Eugene Cho

His name is Messiah. He’s 17 so he’s prone to foolishness. But he is not a criminal. He’s just coming home.

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I love pastoring my church. It’s the hardest thing my wife and I have ever done but we are blessed to have planted Quest Church in 2001. One of our visions for Quest was that it would grow to be a multiethnic and multigenerational church – not for any other reason than it reflects the vision of the Kingdom of God.

The challenges are real but one of the blessings of such a community is that it exposes the blind spots that we all have. All of us. And if you don’t think you have any, that’s proof you have blind spots.  Imagine a church if only men were in leadership? Or if only women were in leadership? Imagine a church if only the older folks were in leadership? Or the entire church was completely homogeneous?

We would simply see things through a particular narrative or filter of lens.

And such is the general case, in my opinion, of how many are “seeing” the case and verdict of George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin.

I have encouraged my readers to consider taking the time to listen, seek to understand, and mourn with those who mourn.

I would additionally encourage you to not fall for the bait of the extremists or idiots on polar opposites. And by that, I’m talking about those that would resort to mayhem and violence or [shaking my head] those that would show up at a peaceful protest of young adults and kids…wearing a “Ni**er” shirt. These are rare stories and we would be wise not to allow them to hijack the large narratives of how people are genuinely seeking to process, understand, make sense, seek justice, and form their respective convictions.

But since we all have blind spots, we have to have the courage to examine our blind spots – perhaps even to begin by acknowledging we have them. Some of you insist you have none. We have to consider how we all choose (or have it be chosen for us) the filters by which we see and process things. This is why many have chosen to see the verdict purely from a legal or “evidence” perspective. As such, many of my readers or social media following  have pushed back,

“Where is the concrete evidence that race was ever an issue?

And that’s my point.

You’re asking the wrong questions.

It’s hard to explain if you haven’t experienced the nuances of being “an other”. I’ll write more of this another time but for now, I think we would all be amiss if we all don’t take the time to consider our respective blind spots. I have those blind spots, too, so I have been personally compelled to do so with all the respective comments, emails, and conversations that have been generated by the verdict.

As I shared earlier, I’m privileged to be a pastor to an imperfectly amazing church. Very imperfect. Very amazing. I wanted to share with you a very honest and raw piece written by one of my church folk. Her name is Wendi. Yes, she’s black. And yes, she has a son. And yes, he’s 17. And by the way, his name is Messiah. And yes, Wendi’s brilliant but I don’t need to spew her resume.

Read her story and I hope it illuminates:

I spent the weekend talking to my son and with friends and family who work in the criminal justice system. Trying to make sense out of this verdict. Heart sunk but not surprised. The prosecution over reached and witnesses were inadequately prepped. But nothing contributed more to this verdict than that subtle undertone of the scary Black male ready to snatch a purse and rape a daughter at the slightest provocation. Despite best efforts, Trayvon was not seen as a teenage victim who was stalked by a strange man. His humanity was eradicated and he became the pot smoking boogeyman that waits in the shadows for good, law abiding citizens.

Little has changed since the 1930s. Know your place. Be grateful for inclusion but not so arrogant to believe that you actually belong. Never respond aggressively. Even when provoked you do not have a right to defend yourself. Stop complaining. You have a vote, right? Provided you can pass the tests.

Too often our survival – physical, emotional, financial- depends upon these rules. Whether it is walking through quiet suburban streets where neighbors eye us with suspicion, driving down the freeways in cars we couldn’t possibly afford or sitting in conference rooms with colleagues who resent our presence and fear our competence. Despite the growing Black middle class, the upsurge in interracial relationships, or the prevalence of Black music, fashion and slang, the rules remain the same. But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is that these rules, this double-standard, is so ingrained into the very fabric of society that it is often subconsciously enforced by even the lowest rung. This is how a working class brown man claiming some Afro-Latino descent can see a dark skin Black child walking through his neighborhood and immediately assume the worse – and be justified by our legal system for that assumption.

Trayvon Martin’s murder and trial are just a symptom of a disease that has been rotting America since our Founding Fathers wrote, “all men are created equal” with one hand while wielding a whip against Black backs in another. Humanity is a fickle condition determined by the whims of the political power structure. This is a rot that we find in most nations across where the many are expendable for the safety and comfort of the paranoid few.

When I asked supporters of Zimmerman, “What if Trayvon was my son?” they all responded with indignation. “Well, we know your son.” “We love him.” “He would never do that?”

Do what? Beat up a man that was stalking him through dark rainy streets? I can’t promise that. But I am reminded here that for we “others” our humanity is acknowledged through familiarity. So, I cautiously introduce my tall, 240 pound dark-skin son to any new neighbors so they will remember that this is my child.

His name is Messiah. He likes to laugh, watch anime and play football. He won’t admit it but he also likes to hug his mom. His favorite color is red. His favorite TV show is Big Bang Theory. He’s seventeen so he’s prone to foolishness. But he is not a criminal. He’s just coming home. Please let him pass.

And so we continue to prepare our children for this world … My prayers go out to the parents of Trayvon Martin. How do you mourn the death of your child, how do you move on, when your child’s killer walks free? I would not wish that torment on any parent.

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45 Responses

  1. Alaina says:

    Wendi and Eugene, Thank you for this. The pain and rawness of this is so real, and so beautifully and poignantly written. It helped to re-open my eyes. Thank you.

  2. SHARAT BABU says:

    Dear Eugene, Thank you so much for the Blessed spiritfilled message and strengthening me, i want to share with our Congregations and Home fellowships and in our evangelism outreaches in India. in JESUS LOVE, Evangelist Babu.

  3. Will says:

    Nice. I enjoyed it.

    So, the logical question remains: Has she considered her blind spots. Have all the folks protesting and expressing anger considered their blind spots. For what good is it if you’re only calling some to examine themselves.

    • as black people, we are the blind spot; the part of society that should be ignored and hidden. and you just don’t get it. you keep trying to make us the problem, when in reality it is the COLOR OF OUR SKIN that is all the justification someone needs to attack — assume the worst. do you have any idea what that feels like? what that looks like? how that strips you of all humanity? when you walk one day in our shoes (and by our i mean anyone who is nonwhite in this country) you come talk to me about a blind spot. please check the speck in your own eye before calling one out in your neighbor’s eye.

      • Whites are the only ones that are held collectively guilty, by government action. We are asked to pay for it. Being black in America means never having to take responsibility for your own actions. When you fail,whites must apologize. That is what it is like to be white in America.

        • That is me being angry Revered Cho, or do only Blacks get that privilege? Will you mourn with me?

          • Lance Lewis says:

            I am an adult white male and I have never suffered any consequence simply as a matter of my skin color. I have never been inconvenienced, looked at with suspicion, talked down to, kept from a job, or anything that would put me at a disadvantage. When I was a young adult, I decided I wanted to let my hair grow out so I could pull it back in a pony tail. What can I say, this was the early 90’s, sounded like a good idea. As I was growing my hair out, I could tell that other professionals in the industry I worked in started to treat me differently. My hair wasn’t dirty or un-kept. It was just getting longer. I didn’t like the way that people looked at me with long hair, or the way it made me feel when someone would look at me with suspicion…so I cut it. Problem solved.

            The very mild inconvenience that I experienced over a very short period of my life was because someone was looking at me and drawing a conclusion about me based on what they saw. They associated long hair with someone who was lazy, dirty, and not serious about work. I was still the same person. I was the person who started my first business (that I still run today…nearly 30 years later) before I graduated high school. I was the same person who graduated magna cum laude from college. I was the same person who was teaching students of all ages. I was the same person who while getting excellent grades in college was also paying his own way without taking in loans out while working a fulltime business at the same time.

            For me, it was simple. Cut my hair. For you and I RavenManiac1969 life is simple: you simply change the things that you don’t like and things get better. Imagine if that was not the case. Imagine if what people judge you by is simply the color of your skin. Imagine if they never judged you by your character. Imagine if they never judged you by your talents. Imagine if doors were never opened for you. Imagine if everyday you got up and felt like giving up because the deck was stacked against you. Imagine. Because of your privilege that you don’t even realize you have, you can ONLY imagine what it would be like.

          • Eugene Cho says:

            Yes, you can be angry, too…but no violence. Please.

        • with all due respect i don’t ask you to pay for anything. i pay taxes just like you. i have the RIGHT to access all resources of MY government just like every other citizen. however, i do ask you to join me in challenging a system that has been designed against anyone who looks like me, and honestly who has the parts to give birth! challenge the status quo every once in a while even when it means you’ll be challenging a system that always works in your favor. that is simply the price you pay for liberty and justice FOR ALL. but, you know, be a victim.

          • I never said you didn’t have the right to access government resources, but you are entitled to more just because of your skin color. Ever hear of Affirmative Action, diversity quotas for college admissions, etc? So tell me how the system always works in my favor. I am all for liberty and justice for all, and racial equality, but according to our government some of us are more equal than others.

            • All Reverend Cho is doing is enabling one large national temper tantrum.

            • Lance Lewis says:

              And exactly what mechanism would you suggest to create liberty and justice for all and racial equality? Do you think that just because it’s written, it will happen. There had to be a mechanism to FORCE the issue. That is where affirmative action and quotas come from. It’s not a perfect system by far. But if you have a better way, please share it…your ideas would be welcome by just about everyone.

              • I would eliminate them entirely. But your comment of FORCING the issue speaks volumes. You are agreeing that by government action some are more equal than others solely based upon skin color. These programs did not fix the problem, they made race relations worse. You do not fix one wrong by creating another.

              • Lance Lewis says:

                your little inconvenience that you perceive because of affirmative action and quotas is in your head and still doesn’t make up for the inequalities that still exist. Without affirmative action and quotas we would be living 50 years in the past. Bottom line is that FORCE (laws) was necessary as there was and still is no other mechanism. You still haven’t offered up any mechanism. You have offered a way for you not to be inconvenienced (by eliminating affirmative action and quotas entirely) which makes me wonder if you were sincere about the whole liberty and justice for all thing you mentioned.

              • Lance, you have no proof that it would not have changed, without government stepping in to FORCE IT. by setting up affirmative action. I have no mechanism because I do not believe in an activist government that decides who wins and loses, unlike you. All the government does is take from one person and give to those who yell the loudest.

                As far as being in my head, what is this whole exercise over Trayvon martin. This case was never about race, until the media distorted the facts and the government went out on a witch hunt. The government turned this into a racial issue, when the evidence suggested otherwise. The only person, in this case, that had their civil rights violated was George Zimmerman. This whole discussion is about a large number of idiots, some black, some white, that PERCEIVE this case to about race. I chose not to encourage their delusional temper tantrum. Try looking in a mirror before you throw that argument back at me.

              • Lance Lewis says:

                I have history as proof that without laws change would not have happened.

                I’ll comment on the rest later.

              • Wow Lance, you must be God to be able to look into the hearts of millions of people. I stand in awe of you. I understand this is the Huffington Post crowd, but come on this is the best that you got.

              • Lance Lewis says:

                While it may be true that I can’t prove definitively what would have happened if Affirmative Action laws were never passed I can use reason and logic to draw conclusions. Can you?

                If I may, do you also believe that all civil rights laws were unnecessary?

    • thenaborhood says:

      Will, this type of of comment is something that I see so often and it is, frankly, very discouraging. It’s like being in a bad relationship where you tell your significant other about something they do that really hurts you and instead of being humble and acknowledging your pain, they instead choose to respond with “But YOU always do ____.” It’s baffling to me how you can read an article where someone has been so vulnerable about how real and painful this experience is for her, like Wendi has here, and your response is “nice. but i’m going to point a finger at you because you probably have done some bad things too.” Really???

  4. Leigh Kramer says:

    Eugene, thank you for continuing to write on this topic. Until we each recognize our blind spots, this conversation will never move forward. We all play a part.

    Wendy, thank you for sharing your story. What a powerful reminder to us all.

  5. […] Another Korean-American pastor shepherding a multiethnic community in Seattle […]

  6. Diane says:

    “But I am reminded here that for we “others” our humanity is acknowledged through familiarity.” That is such a good point. You fear what you don’t know. But in order to know you…

  7. Mary says:

    Marian Wright Edelman says that America was born with a birth defect of genocide and slavery. It lives in us and as we grow we need to attend to it.

  8. Lance, I am entirely sincere about liberty and justice. But this little social experiment did not work. I believe the government should stay out of it entirely and not try to play social engineering games. Nor should they act as a thought police, which is what hate crimes legislation is all about.

    • Lance Lewis says:

      Once again, I ask you, what mechanism would you propose to bring about liberty and justice for all. I already know what happens when we do nothing: nothing.

      • Brian B says:

        The one where people start talking about things other than the system being set against everybody who isn’t white.

        You want to talk about people viewing things through the filters and lenses they choose?

        Let’s just say we accept it as fact that white people generally look at all or even most black men with suspicion and fear and cross on the other side of the street (which for the record I think is a ridiculous and offensive proposal).

        All I hear anybody talking about is the idea that this is because white people in America are naturally racist due to their ancestors and history and feel superior purely because they don’t like black skin (ridiculous). But this is the only lens so many people choose to view things through.

        Nobody is asking any questions from different angles. Nobody who accepts this view that whites are suspicious of blacks is asking “Why are white people suspicious of black men?” “Why are the crime rates so disproportionate among black men?” “Why are so many black children born out of wedlock?” “Why are so many black children failing out of or dropping out of school?” “Why are black men victimizing each other at such a disproportionate rate?”

        With all of the statistics on these problems, why would you really blame a white person who is as suspicious of blacks as you seem to think they are? Do they not have any reason other than their inherent feelings of racial superiority? Is the source of that reason for suspicion not rooted in the so-called “black community” itself?

        I don’t go to a “multicultural” church once or twice a week. I EXIST as a white guy in an almost entirely black community. I’ll tell you the concept of family and responsibility and fatherhood is lost on a great many people and that is destroying generations. When you have mothers who have children from 2 and 3 and 4 different men and are married to none of them and continue in this path and regard it as normal, you are destined for trouble. When the poor children are left without anyone really committed to them to teach them how to be responsible men, you’re destined for trouble. When the pastors preach blackness and social justice and protesting instead of teaching the Gospel of Christ and Biblical truth in their churches and openly have affairs and illegitimate children with women from their church and are not held accountable by the congregation, you are headed for destruction. But why would the congregation hold them accountable when they regard the behavior as normal and the church isn’t teaching from the Bible to show that this is corrupt?

        I don’t mean that this is the story of all black neighborhoods in all areas of the country, but this is the stuff I see every single day, year in and year out, and it will never change on account of laws or political protests or peace rallies or catchy equality pop songs or anything else.

        You’ll notice I’m not harping on welfare or handouts or any of the entitlement mentality which is an entirely different set of issues. I’m talking about a broken moral compass, a shattered concept of family, and a false version of Christianity being sold by for-profit “reverends” on a large scale.

        Change has to come on many different fronts but the most important is the home front for black people who are on the warpath for change in America.

        For those of you who think this Trayvon case and this article and others like it are such eye-opening stories, I challenge you to branch out from your open-minded multicultural church environment and spend some time in the trenches. Come to the neighborhoods where black brothers and sisters are shooting, stabbing, raping, robbing, and murdering in their own “black community” over pride, greed, lust, and power. You may see some truly eye-opening things going on that might change your perspective on where the most work needs to be done.

        PRAY.

        • Lance Lewis says:

          Brian, you have said so many things and brought up so many topics. I appreciate that you articulated your opinions and viewpoints without name calling(except when speaking against preachers who don’t seem to preach the way you think they should preach). You seem to actually want to have a dialogue about things that you are upset about. Because there were so many things you mentioned worthy of debate, I will start with the first thing that stood out to me:
          ________________
          “All I hear anybody talking about is the idea that this is because white people in America are naturally racist due to their ancestors and history and feel superior purely because they don’t like black skin (ridiculous). But this is the only lens so many people choose to view things through.”
          ________________

          I personally don’t believe that the black community at large thinks this. However, here is an interesting study, please ready it. I found it fascinating. I don’t know if it has been peer reviewed yet or if it has been duplicated yet: http://mobile.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/06/racial_empathy_gap_people_don_t_perceive_pain_in_other_races.html

          There are many people who are having the conversation about what you said next:
          _________________
          Nobody is asking any questions from different angles. Nobody who accepts this view that whites are suspicious of blacks is asking “Why are white people suspicious of black men?” “Why are the crime rates so disproportionate among black men?” “Why are so many black children born out of wedlock?” “Why are so many black children failing out of or dropping out of school?” “Why are black men victimizing each other at such a disproportionate rate?”
          _________________

          Even the President alluded to these disparities. It’s a very real problem. It’s a problem that clearly won’t fix itself. The African American community at large has been having this conversation for a long time.

          I also think that when talking about the African American community we have to realize that it is not homogenous. Just like White Americans are not homogenous. For example, the problems and issues that a white person living in a swamp in Louisiana has is quite different that a white person living in the Hamptons. A black person living in the ghettos will have different problems and issues than a black person living in the suburbs. I’m not sure where I am going with that…but I think it’s important to keep in mind when trying to draw comparisons and conclusions about a group at large.

  9. Kelly says:

    Eugene – thanks for writing, for continuing the conversation. I wish it was a conversation full of empathy, kindness, a desire to learn and grow, but I can see from above that’s not the case – all the more reason not to shove this issue under the rug.

    Wendi – thank you for your story. May we all do better than just “letting your son pass” and show him the kindness and respect due to all of our brothers and sisters.

  10. Amy says:

    Why do you responders give Mr1969 so much response? Stop noticing him. This helped me to see blind spots. Thank you.

  11. […] you been following the Trayvon Martin case in the US? Here are two articles that really stirred us: His name is Messiah and Lament from a White […]

  12. […] this piece Christena Cleveland on things privileged people can learn from the verdict and this letter from a mother of a black teenage […]

  13. Ari says:

    Severe lack of discernment here. There is no question what happened to Trayvon and GZ is a tragedy, but race-baiters and the media have turned this into a sideshow travesty.
    Shame on them for taking advantage of a sensitive situation to push their own agendas.
    No logical person who has seen all the facts should bring race into this issue unless they are looking at the subculture of violence, drug use (use of lean) and machismo put on a pedestal by some rappers and media corporations. The text messages and twitter posts from Trayvons accounts indicate that he was very much participating in these types of behaviour. But regardless of those facts, one only needs to look into the facts allowed into the case.
    1. First of all George Zimmerman is NOT WHITE, as many media outlets falsely reported. His voter registration lists him as hispanic (BTW he voted for Obama). These same media outlets also photoshopped a ten year old photo of him to make him look “whiter” and contrasted it to numerous pictures of Trayvon taken when he was a around 12 years old!

    2. GZ also had several black friends and after witnessing abuse against a homeless black man, he took action in the community to bring justice to the perpetrators by printing out flyers, etc. NBC media, however, deliberately tried to make him sound more racist by doctoring the 911 tapes.

    3. GZ had injuries on the back of his head and fractured nose consistent with having his head pounded into cement and being punched in the face.

    4. This is a simple self-defence case where was an unfortunate altercation between 2 people, in which one of them felt in danger for his life, resulting in the death of the other. There is no “stand your ground” applicable here.

    There is so much more evidence that would not fit, but the point is, people need to open their eyes to manipulations and agendas of certain groups and individuals who would profit by making this case about race.

  14. ebonyjohanna says:

    Such a powerful story!

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