I wished I was white when…
- …I first joined the Dublin Youth Sports League. Because #ballislife, my parents registered me to participate in my very first competitive sports league when I began the 4th grade. Dublin was a white suburban city about 15 minutes from where my home was. Growing up at a private Christian school that was a ministry of my Chinese home church, I hadn’t yet gone through the token Asian experience. But alas, it was time. My entire basketball team was white. It didn’t bother me initially. After all, I was in Dublin. However, it did strike me as odd how infrequently my teammates would pass me the ball. I certainly wasn’t the best player on the team. The best player was white. But I also wasn’t the worst player on the team. He was white, too. I could handle better than most of my teammates, I was an extremely reliable finisher, and I could even do the single handed layups that the best players were doing to show off during layup lines. Truth be told, I think they didn’t pass me the ball simply because they didn’t know me and many of them went to the same schools in Dublin. But, I’ll still never forget that this was the first time of at least 4x I wished I was white. I wished I was white because I wanted the ball.
- …I enrolled at Westminster Theological Seminary. None of my professors were racist, nor were any of my classmates as far as I know. However, isn’t it true that we could all be more culturally sensitive? While at Westminster, I found myself often envying many of my white peers’ boldness in asking questions and getting the attention of our professors. These were the students who were called on by name in class. These were the students whose emails got responded to. These were the students who dominated class discussion and probably made the most of their time in seminary. Since then, I have come to call this phenomenon: “white man confidence.” I wished I was white because I was envious of “white man confidence.”
- …I decided to pursue pastoral ministry. My first “celebrity pastor” hero was John Piper, and after time, I grew to be even an even bigger fan of Tim Keller. Going to conferences like Resolved in Southern California, or downloading sermons from Ligonier, 9Marks, T4G, and TGC, I resolved to be the next great celebrity pastor. I fantasized about pastoral ministry, dreaming of planting the next successful church planting movement, preaching all over the world, or writing a classic theological treatise. However, I soon came to notice somewhat of a bamboo ceiling in the sphere of church ministry. Before coming to my senses and repenting of my idolatrous view of pastoral ministry, I wished I was white because, with the extremely unique exception of Francis Chan, who ever heard of a big-name Asian preacher?
- …I befriended other minorities. When I befriended other types of minorities, I often felt like we were bonding over our non-whiteness. While there was comfort in this bond, I also felt a sense in which it was too easy. If you’re like me, there is something special about having white friends. This is probably because we count things that are rare and harder to acquire as special. Also, to me, having a white friend has often meant being an insider. I’m often tempted to believe that the gift of white friendship is better than the gift of my own friendship. I wished I was white because I wanted to make others feel like insiders.
I certainly don’t mean to stereotype whites, and I think if anyone is implicated in these stories, it’s sinful ol’ me, but I have another purpose for sharing these relatively insignificant snapshots from my life experience.
I know these personal stories are kind of random, and poorly written, but I want you to consider something with me. Scroll up and look at the image at the top of this post. What race did you assume when you saw the chucks? Now, imagine with me that you were attending some publicly run youth soccer game in a generic, American, middle class suburb. This is your first time watching a game and you survey the field to guess which players are the best. In your imagination, what is the race of the top player? Now imagine the top graduate and most successful alumnus of Westminster Theological Seminary. If you’re like me, you imagine a tall, handsome, All-American, white male. Similarly, think about who the next Tim Keller will be. Do you imagine anyone other than a white person? Finally, what kinds of people are the media most surprised by when they document moments of racial reconciliation? For some reason, Black and White friendship seems to be more noteworthy than Chinese and Indian friendship, or Black and Latino friendship. Why is this?
Have you ever wished you were white? I’d love to hear about the times you wished you were in the comments below! (For the record, let me just say that far too often people like to talk about this concept of privilege in a pejorative way, as if privilege were something they were glad that they didn’t have or as if privilege itself was evil. I’m not about that. RM is not about that. Moving forward, we need to move the discussion of privilege away from guilt, and toward stewardship.)
White friends, are you thankful that you’re white? I’m sure being white isn’t always easy, please feel free to share about that as well. When have you wished you weren’t white?
Next time, I hope to write about 4x I was glad to be Asian. In the meantime enjoy an article about the “Asian Advantage.”
Thanks for reading, and sorry for a lighter post today. I don’t know how certain people do it…
A special note of thanks to Mrs. Ortega, James Duguid, and Justin Poythress for reading this before it went public.