Eugene Cho

a letter to my son [a guest post]

More good news: I’ll be hosting some occasional guest bloggers that I believe will enrich the readers of this blog. While I don’t have a list per se, I hope to invite some folks whose voices (and words) I personally appreciate because they challenge, convict, minister, and resonate with me – and it’s my hope that they’ll speak to you in some way.

Today’s guest post is from Dr. Brian Bantum. His full bio is below but this post got me all teary-eyed for various reasons. It’s “a letter to his son.”

I’d be amiss not to mention that Brian also attends Quest, plays the bass on our worship team, leads one of our community groups, is married to a Quest pastoral ah-jim-ah, and just released his first book called Redeeming Mulatto: A Theology of Race and Christian Hybridity. I’m not posting his blog here because he’s a Quester, or because he gave me a free signed book, or because he’s way taller than me and might be able to take me…maybe.

It’s just a worthwhile read.

Here it is. Please read it and let me know what you think.———————————————————————————————

This is a letter to my son that I am not sure he will understand now, but it is one that I hope he will look back upon to give clarity to some moments of confusion and exclusion… But it is also a letter for a world that in so many ways wants something different but cannot imagine how it prevents those hopes from becoming realized.

To my beloved son,

You were only ten years old when you saw that American miracle, Barack Obama sworn into office as president of the United States of America. Innocence seemed to be reclaimed in that moment as so many heard, in the president’s oath, centuries of guilt absolved. “To a post-racial future!” some exclaimed, hopeful for a unity that seemed so difficult to grasp even in our so-called enlightened time.

And yet, two years later you have come to discover the true “curse of ham,” the refusal of  difference that ferments beneath the surface of every society, that reveals us all to be more savage than civil. You have now glimpsed just how much we humans thrive on difference, how we seek it out even in its most subtle forms (and that 7th graders seem particularly adept at it!)

But, as these realities seem to so often reveal, our present is never quite the simple repetition of the past. You, the child of a mulatto man and a Korean American mother, are the sum of many parts, places, stories and possibilities. In so many ways you encapsulate what many people hope for when they imagine a “post-racial” hope.

It has pained me so to see you discover that post-racial is, in sad fact, simply a poor recalibration of an awkward arrangement made long, long ago when there were only whites and coloreds. You have stumbled into a world where a few white boys will exclude you, call you black because you are not white, and a latino can call you a nigger without the slightest hesitation, his ignorance or his malice equally heinous crimes.

So here you are, in post-racial America.

This does not have to be the end of the story, the end of our possibilities. But you should know the world you have entered and what peculiar space you occupy. Welcome to the nebulous space of the inter, the in-between, the not quite, to racial ambiguity.

In the first twelve years of your life, the question of who or what you were was a pleasantry, a curiosity. But somehow the innocent question of your identity seems to have more attached to it than you realized. Not looking Asian enough to be easily absorbed into the Asian table, not dark enough to find a home among African Americans, and, as some have felt willingly enough to tell you to your face, too dark to be white. Welcome son, to the neither/nor.

You are not the first and not the last to feel the constriction of this space. In fact, you are now a second generation “in-betweener” and sadly the world some of us hoped would emerge, where the curiosity of the mulatto, the half-breed would be no more, here we are.

If left to ourselves perhaps we could hope for the space to become true individuals, to become our full selves apart from what others desire us to be or without the chains of cultural expectation.

But our world is not a world of endless possibilities and autonomous individuals. You and I are bound to each other. You and I are bound to those who refuse us and those who welcome us. All of these histories, realities, wellsprings of cultural achievement and tragedy flow through your veins, in your face.

You and I are people of the in between, people who cannot easily seek to be simply “who we are” because our “who” is inexplicable without these peoples. Our life is not our own. We belong to many peoples but above all we belong to God (of course you knew this was coming!) This makes us what some Christians have said, “foreigners in every fatherland, and in every foreign land, a citizen.”

If being post racial means anything, perhaps it is this, that we are always at home, and we are never home. If being a Christian means anything it is that we are always at home, and we are never home and because of this the exclusion, the refusals we so often endure are never the entirety of our lives.

Much much love,

Your father

Brian Bantum is Assistant Professor of Theology at Seattle Pacific University. He is author of Redeeming Mulatto: A Theology of Race and Christian Hybridity (Baylor University Press, 2010) and numerous articles on Christ, identity, and race. Brian lives in Seattle with his wife, Gail, and three children.

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4 Responses

  1. Art Gangel says:

    What a thought-provoking piece, Brian. Increasingly in my faith walk I’m being pulled into spaces of liminality; “threshold”-like spaces where there is very little settled, all possibilities exist, but very few answers exist as well.

    As a white American male, this trend puts me in a position I’m not used to – one very similar to the one you’re preparing your son for, one of not quite being at home in this world.

    Your article highlights to me that, as we continue to blend races in this country, it becomes harder to know who is “in” and “out” of my selected group from a racial standpoint, and easier to reject everyone who is not EXACTLY like me in every (externally observable) way.

    May those of us who are not forced into the margins by our race (or combination thereof) have the faith to move into them consciously, for there alone hovers the creative Spirit of the Sovereign Lord.

  2. Eugene Cho says:

    reading it again…and getting teary-eyed again.

  3. Ann F-R says:

    Brian, what your son & you experience within your appearance, so many of us experience in our hearts as pilgrims on a journey to our true home & heartland, with God. You expressed yours & our hope & our sorrow beautifully: “You and I are bound to each other. You and I are bound to those who refuse us and those who welcome us. All of these histories, realities, wellsprings of cultural achievement and tragedy flow through your veins, in your face.”

    While many of us may not be so visibly & immediately refused or welcomed, we share the pain & joy of broken humanity.

    I pray that the beauty in your loving & fathering words be revealed in your son & family! May each of you be blessed with faithful companions who love God & one another on this pilgrimage.

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Sadly, I have witnessed this reality in too many places. ​In 2012, I traveled to a remote area in Eastern Kenya as part of a @onedayswages response to a famine that struck the Horn of Africa region. This famine impacted nearly 13 million people and according to some sources, took the lives of about 250,000 people. During my trip there, I had the chance of meeting many people but the person that still remains in my memory was a Muslim woman named Sahara.

She was so hospitable in inviting us to her small and temporary home. During our conversation, I learned that ​Sahara traveled 300 kilometers (a little under 200 miles) – some by cart and some by foot – as they sought to escape the worst drought that has impacted East Africa (Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia) in the past 60 years.

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200.

She traveled about 200 miles on cart and foot. ​And all along, she was ill. If you look closely ​at the photo, you might notice the large lump in her throat - likely a large cancerous tumor.​ She did not travel alone. She traveled with her husband who I was not able to meet because he was staying with one of his five other wives in this polygamist community.  She did not travel alone. She also traveled with her six children – the youngest being about 1 and the oldest being around 8. She had just given birth to her sixth child when they began her journey. Her youngest was severely malnourished when they arrived to this new settlement in a town called Benane. 
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