younger White Americans who have grown up in a post-Civil Rights, post-Voting Rights Act, post-racial America because see we voted a Black American into our highest office not once but twice. These younger White Americans are supposedly more informed, more open, more accepting, less politically correct, less racist, less insensitive, more connected via the World Wide Web.

Some of these people think she is Arab. Um. She’s American. She is not from Western Asia or North Africa. She is from New York.

Here’s the kicker. As a Christian Asian American woman who grew up in the Midwest, I grew up assuming Eve, Queen Esther, Ruth, Rachel, Mary, Martha, the bleeding woman, the sinful woman, the woman at the well, and all the other women of the Bible, the beautiful, godly women I should aspire to were like Barbie and Miss America – white, blonde and beautiful. And why wouldn’t I have thought that with all of the felt storyboard Bible images, the child-friendly Bibles with pictures of a blonde Jesus and fair-skinned children at his feet, and the blonde Jesus picture so many of us Korean American Christian families had hanging up in our homes. (We had two – one portrait-style and one of Jesus standing at a door.)

I hope and pray none of the racist comments are also coming from Christians who are White Americans. I hope and pray the racist comments aren’t coming  from people who believe America belongs to Christians, not Arabs or Muslims because the two are interchangeable. (Not.)

I hope and pray the racist vitriol breaks your heart.

It should break every American and every Christian’s heart because racism should be un-American and hating your neighbor from New York is un-Christian.

#SmartWomenofTwitter #25ChristianBlogsYouShouldBeReading #fail

I realize there are still humans who do not tweet, post status updates, Instagram, Snapchat, or remotely care about any of that stuff. But just because it doesn’t matter to you doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an impact on the World.  Sometimes ignorance isn’t bliss. It just keeps you in your bubble. And even if you do dabble in that world, you know it moves incredibly fast so it would not be shocking to me if you have no idea what the hashtags in the title of this post mean.

Fast Company, a magazine focused on tech, business, and design, produced on Tuesday a list of the 25 smartest women on twitter. Again, you may not care, but it is a reflection of what is going on in the world.

And on the same day came this list of 25 Christian blogs you should be reading came out with some fanfare.

The first list had no women of color. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. #fail

The second list had two. Christina Cleveland and Maggie Johnson. #fail

Now, today is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. The Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of a dream when people would not be judged by the color of their skin but of the content of their character.

So does it matter that out of 50 names of influential people 50 years after Dr. King’s speech that only two are not White? Should I not care?

Both lists had me spending some time online responding, reading, lamenting, and hoping that despite the sheer amount of virtual noise that exists in our cloud-supported virtual world there would be spaces to learn from one another. I can still hope, can’t I?

Both lists also elicited a response. The twitterverse responded with #SmartAAPIWomenofTwitter #SmartBlackWomenofTwitter #SmartLatinaWomenofTwitter (isn’t that redundant?)  #SmartNativeWomenofTwitter as a way to self-promote women from those communities who are engaging the virtual world and to draw attention to the blatant lack of diversity in Fast Company’s list.

Similarly, Christian bloggers of color interacted via tweets, emails and Facebook wondering how and why the Evangelical church finds teaching about diversity and inclusion easier than the actual practice of it. And ironically some of us blamed ourselves for nominating each other, voting up each other’s blogs, self-promoting and promoting one another.

Why is that important? Because even in this day and age, 50 years after the march on Washington women of color are invisible, but because of technology there is an opportunity to draw the attention of a broader audience. Because even in this day and age, a high-profile publication or an influential leader can create a list of leaders and believe that they are judging people by their character instead of recognizing the limitations and cultural blind spots of their own networks, readers, and methods. Because I want to expect more from the “experts”, especially those who come from my Evangelical tribe and call me a sister in faith.

So I ask you again, dear reader, does it matter that out of 50 names of influential people 50 years after Dr. King’s speech that only two are not White?

 

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.

Book Club: Lean In & the Dirty “A” Word

Ambition.

Good Christians usually don’t talk about ambition. Maybe we call it “holy ambition” because if we add “holy” it makes it OK. I’ve read some of the Christian response to “Lean In”, and in a nutshell my take is that we Christians are uncomfortable with ambition. I’m afraid, however, that perhaps we have mistaken humility as the antithesis of ambition. 

And as a result Christian women maybe even more uncomfortable with ambition. I’m uncomfortable talking about it with Christian women until we’ve established some level of safety. I need to know they won’t judge me. That they won’t think I don’t love my children or my husband or my gender because I am considering applying for a promotion.

Sheryl Sandberg is in your face about it.

“This book makes the case for leaning in for being ambitious in any pursuit,” p. 10 (see, still in the intro!)

Any pursuit. Hmmmm. 

As Christian woman I have found it much more acceptable to be ambitious on the home front. Live for your kids and husband, perhaps in that order, because your husband isn’t around during the day and part of the evening, but that’s another chapter. Keep a clean and orderly home. Buy, make, grow, or raise the best, healthiest what-would-Jesus-eat food for your family. Be crafty and a wise steward of money. Be a godly wife and mother.

And that works well, particularly if you are married with children, and that life is something you want and you and your husband willingly agree to.

But not all of us Christian women want that. I want some of that, but I also want to work outside of my home. I enjoy teaching, preaching, speaking, and training. I love it, really. I enjoy writing, and I want to do more of it because (and I say this in a hushed voice) I think I’m good at it.  I enjoy developing those skills as much as I enjoy hearing my husband unload the dishwasher (he really is doing that right now) after I’ve whipped up an amazing meal (that I didn’t do tonight). 

My Christian Asian American parents helped me pay for college, and I enjoy stewarding that gift by also stewarding my gifts of leadership outside of the home. But I know that they have mixed feelings about my sister being a stay-at-home mom after getting a degree in business and about the amount of travel I choose to take on even though I have a husband. 

I just don’t know if it’s OK to say that I have ambitions outside of my home. My home life ambitions have been affirmed in Church. My professional ones? Not so much.

 

Is it OK to tell people I have ambitions? Do you tell people you have ambitions? Would you describe yourself as ambitious? 

Book Club: Lean In & the Dilemma of Self-promoting

“A 2011 McKinsey report noted that men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments.” Sheryl Sandberg, “Lean In” p. 8.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to get past the introduction.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t understand the real world in high school though I was desperate to get there. High school can be/was a difficult place for those not in the “in” crowd (though not even some of the cool kids back then would be able to fit into Abercrombie’s sizing, IMHO). But I had a few teachers (and a few friends) who saw this late-bloomer for what she was – full of potential.

The speech team coach asked me to stop by after school to talk with me about my future. He told me there was no future for me if I kept trying the Dramatic Duet event, but he had an idea. He heard me give a class council speech, and he wanted me to compete. I needed a lot of help, but he saw potential. And I drank that forensics punch like it was water in a desert. Where did that get me? Scholarship money and the confidence and skills to speak in front of a crowd…and get paid to do it.

Potential worked fine in high school, but in the real world women need more than potential to get that promotion. Women need deeds done.

Apparently I start a step behind by being a woman.

And for fun I will throw down the race card. I suspect in many places I take another step back because I am an American of Asian descent. (SPOILER ALERT: Sandberg does not directly address race and ethnicity in her book.)

Having a mentor, advocate, and sponsor will help, but all of those are easier to come by if you are a man. And once a woman has managed her potential, connected with a mentor, advocate, and/or sponsor, and started accomplishing things you finally have a chance.

See?! I’m already feeling internal tension, and I’m just writing about the introduction?!?!

Because somewhere along the journey where we all, men and women, need to self-promote. How else will anyone know what you are doing, what your accomplishments are? But what do you do when you’ve been taught and told to do the exact opposite? Christians need to be humble. Asians are taught not to put yourself above others. Modern women grew up being told all sorts of things, often conflicting things about what makes you a “good” woman. Asian American women may not be valued as much as men within their own families as well as within the culture. Asian Americans are told not to stick out, stand out, brag, or boast. As a Christian Asian American woman, any combination draws a short stick.

So…what say you, fine readers? How have you experienced this in your professional life? Have you known men to be promoted on potential while you need to wait to accomplish? How have you developed your potential into accomplishments?

I’ll add more, but you go first.

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

It’s Easy to Forget Privilege When It’s Always Been Yours

I’m tired of reading blogs from my White Christian brothers about why they are choosing to vote. There. I said it.

I’m all for being a part of the democratic process, but it seems a bit odd to me that so many of these bloggers are coming from a position of power and privilege they themselves have always had. It seems a bit arrogant to choose something that was always theirs.

The way I see it, they had better vote. The vote of the White male is what finally allowed people like me – a woman, an immigrant, a non-native English speaker – to have the right to vote. I didn’t have a voice. I didn’t matter. Neither did my ancestors, who immigrated here under quota systems developed by people in power for the benefit of the country and the powers-that-be.

And there still are people who have no voice, who have no right to vote, but they are directly impacted by the politicians, referenda, judges, and local officials as well as the “agendas and policies”. As a Christian who is new to the process, its a privilege and responsibility I don’t take lightly because it isn’t a given. I’m not American born. We are not post-racial America, and the fact of the matter is the church isn’t either. We are working on it, but we aren’t there.

Did you know that in 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act denying citizenship and voting rights to Chinese Americans? Yup, they can build the railroads but they can’t vote.

It wasn’t until 1920 that the Nineteenth Amendment is ratified giving women the right to vote, but in 1922 the Supreme Court rules that a person of Japanese origin is barred from naturalization, effectively shutting Japanese men and women out from the democratic process. The same happens in 1923 to Indian immigrants.

In 1941, U.S. citizens of Japanese descent are rounded up and interned in 10 concentration camps here in America under executive order 9066. It isn’t until 1952 that first generation Japanese Americans have the right to become citizens.

In 1943 The Chinese Exclusion Act is repealed, giving Chinese immigrants the right to citizenship and the right to vote, and in the same year Koreans in the U.S. are declassified as enemy aliens.

In 1946 Filipinos are granted the right to become U.S. citizens.

And all of these important moments in history did not include the voting rights of people like me. It’s easy to talk about whether or not you are going to vote when the privilege has always been yours without question.

So vote. Do your homework. Check out the ballot. Find out what your state or local bar association has to say about the judges who want to stay on those benches. Read the annoying brochures and check out what the entire article the candidate quoted actually said.  There are more than two names on the ballot for president, btw.

Yes, the political ads are annoying. The robo-calls are a nuisance. Turn off the tv. Turn down your ringer or shut the phone off for awhile. Ask your kids what they think of the process; I learned a lot by listening to what my three kids were hearing in the hallways!

I haven’t answered any of the phone calls from unknown phone numbers, but I did appreciate the one and only message left for our household. She was a community organizer getting out the vote for her candidate. She reminded me about Election Day and about the importance of voting as U.S. citizens – all in my native tongue.

How perfectly American indeed.