being ethnic: part I

What are you?

Human–unless aliens a la Star Trek secretly inhabit my body (sometimes I do wonder…). I also happen to be, as you see, brown of skin with curls that I am currently avoiding the impulse to drag my fingers through. I am also a loquacious nerd with an affinity for Thai curry, but somehow I don’t think that is the answer you’re looking for.

It’s an innocent enough question, one I’ve answered from age 7 onwards (basically once I had a firm grasp of reasoning and language). You’d think it would be the most innocuous getting-to-know-youism, the kind of thing that crops up in Censuses, countless work applications, and most civil conversations. And when someone poses the question, offhand, eyes eager, my responses have ranged wildly from a practiced statistical breakdown of my family genealogy to a shrugged “Mutt.”

Now I wonder if I ever owed anybody but myself the answer.

Why am I approached with this question a disproportionate number of times compared to my white friends–even some of my black and Asian-identifying friends?

Welcome to the world of the Ambiguously Brown.

There are no borders in this land, only a blurred ombre of colors shifting on their spectrum. If you reach the places where they turn opaque, you may be granted exit. But know this: this realm welcomes more people than it allows to leave, and the ticket for entry is easy to come by.

Tan/olive/light brown skin. Check.

Curly, wavy or undefinable hair texture. Check.

Eyes slanted a few degrees or more. Requires review. Additional mark if the eyes are an unusual color. 

Seeming mismatch of lips, jaw, nose, and brow. Check.

The first surveying question relegates me to Ambiguity, the Indiscernible because at first glance, I cannot be figured out (why do I need to be?). Other mixed people can easily spot me–we tend to recognize our own- but with people still unused to the reality that humans take form in millions of permutations, my body amounts to a question mark.

What are you? functions as a hypothesis, and my answer will either corroborate their theories or result in further confusion if my answer fails to fall neatly into packed categories.

I danced with a older guy a few months ago in a crowded Midtown studio, trying to follow his swiveling salsa steps when he suddenly leaned towards my ear and whispered, “So what are you mami?” Words bursting out before my mind even wrapped around the question, I said: “Dominican on my mother’s side and Black with some Chinese on my dad’s side.” His smile was instantaneous, and if his hand was not gripping mine in that moment, I was sure that he would have pointed a finger at me in triumph. “I knew it!” he crowed. “I knew there had to be something else mixed in you.”

Congratulations. You have solved my genetic puzzle.

I wish I could count on two hands how many times I’ve smiled indulgently when another person has “figured me out,” but I can’t. My features present an enigma to people who are not familiar with the combinations they can make, and there is a sense of vindication when they can confirm that I am beautiful, I am exceptional simply because I’m not “just black” or just any one thing. My face is a solvable equation, elements to be discerned and separated out.

It’s not even as if What are you? is some terrible question. It can arise out of honest curiosity, a desire to know me better, to understand, but it is all too often married to the assumption that I don’t present as something easily categorizable. The subtext of the question makes my skin prickle. In that moment, I am made aware of my deviation from some unspoken norm when a few seconds ago, I was just Joanna. Rather than representing a cause for celebration, the multiplicity in my identity contrives distance between me and my ethnic communities because I am framed in a way that sets me apart from them. I am congratulated for transcending them (see: colorism), for ascending to an aspirational plane when all I want is to be normalized (see: not exotic). I am not White, yet neither do I belong fully and wholly to another category; I am in limbo.

Those of mixed heritage or of backgrounds not conventionally realized within American spaces (I think of my friends who are Arab, Indigenous, Latinx of all shades, Mediterranean, Pacific Islander) encounter this challenge to their identity because our features render us indissoluble. Once you are known, people can access your self-hood, compute your stories and locate them within their preset schemas. When your features defy easy definition, you remain a mystery, a beautiful, uncomfortable mystery that designates your status as a Passer.

There is a reason Latinx actors have played characters from every race. Even JLo has been Italian, Mediterranean, and even, on occasion, Latina on the big screen. Those who can pass for multiple backgrounds present an opportunity for society because they can be plugged in when needed, versatile tools activated when the situation calls for it. Blended into backgrounds with ease, manipulated to fit a variety of narratives, our bodies cease to become our own. Can you belong to yourself when so many others claim you for their use?

There is power in passing–I acknowledge that. A connection is forged by the bridge of my brown arms, and I am received into communities I do not even belong to by blood. I am, strangely enough, the embodiment of Paul’s assertion to be “all things to all people.” Outside of American borders, I may even enter lands with less suspicion because brown equates to safety, alludes to the comfort of kin rather than the fear of pale imperialist conquerors. My sister visited India last summer and passed through the borders and into open arms. The residents could hardly believe her when she told them that she was not, in fact, Indian. They clothed her and fed her as one of their own anyway.

Our ambiguity can draw others to us, allow for communion amidst perceived similarity.

But with passing also comes a strain of loneliness in being the New World, an entity and category unto yourself. Strangers may exult in discovering in you what you have always known to be the everyday and banal. Those of us indigenous to this mode of existence have crafted new ways to name ourselves, be they Afro-Latina, Blasian, or Desi. Some may deride this action as pandering to identity politics; I call it valuing the diversity woven into our stories, our skin by generating more lenses through which to interpret them. We give breath to our realities and resist the gazes that cast them as perpetually foreign and novelty. 

A recognition of fluidity is vital in this endeavor since, “We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience,” as Michael Ondaatje asserts in The English Patient. I am American. I am Black. I am Afro-Latina. I am multi-ethnic. I am descended from that vast continent called Asia and that dear, distant motherland called Africa. The heartbeat of each identity becomes pronounced, drums louder depending on what space I inhabit and whose company I am in.

Inside the walls of the places I call home, all these things thrum inside my veins simultaneously. There is no division there, no fractions concerning my grandparents and great-grandparents to work out. Then I step out my door and board the 1 train to downtown Manhattan, watching the mosaic of faces around me shift colors, and somewhere along the rail, amidst the shaking and rattling through neighborhoods, I become Ambiguously Brown. I become what the Seventeen magazines I used to read as a teen call “ethnic.” I feel then the weight of others’ gazes, cemented from over two decades of probing questions. Though devoid of green skin and Klingon brow ridges and spiked antennae, I become alien–again.

 

to write and riot: one year later

Jordan Edwards is dead.

When I lift my fingers to type, they drum down on the keys with the weight of this–the names of the people Racism has stolen from my communities. They are not just headlines that will pass away; they are not just bodies behind bars. Yet I live in a country where non-White features designate people as Other and thus less valued–no matter how many exceptional people of color “make it out.” There is no “out.” We are all inextricably, unavoidably, in this, and the ripples of one boy’s death collide with each of our realities–even those too numbed to notice.

This is for those who hear me and stay.

I was recently startled into the realization that this blog is one-year old. God charged me during the Urbana ’16 conference to channel all the thoughts I wrestle with into something that could not only stretch my growth, but also potentially challenge and lift up others. This blog was born. I didn’t so much leap with faith as really tip over into a new realm where suddenly my words were pulled out of my head and heart and positioned on display for the world to see (whatever sliver of the world manages to find this blog).

Starting this blog was an exercise in anxiety. I’ve always shied away from public writing, even as I envied others who seem to share with such ease. I also didn’t believe I had anything groundbreaking to offer–not anything other social justice-oriented individuals had already shared (and far more eloquently). Yet God tugged at my feet, so I took a step forward into the unknown.

Rusty from a few years of wildly inconsistent writing habits that would provoke slow, somber head shakes from my former professors, I quarreled with a blank screen and an overload of ambition. I blundered (and still stumble) over the basic stepping stones: to whom to write (audience), what to write about (topic), and how to write about it (tone). Cognizant that I was writing about issues framed as controversial (cite: avoidable) in the Church, each typed word became fraught with tension.

The reality that I am a woman of color in her early 20s loomed over my fingers as they flexed, preparing for the Great White Portal to racial discourse. I sat before my computer (feeling) unequipped, inexperienced, and lonely in my racking desire to confront the racial pain burdening my heart and to help my communities somehow. Then the questions stampeded in, no pause to exhale:

What if I’m too angry?

What if I burn bridges?

What if I have nothing to say? 

What if everyone hates me?

What if I’m wrong? 

Dread wrapped in a tight, thick knot in my throat, I begged God to give me an out. Clearly I wasn’t shaped for this type of work.

A little over a year later, this blog remains (obviously). So what happened? A few realizations unfolded over time:

  • I don’t have to fix racism. It’s not on me to do this–I’m no Savior. I can speak to what I observe, what burdens me, what others have taught me, but I’m never engaging in this work of repentance and reconciliation alone, leading to…
  • I’m joining a conversation. I am one voice, carrying my stories and thoughts and struggles, and my voice matters, but I must recognize that I am entering into a space where I am engaging with past, present, and future threads. There are others I must listen to and learn from, other voices to reflect upon and voices to interact with as we untwist the problems of race and identity and community.
  • I’m human–own it. I am not perfect. Neither am I the ultimate authority on all things related to racial discourse. I can honestly admit that I’m stubborn and struggle with acknowledging my mistakes–I prefer to rationalize them as logical or excusable. I also have a ridiculous capacity for being judgmental, and that creates blinders that prevent me from seeing all sides and angles. I’ve been learning through this writing process how to take responsibility for my sin areas and make space for God to teach me differently. My writing will always reflect my imperfection and gaps in knowledge, but I am committed to deepening my comprehension, adjusting my vision, and growing outwards.
  • The pain is worth it. I’ve cried during and after writing a blog post. Some of them have excavated deep wounds I didn’t realize I still have; some shoved suffering into my face, leaving me adrift and unable to process it all. Some made me feel every single gram of my inadequacy, and I wanted to give up. But then I would get a message from someone who read a post, that it helped them in some way, and it was like God’s prodding to keep going. Words arose, quiet, steady: Keep going daughter. Face the storm. I am with you. So I went on.

I labor over this work–and it’s hard. I am constantly amazed by those of you who have been invested in this labor for years. I agonize over words, pray over them, gnaw my lip and wonder if I should soften the language or shift topics. God rarely responds yes. And even then, I don’t always obey, bending instead to the pressure to be polite rather than truthful.

I don’t (as of now) face incarceration or mortal danger for typed letters, but as the PEN World Voices Festival warned me yesterday, not everyone has that luxury. So I treasure the freedom that allows words of challenge to unfurl out of my being and press against the world in some needed way. I don’t feign the posture of a great Liberator or Artist as I write, but because there is an unfathomable well of pain to speak to, I have a purpose in trying.

Writing, talking about racism is a tangle of pain and hope. The pain rises and throbs as you point to the realities of discrimination, unjust economic systems, and the hidden heart issues that bleed out into our actions. I move through a labyrinth of thought and feeling, a pack of understandings sloped on my back because I realize that confronting racism involves the indictment of that which has been hidden away, held taut beneath the surface and ready to snap. It requires examining what it means to be White and where White comes from. It mandates wrestling what it means to be Black and diasporic. It provokes the questioning of how to locate yourself within a color binary never designed for you if you are Asian, Arab, Indigenous.

This is tense, uncompromising work. It will not make you feel good–in fact, it will disturb and offend you. Confronting ugliness repulses us–and it should. I do not ask God to remove this tension from my gut; it unsettles me into a state of action so I will not be complacent when the needs are so great. They are great, and they are relentless.

With the presence of so much unfettered ignorance and a vacuum of empathy, how can I possibly soothe the heartbreak that racism causes in my country? I can’t. Sometimes all I can do is loosen my tears and not forget the ones abused by it. And I do this: I write. I lift my small torch to shed light on the margins so those willing to draw near them can mourn with me and step through the night into what could await us beyond it. This is a shade of riot, that we repel the forces that would keep us static and demand the ushering of Heaven to Earth, opening our hands to receive it and hold on tight.

Our hearts hurt because we sense that racial division and injustice is not God’s intention for us. His movement, always and forever, is to bind us together with words, with the Word, into one family with no dividing wall.

Words matter, and they have power. Writing can be an act of activism, rebellion even, against that which mars human dignity and distorts the beauty of our relationships with one another. Words have founded revolutions, fractured families and repaired them, and so I handle them with care and submit them to God. I look for the ways in which He is using them already to weave our disparate stories together, and I ask to join Him in that industry.

Yet there can be little communion when one member’s hands are burned, nerves exhausted. To resurrect our fellowship with one another, we must look frankly upon the wrongs done to our peoples and examine them, repent of them. Lament brings us through this cycle of sorrow, weighing the gravity of the past and present and leading us to the One who reconciles all. We end in a small echo of the final paradise: in praise, in community.

So I end this with where I started: a declaration of riot. I feel feeble sometimes, too passive and hesitant to shake walls and topple towers. I walk into rooms with an apology on my tongue rather than a confrontation. But you, my readers, my friends, and my God, you have dared me to surrender fear and point to the world I yearn for and the change I am now willing to labor towards. So I leave you with this and hope to encourage you as you take hold of the calling God has given you and till the soil for a world better than what you were born into:

The Cross of Christ is the ultimate symbol of riot. Jesus’ sacrificial death momentarily shoved the world into a state of chaos as the sacred temple Veil was ripped, the ground itself rocked with tremors, and blood streamed from a beaten body and pooled at the feet of the terrified ones watching. All the cries of the abused, the violated, the oppressed, the lost, the unheard thundered above his bowed head. The darkness of a people estranged from God and enslaved to sin was broken by slashes of lightning that mimicked the aching stretch of his arms upon the wooden beam.

Hell emptied itself and Heaven touched Earth for the first time in centuries as the way to God’s throne was cleared at last, mediated by a soon resurrected Christ. He had thrown everything into violent, visceral upheaval, and we are still experiencing the vibrations.

The riot of the Cross challenges all that is disordered in our society and invites our participation in a holy commotion that will write a new draft above our stained histories. This draft is the Kingdom of Christ being ushered in now, though not yet in its final published form. In this draft, we are charged to disturb the status quo, remake the hierarchies of power,  demand justice for the marginalized, innovate new words to love and live with each other.

God writes the new draft of a Kingdom manifesto on a scroll of grace, unfurling to coil around each person with a binding embrace. This grace acknowledges our grievous wrongs and our depraved brokenness, both individual and systemic, but rather than charting an arc towards death, it writes us into new roles: redeemed rioters on Gospel terms. With renewed minds, we grow into our roles, stumble, and keep marching so that someday we will see the fullness of a radically altered world.

graceriot 2016

Riot on.

getting out: part II 

Would a white doctor be dragged through the aisle of an airplane for not leaving his seat?

I ask this question not only because it’s timely, but because I’ve asked this question for a hundred different scenarios:

Would a white woman be scolded in this situation, her feelings called paranoid?

Would a white man’s motives have been scrutinized here, his criminal record redlined?

Would a white woman have been protected in this situation?

Would a white man have been given the benefit of the doubt rather than shot?

I am used to seeing black men framed as hulking figures to be feared, the ones you can justify shooting out of fear. I am used to seeing Latinx persons depicted as threats, aliens you can rationalize criminalizing. I am used to seeing mugshots and unflattering photos of Asian, Arab, and indigenous peoples on the news more often than pictures of them smiling or holding their children.

These patterns of representation cannot be attributed solely to individual bias or even prejudiced media outlets. They point to an insidious reality that pervades both our individual and collective experiences: racism as sin. In my previous post, I shared how the personal and institutional dimensions of racism shape the anxieties of many people of color–and the responses of our white brothers and sisters. Racism estranges us from each other because its intent is to sow dissension, distrust, and displacement. It is a very real spiritual force that establishes strongholds around communities, nations so we no longer act as blood-tied brothers and sisters, but as distant relations merely inhabiting church sanctuaries and neighborhood blocks together.

I think of the implications of Easter and feel sadness. The Cross stands in opposition to anything that distances us from the Revelations mural of multi-ethnic, multinational, multilingual, multiracial family worshiping together and celebrating both what distinguishes us and what makes us belong to one another: Jesus’ death for our sins and his defeat of that very same Death. But not only physical death–no, Jesus put to death all things that bar us from the abundant life God designed us for. Racism spits on that vision of freedom and so it must die, and we must die to it.

Some argue that the Christian life should prioritize only personal salvation and avoid distractions like social justice issues that just cause more division and are only “of this world.” We can feed the poor, house the homeless like we ought to, but giving so much attention to “political” issues like race isn’t really as important or necessary on a large scale. Those called into racial reconciliation ministry can do that work, but the rest of us should focus on the spiritual essentials.

A pastor I heard recently responded to this strain of thought by stating: “We talk a lot about what salvation saves us from, but not enough what it saves us for.” He pointed out that while our choice to surrender to Jesus as our Savior saves us from eternal separation from God, it also ushers us into a new reality, a new way of living where we join Him in the restoration of all things. We are in the In-Between, the Here-and-Now, equipped to engage whatever infringes upon God’s coming Kingdom and cultivate cultures, institutions, relationships, and personal practices that reflect His shalom, His harmonious intention for our world.

Scripture draws us to that vision where we are positioned as ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-21), people of renewed minds (Romans 12:2), and a community defined by love and sacrifice on behalf of others (Romans 12:9-15). Our salvation and the life that emerges after that choice should bear this kind of fruit if we are aligning with God’s work both within us and around us. This signifies that I have been saved for the kind of work that will contribute to reconciliation between estranged peoples, whether that be on the racial, economic, gender, national, or embodied axes.

So when I notice a consistent difference between how people of color and white people are treated in my country and the opportunities made available to them, I have been saved for confronting it. This doesn’t mean that each of us has to become Social Justice Warriors Inc. and devote ourselves to writing books and lectures on racial reconciliation; however, it does require us to expand our understanding of salvation to include the redemption of our communities and institutions.

We each have a unique combination of experiences, gifts, and relationships that God can use to contest areas of racial brokenness on these levels so we can become known as those people leading the charge in our promotion of just and loving ways of relating to each other rather than “those Christians” who lag behind secular activists already on the front lines. There are opportunities for fruitful partnership with those who also value the equal and dignified treatment of all people, and there are opportunities to represent the God who instructs us to care for the oppressed among us (Isaiah 1:16-17).

Movies like Get Out expose us to the racial brokenness that touches each of our lives–whether we acknowledge it or not. It’s not a black people issue for black people to deal with–it’s a sin issue we must bring before God, repent of, and seek ways of supporting those wounded from it. Relegating it to a controversial topic black people should work out is neither loving nor helpful in building the kind of unity I think we all want to see but rarely exert the sacrificial effort to make possible.

I’ve written many times about the exhaustion that creeps in when you feel like you have to market yourself as safe and consumable for white people who tiptoe around race because there’s a cost to wrestling with racial tensions and insecurities. There’s a cost to entering into the mess of it without the clinical distance sustained by TV screens and blog articles (yes, even this one). It’s a cost many people of color pay each day because we can’t necessarily afford to be detached. You can try to diminish how often you think about racism, try to rationalize it as not a big deal or not affecting you as badly as other people, but your body is always with you. You bring the race card into each space you’re in, not because you want to play the game, but because the world outlined the rules of it without your consent.

This anxiety and hyper-self-consciousness is not of God. They are symptomatic of a sinful world which capitalizes on the differences that, rather than celebrated, are cataloged and used to justify why one group of people should be feared, fenced out, or assimilated and another group should be normalized, standardized, and made neutral. If diversity is a reflection of God’s creative imperative and the fullness of the eternal kingdom to come, the discomfort I sometimes feel within my skin must grieve God.

Maybe you’re a person of color who has never felt this way–and if so, I’m glad for it. I’m glad that you have been welcomed, affirmed, and included in the spaces you have entered. But please don’t take that safety as the rule; it is unfortunately the exception. Don’t let your sense of comfort negate the racial pain other people of color have experienced–listen instead. I can only speak out of my own experience and others’ stories I have had the privilege to share, but the experience of being Othered is a common thread. I write about it in the hopes of resisting my impulse to pretend I’m fine when what I feel is a whole influx of complicated things simultaneously. I can be the Georgina of Get Out, calm and complacent even as tears fight to the surface, and I could be the Chris of the final movie arc-furious, desperate-all at once.

Get Out is a cautionary tale, a reminder that white spaces, whiteness exists and should be examined. But beyond that, it demands us to confront our racial wounds and acknowledge that those wounds are psychological, spiritual, and visceral in nature.

How do we get out this mess? And as the alternative…what are we supposed to be getting into?

So I help out with the kids ministry at my local church, and this Sunday the kids will be learning about how Jesus is our “bridge to God.” Many of us have seen the image of the cross laid horizontal, closing the breach between us and our Heavenly Father.

Image result for the cross as the bridge

Why am I bringing this up? I want us to think about bridges and their purpose. In simple terms, bridges allow what was once distant and separate to draw close. What was once separated doesn’t have to cross-they don’t even have to come that close-but the opportunity is ready and waiting.

The Cross Jesus died upon invites us to draw close to God, but unlike our tendency to hesitate, He doesn’t settle for a tiptoe. He wants to be intrinsic to our lives, part of everything we are and everything we do. He wants the kind of closeness where He can be present in and work through every painful and raw and riddled part of our daily experience as well as our past.

Intimacy is the antidote to distrust, to fear, because intimacy is the fruit of love, and there is no fear in love, not when God is at the foundation.  When you take the time to know me, when I allow myself to be known and have the courage to step closer to you, that fear dissipates. When we mutually surrender our interactions to Jesus, we are equipped to wrestle with strongholds that would otherwise threaten to distance us or incite doubt and resentment. Our communion will not resolve all racism or fix the bone-deep systemic issues, but us struggling together, crying together, learning together builds a resistance that can endure and erode those historic fortresses until they crumble.

If you’re aiming for the “feel-good,” flowery kind of intimacy, this isn’t it. This is the intimacy of the Cross: Blood. Grief. Confusion. Pain. Death. Love. We must get close:

Personally: We must take the time to listen to each other’s experiences without the defensiveness or fear that often freezes conversations about race before they have a change to delve deep. Instead, we allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit so we can repent of the ways in which we have hurt each other (and may continue to hurt each other–we aren’t perfect!) and forgive what has been done against us. We have to be honest with our friends and neighbors as we build relationships with them, understanding as well that trust is bolstered over time and backed up by consistent actions of love and vulnerability. We each have baggage and scars in this area, and we approach each other with patience that can only be enabled by the One who redeems all things.

Communally: We must take responsibility for the racial sin marring our history as a Church and the sin rooted beneath our neighborhoods. We mourn this history and lay it before God, and we commit ourselves as a community to actively open up spaces for marginalized peoples to speak to us and lead us in efforts towards reconciliation and justice. We commit to engaging the racial tensions within our neighborhoods. We promote the ministries, services, and organizations building bridges through these tensions and we ask God for guidance in what our participation should look like as our love for the people in our proximity grows.

Institutionally: We must take ownership of the power we have been granted, whether that be through privilege of our skin color, our socioeconomic status, our gender, our able-bodiedness, our social connections, our citizenship. These privileges are ours to steward in a way that benefits those whom the laws and institutions of our land disenfranchise. We must demonstrate the willingness to consider what people value outside of our partisan camp and how that may either reflect the heart of Christ or contradict it. We should speak to those things in love, using our voice, our vote, our civic action to challenge injustice when it is exposed and call our leaders and representatives to be accountable to those whom they serve–especially the ones most vulnerable to neglect and oppression.

There are more ways we could draw close to the problem of racial sin, but I want to emphasize that engaging with it on one level isn’t enough because our faith is not restricted to one dimension. Our salvation didn’t just cover the personal–it had ramifications for ALL of these areas–it’s holistic. When Jesus conquered Death, he established a new path for humanity that culminates in the harmonious diversity depicted in Revelations. If that is what our salvation points to, our daily lives must point to that eternal reality as well. So we get out of the mindset that dealing with race is a side-project and we get into the toil of generating a culture here and now that reflects God’s ultimate design for us as a community.

There will be those who will not enter into this process, those who will scorn the grace extended and reject the efforts of those who seek understanding and reconciliation. They may halt conversations out of anxiety, anger, and defensiveness. They may continue to gravely hurt their sisters and brothers of color-as well as their allies-with their actions. I pray for them–the ones I can’t reach. I pray that God will soften their hearts and filter through any distortions in their vision so, someday, they can join me on this journey. Some may never take that step, but the Cross dares me to hope.

As a woman of color, I surrender my anxieties to God and ask that He enables me with the grace and courage to step across color lines and trust white people with my vulnerability and pain. It doesn’t mean I throw pearls before swine or pretend they have no power to hurt me,  but I am open to welcoming them into my struggles and my celebrations. I see the bridge and ask for the courage to cross.

For my white sisters and brothers, I challenge you to meet us (people of color) beyond the halfway point since we are usually the ones expected to stretch far to accommodate you. I invite you to suffer with us as much as you enjoy our cultures and our company. I am not just black, I am not just Latina, and I am not an object upon which to cast your pity or look to for absolution for any guilt or discomfort. Yet God decided to form me this way, knowing the labels that would be fixed to my body, and there is intention in that design. I ask you to take the whole of that rather than the parts you are comfortable with if we are to learn to step forward together into this redemptive work.

What do we do on a larger scale? Imagine if more white people talked about racism with their neighbors, whether that be in the Midwest, the South, or New York City. What if they introduced black voices to them so they wouldn’t seem so threatening? So they could listen? What if we led our nation in repentance for our racial sin and reclaimed our interconnectedness so all could flourish, and not one at the expense of another? What if more people of color were empowered by their church communities, supported by their family to process their wounds and equipped to transform nations in profound ways? What if all Christians were labeled “Social Justice Warriors,” and it was a compliment of the highest regard?

Intimacy is one step, not a whole solution. But it’s a pursuit, and it makes us more than strangers–it makes us family.

I am reminded of this every time I have a conversation with one of my friends who are white. They are never just White Friends. They are my sisters. They’ve seen me at my worst and loved me. We’ve argued and stumbled as we’ve unloaded our struggles with race and have been made better for it.

No friendship is ever without difficulty, and when you add race into the equation, it means a lot of arguments and apologies and explanations and renewed commitments to understand. But I love my friends and their willingness to take this road with me. It’s hard on them too, and they want to listen and help, and my heart cracks open to receive them.

A day after the presidential election, I dragged myself to the highest floor of the student center near me, fighting tears the entire time. Desperate to hear another human voice, I called my friend, a white woman from the Midwest. Phone creased into my ear, fingers trembling, I didn’t even know where to begin, but I started talking. Then I started crying. And it was like she was sitting there beside me on that lonely stairwell as I cried myself out. My heart was heavy from seeing the rise in hate crimes, sensing the division in my country, feeling like my peoples weren’t being listened to–and I felt alone in it. 

She cried with me. And as her voice shook, she told me: “I feel like they’re attacking you, and that hurts me. They’re attacking me too.” Her words are steel in my step. I have people in my life who not only see my pain, but also huddle with me because they recognize it as their pain too. They don’t know the loss I have-and neither have I walked in their shoes-but they tether themselves to the stakes I face personally because God has made it matter to them

And they don’t stop there–I have seen them defend me, advocate for me, and pray for me. They carry my stories and share them. They assess their own hearts and seek God in unlearning bias and expanding their vision. This has been a source of healing for me because my heart has been slammed too many times by the silences of my white brothers and sisters when it comes to addressing racism in my country. People are dying, people are crying out for acknowledgement, and when those cries litter the wind, unheard, it hurts. Yet in the silent stairwell, my friend on the other line, I saw another way.

Movies can show us the either/or side of racial conflict: evil white racists or victimized black people. They don’t always tell the stories of me and my white sisters on another scale entirely, three-layers deep and finding freedom together on the other side of the Cross. We need more of those stories. We need more of that God-enabled intimacy at work among us, healing our land and ourselves. 

 My sisters, white by nature of a society who scripted us in stark colors, stand with me. This is where I see salvation at work: We get in together, and we go deep.

getting out: part I

I’ve never been strapped to a chair in preparation for lobotomy, but when I saw the horror in David Kaluuya’s eyes as his character’s desperate situation dawned on him, I discovered that the pounding of my heart in sync with his was not new…it was familiar.

I didn’t know what to expect when I sat down to watch Get Out with a group of my friends who are black. I had seen the teaser and assumed the movie would be about slavery ghosts or some drama like that. What I got instead hit uncomfortably closer to home. What director Jordan Peele accomplishes brilliantly (and disturbingly) through Get Out is that he creates a movie for black people in which we are allowed to be afraid.

Thanks to my family, I’ve seen my share of horror films, and a trend we mock constantly is that “the black guy’s gonna die first.” And he does–not always, but enough times in bloody, gratuitous ignominy that we can joke about it to shrug off the uncomfortable truths propping that reality. Get Out resists that narrative by presenting us with a black man who not only experiences terror and still makes it to the end of the movie blessedly alive, but who also gets to see his fear legitimized.

The latter part is especially compelling when you consider what his character is afraid of: white people. This movie has been criticized in some spaces for being “anti-white” and feeding into “reverse racism” because the circumstances in which Chris finds himself when he visits his white girlfriend’s family home are seen as exaggerated. The movie showcases him interacting with white people who squeeze his arm to admire his “genetic advantage,” who attempt to forge camaraderie with him by declaring they would’ve “voted for Obama a third time,” who ask him to speak to “black issues” and praise his existence because “black seems to be in fashion.” They definitely turn out to be on the extreme end of cultural appropriation by the movie’s third-act reveal, but what Peele ultimately points to is not a demonization of white people, but rather the very real fear and discomfort people of color carry into spaces where they are the minority. 

It’s vital that we center our analysis of the film on the experiences of the black characters rather than contesting the lack of “good” non-racist white characters that white audiences can feel safe relating to (even Hidden Figures surrenders to this trope). We enter the film through Chris’ black gaze, and that is subversive and rare both for the horror genre and for mainstream media.

We need to commit to this black lens because Chris is, in many ways, a stand-in for people of color who find themselves walking into a room of white people, preternaturally conscious of their Otherness. This doesn’t signify that those white people are malicious or intentionally hurtful; neither does it insinuate a space void of friendship or positive connection. That sensation of internalized difference is instead symptomatic of a society where color does hold differentiated weight and value, even if that truth lies unseen by those within the majority group. We have enough past and present histories to evidence that people of color have good reason to feel uncomfortable with white people when their embodied existence has been consistently devalued in so many ways–even by the most well-meaning people.

Devaluation and disenfranchisement take different forms, sometimes in the blatant examples of horrific mass incarceration rates, the headlines of a black teenage girl beaten by police for acting like a criminal, the mockery black celebrities like Leslie Jones endure for their atypical looks (when I say atypical, I mean she’s not white). But it’s worse when racism appears in casual, conversational, and normalized form because it’s overlooked and easy to dismiss by white people.

Racism outside the bounds of the hateful bigot who is easy to point to can seem innocuous, but it’s no less hurtful because of how it piles up. It looks like the absence of ethnically diverse church leaders, local authorities, and policy makers when congregations and neighborhoods are diverse. It emerges in the passive acceptance of injustices facing people of color and in victim-blaming. It’s wrapped up in compliments that exoticize a person of color and suggestions that they “be less angry” when sharing their experiences of racial pain. It shows up in the standardization of life practices, worship styles, dress, language, literature, theology, and media as normal only when they are based on a white Euro-American context. It can take form as stereotypes and the assumption that people of color are in the wrong, that they must factually prove their innocence and their pain to have a stage to speak.

We must extinguish the belief that racism equates to racial hate. Being confronted for acting or thinking in ways that maintain whiteness as the norm should not be perceived as an act of character assassination, yet there seems to be no greater crime than to be accused of racism (white and POC communities can do better in addressing this anxiety). Racism is a stronghold of sin that inflicts deep pain, but not on the basis that all white people hate black people; instead, it grounds itself in the lie that only bad people perpetuate it. The white people Chris meets at Rose’s home don’t necessarily hate him; they think they are doing the right thing in their approach to his blackness. However, their actions align with a racial narrative that outlines his blackness as something they can benefit from or downplay without personal cost. This narrative is real and pervasive in America, and it’s rooted, not in hate, but in blindness.

There is a collective unawareness among white people that our system of racial difference was created to reinforce the superiority of people classified as white (supplying the reason for why reverse-racism does not exist), and so it bleeds into both individual attitudes and institutional policies. It may have started with slavery, but the impact of that practice is felt in the here and now. And when racism is understood not solely as a posture of hate (since there are definitely still people bearing hatred towards people of color) but rather an assignment of meaning and value to physical differences, it becomes harder to address. Even if a person of color notices it and speaks to it, they risk being chastised as crazy or-the worst crime in Christian spaces-divisive.

To avoid this labeling, people of color may inure themselves to stand politely, speak diplomatically, and grip silence rather than point out when a white person has said or done anything offensive. Within the realm of race discourse, we classify this as “catering to white fragility.” White fragility is a term thrown around a lot whenever a white person gets upset about a person of color talking frankly about racism or confronting them about the ways in which they unconsciously hew to problematic racial ideas. In this case, I refer to white fragility as a dynamic that arises when a white person has a low threshold for experiencing the tension and discomfort that comes with conversations about race. This low tolerance of discomfort can result in the seeking of a quick exit from the conversation, a defensive posture as if responding to the subject as a personal attack (even if it’s not heated), or a rationalization of how they are not racist. The pot gets hot; they jump out.

This discomfort is understandable, and I empathize with my white brothers and sisters struggling with it. But there is a cost when a white person’s reflex is to avoid engaging with racial issues or critically reflecting upon both their experiences with race and those of their brothers and sisters of color. The burden is heaved upon people of color to navigate the racial systems they didn’t create and to heal the wounds dealt them. It’s the loneliness of that work, the weariness of that everyday resistance that engenders frustration towards white fragility.

I bring this up because fragility-like fear-is an experience that people of color are not usually afforded. Since our Otherness is stamped upon our features, and our society has imposed lenses through which to view us as alien, deviant, and threatening (the thuggification of Michael Brown highlights this), we can’t easily avoid conversations or experiences directly related to our race and ethnicities. Our communities suffer because of the historically-seeded narratives that frame our opportunities and identities, and so we enter the trenches to understand racism and struggle to dismantle it. We at least value our lives, and we know God does too.

For this reason, I think black people are familiar with walking in someone else’s shoes because you have to in order to navigate the minefield of feelings and reactions of white people in regards to race. It’s an anxiety that hinges on my words when I talk sometimes to my white friends, not only because I’m afraid of rejection, but because I’m afraid for them. Few people choose to make others feel uncomfortable or offended, and for a people-pleasing, way-too-apologetic woman like me, I lean into making myself a buffer to console white people rather than airing out the warring thoughts inside me. The lines between consideration and accommodation become blurred, and I get lost in the middle.

Tasha Robinson from The Verge speaks to how Chris mirrors this experience in Get Out:

It’s significant that Chris starts out as a passive, quiet, conflict-averse man who defers to white authority in every form. Peele has said that his target with Get Out was primarily the white liberal elite, the types who think President Obama’s election and their own open-mindedness have solved racism. And he’s unsparing in mocking them, in terms of making his antagonists not just ruthless, but laughable. Still, Peele spares a little side-eye for Chris, who’s willing to go along with anything to avoid causing trouble, and gets himself in trouble as a result. The entire film is about Chris coming to terms with his need to defend himself, to fight back, and to trust his instincts about who’s a threat, no matter how congenially they tell him that black skin is “in fashion” at the moment.

As Tasha points out, Chris appears as the “safe” black man at the beginning of the movie–someone white people can feel complacent around. He encounters white people who accentuate his difference and make him the anomaly of the room-even when they say color doesn’t matter- and with a hand-wave he responds: “It’s okay.” How many times have we said that to avoid bringing more attention to race or to our own anxiety about it?

In the beat before “It’s okay,” “It’s fine,” and “No big deal,” lies the reminder of who holds power in the room–and it’s not people of color. Peele explains that the inspiration for this movie came after Obama’s election and how the media touted this as a symbol of our post-racial age. We’re equal now. Race doesn’t matter. Yet in Get Out, Peele magnifies one of the consequences of this thinking: white Americans believe they don’t participate in racism. Even though the narratives surrounding black people and other people of color have been updated instead of altered (see: the Mamie, the submissive Asian woman, the Latino lover, the Thug), even though our system still disproportionately allocates resources to black people and disproportionately punishes them, even though our churches still struggle with segregation, this belief that people of color have nothing to complain about because we’re equal now is nationally circulated. This accomplishes much in rationalizing the patterns of collective inaction among white people, particularly white Christians, in respect to racial issues.

So when I tell my white friend in college that I feel self-conscious in class because I’m the only black girl in the room as we elaborate on the virtues of Western literature (which apparently don’t include black or Latino or indigenous stories except for spring electives) and she gently offers that I might be “paranoid,” I shut my mouth. I’m making a big deal out of nothing. When I attend formal events for work, I catch myself lapsing into the role of the conciliatory minority, smiling away microaggressions as they amass in my gut to be picked apart later. I don’t want to make a fuss. When I visit someone’s home and sit at their dinner table as the only darker-skinned person present, sometimes anxiety locks my spine straight because I just want to blend in as much I can, leaking only the parts of my cultures-the parts of my self-that will be safe here. I don’t want to stand out more than I already do.

I’ve been at that dinner table, that party lawn with Chris. I can still have a good time and enjoy the company of people I’m with, but there is this ever-present anxiety that accompanies me in predominantly white spaces that has rarely been acknowledged or validated. Instead, I’m pressured to blame myself for feeling this discomfort when in a group of white people. I’m reminded that I should be the one getting over it because clearly no one else but me has the problem. So my eyes widen when Chris is proved right. He is right in feeling tension. He is right in noticing something is wrong with the way he is treated. He is right to defend himself because he is someone worth defending. I keep rooting for him to get out of that house, that sunken place because I feel like I’m still clawing my way out of it.

every black drop

There’s about half an hour left of Black History Month as I type this, and I am determined to cling to each minute left, use it. I feel like I’ve been slightly MIA this month–a respite from writing, a sabbatical from marching, moments in shadowed corners away from the fray, where I hear my breath and hear my thoughts.

February has been such a pendulum month with peaked highs and such deep lows that I don’t know how to summarize it, so I won’t try to. I can’t fully articulate the soul-ache extended to my limbs, the way you wake up tired after a full night of slumber. Neither can I fully capture the heady joy that awakens, vibrates into being unexpectedly, and thrums new life into my fingers as they flex and I face a new day. It’s both of these coexisting realities I have known this month as I unravel my country to examine its threads and allow God to unravel me so I can be known.

But in these remaining minutes, I want to remember, that is, I want to pay homage to the blackness that birthed me and has also been part of the dual realities–the weariness and the vitality. I want to remember the black women who have seen me through seasons and those seasoned with years beyond my own.

I want to remember my Abuela whose stories pulled me to an island I had never seen and whose own story dared me to be a warrior like her, serenity and fortitude in the cocoa-brown of her eyes.

I want to remember my Grandmother Joan, whose patient brown hands could stir pitchers of brown-sugared lemonade, wave into the air with her bright, high laugh, or clasp my shoulder as she reminded me again that I belong to her, belong to family.

I want to remember my aunts, black, bold, laughing, loving, drawing us all in and together, Caribbean beats and earrings with afro-womened silhouettes.

I want to remember my mom, who gave me histories to interpret my existence, took me to Civil Rights museums and MLK’s fatal hotel, but also the grassy knoll in Downtown Nyack where she hosted picnics with me and my sister where we feasted on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; she gifted us innocence. 

I want to remember the black girls of my childhood on my screen, the Tia and Tamera Mowrys and Kesha from The Magic School Bus and even Francine from Arthur (coded black) that showed me that I belong in so many spaces, even if then the screen didn’t show us in all of them.

I want to remember the women from graves long grassed over: Sojourner Truth with her blunt, fierce gaze, Harriet Tubman, Marian Anderson–whom I did my first biography book report about.

I want to remember the black women in my childhood church who mentored me, sang with me, and taught me to pray to a God that created all our colors and cherished us.

I want to remember the black sisters in my church now that give me the freedom to break apart but keep me from being forever strewn in pieces–who also let me be full and loud and unapologetic.

I want to remember my black friends in college who rinsed the product from my hair, invited me to discover my own blackness, and taught me how to be angry.

I want to remember the black women on YouTube who helped me love my curls.

I want to remember Maya Angelou, whose words taught my own to push past the wired walls of fear and self-consciousness that caged them and find the music freed beyond them.

I want to remember the singers of the blues, of the oldies, of Motown, that my 24-year-old soul still finds resonance with years later when I hear them sing of new love, endured struggles, and the sparkled, boogied happiness to be found in-between beats of a longer song.

I want to remember the black women I see protesting on the news, lecturing in white academic halls, preaching poetry in protest on a vacant stage–the ones who refuse to be made invisible and give me the courage to be seen.

I want to remember the black women whom I am friends with still, whom I weep on the phone with and rant on sidewalks with and dance to Beyonce and the Wobble and samba with (shout-out to all the Afro-Latinas out there!). 

I want to remember the black women I have never known, but whose lives I feel the weight of with each step I take.

You will never be forgotten. With 2 minutes to spare, I’ve done my very small part in making sure of it.

percentages

What does “Christian” mean today in America? Not for those who consider themselves followers of Christ, but for those who do not: When you hear “Christian,” what words or images come to mind?

Let’s get real here. People see 81% (voted for Trump) and 76% (approved of the travel ban) and white evangelical Christians get branded racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic and then are shoved into a box by liberal-minded people so they can continue in their ignorance at a safe distance from the rest of America. Now, the self-identified Christians contained in these numbers span a spectrum of experiences: some may consider themselves culturally Christian because of their upbringing; some obligatorily take the label “Christian” and agree with Trump on a moral basis; and some claim a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ as their Savior.

These nuances matter in examining Trump’s rise to power and the consequences for communities now suffering the brunt of his nascent orders. The shades within the data prompt more complicated questions about how Bible-believing Christians align with Trump’s policies even if they dislike the man himself, how race and class shape political beliefs for people of faith, and how the Church should deal with the burgeoning resentment it faces in the United States.

The response to the latter question might earn you a lecture about John 15:18-25, where Jesus declares:

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason’.[b

I’ve seen Christians proudly raise the banner for our status as foreigners in this world–in not of, present but separate. I resonate with the core truth that our primary belonging is in Christ and not the mores of our current society. Our attitudes and actions should be counter-cultural if those standards misalign with how Jesus calls us to live; we are to emulate him, not mimic the denizens on the It-List. Where I experience tension is when Christians use this passage to avow the persecution of American Christians and shrug off the ire of non-Christians as the same kind of lamentable hate John 15 describes. Christians start glorying in percentages and media attacks as proof of their righteousness, proof that we are right, they are wrong, and we must either endure their misguided slander like societal martyrs or challenge it as morally superior conquerors.

I want us to look at the last line of the passage again: “But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’ Remember, this is Jesus talking. When he was on Earth, he was perfect, holy, loving…and many people hated him–enough to crucify him! The Pharisees and other religious folks’ rationale for killing him was founded on fearful, self-serving reasoning, not any actual moral high ground. And so in this passage, Jesus warns his followers that if they seek to be like Him, they will experience persecution. The world will not understand them. It will hate them instead.

But what if there was another reason for us to be hated?

For many years, Christians have had a reputation as being intolerant, dismissive, apathetic, ignorant, and largely irrelevant to the systemic problems shaping the lives of marginalized peoples. That is our tragedy, and we cannot just blame the media for it. We have to be willing to step closer to the question of why we are hated–and if not hated, then met with such friction.

Where is hate born? It can emerge from that destabilizing fear of what one doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to–like what the Pharisees experienced in respect to Jesus. But it can also come from hurt, and there are ways that as Christians living in America, we have collectively hurt many people.

Through the eyes of non-Christians-especially those with marginalized identities-they see us criminalizing trans people over bathroom stalls without caring about the staggering percentage of trans teens who commit suicide. They see us dismissing black people’s pain while chastising them as divisive for speaking out against racism. They see us getting defensive when the segregation and power imbalances in our congregations are challenged. They see us fall silent as hundreds of black men and women are unlawfully imprisoned each year. They see us reducing the plight of Latinx immigrants to a matter of “just following the law” or assimilation rather than us taking time to listen to their stories and look at our detention centers, our labor exploitation. They see us trying to change gay people before we allow them entrance into our sanctuaries. They see us forget the indigenous peoples of our land to protect our economic self-interests. They see us prioritizing hierarchy and tradition and theological debate over standing in solidarity with the suffering.

It is possible that what they are valuing represents the heart of Christ more than what our words and actions are conveying. Rather than promoting a compelling vision of a world being redeemed, walls torn down and people made equal, we too often advertise the failed systems of prejudice and oppressive powers of an old order.

But who is this generalized us anyway? The we?

I ask these questions because I’ve noticed that when other people rant about Christians or ridicule them on social media, their words are coded for white Christians. White is seen as the face of the church in America, the benchmark for our loudest and most featured voices. In media representation, we get either the white evangelical stereotypes or the soulful black Gospel choir tropes. But when it comes to conversations about social justice and Christians, the image of white Christians materializes first. And so when they are framed as corrosive, we all get burnt–the other “we” being Christians who are not white. Where do we feature in these media portrayals of Christianity, and are we included in the “hate” for it, even as we face our own oppressions?

I stand somewhere to the side in this space, apart from the pie chart dividing white Christians who echo Trump’s policies and those who don’t. I see the debates raging about where Christians stand, and everything is “white evangelical” this or that, and out of those rhetorical battles, the bitterness towards Christians as a whole grows. In this languaging, I’m grouped with the perceived oppressors, and my multiple identities don’t factor into the equation. Maybe I’m looked at with pity for remaining with a socially illiterate faith community. Maybe people are waiting for me to get further woke and leave it. Maybe it would be easier to do that after all the hurt I’ve experienced and witnessed within it.

But I have to ask myself: How big is my God? Is He bigger than the Republican party as it exists now, conflated with religion? Is He bigger than His white followers who inadvertently perpetuate harm towards me and towards marginalized communities?

I don’t think it’s as simple as saying that anyone who voted for Trump or even voted for the immigration ban is a bad person (and I don’t see my fellow Christians of color making that argument). That’s the old way of looking at things, where people can be divided and dismissed. These people are still my family in Christ, and they love Him and desire to follow Him. But they have their blindspots, the voids where that love is not found, and the consequences for people of color are well-recorded in history. Those blindspots must be accounted for and confronted.

What do I do with that? I will not demonize white Christians whose attitudes reflect the world that birthed Trump, and neither will I respect “opinions” that denigrate the dignity of human beings I am supposed to love and protect. There is a distinction between the two, even as I reject the idea that all white Christians can be subsumed into one ignorant collective and cut off. It’s not that simple, and we cannot reduce decades of racial tension in the Church to “good progressive white people” vs. “bad racist white people” when the insidious dynamics of racism defy dichotomies of good vs bad. Instead it fabricates a society where it is entirely possible to be kind, loving, intelligent, and follow Jesus and yet reinforce white supremacy and racism through one’s attitudes, actions, and participation in public life.

Whiteness as a construct infiltrates our institutions and results in policies that disenfranchise people of color in ways that would horrify our white brothers and sisters if they grasped the extent of it. As James Baldwin put it so eloquently:

“I don’t know what most white people in this country feel,” he said. “But I can only conclude what they feel from the state of their institutions. I don’t know if white Christians hate Negroes or not, but I know we have a Christian church that is white and a Christian church that is black. I know, as Malcolm X once put it, the most segregated hour in American life is high noon on Sunday.

“That says a great deal for me about a Christian nation. It means I can’t afford to trust most white Christians, and I certainly cannot trust the Christian church.

“I don’t know whether the labor unions and their bosses really hate me — that doesn’t matter — but I know I’m not in their union. I don’t know whether the real estate lobby has anything against black people, but I know the real estate lobby is keeping me in the ghetto. I don’t know if the board of education hates black people, but I know the textbooks they give my children to read and the schools we have to go to.

“Now this is the evidence,” Baldwin said, his voice rising with indignation. “You want me to make an act of faith, risking myself, my wife, my woman, my sister, my children on some idealism which you assure me exists in America, which I have never seen.”

There is dissonance between the experiences of black, brown, Asian, and indigenous Christians and the experiences of white Christians that belies the systemic reality Baldwin exposes. The former peoples are not included in the percentages that rouse animosity towards Christians-even as we follow the same Christ-and our loyalties are constantly tested as we sit in churches that nurture our spiritual formation, but whose members will not march with us when our children are shot in the street nor question their own prejudices.

There are the individual dynamics that Christians with dis-empowered identities must wrestle with as we interact daily with white people whom we love and know love us yet resist engaging with the unsettling and even threatening truths embedded within our experiences. I say threatening because making the commitment to educate yourself about race will destabilize your comfort and worldview if you are white. There is a cost to entering into a battlefield where history is indeed our present and something that we always carry with us, as Baldwin suggests.

If we (we being Christians as a whole) want to understand the resentment towards Christians within America, we must navigate the kinetics of these systemic and individual realities. We must lament them. We must ask God for clarity and courage to change them. My white brothers and sisters must also consider the stresses endured by Christians of color as we rally against the temptation to be bitter and jaded in our pain. We may understand the ire towards Christians better than anybody because we must wrestle with it in our own hearts; we persist in asking God to cultivate the forgiveness and grace in us we don’t always feel towards our white brothers and sisters.

From this tangle of identities and tensions, I speak to the hate, draw near, and repent. To those we have harmed: I own the sins of my Christian community, including the wrongs done against me. I repent of that and submit to you. I get it–some of it. I am not white, and sometimes I wonder where others would fit me into this conversation. I’m a black, Latina woman with roots in Africa and China and defiantly American…and I’m a follower of Christ. I’m still reconciling that tension.

The Christ I follow isn’t some White God. He isn’t defined by the politics of my country. He isn’t the arbiter of imperialism, colonialism, slavery–no matter how his image has been manipulated for other ends. He is not diminished when those who follow him fail to share his love with those who most need that affirmation.

Tenets may be questioned and examined, but I have an eternal relationship with this Jesus who embodies what love and sacrifice and faith looks like in action. And the historical faith that is woven into my story has many of the same roots I do: it comes from the East, from Africa, from huddled groups of brown exiles praying for deliverance from oppression, from loud, praising peoples declaring the glory of God from prisons, from radical communities loving the poor, calling out injustice, and opening their homes to each other. Christianity isn’t White, and so it is a shame that our theological texts and Sunday School lessons have painted it so.

Jesus isn’t contained within the percentiles of whiteness, maleness, or any other category–but since we have divided ourselves and allocated power disproportionately to different categories, we must now grapple with our sins committed against others. We must trace the statistical lines that encase our hideous realities and turn to the God who transcends them. Part of love is being accountable to those you have harmed, and that is what I expect of each person who answers to any policy that sins against another person and causes them suffering. Percentages do not define us, but our lack of compassion and humility will define our witness as the Church in America if we do not repent of it.

If Christians are going to be disliked, mocked, or even hated, then I hope it’s for the right reasons. I hope that we are known first as those ridiculous people who reach out to those who oppose us and love them, those weirdos who give up our privileges and comforts to follow Jesus, those radicals who consider people of all races, ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, citizenship statuses, sexual orientations, and physical and mental abilities lovable and worth defending. I hope we are hated for being too much like this bewildering, offensive, audacious Jesus, rebels with a cause, heirs robed as servants, wielding grace as the hammer under which all things unjust crumble.

the inaugurating call

We woke today in different frames of mind. Some celebrate. Some weep. Some lack the words to capture the complicated thoughts twisting inside them. I wonder how history will look back on this day. Will it mark the day as anything memorable? Will this day take up a corner in the national tome, only a blip on a grander scale? Will it signal a great quake or a tiny tremor, unworthy of notice by later generations?

But I don’t live 5 years from now, or 15, or 50. I can’t predict how these coming years will benefit or damage us, and neither can I tell you that this will all blow over when I have no assurance it will.

I am present in this moment, and in this moment, I feel grief. Those who boycott the inauguration or speak out against the man coming into office are being told to “get over it.” Through some eyes, to be critical is to denounce our democratic system or exacerbate the divisiveness in our nation. I acknowledge that there is always this danger of demonizing others or lapsing into a sense of self-righteousness when results don’t turn out in the way you expected or desired. I realize that our system as is elected this man, and I support a peaceful transfer of power. I choose not to ignore that reality. Donald Trump is our President.

He is my President, but I will not normalize his words or other actions. I will not affirm the contempt and vilification he has thrown upon my Latinx family, immigrants and daughters and sons of immigrants. I will not say it is okay when he compares Black Lives Matter activists to terrorists and supports further aggressive police measures to “keep order,” even when it may lead to more dead black bodies on the street. I will not get over his dismissal of my LGBTQA friends as they struggled  to be seen, his neglect of my indigenous neighbors when they have fought so hard to gain notice of the abuses they face. I will not stand alongside his consistent demoralization of my sisters of all colors.

John Piper shared a message today that acknowledges the challenges of living under an unqualified leader. I resonate with the words he opens with:

Today we will inaugurate a man to the presidency of the United States who is morally unqualified to be there. This is important to say just now because not to see it and feel it will add to the collapsing vision of leadership that enabled him to be nominated and elected.

Not only that, but if we do not see and feel the nature and weight of this sorrow, we will not know how to pray for his presidency or speak as sojourners and exiles whose pattern of life is defined in heaven, not by the mood of the culture.

I appreciate the attention he gives to the “weight of this sorrow,” the difficulty of knowing how to respond to this presidency when it has aggravated so many existing divisions and grievances. Yet his later point that followers of God have been able to flourish under problematic political regimes echoes the words of my father, who reminded me that, “God allows the rise and fall of good and bad kings.” We see this to be true in the Old Testament when the Israelites experienced slavery, conquest, exile under pharaohs and kings. We see this to be true in the New Testament when the growing numbers of Christ followers were threatened by torture, execution, public humiliation under the law of Roman rulers. We may not understand why, but bad kings are allowed to take power, even as they ultimately fall under the sovereignty of God.

Now, no President can be cataloged as wholly good or bad, but we can acknowledge that with the rise of some leaders comes higher stakes for certain communities. I urge you now to consider who bears the cost of the inauguration today. Who is feeling fear today–who is grieving?

I will not dismiss these concerns as petty or over-sensitive when their weight drags me to the margins where we should all rightfully be. Yes, there has been a measure of bitterness and pettiness on multiple sides, but these do not diminish the legitimate concerns many carry in regards to this incoming administration. People worry about their healthcare, the education of their children, their citizenship status, their ability to walk to the store and not have to see racist or homophobic slurs scrawled on the walls.

I can engage these anxieties yet still point to the eternal reality that Jesus is Lord and, as he declared in John 16:33: “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Whatever our circumstances are, He transcends them, and He equips us to navigate the difficult periods where we have few clear answers. I lean on that strength now and answer to him as Master.

Jesus is Lord, and we have work to do.

If you voted for Trump, defend and lift up your neighbor, similar and different from yourself.

If you did not vote for Trump, defend and lift up your neighbor, similar and different from yourself.

None of us can claim exemption from the type of empathetic listening, humble heart-wrestling, and perseverant bridge-building the years ahead require of us. We entered the election already divided in so many ways. Do not call for unity unless you are truly willing to answer to what it will ask of you, because as someone once told me, “Be careful of what you pray for, because God will surely answer.”

If you truly seek to be one united family, it will cost you your assumptions. It will cost you your pride. It will cost you your comfort. It will cost you homogeneity and familiarity. It will cost you the satisfaction of hurting those who hurt you. Much must be cast down for a new foundation to be built.

My indigenous sisters and brothers, you have work to do. This work includes allowing God to bring you rest and comfort. Let Jesus reach those deep wounds in your communities and bring healing. Confront the forces that try to shrink you, make you feel forgotten or abandoned. Our Heavenly Father loves you so much, and He hears your cries. Continue to protest the injustices done against you, and know you do not stand alone. Nurture your children and remind them of the beauty and strength and resilience seeded in your stories. Please share your stories. I need to hear them, need to be convicted by your words, and I submit to you now. Challenge the rest of us past silences towards action. Lead us as we untangle our country’s sins and reconcile our peoples.

My black sisters and brothers, we have work to do. Many of you have already been engaged in the rebuilding of your communities. You have reached out to our poor, empowered our children and reminded them of how exceptional and worthy they are. You have engineered more just local and national policies. You have been relentless in making visible what has been invisible to privileged others for too long in our country. Continue that work and do not grow weary of doing good. Pray for our country and allow God to use you in the transformation of our churches, our workplaces, our homes, our streets. When you are tired, rest and know that your anger and sadness are warranted. But do not allow our Enemy to manipulate that anger into resentment and condemnation towards our white brothers and sisters. As believers, we don’t get to write them off and stop talking to them. We are called to draw close, to love, to share, to seek to understand, and to hold them accountable. This is hard work, and other voices may take advantage of our compassion and demand more from us. Some may label us appeasers and warn us that by choosing to love people who have the potential to hurt us, we are weak. But that is not the mercy we have been shown by the Cross, and it is out of the grace given to us that we keep striving to bring the unified Kingdom of Heaven to our soil.

My white sisters and brothers, you have work to do. Many look at the statistics of white evangelicals who voted for Trump and doubt the relevance of the church in its lack of social justice literacy. Some of us people of color have wondered how many of you in the safety of your homes espouse Trump’s beliefs, depicted powerfully in this comic. The hesitation and lack of trust this engenders has hurt our ability to commune together as one family. Now is an opportunity to approach those confused and hurting with gentle hands and compassionate hearts. Listen without seeking to defend your identity as a good person. Ask God what your role is to be in the lives of those oppressed right now, whether that means protesting, deepening friendships, reading books outside your comfort zone, joining efforts that address injustice, or teaching other white people from what you are learning. But do not be silent; do not be still. Out of the grace that has been shown to you, extend that now to those you may not understand right now. I assume nothing of who or what you voted for, but I invite you now to communicate with your choices, your actions how Christians love within the tension, within the adversity, within the existing divisions. Solidarity involves sacrifice. This is a grueling journey, and there are times when you will feel chastised and guilty for being white or hurt and frustrated when you are dismissed as a hater or ignorant when you just want to help others.  You are joining with others who have been in this struggle for far longer, and there will be clashes, but hold firm. You have much to gain when your sisters and brothers of color are finally treated as equals and we eat together at one table. Stake your identity in Christ and not the reputation you can craft and preserve. He loves you, and he will show you the way forward.

My Asian sisters and brothers, you have work to do. Our country may try to whiten you and widen the divide between our communities, but do not submit to that temptation. You are not foreign; you are family. Take ownership of that truth and share your stories. Bring light to the things I don’t see as a black woman. Know that God shaped you and cherishes you. I invite you now to step up and actively join conversations concerning justice–it’s for all of us, and the problems of the most vulnerable of us are ALL of our problems. You have a unique point of view, and we all need to hear it. Please let others’ lives matter to you in the personal made political. Declare that black lives matter to you and practice that. Protect immigrants, whether they speak Spanish or Quechua or Cantonese or Malayan. Our struggles become woven in one thread, and we petition God on behalf of our community, knowing He has created us to belong to each other. Out of the grace you have been shown, reach out to those outside your walls and may your love make them tremble.

My Latinx sisters and brothers, we have work to do. Our communities grow, and we are perceived as a threat in too many spaces; like our Asian neighbors, we are are Othered. But we treasure family, and when we accepted Christ, our family expanded to include thousands of all colors and backgrounds. Let us model that value and be unshakable in our desire to see all people welcomed. We get tired too, and it is tempting to isolate ourselves in our hurt and cling to what we fear to lose, whether that be loved ones, homes, languages. Cling to Christ; He will not forsake you. His love knows no boundaries, no walls and we have the privilege of allowing that love to permeate our interactions with others. We represent so much beautiful diversity, and our country needs exposure to that gift. We can act as curanderas at the cracks and bring paz even as we resist policies and crimes that inflict harm upon the marginalized peoples around us. We may be pulled in many directions, we may pass as many things, but we know where we come from, and we are at home in the arms of our Savior. Out of the grace we have been shown, let us welcome the stranger and make them our family, and may we stop any who dare make them feel less than lovable.

My sisters and brothers made Other, you have work to do. The racial binary was not designed for you, and neither did our Founding Fathers consider you when they created the laws of this land. You have come from many shores, and yet have not been assured a place here. I lament that reality with you. You are ethnic, ambiguous, biracial, mixed, unlabeled by human measure, but God designed you with intention. He will use that inherent resistance to fit into categories to break down barriers. He will use you to reflect His kingdom in its diversity and limitlessness. Loosen your hands so your story can be released into the world, and it will be a tide that sifts out what is broken and soothes seething rifts. Let no one silence you; speak out from where you stand. Mentor and lift up those struggling with their identities and remind them of the worth endowed them by Jesus. Draw out the truth from misconceptions and stereotypes, and make the unknown and alien real and personal for those of us who do not yet know you. Out of the grace you have been shown, take your place as ambassadors and bring about the flourishing of all peoples.

Be encouraged today. Jesus has overcome the world, and He has set aside works for us to do, with patience, with faith, with love. I see you, and I pray for you. I pray for our new President, that he is granted wisdom and compassion. And I pray that we all do the hard work of contending with our racism, our sexism, our pride, our prejudice, our silence, our suffering and inaugurate a season of repentance and reflection in this nation. May the world be changed by what we start today, and may we never falter as God guides our steps.