Race, Politics, Family
Back in October, we went to see Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company’s production of Yellow Face, by David Henry Hwang — the Tony-award winning playwright behind M. Butterfly.
I’m a bit of a cultural Philistine, so I don’t make any claims to understand much about theater, but I really enjoyed this performance. Yellow Face is a semi-autobiographical, postmodern take on race, identity, family and artistic integrity. You can read a bit more from Mo’olelo here.
I appreciated David Henry Hwang’s use of humor throughout the play, given the intensely personal nature of the ground he was covering. Discussions about race, politics, family, art, etc. can quickly become glum affairs. The quick pace of the dialogue, the multimedia backdrop (see a few photos here), and the interweaving of fact and fiction held my attention throughout.
Yellow Face raises many important questions: How much of our identity (our “face”) do we choose? How do we understand race and identity in our ever-changing culture? Do our parents’ dreams eventually become ours?
I always appreciate DJ’s insights on topics as diverse as leadership, faith, and social media. Why We Need is already shaping up to be an important series about what it means to be Asian American followers of Christ.
Talking about race, ethnicity, and faith can be difficult at times. All too often, these conversations get shut down before they even start because (sometimes) well-intentioned Christians say things like, “I’m color-blind. I don’t see a person’s race – I only see the person” or “The only thing that matters is that we are Christians.”
It is far too common for Asian Americans to experience a sort of double-bind in church circles. On the one hand, we are told our ethnicity doesn’t matter; on the other, we are being told — both explicitly and implicitly — that we don’t belong. Questions such as, “Where are you really from?” only serve to reinforce this permanent outsider status.
DJ offers much-needed theological insight into all of this:
In the Christian subculture, some say that our identity is only spiritual, only grounded “in Christ,” which I agree is true and ultimate. Yet, when this theological conviction is held to the exclusion to the reality of who we are on earth and our innate social and genetic context, it sounds an awful like Gnosticism, the first heresy of church history, a belief that our body doesn’t matter and only the spiritual matters.
Race matters. Ethnicity matters.
Not as the only, or even primary, thing — nonetheless, it matters. And, the simple fact is, all of us come from an ethnic background.
It breaks my heart to hear young Asian Americans tell me they wish they were from a different ethnic background or that they feel like God made a mistake making them the way they are. Scripture paints a very different picture, though, of a God who loves to redeem & restore people from every corner of the earth and whose praise is made more glorious when lifted from the diverse faces and voices of those He has rescued & sent.
As I’ve written before, issues of faith and identity are very personal to me, especially as my wife and I raise our daughter. We want her to be confident in her God-given identity. We want her to become a “both/and” woman of God who stands with the broken and empathizes with the marginalized.
This liminal space we inhabit, as Asian American followers of Christ, could lead us to a place where yellow becomes the face of hope for a broken world.