Prejudice and Bias Hurt Us All
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ (Luke 10:29)
This year marks the 150th anniversary of one of the most horrendous terrorist acts in the history of the United States. On October 24, 1871 over 500 residents of Los Angeles stormed into the Chinese quarter, beating, stabbing, and shooting Chinese immigrants – some second and third generation whose families had been on this continent even before California became a state in 1849 – burning their homes and businesses, lynching, killing and mangling 19, injuring dozens more, sending shock and fear throughout the Chinatown of about 200 residents. Some of the reasons that attackers gave for their terrorism? “They smell funny.” “They talk funny.” “They look at our women.” “They bow to us when we pass them.” “We don’t trust them.”
I would love to write today to celebrate the progress we have made, but then I reflect on the recent shootings in Atlanta, where six Asian women were killed. In the United States, an average of 3,800 acts of aggression against Asian Americans occur each month. However, in March of this year that number jumped to over 6,600. The primary excuse given: the Chinese sent the coronavirus to the world. Now, it is important to note that of the 6,600+ acts of aggression and hate, only about 1,900 of those were against Chinese or Chinese Americans; the rest were against people of other Asian nationalities and ethnicities. And it is important to note that two-thirds of the victims are United States citizens. These acts of violence were not acts of reason or sensible thought; these acts are signs of deep and abiding racism, prejudice, and ignorance.
In my own life journey, I have been on the receiving end of many hurtful and hateful attacks. Mostly these are unkind words or insults, but some have been threats of violence and acts of aggressive bullying. It is less now as a Bishop where I am known, but still I see people watch me and I am often the person who has to extend a hand of greeting and friendship to strangers. I have been here decades, and sometimes I still feel that others think I do not belong.
It is obvious that such prejudice and violence hurts the victims and perpetuates racial and ethnic division, but what is too often overlooked is that such incidents do collateral damage to the attackers, to the community, and to the world at large. Prejudice and bias hurt us all. Racially motivated aggressive acts perpetuate stereotypes and focus attention on the negatives of diversity. In a “blame the victim” culture, research shows that a significant portion of the dominant white culture wonder what the victims did to “deserve” what happened to them. Any acts of defense or retaliation are often framed as behavior justifying the assault or attack. In many ways, victims are injured twice – once by the act itself, then by the insult that they deserved what occurred.
It is my honor to speak on May 20th to the Baraboo Talks initiative on Anti-Asian Racism and Xenophobia. Raising awareness and creating understanding is one way we can stand up for the rights and dignity of our Asian sisters and brothers. It is critically important for Christians to oppose racism in all its forms, but more importantly to stand up for the human rights of all people. While it is important to be against that which is evil, it is critical that we fight for all that is good and right and just.
Things we can do to work together to create merciful, compassionate, kind and justice-based beloved community in addition to education and awareness raising are:
First and foremost, pray. If we pray for radical inclusion and racial justice, it will become more than a nice idea; it will become a part of who we are and what we are passionate about. I have seen it time after time; when we become prayer crusaders, it results in changed behavior and beliefs. Pray, and pray hard, for racial justice and beloved community where everyone belongs.
Second, speak out. The state of Wisconsin has some very clear and direct laws against hate crimes, but they are often ignored. Read your local news – you will be surprised at the number of racially related incidents right in your own community. Write letters to encourage local law enforcement to take hate crimes seriously; write to your congressional leaders, to your chamber of commerce, to your school boards (an incredible amount of racially motivated assault, aggression, and bullying is occurring across the country in our schools); and municipal councils.
Third, organize some community events celebrating diversity and multi-ethnic richness. Offer world music performances, international food feasts, mission fairs, inter-cultural block parties, and films from various cultures and global perspectives.
Fourth, participate in peaceful anti-racism rallies, protests, and demonstrations. Oppose any and all acts of violence – vandalism, property damage, looting, violence against law enforcement – that simply perpetuate ill will and anger based in race relations. Our call and primary task is to be peacemakers. Our Christian United Methodist witness is social justice grounded in mercy, compassion, caring, reconciliation, unity, love, and peace. We have an opportunity to model a different way to deal with injustice.
There are many other things we can do, but I offer you a simple, challenging invitation: extend a hand of fellowship and grace to members of other races, cultures, nationalities, and languages. Make an effort to tear down the dividing walls between “us” and “them.” Make a commitment to love those most different from yourself. Be filled by God’s Holy Spirit with the knowledge and truth that God is love, and share that love with everyone – white, black, bronze, brown, beige, amber, caramel, ruddy, or pink! Together, we can undo the harm and hurt done by prejudice, bias, aggression, and racial violence, but only if we will commit together to make it so. Let us faithfully commit. Thanks be to God.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).