4x I was glad to be Asian

I was glad to be Asian…

  1. …when I went to Taiwan and Indonesia and fit in like normal. During my family vacation in Taiwan, our hosts didn’t think twice about asking if we needed forks for our meals. Chopsticks worked just fine. On my exposure trip to a Reformed seminary and church in Indonesia, we were embraced as brothers by the other seminary students, and hung out and joked with them, just like when we’d kick it with our brothers back home in California. I was glad to be Asian in countries where I was not a racial minority.
  2.  …during cross country practice. My two Chinese buddies and I were running a route just outside of our own campus after school, and we ran past another high school. As we ran past this other school, three of their students stopped us. The largest of the three swore that when he was walking past our school, one time, my buddy had flicked him off from inside a car exiting our school. My buddy, Scott, denied this (which I happen to believe, but only you know the truth, Scott!), but the large student from the other school did not let down. He wanted to fight. As the three of us, Chinese boys, braced ourselves, another of the three that halted us put his hand on his big friend and said, “Wait, they probably know kung fu like Jackie Chan. I think you should be careful.” The situation was defused, the big boy backed away, and we continued on our run. I was glad to be Asian in the presence of ignorant kids who thought all Chinese people could fight like Jackie Chan.
  3. …any time  the real injustices caused by *white privilege were raised. I was glad to be Asian when the sins of non-Asians were brought forthright to public attention. Frankly, it’s nice to not be viewed by broader society as a victim or an offender.
  4. …any time I donned a hoodie after Trayvon Martin was killed. I was glad to be Asian when I didn’t have to consider how safe it would be for me to throw on an old hoodie and sneakers and take a jog. Likewise I’m glad to be Asian when I get pulled over by the police. “No threat here,” they probably think to themselves. I even remember a time when I was out at the Santa Ana Civic Center, figuring out how to serve the homeless better. The cops in the area saw me walking around and talking to some of the homeless, and approached me, not with suspicion, but with concern.

These were just some of the 4x I was glad to be Asian. I like to call them experiences of “yellow privilege.”

My hope for this post and my last post has been to illustrate some of the the complexities of talking about all the racial tension in the US. When I wrote last week, I was very scared and confused as to how I should speak about white privilege. Every thoughtful person knows that generalizations are tricky, and easy to pick apart. White privilege, though a reality, is also a generalization of sorts. How do I acknowledge that white privilege is real and has been used unjustly, and yet respect the particular life experiences of real white individuals and not make sweeping generalizations. After all, I’ve met many whites who are far less privileged than myself. Now, is this because of “yellow privilege”? Is it because Asian Americans are a “model minority”? Certainly a large number of Asians have done well in the States, but we must never forget about those who haven’t. Where do the Hmong fit into the “model minority” narrative? What about the low-income Chinese in SF Chinatown who are being threatened by the rent crisis in the city? Many Asian Americans don’t fit into the “model minority” category as so many came at different times, from different places, with different levels of education, different skill sets, and even different work ethics. How do we account for every different story? And yet, how do we organize every story in a way that is generally helpful and moves us toward a common good? It’s the tension of unity and diversity.

Another hope that I have for this post is to engender thoughtful reflection on my readers’ giftedness, not in the sense of how awesome you are, but in the sense of “What gifts has God given me?” which would include your particular race, economic status, and education level among a million other gifts. Last time, when I reflected on 4x I wished I was white, I found it very interesting how quickly and easily people were able to recount their limitedness and their disadvantages. It’s easy for me, too. It’s easy for all of us to identify the things in our lives that we wish were different. “If I was white, maybe my seminary experience would’ve been even better!” “If I wasn’t white maybe affirmative action would work in my favor!” “If I was this… then this…” Obviously some complaints are a lot less legitimate than others, but regardless, I wanted to write this follow up post to challenge people not to focus on their limitedness and their disadvantages in this cursed and broken world, but on their gifts and privileges.

So just like last time, please share with me in the comments below. When were some times you were glad to be _________?

1 Corinthians 4:7 “…What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”

Andrew Ong

Andrew is a third-generation, San Francisco Bay Area ABC (American Born Chinese). He and his third-gen wife have two daughters and still live in the East Bay. After graduating from the University of California Irvine and Westminster Theological Seminary, he completed his PhD in World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh, researching Chinese American evangelicals and Neo-Calvinist theology. He presently serves on staff at Christ Church East Bay in Berkeley, California. Andrew's a simple guy whose passions include: sushi, pizza, nachos, and the Golden State Warriors. On his less sanctified days he lives by the maxim: #ballislife.

4 thoughts on “4x I was glad to be Asian

  • October 19, 2015 at 9:01 am

    Thanks for this post, Andrew. I love traveling in Asia, and I think part of it is because of what you mentioned in your post about finally feeling like I’m part of the majority.

    One time I was thankful I was Asian was when I lived in China and wasn’t immediately considered a foreigner. Some even thought I was Chinese (until I spoke for longer than 5 minutes).

    Another time was when I was in Indonesia and the street kids were excited to hear I was Korean, because they wanted to know all about Korean celebrities and pop stars (of which I knew NOTHING)… goes to show you that in different parts of the world America doesn’t have as much cultural dominance as you might think. I remember Piper also saying once in a sermon to a crowd of Asian Americans that they had a distinct advantage in missions because their faces wouldn’t mark them out as enemies in lots of places around the world, unlike his.

  • December 26, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    Enjoyed reading this post. By the way, that’s a pretty sick crossover Andrew. Is that a pic from hs? 🙂

    • January 6, 2016 at 12:25 pm

      Haha, I wish I had this guy’s mad skillz on the court!

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