Last week, I was stunned to see a steady stream of comments about something called the “Compton Cookout” in my Facebook feed. Students from a fraternity at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) organized an off-campus party mocking Black History Month. Some lowlights from the invite:

The invitation urged all participants to wear chains, rapper-style urban clothing by makers such as FUBU and speak very loudly.

Female participants were encouraged to be “ghetto chicks” with gold teeth, cheap clothes and “short, nappy hair.”

The invitation said the party would serve watermelon, chicken, malt liquor, cheap beer and a purple sugar-water concoction called “dat Purple Drank.”

My first impression was that this must have been an internet rumor gone viral, because it seemed too ridiculous to be true.  Unfortunately, this party did happen (along with another racist incident aired on student-run television on campus)  — and it has brought to light many important issues.

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Race Matters

One very important thing to say at the outset is that race matters.  To quote DJ Chuang,

We don’t live in a world with a level playing field. Race is a part of that dynamic. Race isn’t everything, and neither is it nothing.

I think many people have good intentions when they say things like, “I don’t see a black or Asian person; I just see a person.”  However, our racial/ethnic background has a profound influence on the kind of people we are and are becoming.  It is a central part of each one of our stories, whether we acknowledge that reality or not.

Followers of Christ, in particular, must remember that our ethnicity is a God-given gift, part of the image of God in each of us, not a curse to be ignored in the name of “color blindness.”  In fact, shutting down discussions about our differences might lead to counterintuitive results — instead of becoming colorblind, we might be creating more ignorance & racism.

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Diversity Brings Glory to God

When God’s kingdom and redemption are fully realized, the picture Scripture paints is not one of bland sameness, but one of intense beauty and diversity, with Jesus at the center of it all:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

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“No, You’re A Racist!”

Honest, productive discussions about race are notoriously difficult to have.  For example, the fallout from these recent events are following the same sad cycle as events like Rickshaw Rally, Skits that Teach, and Deadly Viper (and these are only examples from American evangelical Christianity involving offenses against Asian Americans):

  • Racist or racially-charged incident
  • Response from concerned people (including deep expressions of hurt & anger)
  • Overwhelming backlash, clouding of issues, deflecting blame/accusations of “reverse racism,” etc.

Instead of getting on that same treadmill and replaying this broken cycle of racism, accusation and backlash, we need to find better ways of moving forward.

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The Bigger Picture

This is not only about the racist acts of individuals.  If we hope to see MLK’s dream become a reality, we have to recognize that there are larger, systemic, institutional issues of injustice that we must take on.

At UCSD only 1.3% of the students there are African American.  That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 to 300 students on a campus of over 20,000.  On some of the blogs and news message boards I’ve read about UCSD, some people are blaming African Americans for not having enough merit to get into the school. However, one only needs to take a small step back to see that the “impartial” merit-based system has bias built into it.  For example, high schools without honors or AP programs already fall short; even if a student at one of those schools excelled, they wouldn’t qualify as a top student in the overall pool of applicants.

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It’s Our Story, Too

On Ash Wednesday, I visited the Skirball Center’s exhibit Road to Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1956-1968. After visiting the Skirball’s wonderful Noah’s Ark exhibit, this felt like an appropriate way to begin Lent:

God is wonderfully, brilliantly, beautifully creative.

We are broken, and our world is broken.

We are invited to join God’s work of redemption.

That road will not be easy.

As I stood there reading the stories of the Freedom Riders who faced their own fear and the hatred & murderous violence of others with courage, and even love, I wept — both for the brokenness of our world, but also for the courage to live out what I believe, to stand for what is good & right even at cost to myself.

Although the images did not display Asian American faces, I realized that their story is our story as well.  Dr. Jody Blanco, a professor at UCSD, wrote a powerful piece on why these incidents matter to all of us [via Racialicious].

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Redemptive Suffering

I heard one Asian American student from UCSD say, “Where were those other ethnic groups when Asians were being mocked or stereotyped?”

I urge us, especially Asian American followers of Jesus, not to allow past pain to cripple us or prevent us from living for what is good and right.  Instead, let’s allow God to redeem our suffering, to cause us to seek after and trust God more, and to allow our pain to create empathy and understanding for others who suffer.

As Dave Gibbons writes, let’s embody a mindset and willingness to love, learn and serve others, even in the midst of pain.

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Call To Courage

We must face our fear of criticism, failure and discomfort. We can take opportunities like these to exercise courage, even when there appears to be no immediate gain or benefit to ourselves.

Years from now, when we talk to our grandchildren, do we want to say we stood by and shrugged or that we lived with courage and conviction?  Few of us become heroes overnight, but saying yes to God in the everyday shapes us toward faithfulness.  And I believe faithfulness to God will lead us to a path of courageous love (here’s a book about some of these heroes).

Faithfulness allows us to face down evil not with more hatred or violence, but to overcome evil with good.  The love of Christ drive out fear, and allows us to follow Him even into difficult places.

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Shalom + Freedom

I have written about this before, but our goal as followers of Christ must not simply be to put up with each other or to bottle up resentment, misunderstanding or ignorance just long enough until we get to heaven; our calling is to work, pray and live for the redemption only God’s kingdom in Christ can bring.

As my friend LT, who has been working toward this in his church and community in Philadelphia, says:

We’re called towards oneness. Our vision is shalom.

We need to recognize that racism enslaves both the one committing the act and the one being wronged, and that we all need to be freed.

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Love Wins (One Day)

The work of reconciliation is daunting.  Sometimes, the dream seems so unrealistic, the world so broken or the goals so distant that we might be tempted to give into fear or apathy.

Though it might seem a long time coming, I am encouraged by the perspective of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.

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