A Mother’s Rant About Racism & Reconciliation

Sometimes once is not enough. I had to watch the UCLA student’s video (former UCLA student?) several times because I don’t always want to believe what I see and hear. Did I really see this young woman speak on behalf of me, an American whose mother also taught her manners, and dissed me, an Asian who can speak English, Korean or Konglish (the mix of Korean and English so many of my peers have mastered) on her cellphone in a public place?

Ching chong? Hordes of Asians? American manners?

And no, I am not going to link to it. Like I said/wrote about the Tiger Mother conversation, if you don’t know what I am talking about, please expand your circle of acquaintances, friends and Twitter feeds.

But in the world of YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, the UCLA racist rant can seem like old news, and in some sad, sad, discouraging, sometimes frustrating-to-the-core-I’m-so-pissed-off-and-tired-of-crap-like-this way it is so old. Alexandra, you aren’t the first. You certainly won’t be the last. It’s just unfortunate that you and others (and unfortunate for you and others) who have a limited understanding/definition/experience of what “American” is believe that you won’t get any push back from Americans just like you when you post crazy videos on YouTube.

Our words and actions matter and last longer than anyone told you or me or our mothers.

So while cooler and more thoughtful heads joined the chatter surrounding this latest racist rant pitting “us” against “them”, I had to think a little longer Ms. Wallace’s rant. She blames/attributes her understanding of American manners on her mother. Friends, when you are an adult, and here in America you are adult enough at 18 to vote, we should learn to stop blaming our mothers. And God help my kids if they ever do something this stupid and get caught by me. Never mind getting a bazillion hits on YouTube. God help me.

One of the gifts Asians cultures bring to American is a deep respect for our elders and a communal worldview. As an Asian American I needed about a month to get used to the idea of calling my bosses by their first names. Yelling out “Diane! Roger! Joanne!” across the newsroom seemed extremely disrespectful and disrespect was not what my mother – an American citizen – taught me. And if I was disrespectful, it would reflect poorly not only on myself but on my family and on my people – which in many cases becomes all of Asian America.

You see, respect isn’t an American value, but how it is shown, communicated, displayed looks different to different Americans. Alexandra’s rant in tone and choice of words was a wonderful example of White privilege – assuming her POV is the majority POV because she is American and the “hordes of Asians” saying, “Ohhh, ching chong, ling long, ting tong, ohhhh” couldn’t possibly be American because they are not her.

So when the hordes of Asians and Asian Americans and Americans responded with a resounding “STOP THIS KIND OF CRAP”, Alexandra and other Americans just like her were genuinely surprised.

Perhaps there is where we can take steps to reconciliation.

Alexandra was speaking her mind. Her individualistic, post-modern Millennial, White American mind. Maybe in her worldview Americans, and maybe even those of us Americans of Asian descent, were supposed to get the joke.

But many of us didn’t think it was funny and responded in a collective voice, granted some angrier than others. As one of my friends puts it, we as in the “royal we” or the communal collective what-you-say-reflects-and-has-an-impact-on-all-of-us voice, we Americans who see things differently than Alexandra responded.

We have a lot to learn from each other. A lot. There were many responses that were mean and ungracious and only added more fuel to the ugly fire of racism. There were many conversations that took place that lacked American manners and so much of this controversy lacked Christian grace. There were videos made in response that made me laugh and then made me wonder how much more difficult and out of reach reconciliation will be when technology is used only to define the differences without helping inform us of how those differences matter and bridge us together.

But I guess that is where technology and even mothers fail. We need Jesus to help us make the leap from recognizing God-given, God-blessed differences from our sinful nature that uses gifts of culture to destroy and bring down others. We need Jesus to help us move from simply demanding justice to seeking reconciliation.

It makes me pray for wisdom because my own three children who may one day publicly do or say something that they mistakenly believe I taught them to do have only known this type of fast-moving technology, communication and connection.

So my gentle correction to Alexandra would be that I, as one of your aunties (because in my America everyone close to me and my family becomes a brother, sister, auntie or uncle), go to one of the Asian American friends you mentioned at the beginning of your video and ask them why your words were so hurtful to so many of us Americans.

That’s why it took me so much time to respond to what seems like old news. I was hurt. I was pissed. I was tired. And, I wanted nothing to do with “those Americans”.

Alexandra, you can’t be one of “those Americans” to me if I am honest and serious about seeking both justice and reconciliation. I’m your auntie, and if you are still confused about what happened, you can e-mail me.

Here is InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Asian American Ministries official response to the UCLA student’s rant inviting us all to consider both justice and reconciliation.

And here is another great post covering White Privilege, Color-blindedness and the Model Minority.

Full-time Ministry and Motherhood

I’ve had another quiet spell on the blogging front. Writing energizes me, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen for public consumption. The end of the year came and went, and Peter and I have spent quite a bit of time fixing the flaws to our calendaring system. If only our refrigerator had an iPad on it where our perfectly synced google and iCal calendars could appear in its rainbow glory.
This is a cheat blog post. The content appears in “Models of Ministry: Husband in the Workplace”, which is part of a resource developed for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff. It is linked on the staff website this month, which I didn’t know about until a few e-mails and Facebook posts alerted me to the fact that I had written something. While the following piece was written with InterVarsity staff in mind, I do believe that quite a bit of translates into a non-Christian ministry context. Every mom I know is a working mom, and for all of us parents, calendaring is a verb. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have a paying job that is personally satisfying and has made me a better mother. Not everyone gets to say that.
But parenting is not easy. I have plenty of stories of bringing sick children to lie on the floor during meetings I had to run or leaving a grocery cart full of groceries in the store because when I say, “If you don’t stop (insert unacceptable behavior), we are leaving the store” I am not making an idle threat. So being a part of an entire resource for and about working mothers for the organization I work for and with was hardly work.
(For those of you who only “know” me through this blog or the book I helped author, I am a full-time working mother – the regional multiethnic director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA and am based out of my pretty green home office. For more information please visit www.intervarsity.org and if what you see makes you want to be a part of what I do, feel free to join my financial support team by going to www.intervarsity.org/donate/to/kathy_khang ).

What were the key factors shaping your choice of model for ministry and motherhood?
I had already been in the marketplace for five years, gotten married and had my first child when I made the move to join InterVarsity staff. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t be a working mom just because I was going into campus ministry…until I realized there were so few of us.

What was most difficult or challenging about your choice?
Hands-down childcare was and continues to be the most difficult and challenging part of the decision because it affects my family and my personal development. Campus ministry doesn’t fit neatly into daycare hours, nor does the level of financial compensation fit easily into the cost of quality childcare. Overnight student retreats and staff meetings and travel have required constant negotiation with family, friends, supervisors and colleagues. And because my husband is not on staff, has a set schedule, and has limited flexibility and because taking advantage of any flexibility has a direct impact on our finances, figuring out how to manage two careers takes a great deal of energy, planning, communication and grace.

During my CSM days I was blessed by a wonderful group of students who watched my kids for free as their ministry to the chapter, freeing me up to meet with other students while they fed my kids jellybeans and McDonald’s and pored love and affection on them. But it was never easy or seamless.

My husband and I decided that we would do our best to schedule my job around his for very practical reasons – his job paid more. That meant staying part-time because the full-time job required three weeks at Chapter Focus Week as well as additional area, divisional, regional and national meetings that did not and could not offer childcare.

I made the choice to put personal leadership development and training on a much slower track in order to accommodate my family’s needs and time limitations. It also meant feeling like I had no choice but to say “no” to many wonderful opportunities to teach or be trained, and digging deep into fears that saying “no” too many times would mean the invitations would dry up. To be honest, some opportunities do dry up but others have come back around now that I am full-time and my children are all in school.

My childcare needs have continued to change as the kids have gotten older, entered school, added activities, etc. and as my roles and my husband’s career demands have changed. We are frequently at our desk with our calendars mapping out requests for time-off, adjusting doctor’s appointments, notifying the school and teachers to call Peter in case of an emergency because I am out of town. It has forced us to communicate better.

What have you valued or appreciated about your choice?
Being on staff with InterVarsity has been a gift to me and to my family. It has not been easy, and I often step back to make sure this decision is right for this time in my life and in my family’s life. The choice gave my husband and me a chance to put our values into practice and honor our marriage vows in tangible ways. Honoring one another in a two-career family has required some difficult, heartfelt, honest, conversations about ambition and opportunities and sacrifice.

I can still find myself envying staff couples who would serve their weeks at Chapter Focus week or attend staff conferences and still have vacation time to spend together. For us those situations have required us to either use my husband’s vacation time to stay home with the kids, for the family to come with me at our cost or for me to ask my supervisors to be excused from meetings, conferences and training. It has meant being sure of the calling but uncertain about the intensity or feasibility of pursuing that call at various points in our family’s life.

But all of those choices have in turn opened up an extended family to us. Alumni and fellow staff who met my children when they were young enough to nap in a carseat in the corner or stay busy with a few coloring books when I was able to attend meetings don’t see them as often but from a distance continue to watch Bethany, Corban and Elias grow up, and they have been blessed through a few key relationships developed through my years on staff. My kids look forward to Chapter Focus Week at Cedar Campus and talk about the various conferences and retreats, which to them have been mini-vacations with an ever-changing extended family.

It has also kept me honest and forced me to dig deep into my soul and then run to Jesus about my personal ambitions, frustrations, envy, calling and roles. There are roles and jobs I would be interested in pursuing, but I continue to need a job with some degree of flexibility because the public school system isn’t flexible and my husband’s boss’ vacation requests will always take priority over his.

What advice would you give to women as they’re considering what path is appropriate for them?
You need to do three things: pray, talk with your husband and find support. Whether you choose to stay on staff or leave, and whether or not your husband is on staff, you need to pray and sit at Jesus’ feet because there are many things motherhood will make you worry about. Whatever you decide you may have moments of regret, of feeling like you’ve lost a part of your identity, etc. Be with Jesus first.

And then talk with your husband. There is nothing as demanding as parenthood (well, maybe caring for an aging parent, but that’s another discussion), and I’m not close to being done yet. Your choice may be crystal clear so talk about it with your husband so that when the decision doesn’t seem so clear the patterns of communication are set and they are strong.

Pull out your calendars, know what your babysitter can or cannot do (Evenings? Weekends? Overnight care? Sick child childcare?) You will need to look at the realities of your schedules. How flexible is your husband’s career? How will his schedule look against your schedule work with consideration to childcare? How will scheduling demands affect your effectiveness? Will you or your husband run home from a meeting to pick up your kid from school because she has a fever? Will it always be you because your students will understand or will you take turns? How will you help your husband understand your job and InterVarsity when some of your donors or students don’t even understand all that you do and the importance of it?

How can you explain to your husband (and children) that the emotional intensity at the recent set of meetings means that even if you are “home” by 5 p.m. you aren’t really ready to get dinner ready before he gets home or to appreciate the dinner he made before you got home? The topics and scenarios are endless.

Nothing makes you look crazier than putting on a Wonder Woman costume every day. We are not supermoms and we’re not meant to do this alone. Don’t let the brokenness of our culture and our families isolate you and let you think you have to or should do this alone.

Find a mom’s group or a group of moms who may not have chosen your exact path but support you, pray with you and for you, ask you challenging questions that bother you until you have to go pray and journal. Find women who are single, widowed, empty-nesters from whom you can learn from and with whom you can also find a different audience for the things you’ve learned as well.

Oh, and let me add a fourth – don’t judge. Whatever decision you make, you know it wasn’t a piece of cake. You may not make the same decision as I did, but one decision isn’t better than the other.

 

15 Authors in 15 Minutes (or as fast as you can…hurry!)

This is slowly making its rounds through Facebook, and I enjoyed thinking about the list of authors and about the folks I wanted to “tag”. I love to read, and there have been seasons in life when reading was limited to the directions on the powdered formula can or prescription bottle for yet another antibiotic for one of the kids.

While I was putting this book together it dawned on me that though the value of and space for reading was encouraged by my parents (my first paid job where a social security number was required was as a library page – I could alphabetize a cart of books like no other), it was through teachers and friends I met some of these authors. I don’t recall my parents ever suggesting a specific book or author, which now makes me wonder what their favorite books and authors are…

So much of my book shelf real estate is taken up by books from my college years that I cannot part with – James Joyce’s Ulysses and Susan Faludi’s Backlash (sorry, the AP style guide is in a box in the basement) – and books that I have read during my years with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship – business books, Christian spirituality, biblical reference books, etc. I was staring at my books the other day wondering what, if anything, could someone learn about me by looking at my bookcases. It wouldn’t take long to figure out that I don’t like to dust books!

So here is my list and a little explanation behind the author. Please join in!

The Invitation Guidelines: Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen authors (poets included) who’ve influenced you and will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag at least fifteen friends, including me, because I’m interested in seeing what authors my friends choose. (To do this, go to your Notes tab on your profile page, paste rules in a new note, cast your fifteen picks, and tag people in the note.)

In no particular order…

Anne Lamott – A dear friend and colleague, Greg J., gave me a copy of  or suggested Lamott’s Operating Instructions. He mentioned that he wouldn’t recommend her to just any Christ-loving new mom, but he thought that I would appreciate her voice. I remember laughing out loud and crying as I read this book.

Madeleine L’Engle – My elementary school librarian recommended L’Engle’s time trilogy to me, and then took me and a few other students to hear L’Engle speak at Wheaton College. I still have my autographed Scholastic book paperbacks in the shelf in my room. Decades later Jenny L. would give me a copy of one of L’Engle’s journal series and I have since wanted to sign my checks as “Jane Austen”.

Victor Hugo – After seeing Les Miz, I wanted to read the book. It was a wonderful summer.

James Joyce – I took a class my junior or senior year in college on Joyce. I think I eeked through with a “C” after failing the midterm. Gratefully my father was also taking seminary courses at the time and had a rough time with one of his classes. But despite the “F” on my midterm, I thoroughly enjoyed the class because the professor loved his subject, knew the work and made pages and pages of run-on-sentences interesting.

God through the hands of some crazy dudes like Peter, Paul, Luke, John, etc. but this really counts as one – I have had several Bibles through the years, but the one I am most in awe of is the Living Bible I had as an elementary school student. I will never forget the first time I really met God in that book.

Jane Austen – Oh, Jane. How I wish we could have tea together…

Amy Tan – Before June and Waverley hit the silver screen (and I had a chance to preview the movie before the release), Tan’s Joy Luck Club told the stories of girls and women and of friends, mothers and daughters I could understand, relate to and knew in a way that didn’t require the kind of translation I had to do when encountering Judy Blume’s Margaret.

Shel Silverstein – The Giving Tree still chokes me up, and his poems now make me and my boys laugh out loud.

Alice Walker – Possessing the Secret of Joy and The Temple of My Familiar filled out an entirely new literary voice for me.

Stephenie Meyer – Don’t judge.

William Shakespeare – I wanted to hate Shakespeare but Ms. Johnson in high school wouldn’t let me.

Sue Monk Kidd – I don’t remember who recommended Kidd to me, but I remember crying in the airplane on the way to San Jose reading Dance of the Dissident Daughter. I was so moved and confused and blessed by that book, and changed part of a talk that I was giving the next day to include a snippet of what I had read. Women, you are created in God’s image and He sees us as very good.

Toni Morrison – Her writing haunts me like no other. I don’t know what it is…

Alex Kotlowitz – The beginnings of my wrestling with the injustice in our immediate present happened in a new way for me after reading There Are No Children Here and then having the opportunity to hear him at my alma mater.

Elie Wiesel – How can such a short book cover so much?

Who are some of the authors who have left a mark on you?

 

This is Our Story: InterVarsity’s National Asian American Ministries Staff Conference 2010

Here are some images from our national Asian American Ministries staff conference “This is Our Story“.

I’m still thinking about the conference and the significance of what we heard and saw and spoke of, and I’m still wrapping my brain around InterVarsity’s AAM history that began with Gwen Wong being hired in 1948.

1948.

I’m still thinking about the amazing legacy of women like Gwen Wong, Ada Lum, Jeanette Yep, Donna Dong and Brenda Wong who did more than blaze a trail for someone like me to follow decades later. Their legacy is clear and points in the direction I long for my legacy to follow.

I’m still thinking about how we label ourselves – Asian. American. Asian American. Indirect. Model Minority. Shame-based. Female. Working mom. Called. Leader. – and see ourselves through a different lens in order to see ourselves clearly.

I’m still thinking about the hymn that comes to mind when I think of the conference theme – Fanny Crosby’s “Blessed Assurance”. I learned that hymn in parts in Korean. And I’m thinking about how changing the lyrics from “my story” to “our story” makes so much sense in the Asian American context.

What is your story?