Culture

Confessions of a Taiwanese-American White Supremacist in Recovery (Part 2)

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This is the second installment of a 2-part series detailing my personal journey into and out of white supremacism. I shared my story in Part 1. Today in Part 2, I describe some of the key lessons I learned along the way and conclude with how those lessons might inform a similar process for others.

Racism: Historical vs. Ahistorical Notions

I’ve come to realize that African Americans and other PoC (people of color) often have very different conceptions than white Americans do about how racism works and what it even is. When an incident like the McKinney pool party happens, for example, many whites look at it in an isolated, ahistorical way. Their starting point in trying to answer the race question is usually at the beginning of the incident in question, in a hermetically sealed way. The burden of proof involves finding indisputable evidence of malicious intent to exclude or do harm based on race. If such indisputable evidence is absent, they quickly conclude that race played no role in the incident. African Americans and other PoC, however, tend to understand racism as a structural and historical phenomenon that is anchored in the larger racialized realities in our society – institutional and systemic realities that are the fruit of several centuries of white supremacy. They understand that despite the fact that a number of laws were changed in the 1960s, the fundamental white-supremacist foundations of our society have not been dismantled, and in fact, are still very much in place. 

Furthermore, present-day African-American experiences of discriminatory treatment are experienced not in a vacuum, but in the context of collective memory and in the shadow of multi-generational, living-memory experience of racial terror. There has not yet been any sort of national-scale, collective repentance or open acceptance of responsibility by whites for the following: the mass enslavement of Africans and their offspring (whether through direct ownership or the creation of demand through the purchase and/or lucrative marketing of goods produced by slave labor); [1,2] the five decades of incomprehensibly violent anti-black persecution following the Civil War Reconstruction period that witnessed nearly 4000 public lynchings and the re-enslavement of hundreds of thousands of African Americans; [3,4] the systematic segregation in the North, South, and West between 1910-1970 that created slum-like conditions in urban ghettos through violence, racist public policy (both local and federal), and law enforcement agents; [5,6] the violent resistance to the Civil Rights movement in all parts of the country; and the far-reaching consequences of all of those things combined. As a result, a gaping wound and festering distrust remains.

Because of the way that U.S. history is taught and because of ongoing hyper-segregation, it required a lot of independent reading and overcoming segregation in my own life before I was able to understand present-day racism in its proper historical context.

Going Forward

There has been much to learn, unlearn, process, and unpack. Centuries of anti-black and anti-other white supremacy and racial segregation in this country have left an enduring legacy in the racial demographics of virtually all of our cities and in all of our societal structures, including legal, financial, educational, criminal justice, housing, and perhaps especially ecclesiastical ones. That legacy is what made it possible for me to be a devoted and missional Christian, a second-generation Taiwanese-American, and a white supremacist. Although white supremacy is no longer acceptable as an openly promoted ideology, it continues to exist in ambient form. As a result, many of us people of color have conditioned ourselves to reject our own ethnic identity at some level and even to demean other people of color because of an internal drive to obtain validation from the white systems that have made us feel small at some point in our lives. Some of us have even learned how to thrive on the very thing that poisoned or wounded us in the first place.

The only hope of seeing this racist legacy dismantled is if we as Christian sojourners living in America are willing to see it for what it is and to do what it takes to overcome it. Superficial integration, tolerance, and politeness are a start, but they do not constitute healing and reconciliation. Hear me: I have no stones to throw. I don’t resent the white evangelical world that shaped me for so long or any of the wonderful people that I still know and love in it. I have simply finally and unapologetically begun to embrace and walk in the fullness of how God made me. My testimony is not meant to be an indictment but an invitation, a trumpet call to everyone who has been affected or infected by white supremacy – whether White, Black, Asian, Multiracial, Hispanic, Native American, Jewish, or Arab – so that we can all be liberated from it.

My own journey has spanned 4 decades and is still unfolding. It has been painful, disruptive, and confusing at times; but thanks be to God, it has also been healing, restorative, and transformative. I long to see the same healing and transformation take place on a large scale within the body of Christ, as well as in this country.

Living It Out

Fighting for racial unity in the church and in this nation is a costly endeavor. It involves spiritual, social, and even identity reorientation. Although it will look different for each person, here are some things I have learned along the way:

1. It requires diversifying our relationships and communities. This may be a serious challenge if you live in a racially homogenous neighborhood, city, or region of the U.S. If you have the means, consider moving. If that’s not feasible, then consider creative ways to diversify your social circle, as well as that of your children. Environments and systems matter. Children do not have to be taught racism or white supremacy in order to form racialized beliefs about the world. In fact, unhealthy racialization is more likely to take place among those being raised by intentionally “colorblind” parents who avoid talking about race. For example, I have a friend who lives in a neighborhood that is 99% white, in a town that is almost completely segregated by race. She homeschools her children, and they are part of a homeschooling co-op that is all white except for transracially adopted children from other countries. She was walking into the mall with her 8-year-old son last year when a black man allowed the door to slam in her son’s face. He responded, “Mean black guy. He should just go back to Africa.” When my friend sat down with her son to address his spiteful and prejudiced response, she discovered that he honestly believed and assumed that all people of color – black, brown, and Asian – were foreigners adopted by white families. They now talk about race regularly, and she and her husband are in the process of changing their circumstances.

2. It requires humble listening and learning. One of the most helpful and thought-provoking things I have ever read on how to listen well is a 6-part series by social psychologist Christena Cleveland, entitled “Listening Well as a Person of Privilege.” [7] We can’t learn if we’re always assuming that we’re right or that other people are wrong. And we won’t learn if we’re constantly trying to win arguments. We’re also less likely to learn if our first impulse is to do or fix something that we know very little about.

3. It requires a critical re-evaluation of our own identity. When all of our significant relationships are with people who think like us, look like us, or interpret the world in the same way that we do, then our world has essentially become a compartmentalized, comfortable, and mirrored echo chamber. When we intentionally begin to explore the world beyond the boundaries of our echo chamber, it’s natural to feel disoriented, anxious, and insecure at first, sort of like Neo waking up from the Matrix. [8] Or like a fragile newborn trying to make sense of a sudden flood of overwhelming and unpleasant stimuli, as described by Dr. Robin DiAngelo here. [9] We begin to see our assumptions and our identity in a new light and in a whole different context. Chicago pastor Daniel Hill describes what this process was like for him as a white person in his post, 7 Stages of White Identity. [10] And Professor Soong-Chan Rah describes what it may look like for the church in his book The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity.

4. It requires recognizing and shining a light on all forms of racism – overt, covert, obvious, subtle, individualistic, and systemic. Racial healing in the United States ultimately requires facing down the very painful truth that a significant portion of racial strife in our country is tied directly to the legacy of institutionalized white supremacy. This is not about bad, racist white people; rather, it’s about the lingering effects of a dehumanizing racist ideology that was woven into the very fabric of American society when the country was born. Attorney Bryan Stevenson expertly explains the evolution of this ideology from past to present in this interview with Corey Johnson. [11] People for whom majority-white settings are their defining context and have been their lifelong norm find it exceedingly difficult to discern the presence of this ideology at work; but majority-minority communities find its existence and influence to be not only undeniable but overwhelmingly powerful. Racial reconciliation will not be possible as long as there is significant disagreement about the nature and existence of these racial realities.

5. It may lead to relational and other types of losses. Identifying with the plight of marginalized and disrespected people is not glamorous work. And speaking up about racial inequality, injustice, and white supremacy is dreadfully unpopular, even among Christians. Doing so means that you will become a lightning rod for hostility, contempt, and condescension. People will question your motives, your perspectives, and your platform. In your efforts to shine a light on racism, you will undoubtedly be called a racist, race-baiter, or race card player. You might discover that some of the people in your life will go out of their way to avoid having to interact with you. You will lose the respect and affection of some of your peers or family members. You might even lose some lifelong friends. But in return, you will experience unexpected gains, including a sweeter communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, a deeper understanding of what it means to identify with and share in his sufferings (Phil. 3:8-10), and an ever-increasing realization that He not only makes his dwelling among the oppressed, but He champions their cause. (Isaiah 61)

References:

[1] Speiser, Mathew A. “Origins of the Lost Cause: The Continuity of Regional Celebration in the White South, 1850-1872” Essays in History: An Annual Journal produced by the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia. June 2011. http://www.essaysinhistory.com/articles/2011/6

[2] Farai Chideya talks with Anne Farrow, co-author of the book Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery “’Complicity’: How the North Profited from Slavery.” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5042377

[3] Equal Justice Initiative. “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror.” 2014. http://www.eji.org/lynchinginamerica

[4] Blackmon, Douglas A. Slavery by Another Name.  New York: Anchor Books, 2008. http://www.slaverybyanothername.com

[5] Rothstein, Richard. “From Ferguson to Baltimore: The Fruits of Government-Sponsored Segregation.” Economic Policy Institute. April 29, 2015. http://www.epi.org/blog/from-ferguson-to-baltimore-the-fruits-of-government-sponsored-segregation/

[6] Wilkerson, Isabel. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. New York: Vintage Books, 2010.

[7] Cleveland, Christena. “Listening Well as a Person of Privilege” (series). May 13, 2013. http://www.christenacleveland.com/2013/05/listening-well-as-a-person-of-privilege-the-complete-series/

[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8eKxVCFoUk

[9] DiAngelo, Robin. “Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism.” The Good Men Project, April 9, 2015. http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/white-fragility-why-its-so-hard-to-talk-to-white-people-about-racism-twlm/

[10] Hill, Daniel. “7 Stages of White Identity.” July 2013. http://www.christenacleveland.com/2013/07/whiteidentity/

[11] Johnson, Corey. “Bryan Stevenson on Charleston and Our Real Problem with Race.”  https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/06/24/bryan-stevenson-on-charleston-and-our-real-problem-with-race

 
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One response to “Confessions of a Taiwanese-American White Supremacist in Recovery (Part 2)

  1. Wow. Thank you so much for authoring these articles. I am Kenyan American, and really feel that white supremacy is something that many minorities walk in. We are taught to think of African Americans as inferior and other while white is the standard and what we need to strive to be like. You’ve pointed out a lot if instances that show this, and I’m grateful. 謝謝你!

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