“But I Don’t See You as Asian” – A Call to Listen

A year or two ago, I downloaded Bruce Reyes-Chow’s book, “But I Don’t See You as Asian.”  Here’s an excerpt from Amazon describing the book:

Bruce invites the reader into a salon type of atmosphere where he directly addresses thoughtless words and diversionary tactics, such as dismissing racial discussions as being impolite or avoiding race conversations altogether. He invites the reader to chuckle, gasp, and perhaps nod in understanding as he lists the kinds of statements often used against persons of color in a predominantly white culture. But rather than stopping there, Bruce asks readers to swap shoes with him and reconsider their assumptions about race…”But I don’t see you as Asian” puts one person’s joys and struggles on the table for dissection and discovery.

I started reading Bruce’s book when I first purchased it (I am VERY good at starting books), but never ended up finishing it (I am TERRIBLE at finishing books!).  Some racially-insensitive comments over Christmas prompted my wife to begin reading this book, and they got me thinking, once again, about my existence as a bi-racial person.  My father was adopted from South Korea and my mother is caucasian.

Race has always been part of my life’s experiences.  My family’s too.  Dad spent his early childhood years in Detroit and still remembers some of the race-riots he grew up seeing.  Mom tells stories about people who didn’t (and still don’t) approve of her interracial marriage. My sister, who looks the most “asian,” was called “Panda” in school.  I remember sitting in my AP Physics class listening to my friend’s joke: What sound does a roller coaster make going up the hill?  Chink – Chink – Chink (the sound hammers made when Japanese and Asian slaves built America’s Western railroads).

ha ha ha…Laughter always seemed to make conversations about race “easier.”

But boy do most of those comments and jokes hurt – even the ones I used to lead off with, and still occasionally slip back into saying.  And the ones meant to be…nice(?) – “But I don’t see you as Asian” – hurt just as much.

We had a conversation about race several months ago in our weekly Crossroads Bible Study, where I encouraged the predominately White attendees to take positions of listening when conversing with someone different than them.  You have earn the right to be heard.  This, of course, goes for persons of any color, gender, nationality, religion, or political party.  Earn the right to be heard.

Scripture is replete with calls for us to listen.  Time and again, Jesus declared: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  Jesus’ brother James also called on Christians to be “slow to speak and quick to listen.”

Listening is an incredible gift to give someone: allowing for them to feel heard.  This is especially true for pain-filled conversations and experiences: Race.  Abuse of any kind.  Divorce.  Religious intolerances.  Bankruptcy.  Suicide.  If you are fortunate enough to be part of such a conversation, you don’t need to tell that person anything; let them tell you.  Let them tell you about their story, their experiences, their feelings, pains, joys, and struggles.  Ask questions, yes, but don’t lend advice.  Don’t try to “fix” or “correct” their experiences. There may be another time, later, to talk with them after you’ve earned the right to be heard.  

It’s not easy to listen.  It’s a skill that needs to be learned and practiced.  Even if the one you listen to doesn’t respond in kind, I hope that you are able to find that person or those persons who take the time to listen to you.  I hope you get the chance to feel heard too.

On this MLK Jr. Day, so many quotes and memories come back to me.  I am a big MLK fan.  I suppose one stands out for me this morning is the quote below: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

May you be bearers of justice.  May you bring the gifts of a listening heart and eager ears that hear.  May you be one who cares enough to listen to those who are different from you.

It won’t be easy.  But it could change everything.

Thanks for listening…

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