This is a punchy series of graphics designed to highlight hypocritical thinking around Christians and racism. I want to provoke reflection, not create airtight assessments of everything that is amiss in Christian thought.
When it comes to racism and racial justice, there are certain sticking points for white evangelical Christians (in which I was raised) that make it hard for them to engage; namely corporate sin, the systemic nature of racism, and the need for policy change to bring about justice and peace. I’ll just say a few words about each image.
Western thought is very individualistic and therefore our theology tends to focus on individual sin and righteousness. When we speak about the generational and corporate sin of racism, the worldview I was raised with wants to deny that I could ever be complicit or need to take responsibility for what my ancestors did or for what other people are doing to my right and left.
However, time and again, white evangelical leaders blame LGBTQ (and/or abortionists or feminists) for natural disasters, acts of nature (typically hurricanes), and terrorists attacks. So, by their own logic, something they perceive to be a sin that some (but not all) individuals are ‘guilty’ of, becomes a corporate sin because most (but not all) people were complicit? Therefore God would hold all people in that area responsible for some LGBTQ people?
The fact that some can swallow this idea easier than they can the idea that racism is a corporate sin is telling, isn’t it?
I titled this one ‘social justice’ because this double standard of thought is one of the primary things that prevents Christians from engaging in social justice. They just don’t believe racism is embedded into our culture or social systems.
Admittedly, systemic racism was a really hard idea for me to wrap my head around at first. Racists were individuals who were bad and no good person would enforce a racist policy or fail to question and change a racist system. Many times, with white Christians, I see an inability to connect the dots; that everything humans do can be infected by our sin and therefore, racism, as a sin, can infect the policies we create to govern ourselves and the system we created to organize our world.
And yet, there is increasing concern and fear among white Christians that they are being persecuted here in America. An example of that thought process might look like this: “While not all government officials hate Christians, many government policies persecute us. Right now, they are trying to keep us from meeting in our churches! They say it’s because of COVID-19 but really it’s because our nation has turned from God.”
Again, I don’t agree with their assessment of the situation, but I see in their reasoning there is a belief that unjust treatment of a group of people can be perpetuated by a system/policy…not just individual people.
Individualism again. Heart change as the only way to eradicate evil in the world. That is…until we’re talking about people wanting to abort their babies.
White Christians get hung up on not wanting to “get political” when it comes to racism and acts of racial violence. Yet they have no issue with getting political over abortion or reproductive rights.
To be sure, abortion isn’t a matter of politics to them but ‘sanctity of life.’
Why can’t they see that racism and racial violence are not a matter of politics either, but…well, sanctity of life!?
This hypocritical thinking stems back to the politicization of abortion by politicians who were pro-segregation and losing their voters. And it’s worked marvelously for generations as many of my peers will vote for a candidate solely because of their pro-life stance, no matter what else that person believes or does or says.
I post a lot more like this there but am making a concerted effect to collect my content on this site.
You might have read my examples of internalized racism in part 1 and thought, “Whoa, that’s crazy! How did that happen? Where you raised by racists?!”
No, I was not. I was raised by a really loving white family. They did try to give me a positive racial identity in the best way they knew how. Simply, there were things they didn’t know and didn’t know to ask about. I’ve said it many times before; I don’t blame them for what they didn’t know, but what they didn’t know still negatively impacted me.
So what happened?
There are million ways we learn things, consciously and unconsciously. Racist narratives and stereotypes are embedded into American culture and society. So I was exposed to anti-Asian ideas in subtle and overt ways. Even people who knew and loved me unknowingly perpetuated anti-Asian racism that I was internalizing.
This happened through jokes they didn’t see the harm in (like slanting eyes) or discussions I overheard about “the Chinese” (meaning the country of China) which would often have been portrayed in my corner of the world as a competitor with the USA or a “dark place” in a Christian, evangelical religious sense.
Without being explicitly taught about race or racism, I had to make sense of all these things I was soaking up on my own.
Now, you could easily say, “Well…just because you are around people who say or do racist things doesn’t mean you have to internalize it.”
Which is true, but there are more factors at play than just what I heard people say or do. There are environmental and situational factors and social pressures that influence how we make sense of the world around us and what happens to us. These are implicit factors, things that indirectly effect our ideas and choices.
The world around me was sending uncomfortable or hurtful messages, and I had to find a way to adapt and survive in that environment. Here are some examples of the implicit factors that encouraged internalized racism to take root in my experience.
This is not uncommon for transracial adoptees. It can even happen to non-adopted persons of color whose family has assimilated to the dominant white culture.
Even though my white adoptive parents spoke positively about my ethnic heritage, I was still only learning about Chinese culture and people from a white perspective. This didn’t help me see how my ethnic identity was an important thing for me to develop and integrate into my view of self. In fact, focusing too much on my ethnic identity would have been seen as incompatible with focusing on my identity being “in Christ”.
Ambiguity is uncomfortable for the human brain because it is designed to categorize as a way of learning and knowing. Being biracial Asian/white, I am used to people having an awkward reaction to my features. It’s happened my whole entire life.
So growing up, when people acted awkwardly, I took that to mean something about me was awkward, therefore it was my responsibility to make them feel comfortable with me. One way of doing that was exemplifying the white cultural values I was raised with until they saw me as an individual, not my race.
Distancing myself from my non-white identity and embracing my “white side” benefitted me in all the ways I’ve already listed and more. I didn’t realize that was what was happening, because white adjacency is a typical outcome of being adopted into a white family. It’s just how things were from the start.
Even now, I can find more affirmation and applause from white people when I say and do things that affirm white views on pretty much anything. That may look like being chosen for leadership positions or getting my writing submission accepted and published.
This is a double whammy when you’re adopted, which inherently implies a “primary rejection” (or relinquishment) by our birth mother. The thought or threat of being rejected again in anyway can trigger that adoption trauma. Rejection is something you’ll want to avoid at all costs.
However, even outside of the context of adoption, as a minority, being rejected by the majority culture is an overwhelming thought for all the implications that has; reduced access to privileges and opportunities and increased likelihood of being targeted or scapegoated. No one wants to be on the outside looking in.
I included a lot more of the adoption layer in these examples, but I don’t believe that any of these implicit factors that influence internalized racism are exclusive to adoptees.
I set out to describe how internalized racism can happen to people of color but I have not yet fully answered that question. I’ve given you some personal context, but I think we need to put that personal context into the bigger picture.
In Part 3 of this series, we will zoom out and I’ll show you how I’ve come to understand the role that internalized racism plays in the bigger picture. If we don’t understand that part, we’ll miss how internalized racism perpetuates racism and the reason it is so important that we learn to name and deconstruct it when we see it in ourselves.
Before we begin, let me remind you that I’m speaking as a mixed Chinese/German American who was adopted at birth by my White relatives and raised in a rural, White area, as a charismatic, evangelical Christian. This is the perspective and context that I write from and shapes how I’ve seen internalized racism in myself.
To start, here is a sad yet amusing story.
I was a freshman in high school, when I had my first Black classmate. We were in a version of a homeschool co-op and had nearly every class together. We were the only kids who were not white.
One day he asked me, “Does it bother you when people call you ‘c—k’?”
My response was, I kid you not, “You mean like…in a chain?”
I would never have known if I had been called a racial slur because I didn’t know one when I heard it. Raised in a white, racially colorblind culture, I truly believed racism was a thing of the past, save for the few crazies, well into my adulthood.
I minimized racism because I had an immature and incomplete understanding of what it was. I minimized anti-Asian racist ideas because I had internalized anti-Asian racist ideas.
I experienced a lot of racial micro-aggressions as a kid, (e.g. “Of course you’re good at math.” or “What are you?”). They made me uncomfortable and hurt in a way I couldn’t articulate. So I often assumed the source of the problem was internal (i.e. something is wrong with me) rather than assuming it was external (i.e. something is wrong with how that person sees me or treats me).
This is a tricky subject. I do not want to blame BIPOC for our own oppression, but I do want us to be able to see and name when we are complicit in racism.
Internalized racism doesn’t fit cleanly into typical understandings of how racism works. To talk about internalized racism is to talk about how BIPOC can (un)consciously uphold racist narratives and policies.
Racism is often described as race-based prejudice + the power to act on it. Historically, it has been people of white/anglo European descent who have had the power to act on their race-based prejudices against Black, Indigenous, people of color. So we often see white people as being the sole perpetuators of racism.
However, with internalized racism, BIPOC are adopting the prejudices of white people (those in power) against themselves, believing the racist ideas to be true and/or racist policies to be justified.
I’ll end up saying this over and over again, that how internalized racism manifests differs based on who the person is (their race, gender, etc) and what their circumstances and life experiences are. I can’t speak for anyone but myself.
Below are six examples that span 30 years of my life, but this is not an exhaustive list by far. These examples focus on the anti-Asian racism that I internalized. I was exposed to anti-Asian ideas in the culture around me because racism is embedded into American culture and society.
For example, when I encountered harmful Asian tropes in media (e.g. Rooney in yellow face in the movie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s), I would minimize (e.g. “That’s just a comedic role so of course it’s over the top”.) and believe that there was nothing wrong with the portrayal of the Asian person, but that it was funny because Asian people were really that way on some level.
So on to my examples.
Well, if someone slanted their eyes when they talked about Chinese people, then at 4 yrs old, when I was told I was part Chinese, I felt that was what I was supposed to do; mock myself. If someone joked about a Chinese/Asian stereotype, then there must be some truth to that stereotype.
While I was internalizing racist messages about my own racial group, I was also internalizing racist messages about all non-white races. So I picked up some anti-Black racist ideas and believed some stereotypes about Latin people, etc.
Internalized racism prevents a healthy identity development and self-actualization. In my experience, internalized racism leads to shame, self-hate, self-sabotage, etc. I still struggle with believing that I am qualified to do things that I learned were “not typical of Asian people”.
For each of my examples, there has been shame and self-loathing that made it difficult to want to unpack these things. This is not a place any BIPOC chose to be. Which is why I believe truthfully addressing this must be done with an abundance of grace and gentleness.
These examples are the easier ones to share. However I have more I’m still unpacking. There is always more. I hope that by sharing it helps other connect some dots and better understand that racism can take many forms.
Internalized racism serves to perpetuate racism. I’ll explain how in Part 2.
Beating this pandemic alone will be costly
We can’t afford hate during this crisis
To be Chinese does not equal disease
I am Asian American, I am not a virus
It’s not uncommon for human fear
To refuse to focus on real dangers
Believing instead in a false “Us vs Them”
Seeing enemies instead of simply strangers
Yet love can overcome fear
People all over are linking arms in this fight
I want to put their stories and their faces,
Their unity that’s contagious, in the spotlight
Like the doctors in Zhejiang, China sharing expertise
Through a Zoom call connecting west and east
Answering questions for their USA colleagues
Even praying for American’s fighting this disease
Or the Chinese Red Cross sending medical staff
Along with 30 tons of supplies
All the way to beleaguered Rome
Where death counts continue to rise
Millions of masks, test kits, and ventilators sent
By a Chinese billionaire whose giving isn’t done
To help the USA, Italy, & Russia, Africa & Latin America
Living out what it means to believe We Are One
Nations are being neighborly
Like South Korea donating test kits
500 to the Philippines and
50,000 to the United Arab Emirates
Asian Americans have been doing their part
Even within the borders of these United States
Donating medical supplies and raising funds
As we face the rising of anti-Asian hate
In Houston, a $42,000 donation of supplies
Long Island: $70,000 by Chinese American Associations From Vegas to Charleston, Michigan to Idaho
If you look for the helpers, you’ll find many are Asians
Yes some are thinking first about money and power
Politically gaming and blaming to protect their own
But many are crossing divides of race and nation
The best of love and unity in humanity can be shown
I originally shared this on Instagram / Facebook but it’s important enough to me to preserve it here. As nearly 1/3 of the world is under some form of coronavirus related social restrictions, there are varying degrees of loss happening. Please share if it resonates with you.
Now the dust is settling. Yesterday, I caught a glimpse of my April calendar. All the plans we’d made. My oldest’s birthday. A trip to see grandparents in Texas. My little brother’s wedding in Colorado. Two nights in Sun River.
I realized I need finally stop and take a moment to grieve what we’ve given up. I’m going to take that moment now and invite you to join me.
If I don’t do it, it will be harder to stay the course, to stay home and stay positive through these next few weeks. Or longer. Unacknowledged loss leaves my heart yearning for things to go “back to normal”, opening a door for discontent and bitterness.
If I do acknowledge the impact all this has had on me, it helps me let go and embrace the changes, both now and long term. It will be easier to let God redefine life as I know it, to create a new lifestyle, craft new dreams, and move forward in uncertainty.
It may feel odd given the magnitude of what our world is facing and the fact that we likely all know someone who has been impacted more than we have, who has lost more. However, I promise you it helps to acknowledge your own losses and frustrations, both big and small.
Trips to the park or the zoo or the gym.
Coffee with a friend or date nights.
5ks or marathons, the fundraisers or awards.
Eagerly anticipated vacations.
Visits with grandparents and playdates.
Weddings, graduations, birthday parties.
Weekly Bible studies, monthly book clubs.
Loosing these makes me feel:
Disappointed, angry, frustrated, sad, cheater…lonely, scared.
My daily routine or my family’s schedule.
How/ When/ Where/ If I work. Or Workout.
How I do simple errands or connect with others.
My budget and how I use my resources.
Financial goals. Fitness goals. Family goals.
If/ When I get time to pursue any goals.
Travel plans. My certainty about the future.
These changes make me feel:
Annoyed, uncomfortable, anxious, stressed…unhappy, restless.
Even though I still have hope
Even though I have reasons for joy
It’s okay to grieve what I’ve given up
It’s okay to lament all I’ve lost
I know I’m not alone
I will be kind to myself and others
I will be okay
Even if things never go back to the way they were
I believe God is with me
Even if things get worse before they get better