The following is a list of all entries from the ethnicity category.
So those jokes, those were the jokes we made about ourselves for ourselves. FOB or “fresh off the boat” was a label we applied to ourselves even after so many others had been forced upon us.
I’ve been silent in this space because I do not yet have the words. The death of Michael Brown is still rattling in my heart in part because he was days away from college. My daughter is days away from college. She does not face the same daily threats to her humanity as young black men. We all live in a broken world. I get tired knowing it often seems more broken for some than others. And honestly, I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around dropping off my baby in a dorm and not seeing her at home until Christmas…and knowing Michael Brown’s mother and I shared some basic hopes and dreams for our babies.
But some of my colleagues have found the words, and I wanted to use this space for others I minister with through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship who have found the words that are still forming and fighting in my heart. I’m watching the news, following Twitter, and staying as informed as I can. I am trying to stay open, teachable, hopeful. Please come read with me, share with me words you are reading and struggling with. This isn’t about a hashtag.
“Within 7 minutes of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I could go on facebook, google, twitter, cnn.com, and have all kinds of information available at my finger tips. Police statements and interviews releasing the name of the person responsible, what he was wearing, what weapon he fired, how many bullets were released. That was within 7 minutes. Within 7 days (10,080 minutes) of the death of Michael Brown, the only information available is the name of the police officer who fired the shot (and mind you, this was not released until 5 or 6 days later) and irrelevant video footage from an entirely separate incident involving stolen cigars and a frightened store clerk. This is a problem because information is power. And while the American public might not be entitled to full or even partial disclosure, I have to believe that the mother who lost her son deserves to have access to the information that will give her a picture of the final 20 minutes of her son’s life.”
“So to my non-black Christian brothers and sisters – maybe the point of honest confession and repentance is where we need to start. What’s the point of pretending to be better than we are. We are far more broken, yet far more loved by the God of Justice, than we know.”
“I got a text today from a White friend looking to understand more about the anger expressed as a result of the killing ofMichael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. After getting into a pretty lengthy text response, I decided to reply via Facebook messenger so I could type the rest on my laptop. Halfway through that, I decided to share my response to him on my blog.”
“So, here are my thoughts for my Asian American Christian community. There is so much that needs to be addressed to correct for the sinful and broken ways in which we have essentially adopted a broken White evangelical view of race and justice. But these are a few starting points.”
“Prayer seems not enough. The problems are too big. In this tension, we become discouraged and wind up neither praying nor acting. Maybe we’ll “like” a Facebook post or retweet a compelling tweet. But without prayer or action, these well-intentioned yet vapid shows of support are meaningless.”
What posts have moved you? Challenged you? Made you angry? Made you cry? Made you reconsider your opinion or your actions?
I just bought several cans of low-sodium Spam, and last week I used a paper facial mask for skin brightening/whitening.
Yes. I eat gelatinous meat by-products and I want to be white. Not really. Not at all.
I don’t want to be white, though there was a time when I did. I’m just vain and human. I am heading into my mid-40s, getting ready to launch my firstborn, wondering where all that time I thought I had went, and wondering when all those freckles and sun spots appeared. When the melancholy settles into that sweet spot next to gratitude and hope, I like to sit down for some self-care – some nail polish and a facial mask – or with some comfort food – a bowl of rice, a piece of fried Spam, and some kimchee. Sometimes I will indulge in both in the same night.
The funny thing is that both skin whitening and Spam have similar complex roots in human nature, culture, and politics.
Vanity isn’t unique to Korea (my motherland), despite what we could infer from stories about a Korean golfer playing for Japan because she didn’t fit the beauty standards of her homeland or beauty ads asking women “Do you want to be white?”. I just think it’s easier for us Americans to look outside when it’s convenient. It’s called deflection. It’s easier to point out extreme examples in other countries and cultures than it is to look at our own culture’s jacked up standards of beauty and femininity because, face it, looking in the mirror metaphorically can be as frightening as it is to do it the morning after a rice and Spam bender.
Skin whitening exist here in America, but it is more often promoted as skin brightening – eliminating the freckles, sun spots, sun damage, and imperfections that actually come with being alive and aging. The whitening language is connected to class as well as race. I remember being told during my visits to Korea to carry an umbrella or parasol to keep the sun from damaging my skin; darker, tanned skin was associated with the lower-class farmers or outdoor shop owners. I suspect the stigma of darker skin only increased as Western culture influenced Korea. Oh the irony to be Korean & American where just 50 years ago the U.S. government passed and signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and in the decades since then tanning beds, tanning lotions, and straight up “tanning” is part of looking healthy (by the way shades of orange does not equal tan nor does it look healthy. It looks orange.). Think about it. We needed laws to protect and give full rights to women and people of color while white people want to be “tan”. Cognitive dissonance, anyone?
American culture, in some ways, creates a level of dissonance as it could be construed as a collection of cultural appropriation with a dose of good old-fashioned creativity and varying degrees of separation and offense to the originating cultures. What isn’t American about celebrating our country’s birthday with fireworks? Fusion kimchee taco trucks? Churches hosting Harvest Day celebrations? Communion wafers or chunks of white bread with grape juice?
It isn’t always clear to me what is the “right way” and how that is different than the “Christian way” or the “American way” of doing, being, eating, etc. In my experience, Spam was American (which meant “white” in my home) food tweaked to fit our family’s Korean sensibilities, served with rice and kimchee, rolled into kimbap, or thrown into kimchee stew. For goodness sakes you can buy it at chain grocery stores in the canned food aisle near canned stew and those little sausages NOT the “ethnic” food aisle! It slowly dawned on me in adulthood that Spam was American but not necessarily eaten by white Americans.
Spam arrived in my motherland through the Korean War and the U.S. military. Pre-cooked in a compact container, Spam was a fairly economical source of protein during wartime scarcity. My father has regaled us with stories about Spam, Hershey’s chocolate bars, and other wartime black market items. He probably thinks it’s funny his daughter still eats Spam but has gotten snotty about her chocolate. The kids can have s’mores with Hershey’s while I whip out the good stuff for mine. But my kids have had Spam musubi, and there is no shame. The blue can that releases its contents with a “splat” is iconic American though many of my white American friends have never had it because it wan’t necessarily good enough for home consumption but good enough to import elsewhere. Fine. I’ll take it. I am told that the Spam now produced in Korea uses higher quality ingredients and tastes differently but is just as prized as it once was. Tradition and nostalgia tied with grief, loss, scarcity, and displacement is a powerful force.
So how can I, as an Asian American woman wanting to dismantle and deconstruct the racial ties that try to define me use a skin whitening product? Because sometimes, I live into my privilege of not examining everything I touch, wear, eat, use, etc. to see whether or not the producers of everything around me were paid a fair wage, did not harm animals, did not contribute to an unjust war I did not agree with based on my religious beliefs. Sometimes I like a good bargain and the facial masks were buy four-get two free so I grabbed one of each kind. Sometimes I don’t want to fight every fight because there are so many things to be against and not enough time to be for something. Sometimes I just want to take care of myself with a facial mask and some comfort food and it not be a political or racial statement but rather a way of loving my family because a relaxed, centered, well-fed mommy and wife makes for a happy life.
Sometimes it’s more complicated and complex.
I’m heading out Thursday to speak and learn at The Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC.
I’m not sure what I’m getting into.
I’ve been told by past attendees that I am in for a great experience – community, learning, sharing, faith, and so much more. I have no reason to not believe them, but let’s be honest. When I first heard about “the Goose” two years ago, I imagined a bunch of white faith-y, hipster-ish, slightly granola folks camping and enjoying it. For those of you who know me, you see where I’m headed with this. For those of you who are still getting to know me, I’ve been known to take my mani/pedi supplies with me to the Upper Peninsula when traveling there for student leadership training, and I once drove to Madison for staff training with my paraffin wax bath to treat some friends to a little pampering. I was a Girl Scout up until junior high school, and I did go camping as recently as 1995. I sent my kids “camping” as in bible camp. And for some unknown reason we have a camping mess kit, which also in on my packing list for the Goose.
So is a headlamp (shout out goes to Sabrina who introduced me to the headlamp and has been known to be my twin).
Now, I do want to clear the air here. I am a suburbanite with a conscience. I make my own granola and pancake mix because it tastes better. I love resale shops, garage sales, and my church rummage sale. I repainted furniture and frames before there was Pinterest. I have a veggie/herb garden, and I don’t plant annuals. We have three rain barrels and two compost bins cooking up earthy perfection. We recycle like nobody’s business with more recycling than actual garbage that we cut back our garbage pick-ups. My parents taught me about reuse/recycle/repurpose before it was a thing. She used cloth diapers before there were pick-up services and before she owned her own washer and dryer. My dad could store just about anything in a Hills Bros. coffee can so he did. We used every page of every spiral notebook, and showers were taken military style. My mother gardened or foraged in the forest preserves because we couldn’t find certain vegetables and herbs in the “American” grocery stores and those were the days before HMart. And they still find paper towels extremely wasteful.
So I’m not completely outside of some creation care practices and homesteading because that actually comes natural to me from a different vantage point. It wasn’t a choice of luxury/stewardship but of survival. But there is something I don’t exactly know how to describe that makes the idea of being out in a more rural part of the country uncomfortable for me. Deeply unsettling and uncomfortable.
My parents wanted me and my sister to see and experience as much of America as we could on a budget so we drove. “We” meaning mostly my father, hopped up on caffeine (instant coffee made in the car with water we carried in jugs and thermoses). One summer we drove from Chicago all the way to Vancouver, Canada and back. Everyone in the car made it back alive. Through the years we saw Pikes Peak, Mt. Rushmore, Old Faithful, the Grand Tetons, the Smoky Mountains, Acadia National Park, Wall Drug and Disney World. They exposed me to more of America than all my history classes combined. And they were right when they drilled into my head that one day I would look back and appreciate those trips because I do, which is why we road trip with our three kids as well. We, too, are creating gilded memories, my dear readers, one mile at a time.
But another thing I remember, which is probably why the Goose is making me feel a bit uneasy, is that along every stop our family would get stared at. Not looked at. Not a glance. Not a friendly “oh, you’re a tourist let me help you” look. People of all ages would stare at us like we were monkeys at their circus. It didn’t matter where – in restaurants, gas stations, national parks, the motel pool, or the local grocery store. It happened much less on our trips to Niagara Falls (Canadian side) and New York City, but outside of those two trips I remember the looks we got.
My sister recalls the two of us roaming the aisles of a grocery store on one of our family road trips when I caught someone staring at us. Apparently, I looked over and said “Why don’t you take a picture. It lasts longer.” I do not recall this specific incident, but it sounds like something I would do. And while I know in my heart the Goose isn’t going to be a repeat of that, there is also a part of me that isn’t exactly sure or convinced it won’t happen.
So why did I agree to go? Because some of us need to keep building those bridges and crossing cultures even if it means packing a mess kit, your own linens, staying at a hostel, reconsidering footwear, and bringing a headlamp. Sometimes living out the Gospel and truly living into my identity as a Christian means being the object of a stranger’s stare, being asked “No, where do you really come from?” or simply going to a campground. I am also going because I want to challenge the many sisters and brothers of all shades who find that environment and culture home to consider what bridges they ought to consider building or cultures they ought to cross and what “traditions” are actually uninviting, unwelcoming to those of us who are too often reminded we don’t belong unless we conform or assimilate. I am going to see how open-hearted I can be and how open-hearted others are as well.
I’m just not sure what I’m getting into.
I completely agree with #TakeDownThatPost and the request to remove an offensive and poorly written piece on leadership lessons from the perspective of an incarcerated former youth pastor, aka a convicted sexual predator, recently published in Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal. The anonymous author was given a broad, respected platform from which he compares his situation to that of King David. He refers to a “friendship”, spends several paragraphs throughout the piece explaining how his ministry continued to flourish, and describes himself as a youth pastor in his 30s who “began a physical relationship” with a student.
Interesting. I thought that was technically called statutory rape.
I suppose there are plenty of lessons to be learned from a pastor who has sinned in the technical, legal sort of way. But it isn’t a new story. It’s just that by and large evangelicals have let the Roman Catholic Church take the brunt of this one with the occasional pastor tripping into sin, falling into sin, failing morally, etc. IMHO the better story would be one of seeking forgiveness, restoration, and healing…from the victim and her family’s point of view. At the very least, the anonymous author’s piece – his tone, his choice of language, the piece’s structure, etc. – should have been vetted a bit more.
Seriously, how does a convicted sex offender – a man who raped a girl – get to publish a piece on leadership when Christianity Today (the parent title/company of Leadership Journal) ought to have been spending more time diversifying its bylined contributor pool, editorial advisory board, and editorial board?
Do I sound like I’m on the edge? I am. I am beyond disbelief when Christian publishers, convention organizers, church leaders say they don’t know where to find qualified writers, speakers, and trainers WHO AREN’T WHITE and a convicted sex offender gets to write about leadership after spending what reads like less than two years in jail with a possible 2015 release date.
Which leads me to the other edge I am dancing on, which is to call out those who are tweeting and manning #TakeDownThatPost social media fronts to take a look on over at CT’s Facebook page post on reparations. Where is our collective outrage and response to “our own” who are telling our black brothers and sisters to “get over” slavery? It’s one thing to rage against “The Man” and try to get a faceless entity like Leadership Journal to take down a post on something so “post-racial” as statutory rape, but apparently it is another thing to get in another commenter’s business and say, “That was racist.” But too often there is a smaller group of us dancing on both those edges because we have never lived in a post-racial America nor in a post-racial Church. My acceptance into broader American culture and Church culture has depended on my ability to play along and assimilate. However, I have known that my voice is welcomed when it’s token, when it adds the Asian American voice, when it is in solidarity with the majority, but when I call out racism I will be asked in the name of Jesus to remember that I am to put aside my ethnic culture and experiences and be a Christian first by my white sisters and brothers in Christ who do not think they have a culture to put aside. But they do. It’s the one that allows them to only pay attention to #Take DownThatPost and ignore understanding the Church’s tangled, dark history with slavery and systemic racism that dates even further back in history that continues to play out today.
I am a Christian. #ItsTimeToCallOutRacism
***In the hours after posting this, Christianity Today/Leadership Journal has removed the post and published an apology. Apology read, heard, and accepted from More Than Serving Tea.
Jiwon Lee. Kevin Lee. Andrew Sun.
The 52-year-old Korean vice-principal of Danwon High School hung himself after more than 200 students remained missing after the tragic April ferry disaster.
University of Illinois student Hye Min Choi, 19, remains missing after his luggage arrived at its destination but he did not.
A Huffington Post article by Andrew Lam starts out declaring mental health issues and suicide in the Asian American community is a hidden tragedy.
It is not. It is out in the open. It’s on television, in the newspapers, in the stats. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Asian American women ages 15-24. Did you read that and let it sink in?
SUICIDE is the SECOND-LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH AMONG ASIAN AMERICAN WOMEN AGES 15-24.
Why and how is this hidden? When I look at my own life I cannot ignore the impact of mental illness and suicide among Asians and Asian Americans.
My cousins. My aunt. Me. A college girlfriend. A friend from my high school youth group. A freshman at Northwestern University during my years on staff with the Asian American InterVarsity chapter. Countless students struggling with depression and anxiety. They were not hidden even as some of them tried desperately tried to hide what they thought was failure, shameful, a burden, a sin.
I have written about my own life with depression and about being on an antidepressant. The decision to “go public” was not an easy one. My husband initially was reluctant about it for the same reasons I was as well. I waited a year, all the while under the care of doctors and taking Lexapro, before writing and speaking publicly about it because I wasn’t sure how my extended family and those connected to them would respond.
Asians and Asian Americans are communal and that value has its good days and its “need Jesus days” and when it comes to mental illness the Church needs to speak Jesus loudly and clearly. The fear is that a diagnosis of mental illness, made worse if it goes public, will not only reflect poorly on the individual but on the entire family. And if the family and the family’s network doesn’t understand the physiology and science behind the illness, fear drives people and their families into hiding.
I am writing this as a Christian who is deeply aware of my cultural lenses and privileges, and I’m willing to beat the drum on this. Asian and Asian American Christians, we need to get out heads out of our butts. We need to talk about mental illness, about our questions and fears. We need to pray and invite doctors into the conversations. We need to ask for help, and we need to get help for ourselves and for the ones we love. We need to stop talking about this in hushed tones and whispers because we live in the now and not yet – in the tension of cultures and brokenness and hope, and we cannot let the Enemy keep telling us lies and letting our brothers and sisters believe the lies.
We have to stop the insidious message that failing to be the perfect fill-in-the-blank means we are worthless, a burden, an embarrassment.
We must stop shoving God to the side and replacing faithfulness with GPAs, test scores, and academic achievement.
We must identify the brokenness in our families, stop the cycle of honoring the American Dream over following Jesus, become parents who fiercely love our children by naming our mistakes and apologizing for them when we are jerks.
We must learn to talk about mental illness like an illness and not a sin. I repeat. Mental illness is not a sin. And neither – mental illness OR sin – should be left hidden in our Christian communities.
We have to face the music. We have sinned by not identifying the broken patterns of parenting and relating to one another that fuel the false narrative that material and academic success=faithfulness and health.
We have to break the model minority stereotype because it isn’t a compliment. It isn’t positive. It doesn’t help our community or make it easier for us to be Americans. A stereotype is a broken image that is used by and against others to demean, degrade, and reduce others.
And I write this with the weight and fear that my depression could be genetic and that the many years I parented while untreated for my depression has already left a mark that will take equal measure of prayer and medical & psychological intervention. I worry and pray that my depression isn’t passed on to my daughter and sons. I do not want this kind of suffering for them, but I also cannot pray away suffering. The Christian life isn’t about running away from suffering, and I am afraid our silence has been exactly that.
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage month, and I have almost gotten away with not talking about it because frankly I’m a bit ambivalent about it for reasons I may blog about later. But this year the theme is #IAmBeyond and personally that evokes anger, strength, voice, hope, and action.
#IAmBeyond silence and stigmas
#IAmBeyond the lie that depression is a sin
#IAmBeyond keeping our stories silent to save face
#IAmBeyond the model minority myth
#IAmBeyond believing silence makes it go away
I can tell stories upon stories about the challenges of women of color face as they minister as a vocation. One of the difficulties hinges on the idea of story as being a legitimate teaching tool. My personal experience has been that my stories, woven into a sermon, often are received as something unique to me and not something from which listeners can draw life lessons about faith and faithfulness.
I may share or give talks, but there often is a moment of hesitation before someone – and that someone may even be myself – will say I teach or preach.
But story is what scripture is. It is truth told through story – narrative, historic, poetic, and prophetic. Jesus tells stories as he tests the patience of the Pharisees, the crowds, and the disciples. We learn about Ruth, Esther, and Mary through their stories.
When teachers and preachers get up to do their thing in front of the congregation or in front of the conference, they use and tell stories to invite people into a relationship with God.
In doing so, in being faithful to the call to be vocational ministers, women of color face having to validate their story and their place in the bigger narrative in unique ways. Personally, I have not chosen that path fully as I have not felt the call to complete an advanced degree in theology or pursue ordination and a formal call to serve in the church. But I know intimately many of the stories I read in “Streams Run Uphill: Conversations with young women of color,” by Mihee Kim-Kort, Judson Press, 2014.
In fact the first page of the foreword made me stop with these words:
“The uphill struggle is not the result of their swimming against the will of the Holy Spirit. Rather, they swim uphill as they struggle to overcome the sexism, racism and ageism that are thrown before them as obstacles to God’s calling,” writes Marvin A. McMickle, PhD, president and professor of church leadership at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.
It’s an important word, perhaps for the many women who will pick up this book because they are drawn to the familiar stories, but more importantly for those who aren’t naturally drawn by kinship but because they personally have either thrown down the obstacles or have done nothing to remove them.
This book doesn’t need to be read by the women who are already living different parts of the stories in the pages. Those women, I suspect, are the primary audience for this book, which in its accessible format could be used as a guided reflection. Yes, those readers will find much-needed inspiration, encouragement, and advocacy. Yes, those readers will find their stories validated in a way only similarity can provide. Yes, those readers should read this book because so very few are written specifically to this audience.
However, if only those women who are already looking for inspiration, encouragement, and advocacy read the book, the obstacles will not be removed fast enough, in my opinion, for the need of another version of this book in the future. We women need more than validity. We need new advocates who are willing to read a book they personally are not drawn to, wrestle with their own complicity or apathy, and take small and big specific action steps to dismantle, destroy, and permanently remove the obstacles that force streams uphill.
This isn’t a book arguing for the ordination of women. This book presupposes clergywomen, but just because a denomination or church allow clergywomen doesn’t mean there actually are any. This book needs to get into the hands of church leaders who say, “We welcome any women (and women of color) to apply. Our doors are open.” This book needs to get into the hands of congregants who think similarly, even if it is about the diversity in their pews. Why? Because an open door doesn’t mean there aren’t any other obstacles to get through and feel like the door was open not by accident but as an intentional way of welcoming new leaders with new stories.
*Disclosure: I received a free preview copy of the book from the publisher for this review. No monetary gifts were offered in exchange for this very, very overdue review of “Streams Run Uphill”.
I am always a bit stunned and saddened to hear children speak Ching Chong, especially when they do it in the presence of their parents without fear of being corrected or stopped.
The other day as we were trying to enjoy a windy 65-degree day at the beach we could not but overhear three families sitting in front of us discuss the uselessness of spending time to learn a second language. As if on cue, one of the kids started in on the Ching Chong with at least one other child and one adult chiming in. Gotta love those everyday racist experiences.
I cannot tell you how tired I am of having to bite my tongue when really what I want to do is approach the offending parties and explain to them how ignorant, short-sighted, and limiting their attitudes and action actually are. I sat there, staring at my husband while practicing mindful breathing when in reality I wanted to say as they passed by, “Oh, how good you Engirsh and Ching Chong speak. Almost perfect for Haole like you. Welcome to America.”
As you can see, I need Jesus because I have practiced this conversation for too long.
The irony is that language immersion programs and second language programs are growing because America continues to slip behind not only in math and sciences but also in its ability to train multicultural, multilingual skilled workers.
The irony is that I grew up bilingual, lost much of my Korean language skills as I immersed myself in my academics, learned enough Spanish to help my kids through high school Spanish, and hated the way my parents spoke English with an accent when I was younger.
It was bad enough that I looked so weird compared to the beautiful, popular girls at school and church. It was hard knowing that my home smelled weird because of the pickled, fermented cabbage and radishes and that I probably smelled weird, too. It was humiliating and terrifying to walk home, ride the bus, walk the halls knowing that there were boys and girls who threatened to beat me up, screamed obscenities at me, and made elementary school worse than it needed to.
I loved and hated being who I was. I fiercely loved and hated my parents for their broken English and flawless Korean. And I didn’t understand until at least a decade later that regardless of the Ching Chong American kids would use to taunt me and my family it was our very ability to speak in two languages interchangeably that put us squarely in the lead of the American dream.
My parents may speak with an accent but they speak two languages. Ching Chong be damned.
But like I said, I need Jesus.
I don’t need the American dream as much as I have needed to plunge into the pain of being an outsider and embrace my multifaceted identity as a Christian Asian American/Korean American working married mother of three in the suburbs as a gift to steward not for revenge or self-righteousness but for Kingdom purposes. I have continued to appreciate the gift of language(s) and culture, and while I struggle with the anger that too quickly bubbles up inside at the Ching Chong comments I also quickly fall into a deep sadness for those who do not see the diversity and beauty of all God’s people.
There is such a limited view of God if we only know Him through the eyes of one language, one culture. Just like meaning gets lost in the translation between languages, no single culture or language can fully express, explain, proclaim the fullness of who God is and what the Gospel is. We can get a glimpse, even a blurry yet beautiful picture but it’s not complete.
So I must also correct my image of those families, children and adults who think speaking Ching Chong is funny and harmless. They are not my enemies. They are the neighbors I am called to love, and if they can’t speak my language I must learn to speak theirs. Sigh. Love your neighbor. Love your neighbor. Love your neighbor.
Which leads me back to those families on the beach. They are back today. Pray with me that my scowl softens and that maybe a day at the beach will be the perfect opportunity for me to stretch my multilingual skills.
Lupita Nyong’o danced with Pharrel like the royalty she is. Her genuine joy, surprise, and awe after hearing her name announced as the winner of the Best Supporting Actress award made my heart swell. Her walk up the stairs, spreading the pleats of that incredible dress like a fan was the way to work that dress.
And it was an incredible moment in history.
It was 75 years since Hattie McDaniel, fondly or reluctantly remembered for her role as “Mammy” in Gone With the Wind, became the first Black woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She was barred from attending the movie premiere in 1939 in Atlanta, GA. McDaniel and her escort sat alone at a segregated table apart from the film’s other stars. Yes, she sat at the “coloreds only” table.
So, it didn’t escape notice during the conversation that ensued in our home that despite it being 75 years later, the role was that of a slave. Nyong’o understood the power of her role when she said, “It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s.” Her role doesn’t take away from her award or from the power and beauty of her performance (yes, I did watch the movie, and, yes, I recommend it).
Other Black female winners included Whoopi Goldberg for Ghost (1990), Halle Berry for Monster’s Ball (2001), Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls (2006), Mo’Nique for Precious (2009) and Octavia Spencer for The Help (2011).
Yes, these women voluntarily took these roles. Yes, McDaniels, Spencer, and Nyong’o knew they were playing slaves. Yes, Berry and Mo’Nique knew they were playing impoverished women. That leaves a
ghost medium and a backup singer.
Seventy-five years between Mammy and Patsey, and the range of prime roles for Black women (never mind other women of color) seem rather, um, limited. What will it take, how long will it take for women of color to gain the experience, the networks, the audience to be offered the roles that so easily go to the likes all the women of non-color who dominate the awards circuit? How long before Asian and Asian American women are even up on the the big screen and littler screen in leading roles that are human beings? Please don’t name the five roles that are out there. Are there even five?
But why bother actually wasting five hours of my life when clearly I see and experience all of life as an Asian American woman and am going to notice these things anyway?
1. Because, despite a raging headache that pounded the back and sides of my brain, I am a sucker for fashion I can’t afford and would never buy even if I could afford some of it. I love the drape of a well-tailored dress or tux. I appreciate the aesthetic of fashion, and though I firmly believe the Fall of Humankind lead to all sorts of ick I am grateful we have moved beyond fig leaves, fur & leather.
2. Because the Oscars bring together the brokenness of this world together with the thing I believe God intended humankind to “do” – the creation of culture.
3. And because I also am an artist, the wife of an artist, and the mother of three artists. In my household five resides several writers, an aspiring screenplay writer/director, a dancer/choreographer, a seamstress/designer/styler, a photographer, a future master Lego builder, a satirist, and a comic book author. We are Christian home that continues to wrestle with what it looks like to be in this world but not of this world. We try to love our neighbors as ourselves by being neighbors who also watch things so we can have easy small talk and be neighbors who know what’s going on this world through a Christian lens, shaped by our Asian American immigrant experiences. We read (meaning two out of the five of us read without it being assigned) books, we get a paper newspaper and several magazines, we watch the news, etc. We shop at the mall, at the resale shops, and at all garage sales possible. We are first-world Christians desperately trying to live and be light by not hiding under a rock or bushel but by finding joy because we have the privilege and the opportunity to do so in incredibly easy but intentional ways.
So we sat together in the family room with the big screen tv and we watched, learned, and taught.
The five of us stayed up enjoying the likes of U2 (has anyone else noticed Bono can’t dance), Pink (I loved that dress!!), Idina Menzel (or Adele Menzeen, according to John Travolta, ugh), and Pharrel perform. (Pharrel, if you or your people are reading this, I have a daughter and two sons who can work it for your next multi-generational dance party.) We engaged them in critique and asked them about their observations. They noticed the plastic surgery and we talked about the world’s view and standard of beauty for men and women. We laughed when we all thought Jared Leto kind of looked like Jesus from the “Son of God” movie. We asked the kids which child would get the family to the Oscars. We cheered when the boys said they wanted to work their creative magic together. We cheered when our daughter mentioned choreographers can win Emmys. We all reacted to the Chevy commercial featuring Asian American children creating a movie by pointing at Peter, husband and dad, who made movies as a kid and still dreams about writing a screenplay. We noticed they cheered and recognized themselves and our family in a CHEVY COMMERCIAL but have never had that opportunity in an American sitcom or movie because obviously writers, casting directors, and producers don’t take race into consideration.
And in watching we continued to push ourselves and our children into the risky business of being in the world but not of the world. In many ways, it felt like an extension of Sunday worship as my heart, mind and soul continued to wrestle with the commandment to love my neighbor as myself when this world keeps telling me I am invisible.