Reformed Margins is honored to share this article from guest contributor Joshua Wu. Joshua is a husband, father, pastor’s kid, and social scientist seeking to faithfully reflect Christ in all aspects of his life. He has a PhD in Political Science from The Ohio State University and also has degrees from the University of Chicago and the American University. He writes about data analytics at Reasonable Research and the intersection of faith and culture at Stuff I Didn’t Learn in Church. Currently, he works in market research and lives in Rochester, New York with his wife and two kids; he can be reached on LinkedIn.
Not again? I was saddened but also surprised when I heard about the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Daniel Prude. I thought, nay expected, that policing had improved and justice become more equal in the aftermath of public outcry over the murders of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner. But I was wrong.
As a Taiwanese-American man who grew up in White and Asian church spaces, racism was rarely mentioned. I had not been taught, nor did I seek out, theological lens or perspectives to think about racial inequity and injustice. From the safety of the pews, I could easily dismiss these individual tragedies as isolated incidents where people made mistakes with tragic consequences. I could notice and even pray for the situation for a day, but then quickly be distracted by the demands of my life. And as an Asian-American, I said that this was not my problem, not my fight. But this summer, by the grace of God, something changed. I realized how much I had fallen short in seeking to love those around me who did not look like me, didn’t go to the same churches as me, but who are also made in the Imago Dei. And so I resolved to find out if these tragedies were high profile outliers or in fact the most recent examples of larger systematic trends.
As a social scientist working in analytics and data science, I turned to the epistemological tools I trusted. First I examined the data on arrests and homicides in Black communities. A Black person is arrested every 15 seconds and murdered every 71 minutes; the economic cost of murder on Black communities is more than eleven times greater than that on White communities; and the number of Black Americans killed each year is more than twice as many as the victims of 9/11. I examined incarceration rates and found over 294,000 fewer Blacks would be in prisons if they were incarcerated at the same rate as Whites; conversely, nearly an additional 740,000 more Whites would be in prison if they were incarcerated at the same rate as Blacks. And accounting for equal likelihood of police-initiated contact with Black and White Americans, I found Black Americans are twice as likely to be arrested, over twice as likely to be treated violently, nearly six times more likely to be incarcerated, and nearly three times more likely to be killed by police than Whites.
The data findings shocked me and shamed me. It did not only expose me to the realities of racial disparities but also revealed my own ignorance, apathy, and complicity in having known so little and done so little about racism. While your story of “discovering” the persistent realities of racism may be different than mine, the question remains: what then we should do given our specific Asian-American cultural, faith, and historical legacies?
First, we need to recognize that racism is a sin. Tim Keller describes racism as sin through four lenses. Each of these perspectives reveals how racism is a manifestation of flawed theology, presenting un-biblical perspectives of who God is and who we are as individuals and a diverse body who have received undeserved grace. Our first response as Christians must be to repent and re-read Scripture and re-learn Gospel truths so that we can confront racism by, as Jarvis Williams writes, “stand[ing] up and assert[ing] without hesitation and with their Bibles open that black lives certainly matter, have dignity, worth, and value.”
Second, we need to examine our biases and repent of the racist ideas we hold, however unconsciously. While few of us may be actively racist towards Black people, many of us have notions of Blackness that implicitly or unconsciously shape our perceptions. In the Pew Research Center’s Race in America 2019 report, Asians report the lowest affinity towards Blacks of any racial or ethnic group. On a scale of 0-100, Asians rated Blacks an average of 62; the national average was 70. And while Asians are more likely than the overall population to see racial discrimination as a barrier for Black people to get ahead (54% versus 44% overall), we are also more likely to agree that Blacks’ lack of motivation to work hard (32% versus 30% overall) is a barrier. For some of us, we have internalized the model minority myth and juxtapose our own achievement with relative lack of Black achievement to “justify” racist perceptions and lack of empathy towards Blacks who we feel haven’t worked as hard as us.
Third, we need to recognize our privilege. While Asian Americans do suffer from racism, most of us will never experience the extent of inequality and injustice faced by Black Americans. Focusing on just one sphere, criminal justice, the disparities between Blacks and Asians are greater than the already wide disparities between Blacks and Whites. Compared to Asians, Blacks are nearly 9 times (8.6x) more likely to be arrested as a proportion of population and 18 times (17.9x) more likely to be arrested after a police interaction. If Asians were arrested at the same rate as Blacks after a police interaction, an additional 1.9 million Asians would be arrested each year, or roughly equivalent to the combined Asian populations of New York City, Los Angeles, and San Jose. And Blacks are more than 10 times (10.3x) more likely to be killed than Asians after a police interaction. Given how much more unlikely we or those in our community are to experience the types of racism faced by Black Americans, we must intentionally be proximate with and learn from those with lived experiences of anti-racism.
And fourth, we need to act! A common refrain from our fellow Black and Brown Christians is that they are tired in their fight against racism. Instead of just watching from the sidelines, we need to get off the bench and commit to fighting racism so that they are not always bearing the full burden of fighting racism inside and outside the Church. We need to come up besides them, and sometimes stand in for them.
We need to pray and ask God to intercede. Racism is a sin and evil that has so plagued our societies that our actions alone cannot be broken by human efforts alone. We can remain hopeful against the seeming unassailability of the task to dismantle racism because our God is sovereign and omnipotent.
We need to speak up against racist behavior and speech among our family and friends. The Pew Report on Race in America reveals that Asians are the only group where a majority (55%) report never confronting a friend or family member of the same race who made a racist or racially insensitive joke. While some of this may be due to cultural factors such as deference to elders or preservation of the status quo, it is also wrong and a subjugation of cultural norms to Gospel imperative. We need to lovingly and kindly call out those around us who joke or unconsciously perpetuate racist ideas, beliefs, or tropes.
We need to initiate, join, and facilitate difficult conversations about racism within the Church spaces we are part of. I lament that it seems these conversations are more acceptable and even welcomed in secular spaces, but they seem so controversial in Church spaces. Our God is against racism, and we must be also. We need to bring up difficult conversations about racism in our small groups and in private conversations with leaders, make it an agenda item for church discussions, and intentionally incorporate these discussions in our sermons, Sunday schools, discussions, and events.
And we need to take tangible actions to deconstruct racist ideology and systems. Let us not be like the priest and Levite who, seeing the man waylaid on the road to Jericho, walk by on the other side of the road (Luke 10: 31-32). Let us not be the passive bystander who sees someone in need but only speaks greetings without doing anything to address their needs (James 2:15-16). But let us be those who will “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; [and] plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). In our schools, in our workplaces, in the public square, in how we support non-profit or advocacy groups, and how we vote and engage our elected officials at all levels of government, we can advocate for and ally with those already engaged in the hard work of anti-racism.
Let us not be those who stand idly by in the wake of another tragic reminder of racial injustice. Instead of replying with yet another hashtag, we need to commit to saying now, this time, is when we throw off our apathy to embrace allyship and advocacy. It’s time to get off the bench and take up the fight against racism, and so live out our unity in Christ (Galatians 3:28) while clinging to the already and not yet vision of the Church to come where people of all colors, “from all tribes and peoples and languages, [stand together] before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). And so let us be those who use the opportunities and talents God has given us, and each in our way, in this time and as fully embodied Asian-American Christians, become those who “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).