On Hospitality

Below is a transcript of my talk during week 2 of Faith & Race. I describe the logic and work of race in my own life, and look to hospitality as a way forward.

When I arrived at the UW campus for college, there were two things that I was certain of. First, I would be an active member of an on-campus ministry.  I grew up at Chinese Baptist Church on Beacon Hill, where I was formed and nurtured in our youth group to love serving in ministry. It was within the context of this ethnic-specific community that I first came to understand God’s love for all humanity.  Second, despite my appreciation for my Chinese church, the on-campus ministry that I would join would have to be multi-ethnic. I reasoned that the next step in my spiritual maturation would be to worship with people not like me.

At this point, it’s important to point out that I was already worshipping with people not like me. Even in “homogenous” Asian communities like CBC, there is messiness and diversity, with a wide range of experiences, beliefs and opinions. We’re not all alike. I was only marginally connected to the Chinese immigrant congregants at my church, and by leaving my home church in favor of a multi-ethnic community, I lost my family’s immigrant story. I moved away from the story of their courageous journey to America, a story to which I am inextricably bound, regardless of how embarrassing it might feel to be connected to broken English and funny accents. That’s my story; they are my parents. It is ironic that by moving away from a multi-ethnic fellowship, I actually moved from a bilingual faith community to an English-only faith community, away from a community of people that were really different from me, to a place already quite familiar. Continue reading


bad teachers

last week’s newsweek has been festering in the back of my mind. in case you missed it, here’s the basic recap: there are too many bad teachers in america, and the unions are making it impossible to let these teachers go. these teachers lack the “innate” ability to be great, and even worse, they work in high poverty areas where great teachers are needed most. charter school programs and tfa represent a way out of the mess.

first off, there’s plenty that i liked about the article, and i would be remiss if i didn’t acknowledge the role that tfa played in inspiring me to teach in a high-poverty area. i probably would’ve applied to join the corps if not for some various life circumstances. though tfa is often highly criticized in the education circles i run in, i secretly admire them and their work, and i’m confident that america’s education system is improved by their efforts. there’s no doubt that they’ve made teaching in high-poverty areas a bit more sexy, and i agree with the writers when they say that any boost in prestige for the profession will attract better teacher candidates and improve the overall quality of education in america.

but what frustrates me about the article (and other right-winged education reformers) is the way they villify teachers and unions. among my many rants about the article: Continue reading

that’s racist!

i’m sitting in suzallo cafe, trying to work on a paper, when a white female student approaches me and asks if i speak english.  my blood pressures suddenly spikes.  i think to myself — “well, at least i’m gonna have a great story to share after this…”

“yes,” i emphatically reply.  she asks if i’d like to participate in a study.  i wonder if i should let her know some of my thoughts regarding her initial question.  i decide not to, and agree to the study.  

it’s a word study game.  the letters a, e, t, s, l, r and s are on top of the page and my instructions are to arrange the letters to make as many words as possible.  i write words down at a torrid pace, but i only fill up 16 of the 20 blank spaces.  i ask if i’m being timed and she says no, i can finish whenever i want.  

so i stop.

then, she hands me a few more pages with a questionnaire. first, some interesting biographical info.

how american do you feel? how much do you identify as an american? when you were twelve, did you want to be an american? is it important that people see you as american?   Continue reading

the new conspirators

in my reflection seminar, we read the dissertation of a uw phd candidate that looked at how poor, ethnic minority kids are socially ostracized in schools by students and teachers. the paper shared story after story of racist acts, and sadly, these were all recent examples around the seattle area. schools are supposed to be a social justice-oriented institution… they should give all students equal access to power, especially students of minority groups who historically have been denied access.  

the dissertation found that schools actually serve the opposite function.  despite being a foundational pillar of any democracy, our schools help the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  how bizarre…

i’ve been reading a book called the new conspirators by tom sine.  a very well-researched book that definitely stands out to me as one i’ll want to revisit often.  on education, he says:

the public education system contributes to the widening gap between rich and poor in the united states. in the shame of the nation, jonathan kozol documents that over the past twelve years, american public schools are resegregating america.  unlike other western countries that fund public education through taxes, american public schools rely on local levies; consequently wealthy school districts often spend twice as much per pupil as poor school districts.  this means that the growing number of children who attend poorly funded urban public schools have less of a chance of going on to college than their suburban counterparts who attend highly financed schools with cutting-edge technology.  as a consequence, some, like their parents, will be stuck in dead-end service jobs that don’t pay a living wage.  frankly, this new global economy is going to leave growing numbers of the poor behind in all countries if we don’t discover how god might use our mustard seeds individually and collectively to be an expression of god’s compassion for the marginalized.  

[the new conspirators: creating the future one mustard seed at a time, by tom sine] Continue reading

health & wealth gospel

this is a video where john piper lets his feelings regarding the prosperity (word of faith, name it & claim it, health & wealth) gospel be known.  he’s not a fan, and i think his message is true for middle class/ well-to-do folks like me and my peers.  

…. but it is interesting to see where this message flourishes the most.  it’s been noted that the balance of christianity is shifting from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere, and the theology of these pentecostal faith communities in places like africa and southeast asia is largely shaped by the prosperity gospel. putting your faith in jesus, congregants are told, will yield an improvement on health and social status. Continue reading

barack and a hard place

pretty impressive, senator obama.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.” We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike. 

angry asian man

it looks like i’m turning into the angry asian man at school.

there is an interesting phenomenon called the reproduction of whiteness. here, white identity is produced and reproduced by holding white cultural expressions as a norm against which all students are made to measure themselves. adoption of these expressions is rewarded heavily with praise, and deviation is met with disciplinary action. it’s a crafty act of self-preservation.

so, when we were dealing with a “behavior rating scale,” where students answer questions designed to measure how normal they are, i had to call it what it is: racist. seriously — how can there be one rating scale used to measure students of every culture? you know if there is only one test for behavior, the questions on that scale are going to prominently reflect a culture, and it ain’t gonna be the brown people’s. Continue reading