The rest of the reasons for why we need Asian Americans to be Asian Americans are (cf. intro, part 1, part 2, part 3):
- honesty instead of denial
- to break stereotypes
- to renew culture
- enrich theological insights
Of course, this list, in addition to the ones already mentioned in this series, is not comprehensive. And, this list will not likely convince people who downplay or deny their Asian American heritage for whatever reason. What I do hope this series will do is to help us as Asian Americans articulate why it does matter. Aside: wanted to wrap this series up before Christmas week, and open an invitation for you to add to the list, either via comment here or extend the topic onto your own blog.
Honesty instead of denial. It’s better to acknowledge one’s ethnicity and race. Not too healthy to be in denial, or that ethnic-racial background doesn’t matter in America. Having Asian in your blood is not everything, but it is part of the mix. To say it another way, Asian-American-ness does not mean having to call attention to it all the time, and, being okay to talk about related issues on Asian-American-ness when appropriate or necessary.
To overlook the distinct value of Asian heritage in an aspiration of being a “colorblind” society is dangerous. While on the surface, the colorblind intent may be to call for equal opportunity, but in reality, things are much more complicated in a country with a racialized history. One research finds that “exposure to colorblindness can actually reduce individuals’ sensitivity to meaningful racial differences. And as a result, when discrimination does occur, individuals with a colorblind mindset often fail to see it as such.” Another study noted how color-blind racial ideology is linked to racism, both online and offline. Brendesha Tynes unpacks it this way,
“If you subscribe to a color-blind racial ideology, you don’t think that race or racism exists, or that it should exist. You are more likely to think that people who talk about race and racism are the ones who perpetuate it. You think that racial problems are just isolated incidents and that people need to get over it and move on.”
To break stereotypes. The thing about stereotypes is that they’re true of some people. The problem is when a quirky behavioral trait of some gets imposed on the whole group of people. What do people see when they see you? If you’re Asian looking, there’s probably a more complex & rich back story than if you appear to be Caucasian. History books, media, and pop culture, have all told the stories of Caucasians in America quite well. African Americans have gotten their stories told. Asian American stories, not so much.
Asian Americans have to tell their Asian American stories. And there are all kinds: immigrant family, born & raised in America, adopted by non-Asians, Amerasian, refugees, biracial marriage, to name a few. In a day and age where everyone can have a voice on the internet and via social media, Asian Americans have much more to say & share, with the greatest of ease.
To renew culture. While every culture has aspects that are good and beautiful, every culture has blind spots and a dark side. Those who can understand the differences in cultures have the capacity to draw from the best of cultures and renew culture to make it better. My paraphrase of Andy Crouch’s brilliant insight about culture: “You change culture by creating new culture.” (cf. Being Culture Makers)
Enrich theological insights. We read Scriptures through cultural lenses, and much of our theology has been shaped by the Western civilization. With the center of Christianity today has moved South and East, the publications and institutions continue to perpetuate an unaffected Eurocentric theology. While some aspects of theology is “transcendent” across cultures, there is much of theology that is under-developed and under-contextualized. Case in point, you cannot swap 2 Bible-teaching pastors of different ethnicities into each other’s ethnic churches and expect the same results.
Dr. Timothy Tseng (Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity) wrote in this article, Colorblind and Purpose: How Differences Can Also Bind ::
There is no doubt in my mind that the “colorblind mandate” has had a devastating impact on Asian American evangelicals. It exacerbates our intergenerational gaps, separates us from the neediest Asian Americans, and leaves us feeling worthless in both the American and global contexts. Unlike the previous generation of Asian Americans who were forced to feel inferior and made invisible, our generation has a choice but has often chosen the path of isolation and self-hatred. This is one of the reasons why Asian American Christians have such a difficult time finding unity of purpose.
In a 1999 paper, Asian Pacific American Christianity in a Post-Ethnic Future (published in the September 2002 issue of the American Baptist Quarterly), Timothy Tseng also noted ::
But in order for the Asian Pacific American church to be a prophetic community of faith, there must be awakened within it a Christian Asian Pacific American consciousness. … Otherwise, we will uncritically imbibe theological perspectives from popular, liberal, conservative, and “new age” sources that will only create greater self-contempt (what Dr. Ken Fong calls “Asian American self-hatred“).
Ken Fong’s remark comes from a piece by Dr. Rudy Busto, Asian American Campus Evangelism: Hazarding an Interpretation of Asian American Evangelical College Students. Fong described Busto’s “explanation for why so many AA students were flocking to campus ministry groups was partly due to their subconscious desire to replace their hated self-identity with white, Western born again identity.”
There you have it, folks. We do need Asian Americans to be Asian Americans even in an post-racial post-ethnic society. If you are Asian-American, I hope you will share your story. If you are not Asian-American, I hope you’ll listen to our stories and we want to hear yours too.