I wanted/have been trying to write this response for a while so it comes perhaps at a late and strange time, but in light of silence and decisions, I write at a time sooner than never. In recent and ongoing discussions of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and racial injustice in America, an issue several have written about is silence – specifically of the Asian American Christian community. Read a few posts of such below.
Many of the posts focus on the hurtful impact of our silence and the distance from justice. Our silence, although hidden and quiet, says quite openly that we don’t know, that we don’t care, that we are okay with injustice towards our brothers and sisters. Along the same desire for justice, some focus on how the Asian American community has gotten here – how we have become so silent – our identity. Our silence is only natural until we begin to understand ourselves and how we are included – how our voice matters. The issue then is how we respond – when do we speak up – do we simply say something for the sake of saying or do we first need to understand perhaps who we are.
Of course I would say there is a middle ground – perhaps that is also part of my tendency to seek the middle – that maybe sometimes I just need to speak up first and be present and set the self focus that my Asian American church background is so about aside. Because yes – justice is important. And silence is a ride backward on that moving walkway towards injustice. But for me and my journey in finding my voice, I couldn’t speak up – I didn’t speak up – I wouldn’t speak up. Not until I began to understand myself. Not until I found myself stuck in an uncomfortable position in the middle and wondered why. Really not until I broke down in tears in front of my dear staff worker and friend in realization that I didn’t feel like I had a voice – and then went forward with the realization that I do have a voice. And it was only then that I begin to resist silence, to fight against years of established tendencies and assumptions, to say something.
And I have many words now to say (and many that I still fail to say). That I lament alongside Michael Brown’s family and community. That racial injustice is not okay. That racism and the notion that White culture is superior is not okay. Not in the tension between Black and White and especially not in my own life – in the ways that I let it define my role and voice and place as an Asian American, as a minority. But also that I believe in a God that is much bigger than systemic injustice. In a God that is all about justice and reconciliation and restoring us and the world to what it was meant to be. In a God that is already at work through Jesus, through us, through brothers and sisters of all backgrounds and nationalities – on my campus, in the city, around the world – in bringing His Kingdom here.
And there are many more words to say, but right now, the words I want to write are of God at work in finding my voice and the importance of finding who I was created to be.
To start, I had to see where I and those tendencies came from. I grew up in a Chinese American Christian suburban home. That includes the typical push to look well off financially, academically, emotionally, physically, musically (to name a few) and spiritually too. It meant hiding bad grades/failures and subtly boasting talents/successes. It meant parents boasting about their children’s accomplishments and not mentioning the troubles. It meant learning to suppress anger and force a smile. It meant saying the right things. It meant never sharing with my parents or friends about struggles and pains and stress. It meant avoiding conflict until it burst and hurt the church.
And my family was one of the best. Our quiet, shy personalities mixed with precision and surrounding families to make a cocktail of adaptation and fitting in. I learned to stay silent, or never have the thoughts in the first place. I never brought up conflict or discomfort, especially regarding pre-established conditions or other people. My role was to follow and listen, whether it was the American dream or the white team. And I learned from my family, my community, my church to devalue Black lives. And something else came out of all this. I became the middle ground, the poser, the listener. I learned how to echo and reverberate the voices of the unheard. I learned how to shut down my own and take on all the burdens. I learned how to appear put together.
Even when I discovered justice, I thought I had a perfect match. My listening, adapting, voicing for others were just the right gifts. And my figured out life could be used to help those in need. So I went into things like CUP excited to learn and to help others through the process. I wanted to become an expert and an advocate for justice. But somewhere in the midst of it, I felt disconnected, frustrated, and alone. I was running a race in the middle. Trying/thinking I could catch up to the white group, without a glance back or understanding of the black and latino group behind me. I broke down in tears in front of my dear staff worker. I had spent so long grasping after the goal in front of me that I lost my own voice, and didn’t even know the voices behind me. And she told me I have a voice – God gave me a voice – one essential to be heard, not silenced. I found my voice in the cracks in my soul, in the brokenness and suffering of who I am, in who God created me to be. I discovered real pain and suffering and injustice by walking beside, sharing with, hurting alongside my brothers and sisters.
And so even when it is so easy for me to disengage from emotions and pain and suffering and people. Or even in the moments where I do exactly that. Even when I get distracted by all the other “good” things I am doing. I choose to resist silence. Because our Black brothers and sisters don’t have that choice.
And I urge you, my Asian American brothers and sisters, to resist silence. Because I have seen and experienced how our silent churches and families hurt ourselves and hurt our brothers and sisters. Whether you need to be told that you do have a voice or that you’ve learned to hide it.
Because you have a voice.
And it is necessary.
And it is beautiful.
And it is real.