silent racism – there’s hope

the fact is we are all biased and prejudiced; all depraved [and beautiful] and jacked up. we’re certainly all ‘racialized’ in many ways. long story short, i’ve been following some drama with the folks at Youth Specialties (Zondervan) over a book published by YS called, skits that teach. well, one of the skits is outright racist as it parodies asians.   and yes, this is supposed to be educating the youth of america.    i re-posted the above video entitled, ‘silent racism’ because it is so appropriate.  it was created for an assignment during our church’s 2006 faith and race class.  for me, it speaks so much to the systemic racism that exists and how we’re all guilty and must seek to see the beauty and dignity God gave to each person, each tribe, and each ethnicity.

a good friend, soong-chan rah, was providing some leadership with this situation. soong chan is a former pastor in cambridge, professor at north park seminary in chicago, and was my host when i visited the seminary as the pastor in residence in early february.

after i learned about this, i wrote this brief email to the president of YS, mark oestreicher, who i’ve crossed paths with in the small world of the emerging church world.

dear mark,

i read your comment on scrah’s blog. i know that this must be a difficult situation for you and youth specialties.

i can acknowledge that a simple mistake was made by the publishers of YS and this somehow just fell through the crack. some people will be able to move on and others can’t.  what i would like to ask you to understand is that for me and pretty much any other minority, this isn’t about one book, one error, one issue–it’s not about one thing – it’s about much much more.

and so, my hope is that you, as one of the main leaders of a major publisher can see how the ‘white view’ dominates anything and everything – including within the church.  while it’s good for you to ask people to extend grace, my genuine request from you is courage to see things from a different worldview.

blessings to you mark.

sincerely, eugene

i was very encouraged at the response from mark in their public apology to the asian community which is posted not only on his personal blog but on the homepage of the YS website.  there are some other steps that will be taken to ensure that this is a learning experience for all of us – and not merely a one time event.  mark wrote:

we at youth specialties really screwed up. big time. i’m ashamed and embarrassed and horrified (and fairly angry, also), and i personally beg the forgiveness of our asian american christian brothers and sisters. i write as an individual christ-follower with responsibility for the systems in our organization which allowed for this offense; and i write as a spokesperson for youth specialties, apologizing on behalf of the whole organization.

in the fall of 2006, we published a book called “skits that teach.” the book contained a skit with a “chinese delivery man” character whose characterization – and, particularly, whose phonetically-spelled accent – was horribly, inexcusably, and unquestionably racist. that this content would appear in a youth specialties book has kept myself and others at ys sleepless this week – not only in our efforts to correct the problem, but in our sorrow over our addition to the prejudice perpetrated against asian americans. if there is ANY place we should expect an exception to the cultural norms on this kind of prejudice, it should be in the church. this kind of racism (intentional or not – that is not at issue here) goes against everything we believe here at ys.  [click here to read the full apology]

Mark, thanks for the apology.  From this person, it is accepted and I look forward to discussing the couple additional suggestions I made.  Soong-Chan, thanks for your leadership in this situation. Quest and I look forward to your visit in the Fall.  To my Asian colleagues in ministry:  this is not a time to be passive.  This is a time we must speak up – not simply for ourselvs but for others as well.   To my tribe at Quest:  love mercy, seek justice, and walk humbly.  Let’s learn how we can better walk the walk. 

for those interested, here are some other relevant posts on issues of prejudice & racism:

17 Replies to “silent racism – there’s hope”

  1. Eugene –
    Thanks for passing this along – I didn’t know about the story involving the skit, and am happy to hear that many are in dialogue and seeming to appropriately understand what this offense signaled to the Chinese-American community. Thanks for your wise email to YP and for the voice you conitnually lend the issue of race and multi-ethnicity in the church.

    I don’t know if you saw the edition of The Narthex that was published on “Why God desires diversity for the kingdom” – it features articles from Adam Edgerly, Peter Ahn, myself and others (winter 06 issue, at I benefitted greatly from the discussion in those pages and offer it as another point in the conversation perhaps? Just an FYI.

    Peace to you – Liz

  2. Eugene,

    I have great respect for Mark and how he is handling this.

    It’s not “if” people are going to make mistakes, but how they are going to handle them when they do. And I think he’s shown great maturity in his response.

    Praise God.

    There are so many parallels between silent racism and silent sexism – we can all learn from this.

  3. jennifer: absolutely, i find myself growing more in respect and appreciation in HOW people respond to situations, conflict, and mistakes.

    silent sexism – my head’s always known it but my heart is begining to experience it a little more deeply when i hear my daughters speak about what they can’t do because they hear it from the boys at the school.

  4. PE

    It’s the silent “isms” that are the hardest. At least the direct stuff can be easily recognized. I know my involvement at Q has made me attribute things to culture much more carefully – and tentatively.

    On silent sexism…the way I’ve experienced it the most in the church (not Q specifically, but in general) is from men who have avoided including women in conversation and friendship because they are too dangerous to talk to. I remember a former pastor who simply would never meet with a woman in his office. Well, what does that say to women in the church? To me it said : You are far too dangerous to be in the same room with alone. The only other option was to assume the pastor was saying that he was so sex-crazed he couldn’t control himself with a woman in a room for 15 min, and that didn’t seem to be what he was saying. So, if the man isnt the problem, it must be the woman. I’m all for good boundaries, but I got very tired of having my gender be such a problem in what should have been just a normal conversation.

    The double-whammy that Asian women get is even worse….they get one helping of racism and another of sexism. 😦


    P.S. I appreciated your message this morning. There was much agreement between us 🙂

  5. it’s cool that you took the time to email him politely, and actually got a positive response; i think prejudice is instinctive and common to all ethnic groups or just groups of any kind; even the old koreans discrimminated against each other between provinces; and, caucasians would very easily find similar forms of racism in any asian-dominated community;

    but i also believe there’s hope; and with humility and willingness to forgive, the hope of mutual understanding and respect will be realized sooner than later;
    this sort of dialogue is in line with the basic work of the gospel that believers are supposed to be involved in in our daily lives.

  6. Thanks for posting the video, Eugene. Very nicely done. And I also had a good e-mail exchange with Marko. I’ve been very impressed with all the various parties involved in this whole discussion, and it renews my hope for justice and reconciliation in today’s church and society.

  7. jennifer:

    you wrote: I remember a former pastor who simply would never meet with a woman in his office. Well, what does that say to women in the church? To me it said : You are far too dangerous to be in the same room with alone. The only other option was to assume the pastor was saying that he was so sex-crazed he couldn’t control himself with a woman in a room for 15 min, and that didn’t seem to be what he was saying. So, if the man isnt the problem, it must be the woman. I’m all for good boundaries, but I got very tired of having my gender be such a problem in what should have been just a normal conversation.

    i can see why you might be frustrated. i hate to say this but i don’t like meeting in my room alone as well with either men or women. and it’s not meant to give the impression that women are dangerous or that i’m sex-crazed. if i have options like meeting in the cafe space or in an open area, why wouldn’t i want to utilize that option? in an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to think twice about such things but such is the case where it’s good to be prudent.

    some individuals at quest have questioned why children’s ministry volunteers or staff that have their backgrounds checked. well, sadly, we need to be prudent.

    i don’t like it per se. i hope it isn’t perceived as ‘silent sexism’ but rather ‘general prudence.’ my two cents.

  8. Eugene,

    As a mother, I appreciate the prudence Quest shows in doing background checks on volunteers with kids!! However, as someone who has talked personally with probably 100 other women about their abuse, I seriously doubt any of those abusers would have shown up on a criminal check – which is why I appreciate the kind of open door policy that allows many adults to be around and everything to be out in the open.

    But when we’re talking about adults it is different. If a pastor isn’t meeting with men OR women alone as part of his own sense of prudence and comfort, I dont see how anyone could have a problem with that. But if a pastor is willing to be in an office with a man, but not a woman, I think there are some issues that need to be looked at.

    Maybe it’s NOT silent sexism. Maybe the guy really cant control himself and he has to have those limits. Maybe his wife is insanely jealous and he wants to keep her at peace. Maybe he has good reason to believe a woman is going to try to violate the trust between them and cross a boundary. But if the reason for not meeting with women is just that its too dangerous, I think those beliefs need to be taken out and looked at because there are very likely some serious sexist beliefs underlying that behavior.

    I know guys like Billy Graham have made a big deal about not even riding in an elevator with a non-relative female. And, in one sense, I don’t fault him for that, especially since he was a man in the public eye who really might have women that would like to accuse him of something untrue. But, for most pastors, when they repeat Graham’s statement about not even riding in an elevator with a woman alone, it places deep shame on the women in their church. It tells the women that there is something fundamentally dangerous about them and/or they are too dangerous to be in any kind of authentic/non-controlled relationship with. It tells women that their sexual nature is given much more weight than their spiritual nature, or their personality or mental abilities. It turns women into sex objects, and when that’s done by a pastor, it usually is accepted with a terrible mix of shame and self-contempt.

    Okay, Im getting off my little soap box now 🙂

  9. Thanks for the video, Eugene — I think it’s the best demonstration I’ve seen of how systemic racism and stereotypes so often pervade our thinking. I think as someone in the dominant culture (white male) it is that understanding of systemic racism that has always been difficult to grasp and the video goes a long way.

  10. I should have added….

    In general, if a statement about race would be offensive to someone (“I’ll meet with whites in my office, but not Asians because the potential for miscommunication is just too intense”), it would also be offensive when the race aspect is replaced with gender (“I’ll meet with men in my office, but not women because…..”)

  11. jennifer: all good and challenging thoughts for sure.

    i’ll just leave it with one more thought: when i choose to meet in a public space with women (and men) it’s not my intent to say that all women are dangerous. but i think there are possibilities that one individual could interpret a situation in a completely different way. rather than receiving this as a statement against all women, i’m suggesting that we be open to prudent decisions – so that one individual, male or female, (or the pastor in question), might not make a poor choice or have things be misinterpreted. in the first year at quest, there was a situation when a woman either misinterpreted or distorted a situation and began spreading word that I was flirting with her. my wife and the denomination needed to be involved and needless to say, it was painful.

    honestly, i’d rather be back at the garden in perfect shalom – running around without things called clothes in perfect 76.5 degree weather – without any shame, fear, or embarrassment. i’d rather things be perfect.

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  13. pastor eugene,
    …this is mihee kim (now, kim-kort), back in the day, when you were a pts student, my family was living in p-town because my dad was a 2nd career student and my brother joseph was in your youth group at princeton glory pres. i was a college student but came “home” to be with family during breaks.
    …i found your blog by going to ysmarko’s through following the controversy around the skit guys’ chinese delivery guy drama. i wanted to throw up, i was so pissed. what insanity, but ended up miraculously producing some wonderful fruit…
    …quest sounds amazing! i’m jealous you are in seattle! i had hoped to go back to colorado after seminary, but God always has way different plans from mine. oh, yeah, i went to seminary at pts after college, got married, ordained, and working at an anglo presby church in pa about an hour from philly, nyc, princeton, and doing thm p/t. crazy, how time flies, huh? you have 3 kids!!! so great!

    …ok, sorry, this is too long, i’ll be keeping up with your blog!
    peace, mihee

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