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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Struggles of Discussing Race In The Asian American Evangelical Church (Part 3)

This is the last installment in a series (see part 1 and part 2) by Paul Matsushima discussing some of the barriers to a racially-healthy ChurchHis article originally appeared at Eesahmu and Racialicious.

My qualm with the (white) evangelical community was its hesitancy to analyze–much less struggle against–the historical and continuing racial bias in America. This “don’t go there” mentality is further compounded within evangelical churches that are predominantly Asian American. Here are my speculations why:
3. Middle-Class Asians as the Norm

This brings me to a final point about racial discourse within the Asian American Church. Perhaps the most restrictive factor in these communities is the portrayal of Asian Americans as hardworking, self-sufficient, non-complaining “model minorities” who vindicate the American Dream (See post: Model Minority).

While this stereotypical portrayal may have aspects of truth in it, my intention here is not to critique its problematic dimensions. Others, Wayne Au and Benji Chan, Frank Wu, Stacy Lee, have done tremendous work to uncover its myth-like existence as a political and divisive tool.

Breaking the 'Model Minority' Myth
(Click to enlarge image)
What troubles me most is how many Asian Americans (not all, but many) buy into this self-perception. In mid-January, with Youtube’s explosion of the S**t Girls Say meme, the “S**t Asian Girls Say” counterpart saw little critique in its depiction of Asian American young women as spoiled daughters who benefit off model-minority parents/boyfriends. 

Perhaps worse is how some respondents confirmed this stereotypical portrayal with responses such as, “one of my friends says that all the time,” or “OMG so true, LMAO.” No one from the Asian American community took the time to sufficiently challenge these insensitive images, while other communities of color were in an uproar about their respective videos, as shown by Latoya Peterson’s blog post. I know this meme is nowhere near overwhelming evidence for my point. However, the video–and Asian Americans’ silent assent to it–could indicate that our society is at the point where viewing Asians as middle class is normal.

The effect of internalizing this middle-class identity is a critical mindset towards other low-income racial minorities. In my own experiences in Asian American evangelical circles, I occasionally hear racialized criticisms towards "certain people:” welfare recipients, day-laborers, and single-mothers, to name a few. The speaker often comments towards these faceless (yet highly racialized) people as if she/he is above them.

It’s as if their discipline, responsibility, and middle-class values make them morally superior.
It pains me to know that this community who was once included in those dehumanized categories now perceives itself as better than, just because we think we’ve “made it.” Not even 60 years ago, Asians’ existence in this country was formally marked by fear, hostility, and exclusion. They were ranked as second-class citizens, and in some cases, deemed sub-human. It baffles me that many Asians now hoard their relative privilege when there is a nation of hurt continuing because of the racial bias etched onto America’s consciousness.

Perhaps the study of American racial dynamics offers a narrow, limited path by which to view the world. Not everyone, especially in their faith journeys, will travel through the ism of race as I have. But as I reflect back, it troubles me that I feel I must end with a defense that racial discourse is a legitimate area of study. I expect hesitation–even disagreements–from those who read this post’s title and disregard it as unworthy of attention. But for me, and perhaps for many other Asian Americans, the area of race is where I am most deeply wounded and where I find healing. This is the avenue I learn compassion towards those unlike me, even those who reject me simply because I’m “Asian.” My hope is that evangelicals, especially Asian American evangelicals, will learn the brokenness and tragedy in America’s racial history so that they’ll be challenged to heal their wounds, confront their errors in thinking, and be moved towards racial justice.


  1. Since the colonization of America, one group has tried to claim superiority over the others. And when the second wave of immigrants (eg the Irish) came to this country, the descendants of 'original' settlers likewise claimed superiority over them. Given time, new minority groups filled the niche of the scapegoat and eventually the Irish were accepted into the 'club'. It sounds as though this is what is occurring among Asian Americans. Sometimes wanting to fit in/belong to the majority leads people to continue a cycle of racial/ethnic hazing.

  2. Thanks for your perspective!

    Marty Troyer made some observations allong these lines as well ( ). It's an important persective to remember. 'Whiteness' and 'otherization' are malleable, social-constructed concepts. Perhaps this offers hope moving forward, though we have to also remember that 'marginalized status' is more visible for some folks (and thus harder to overcome). Indeed there is a long journey ahead to affect change:
    Thanks again for the thoughts!


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