4x I wished I was white

I wished I was white when…

  1. …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.
  2. …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.”
  3. …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?
  4. …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.

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.

6 thoughts on “4x I wished I was white

  • October 13, 2015 at 9:58 am

    White guy here.
    I am rarely thankful for my race.
    What I often reflect on with thanks is my ethnic heritage. Understanding my Scandinavian, Irish, and Polish immigrant story has allowed me to grow and become more self aware.

    Four times I wish I wasn’t white:
    -Basically anytime I am with a mixed group of people and a white guy says something ignorant or awkward. (“So where are you from? Yeah. But where are you from… ” HIDE ME!)
    -I dated a black girl for a while and it was pretty difficult for us to do anything without getting looks or stared at while in public. Several times I thought it would have been easier if I had been black.
    -My church is mostly Asian-American and there are many times where I simply don’t get the jokes or understand the references when we’re hanging out. I often have to figure out the cultural nuances on my own. In those times I think it would be easier to have been Asian.
    -Lastly I envy a lot of my friends who grew up in homes where learning two languages was encouraged . While my grandma spoke Finnish in our household she saw no reason to pass it on.

    There you go!

    • October 13, 2015 at 10:10 am

      Thanks for your reading and for your honesty, Stephen! We could all be more thankful people. Thanks for sharing about the times you wished you weren’t white. Great perspectives.

      Are you a friend of Brian Hui’s?

  • October 14, 2015 at 1:06 am

    Hi Andrew, this is thought provoking and really well written. Thanks for your transparency and honesty on this issue!

    There have definitely been times that I wished I wasn’t white. I’ve spent a lot of time working in South and Central America, and I really wanted to embrace the culture I was in, but my race was a barrier to that. I was always “la gringa,” but often wished that my race wouldn’t get in the way.

    Additionally, when I was in college my mom married into a (very large) Vietnamese family, which often leaves both of us feeling “too white” for family gatherings. Fortunately, my step dad’s family has been super welcoming to us fair-skinned, blue-eyed, freckled outsiders, (though one of my aunts still won’t allow her grown children to marry white), but it would feel much easier if we blended a bit better.

    I worked in a high school in Baltimore, MD, which was a very urban setting with many races and cultures represented. While my students respected me and were able to build a good relationship with me, there was always a “she’s white though” barrier. I noticed that the black teachers (and even a Mexican colleague) found it easier to gain the respect of their students, despite what that teacher’s past had been like.

    And finally, because, as mentioned in your article black and white relations are receiving so much attention in the media, around this time last year I wished I wasn’t white. I have seen and understand “white privilege,” but I didn’t want to be racially divided and naturally put on the “white side.” I stand with all other races and want everyone to have the same opportunities that I and other white people have. I’m ashamed to be white when I see or hear racial comments, when people refuse to remove their rebel flags, when whites don’t believe in white privilege, etc.

    I am thankful for all the different races represented in the world, and I love to celebrate and enjoy the cultures that are associated with each race. I hope that racial relations all over the world continue to improve, and that there would be no race more privileged than any other in the future.

    Ps, sorry for the lengthy response. Your post really resonated with me and I just had so many thoughts. 🙂

    • October 14, 2015 at 2:15 am

      Hi Rebecca,

      Thanks for the kind and thoughtful words! So many good points in your comment! To be honest, I was hesitant to publish this piece because I don’t want to be the angry minority who makes white people feel guilty. At the same time, I don’t want to be insensitive and ignore the reality of privilege, which truly does lead to the suffering of other minorities. It’s a tough balance, especially since I know that I, myself, speak from a place of privilege, and I’ve met many white people who are far less privileged than myself. It’s so complex and nobody’s situation or context are the same.

      Anyway, thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing part of your story! It sure sounds like your experience in South America and with your stepdad’s family have given you valuable perspective, though I’m sure there are tons of hurtful or uncomfortable moments. As for your teaching experience, I totally resonate with that, too. During seminary, I interned at an urban church for 4 years in Northeast Philly, and though the kids and I grew to love each other, there was always a sense in which, at worst they saw me as someone who was totally unfit to serve them and understand them, and at best they saw me as a very unique exception to all other Asian Americans. For my wedding, an African couple from church in Philly flew out to California and visited my California home church which is very Pan-Asian. She told me, “I used to think that you were just a very different and friendly Chinese person, but after I met your friends, I realized that there are a lot of friendly Asian people.” At the same time, I think it speaks to our privileged position to even be talking about our “inability to help” ethnic minorities in urban areas.

      Anyway, thanks for your thoughts! Looking forward to getting to know you and Dan better out here!

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