race and reconciliation

The world is broken.

On the eve of our annual holiday of celebrating what we’re thankful for, our country lies divided over what has transpired in Ferguson, Missouri. In August, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by a white police officer, which prompted riots in the city, and outrage around the nation. Last night, a grand jury decided to not indict officer Darren Wilson in Brown’s death, and the tension in America is palpable.

I don’t want to enter into a debate of guilt or innocence or safety or facts. I wasn’t there and I don’t know every single fact about the case. My heart is heavy and breaks for both sides. What I do know is that this is not the only situation where there has been an outcry of racial injustice. Being a brown man, I am certainly not a stranger to racism. But even then, I had always assumed that if you don’t give people a reason to distrust you, you’ll be fine.

And then I began having conversations with my black friends about how they often get pulled over while driving and questioned. Frisked and treated gruffly, sometimes shoved against their cars — without citation. Suspiciously eyed and accused of shoplifting when walking through stores. These friends aren’t thugs, they look and talk a lot like me! And strangely, these are not conversations I’ve ever had with my Indian, Asian, or white friends. I get “randomly” screened a lot at airports, but I’ve never been pulled over for suspicion of possession. I’ve driven many a late night and I’ve never had a cop ask me why I’m driving around this neighborhood this late at night. .

This is not an accusation of police officers; on the contrary, I am incredibly grateful to the men and women who daily put their lives on the line so that the rest of us can live in safety. What they do is something we all take for granted, and I thank them. I also do not think most white people are racist; most of the white men and women I know have shown me otherwise.

What I am saying is that everyone’s experience of “freedom and justice for all”  has certainly not been the same. We’re all viewing these situations differently because we’re all viewing these situations through the lenses of our own experiences. And our own experiences are very different. That is something we need to address.

Black people are often accused of turning everything into a race issue. Most of the rest of us don’t understand because we haven’t been subjected to systemic prejudice the way our black brothers and sisters have. Most of us don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t trust a civil servant because most of us have never had a reason to not trust a civil servant. We don’t want to talk about racism because we want to think we’ve moved past it. Clearly we have not.

The frightening thing is that most of us may not actually have racist thoughts or biases… and yet still choose to walk on the other side of the road by failing to acknowledge or ignoring the beaten and bruised Samaritan in the street. Ignoring our hurting brothers and sisters is not loving our neighbors as ourselves.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King, Jr

So how do Christians respond to this? I think the first step is to speak less, and to listen more. Instead of looking to CNN, Fox News, or Facebook for perspectives and “facts,” let’s engage people in dialogue. Instead of ranting about justice or lack of justice, pick up the phone. Ask your black friends why they’re so hurt by what’s gone on in Ferguson. Listen to their stories of their experiences of being colored in America. Ask yourself why communities are rioting and why people are mourning. Observe the pain, and ask why?

This is not just an issue of “facts”. Uncovering “facts” will not heal wounds because these wounds are emotional wounds, and they have their context in each person’s story. Healing begins when we sit side by side with our hurting brothers and sisters and understand where they’re coming from. Healing begins when we come along side them and mourn with them and pray with them and advocate for them. Christians, we must step in.

Let’s pray for the family of the victim. They’re hurting in so many ways. Let’s pray for those who feel betrayed by the justice system. And we must also pray for the officer and his family. They may be in danger for a long time, and for the rest of his life, Officer Wilson has to live with the fact that he killed someone. Let’s pray for healing and safety for them.

In all of this, one thing is certain: the problem is sin. The solution is the gospel. All of us (black, white, Indian, Asian, Latino) are broken people capable of incredible evil. Michael Brown was broken with sin. Wilson is broken with sin. You and I are broken with sin. The only thing that can ultimately fix us is the gospel of Jesus Christ that we all so desperately need. Not laws, not anger, not punishments, not education, not government. Let’s remember that as we talk about Ferguson and how to move forward. Let us be a people who seek the repentance, love, grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation that are all possible in Christ Jesus.

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miss america and the great kaleidoscope

I was born in New York, a jewel of a million different glints of color. Growing up, it didn’t take me long to realize that I didn’t look a lot like my classmates, and English wasn’t the language my parents and grandparents spoke at home. However, many of the kids in my school looked different, from all sorts of different racial and cultural backgrounds, and I learned that although we looked different, we were all somehow in the same boat.

But as I grew older, racism would rear its ugly head here and there. During recess in the third grade, a student told me to “go back to Mexico!” After the September 11th attacks, “Bin” (short for bin-Laden) became my nickname by a certain group of people in my school. While walking through West Campus late one night at the University of Texas at Austin, a car full of white boys driving by slowed down, shouted, “go home, sand nigger!” and sped off. And although these weren’t devastating insults, they reminded me that I looked different. That I was a minority.

Nina DavuluriNina Davuluri from New York was just crowned Miss America 2014, the first winner from Indian descent. Amid the celebration, many took to social media to express their outrage that a “real American” didn’t win. Hateful comments about her skin color, her ethnic heritage, religious background, cultural “voodoo” dance, and Indian stereotypes in general spread through the Twitter-sphere. Other ignorant comments called her Arabic, Muslim, and a part of al-Qaeda. Because, you know, if you’re brown, it’s all the same thing.

But the overwhelming sentiment among these racist tweets  is that she’s not really American. Her skin doesn’t look American. Her name doesn’t sound American. Her dance certainly wasn’t American. This is America, and colored people aren’t supposed to win American contests. In case you missed it, “American” is a race and ethnicity. Never mind the fact that this country was occupied long before the first Europeans ever sailed across the pond and “discovered” it. Look over the fact that my parents (and nearly every other colored immigrant to the United States) were looking for many of the same opportunities that every other immigrant from the last 300 years were looking for.

My initial reaction to seeing all this wasn’t anger, but sadness. When I began perusing through the Twitter profiles of some of the people who expressed their bigoted remarks, I couldn’t help but notice how normal they seemed. They looked like many of the people I went to school with, that I work with, that I’m neighbors with. Some of them even touted Bible verses or “Christian” labels. I don’t think most white Americans are racist, my experience has shown me otherwise, but I was reminded that bigotry and wickedness still remain in the land of the free and home of the brave. I was reminded that racism is common even among minority cultures like my own, where we would freeze and stiffen whenever a black person walked into our South Indian church. It’s a tragedy and distortion of the gospel of Jesus Christ when racism exists in the church.

I was reminded that even though some of these xenophobic tweeters may have been exposed, my own heart is capable of overwhelming wickedness and prejudice. Sin is a universal curse.

But wickedness and prejudice and sin do not have to define us. The Bible reminds us that we’re all created in God’s image and that in Christ, we are part of a great, multi-cultural family where the thing that defines  us is the righteous, saving work of Jesus Christ. There is no place for prejudice in the Kingdom of God.

America certainly isn’t the Kingdom of God, but it is the country God has placed me in. I’m saddened at the ignorance and prejudice of a few people, but as an American, I dream of a better tomorrow. We are more than the Melting Pot of the West, we are the Great American Kaleidoscope. We are a mosaic made beautiful by the diversity of color and culture that make us up.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

-Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream”

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

-Revelation 7:9-10

Let’s not lash back in vitriolic hatred, but pray for our brothers and sisters and show grace in the face of hate. The gospel of reconciliation requires no less.