One of the toughest things to break free from as an Asian American is fear.

Not of spiders or heights, but of failure and what others might think.

When I was younger, I would stay silent most of the time when I would hear racist remarks — even if they were directed at me. As one of the few Asian Americans I knew growing up in the Mitten, it was easier to stay silent and not rock the boat.

Ethnicity is a Gift

After I became a Christian, though, God began to do powerful work to restore my sense of identity in Christ. Our ethnicity is a GIFT, not a burden for which we should apologize nor an inconvenience to brush aside. When Jesus redeems us, He makes us into the people He dreams of us becoming — ethnicity and culture and all.

Speaking out about racism is vital for the Church — which often ignores ethnicity for the sake of growth (see: the homogeneous unit principle) or because it’s uncomfortable (or, in the worst-case scenario, because we’ve already printed the curriculum and why can’t you just get over it already). The Church is meant to be a diverse community where each person counts, where Jesus Himself tears down ancient walls of hatred and division.

Fight the Good Fight

Last night, at my daughter’s school choral concert, the grade levels were performing different Disney songs. The Lion KingTangled… and then Mulan. Each grade was dressed up in clothes that reflected their particular film — animal prints and safari clothing for Lion King, etc.

For the Mulan performance, a Caucasian boy came out in one of those conical hats hats that are often used in stereotyping Asians (for example, in scare-tactic political ads). Now, of course I know that this young man wasn’t trying to be a racist and, to be frank, I wasn’t particularly offended. The choral director for the school is Asian American as well (which, in an of itself doesn’t always make things right. I’m thinking of many people’s excuse of “i have lots of Asian friends and they’re not offended by my racist words/actions.”).

My wife and I work hard to instill in our daughter a sense of confidence about who she is in Christ — including her background as an Asian American. We want her to be empowered to live as a both/and person (as opposed to be neither fully Asian nor accepted as fully American). We want her to be able to shake off the little stuff, but be ready to stand up for what’s right, particularly on behalf of others.

Ninjas, Again. Really?

However, there are times where we must speak up. That’s why I was glad to see there was some positive resolution to a recent discussion about something called Easter Ninja — an online event designed to help churches with their outreach.

Of course, I know that in today’s popular culture — particularly in social media circles — there are gurus, jedis, rockstars and, yes, ninjas around almost every corner. I understand that, in this context, ninja is meant to imply expertise, skill, and a certain amount of I’m with it cachet.

However, as an Asian American, I cringe when I see this kind of branding. Personally, I think of how many times non-Asians have come up to me making karate motions or “Bruce Lee” sounds, pulling back their eyes, etc. For people of color, it’s often not the major blowout racist events (e.g., a Klan rally against you in town) but the compilation of years of microaggressions that causes us to lose heart and grow weary. Like this.

I’m sure the pastor organizing the Easter Ninja event means well — reaching more people for Christ at Easter is a good and worthy goal. I’m sure he did not mean anything racist by branding his event in this manner. I’m thankful for voices like Soong-Chan Rah and Mark DeYmaz who communicated these important issues to the organizer of this event, and that the organizer was open to listening and growing from this discussion.

Moving Forward

All too often, in cases like this, we see the following pattern:

  • Offending incident
  • Response
  • Overwhelming backlash to the response

Learning to listen is absolutely vital. We all have blind spots, we all make mistakes. The question is: How will we grow through these missteps and failures? It’s good to have fruitful discussions after mistakes have been made; it would be even better not to make these kinds of mistakes in the first place. In the big picture of things, this ninja event wasn’t such a huge deal — however, it is important to create positive momentum for future occasions that are a big deal.

Hopefully, as the Church, we will move forward in the hard work of racial reconciliation — not only for Asians or Asian Americans, but for people of all races and ethnicities. If we are to be faithful to God’s calling, we must move forward in unity, celebrating our God-given ethnicities while joining together in worship and mission.

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