calendar February 24, 2021 in anti-racism

From The Anti-Racism Team: Waiting

A child stays up to watch the late night news. She waits. Yes! They’re showing the lion dance. Firecrackers are set off. Drums and cymbals break out in joyful rhythms. The world knows it’s Chinese (lunar) New Year. She is happy.  She can now go to sleep.

A woman was doused with an acid-like liquid; two children were stabbed inside a Sam’s Club; a pregnant mother was punched in the face; an elderly woman was set on fire; a man was slashed across his face; and an 84-year old man was so violently shoved to the ground that he died.*

What do all of these people have in common? They are all Asian. And that could have been me.

From March 19 through the end of 2020, Stop AAPI Hate** received 2,800 first-hand reports of anti-Asian hate incidents across 47 states and Washington, DC.

An FBI report from March 2020 warned that “hate crime incidents against Asian Americans likely will surge across the United States” and this was “based on the assumption that a portion of the US public will associate COVID-19 with China and Asian American populations.”

Asians have been blamed for the spread of disease, taking away “American” jobs, producing inferior products and filling too many acceptances at the best colleges. Harming Asians – through physical violence as well as enactment of unjust laws – has been America’s scapegoating response for its ills.

In 1871,  a mob of 500 persons attacked, robbed, and murdered Chinese residents in Los Angeles and hanged Chinese immigrants after they were killed.

In 1882, Congress passed the Exclusion Act barring immigration from China.

In 1885, 500 white citizens of Tacoma organized the expulsion of the Chinese. They went house by house to force families to leave Tacoma and then burned their community to the ground. This systematic “evacuation” and destruction came to be known as “The Tacoma Method” – a model for getting rid of the “yellow peril.”

In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. 117,000 Japanese, most of whom were American citizens, were incarcerated from 1942-45.

In 1982, Vincent Chin was bludgeoned to death by two men in Detroit. They shouted racial slurs, blaming him for the loss of jobs in the automobile industry.

I have been asked “Where do you come from?” And when I respond “Chicago” the follow-up question is inevitably “But where are you really from?” And I respond “What do you really mean?”

America has consistently viewed Asian Americans as forever foreign. We are “the other.” We are peoples who don’t fit into the picture of what America looks like.

Many may dispute this reality. After all, Asians in America are economically well-off, well-educated, and hard workers. Asians are living proof of the American dream.  But not all Asians in America – comprised of over 20 distinct groups – are living the American dream. Some of us don’t have a command of the English language. Some are undocumented. Some don’t want to be perceived as outsiders.  Many don’t want to call attention to themselves. And still others were brought up not to speak out against authority.

Asian Americans have been portrayed as the model minority.  This stereotype lumps all Asian Americans into a single category, justifying unfair policies and undervaluing our accomplishments. It pits Peoples of Color against each other, implying that the non-model minorities are at fault.  The underlying power of the model minority myth is racism.

Whether our English is perfect, whether we are first or fifth generation “Americans,” or whether we are surgeons, janitors, teachers, nurses or pastors, Asians can be splashed with acid, punched in the face, or bullied while people pass by on the other side.

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Jesus proclaims love for God equal to love for neighbor.  Until this country – and this church – live out these commandments, the words of our Lord are just words.

Today, conversations about racism are happening in our synod. The SEPA Anti-racism team offers educational opportunities to every congregation.  Sometimes against the wishes of its members, churches in the synod have held book studies and Zoom panel discussions fostering candid conversations about race.  These are hopeful signs.

When Barack Obama was elected president, many said we had now entered a post-racial world.  After all America elected a Black President. We’ve come a long way. Or have we?

Today, white supremacist groups are on the rise. Subtle and blatant words and actions with racial undertones are tolerated and go unchallenged. Is something similar happening behind the closed doors of family homes and church buildings?

We, as a nation, and as a church, cannot move forward without acknowledging that racial injustice is still with us today. Disregarding the lessons of history diminishes the suffering of millions of people.  It dismisses the fact that many of the laws and policies ensuring equity among all Americans did not just happen; they were fought for at great price. Until we acknowledge that the sin of racism exists, the Body of Christ is broken.

That little girl, who needed to see the lion dance on television wanted to see herself. She also wanted others to see her and others like her. She stayed up late, and did that into adulthood. She is much older now.  She is – and I am – still staying up, waiting.


– Fern Lee Hagedorn, a member of the Anti-racism Team, is a member of Tabernacle Lutheran Church, Philadelphia




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