walking the thin line between Oppression and Privilege

I recently heard someone describe privilege as the ability to walk away. It struck a chord in me the moment I heard it.  Because when I’m honest with myself, it’s a feeling I’ve had before – you can walk away from this conversation if it gets too hard or too real for you.  When people look at me, when they interact with me, most people see what they want to see.  Sometimes that means they think I’m just like them and sometimes that means I’m nothing like them.
Let me clarify, because you’re reading this and not seeing me, I’m biracial.  My mom is Caucasian and my dad was Hispanic.  We moved from CO to NJ when I was three, far away from my extended family on both sides.  So all of my early childhood that I can remember was spent in North Eastern New Jersey.  Looking back at the demographics (according to the census), my town was approximately 13,000 and 91% of the population identified themselves as white.
My parents never really talked about the fact that they were an interracial couple.  If it was ever difficult for them, I didn’t know about it.  I never thought we were that different from the run of the mill families that surrounded us. I was just your average kid.
Until one day when I wasn’t.
I remember we were playing at a friend’s house.  I must have been about 8.  We were out in the front yard and a pick-up truck drove by.  In the bed of the pick-up truck were a group of Mexican American men.  One of my friends stopped playing, spit on the ground next to her and muttered, “Dirty Mexicans.”
It sent shock waves through my whole body.  I watched the truck drive away and thought about my dad.  I thought about my grandma.  I thought about my aunts and uncles.
I didn’t say anything.  Looking back on it now, I’m sure she had no idea what she was saying.  She must have just been repeating something she’d heard and I am almost certain that she wasn’t thinking about my dad or my family.
I don’t recall ever telling my parents that story.  It wasn’t something we talked about.  I don’t even think in that moment I could have named what changed in me but it was the first moment that I realized something was different.  That a part of me was somehow less than the rest of these girls.
It began the journey of a segmented life for me.  Because we were far away from any extended family and because we didn’t talk about where either of my parents came from, I never really wrestled with this identity.  I was simply drawn to others around me that didn’t quite fit this classic mold that was being praised by TV shows and magazines.
From that moment on there are countless moments where I felt that same feeling I had felt in my friend’s front yard.  I have had to wrestle to become comfortable inside my own skin.  To love the things that are so oddly distinct to my biracial make-up.
I recently was talking to a friend and I made a comment about how most people look at me and think I’m white.  His response to me was, “it’s because they aren’t looking hard enough.”
And it’s true.  Most of the time when I’m interacting with white people they see what they want to see – my lighter skin.  It’s given me the privilege to walk away when I didn’t want to engage and to hide behind the majority culture surrounding me.
But it’s also shown me the ugly side of privilege.  I’ve had comments made to me and around me that were nothing short of racist.  It has felt obtrusively oppressive.
In my early years of identity work, I could walk away from these conversations with my true self still hidden.  Almost like a mole, I was able to take in the information without being found out.  But I did not leave those conversations unscathed.  It started this narrative of white supremacy in my life –
That one half of me was better than the other half.
The thing with lies is that when they creep into your brain, they tend to repeat themselves over and over again.  The beauty of living in community and knowing the saving grace of Jesus is that those lies don’t have to win.
What wins is that I was made new by a creative God.  That my biracial make up was no mistake.  I’m biracial because God created me biracial.  As I walk this line between oppression and privilege, I get to decide how my voice is going to be used and how my story will be told.

one day when the glory comes

A friend texted me the following quote this week:

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.  We must always take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” – Elie Wiesel

What follows is a post I’ve been mulling over for a few weeks.  It’s still not fully thought through and it’s not profound in anyway.  But it is an attempt at not being silent anymore, regardless of how unprepared I am to speak.

IMG_4538 The first time I visited the National Civil Rights Museum was in March 2010.  I clearly remember a moment where I found myself standing in a replica of a jail cell listening to the reading of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.  I stood in that jail cell and tears streamed down my face as I listened to this letter.
In this letter, Dr. King is responding to white area clergy who had written a statement calling his actions and the civil rights movement “unwise and untimely.”  His response is humble but firm – that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Back then I had just decided on moving to Chicago to pursue my masters.  I was beginning the path toward where I am now – an ordained pastor serving in a church setting.  Standing there and listening to his words ignited something in me – a passion to fight for justice, especially within the racial tensions in America.
As I was exiting seminary, someone asked me what I thought my role in racial righteousness ministry.  Throughout seminary I had been challenged to see myself and the world around me differently.  I had come face to face with ugly truths in my own life and in the world, especially when it came to racial righteousness.  So this question to me gave me pause.
I’ve been trying to answer that question for the last six years.  To see where I fit in on this long road towards justice for all.  What’s my leg of the race?  Where do I fit into it?
Along this journey of discovery for myself, I have found beauty in the discussions.  I’ve entered in with my brothers and sisters in Christ as I’ve tried to understand the various perspectives in justice ministry.  I’ve sat uncomfortably in the anger.  I’ve cried the tears of brokenness and pain.  I’ve rejoiced alongside my brothers and sisters who find triumph in their ministries in building bridges.
Last month I found myself in that same jail cell replica.  I was en route to Jackson, MS with an intergenerational group from our church.  We were going to serve alongside another Covenant church and on the way we were stopping to enter into this conversation about race in America.
I took the picture above on this second trip.  I wanted to remember the first time I stood in that cell and at the same time I wanted to rejoice in how far I’ve come in my own understanding.  But I also took this picture for another reason – to remind me that I’m still on the outside.  
I’ve done some hard work in my life to understand racism in America.  I have had to do some digging in my own life as a biracial woman.  I’ve dealt with racism and sexism directed towards me.  I understand being marginalized in some aspects.  But I am still on the outside of this jail cell.
I still have white privilege.  I will never fully understand what it feels like to be afraid of law enforcement, to do everything right and still be disrespected, beaten or killed.
Dr. King was constantly challenging white clergy to enter into the conversation.  To mourn alongside those who mourn and to be heartbroken by the belittling and loss of life.  To not stand idly by while our brothers and sisters are being devalued, killed and held back from the type of life they deserve.
When tragedy strikes us the way it has this week in Dallas, Baton Rouge and Minnesota or in recent weeks in Orlando and overseas – we must join together and lament.  To fight darkness with light.
Yes – Hate is alive in our country.  Fear is alive in our country.  But so is Christ.  Christ is alive and he is mourning the loss of life.  He is weeping over the bodies of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the five officers in Dallas.
I’m still working through what this looks like in my own life – how I am called to act.  But I refuse to look away, to be silent when the darkness is so loud.
May we join together and engage in this conversation on how to redeem and mend the brokenness all around us.

colour me in

I heard a discussion recently on these new emojis that Apple has released that range the full spectrum of racial diversity… well probably not the full spectrum but the fullest you can probably get on a little emoji head.  It was a discussion about how people are “supposed” to use these emjois, are we supposed to be the emoji, or is the emoji the person we are texting, or are we just referring to random people who are just sort of out there and therefore can be any race?
The conversation got really interesting as they continued to reach out to their white friends and ask this question – what emoji choice do you make?  And what does that choice say about you?
I, for one, have always struggle with my racial identity.  Well, almost always.  Being bi-racial in a predominately white world has mostly caused questions in my world, from me and from others.  There came a point where I started to resent the assumption of being white.  I can’t fully explain what that means fully – it probably has something to do with losing my dad, and the idea that identifying as white is in some way forsaking him and his history.
But identifying fully as a Latina, that has it’s baggage too.  It means that I’m shutting down the other half of my family – even though we don’t know our heritage as well on that side of my family.  Add into this midst my internationally adopted goddaughter whom feels more a part of me than anyone I’m blood related to.  I look at pictures of our family and I see a beautiful mosaic.
Represented in our little family are many cultures, many worlds.  And it is so beautiful to me, to us.  We cherish it with open arms and hearts.  We don’t see different races when we look at each other, we just see family.
But outside in the “real world” – the story doesn’t feel as beautiful.  I try to fill out my ethnic background on forms and I find myself asking those same questions.  Please – just give me a bi-racial box.  Give me a Multi-Ethnic option.  And some forms have, to which I am so grateful to proudly check that box.
So when Apple gave us options for emojis, I admit – I was excited.  I wanted something to represent my skin tone better.  And I know that sounds weird.  I know that sounds like I’m putting too much stock into those dumb little cartoons that I use to jazz up my texts…  but in a world where I get asked “what are you?”  Where people look to me to raise my minority flag but also feel free to mock me for liking tacos and salsa.  Where I see my goddaughter mocked for the color of her skin at a young age.  Where I hear her struggle through what it means to be Asian and to be proud of a culture she left at a young age.
In a world where race tensions are still entirely too present, whether purposely malicious or ignorantly neglectful, I sometimes just need a win. I’m not going to say it’s a win for all minorities.  I wouldn’t dream to make an assumption for every person of color.  But for me, a tiny little emoji that gets closer to my brown hair and darker skin, is a win.
This post’s title comes from a Damien Rice song, I discovered it while writing this post and it hit, it hit my heart so hard.  I’m still processing it, but sometimes my struggle with my own racial identity feels like the tension in this song.  I’ve had moments when I feel like I’m trying my hardest to help people see things through my eyes and it ends in pain, when I’ve been looking for Christ’s love in others but when the love of others has let me down.  I’ve often confused it with Christ’s love letting me down.  But I realize his love will never let me down.  But as followers of him, our love lets others down all the time.  We do it wrong.  And I know that I’m called to love others through the tension – but it’s so hard at times.
But I have to keep trying.  To love others through this racial reconciliation journey, and when it’s hard to love, I have to rely on Christ’s love for others through me.  I pray his love can shine through me stronger than my own frustrations.

we're the diamonds rising up out the dust

Whenever I have time to kill and my phone in my hand I almost always end up on BuzzFeed.  It’s such a time waster and I try to only tap that little red icon when I have nothing else productive to do.  When I’m early at an appointment or in a waiting area for the DMV for example.
The other day I found myself scrolling through the Feed and I came across a quiz that peeked my interest.  It was entitled “How Latino/a Are You.”  I feel as though I have been asking this question of myself for 20+ years.  And for most of those years I feel like that’s the question (or statement) on people’s minds when they meet me.
So I couldn’t help myself.  I clicked the link.
There was one question: “Can your roots be traced back to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, D.R. or any other South or Central American county?”
So I clicked yes and the results simply said “You are very Latino/a: and you’re awesome.”
I’m not sure I can really explain the sense of relief that I felt.  It might sound ridiculous that I was placing any stock in an online quiz on a social media website.  But on some level I think I thought it would reveal what I’ve always feared or what some people have told me all along – You don’t fit in our box of what Latina looks like.  (or on the flip side – you don’t fit in our box of what Caucasian looks like.)
For many biracial or multiracial people, this is a struggle that is very real and very misunderstood.
I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries to do some writing on topics such as this one.  And topics that have nothing to do with this one.  I have been encouraged to take these opportunities and to try and embrace all the pieces of me that seem to not fit together.  But the mere fact that they are all pieces of me means that they do fit together.
So here’s to vulnerability and to allowing myself to be myself in attempts to become a diamond rising out from the dust.  Albeit an imperfect diamond, but a diamond nonetheless.

caught in the storm

I recently listened to a lecture that was dated two years ago at RTS given by Dr. Harold O.J. Brown to his Pastoral and Social Ethics class entitled Racial Prejudice.  You can find this lecture on iTunes U if you wish to listen to it in correspondence with this post.  I will try my best to summarize the points I’m making in this points.
Before I begin, allow me put a few things out there, because I come at this lecture with a bias, many biases for that matter.  I am bi-racial.  My mom is Caucasian and my dad was a third generation Mexican American.  The majority of my formative years were spent in a predominately white town where the only person of color I knew was my dad.  Since then I’ve come to term with what it means to be bi-racial if only because of the force of others pointing out that I did not belong.  My background with racial prejudice comes from the idea that I am the other, to everyone.
Enter in Dr. Brown’s lecture.  There were a few points in Dr. Brown’s lecture that I resonated with, but predominately there were points that made me shake my head, a couple of times checking the date of the lecture in disbelief.
Dr. Brown rightly denounced the practice of Scientific Racism (think Nazi Germany or The Bell Curve), pointing out that it is unbiblical to believe that some races are superior to others.  He did this on the premise that we are all created in God’s image, and if that is true than all races must be made equal for we are all made in the image of God.  This biblical principle was the foundation of most of his lecture, which I resonate with.  Biblically speaking, racism shouldn’t exist because it has no roots in the Word.
This is where Dr. Brown and I start down differing paths within the racial discussion in the Church and in America. Instead of going point by point through the lecture, there were two main arguments that I want to flush out a little here.
Dr. Brown states that Christians have a fairly good record in racism, the evidence being in the fact that we strive to convert everyone.  He goes on to say that as Christians we should feel good about how we have handled racism, in comparison to the rest of the world that is.  He goes on to say that we could do better by God’s standards but that we should be proud that we are at least better than the rest of the world.
Secondly, Dr. Brown closes his lecture with the statement that Christians are not biblically required to take part in civil action.  He shows scripture to be about the people, the families and individuals and that we should leave the civil action to the government.
This is where I whole heartedly disagree with Dr. Brown.  I’ve heard it quoted that the Church is the most segregated institution within the US.  Sunday mornings come and we flood to churches with people that look like us, act like us, have similar histories as we do.  This may not be outright racism, but it is definitely a marker of a racist environment that we were raised in.
Racism is a big issue to tackle.  It is a multi-faceted issue.  It takes place on a personal level, a structural level, an institutional level and so many other levels.  The closer we look at our own trends and biases, the more we see the ugly face of racism.  In our schools, our government, our churches and- heaven forbid- our families.
All this to say, how can we as Christians not take civil action seriously?  How can we sit aside and allow institutional racism continue to oppress people?  People who were created in the image of God just like each of us were?
For us to stay silent is for us to go against the very nature of why Jesus came to the earth (Luke 4).  We are called to care for the orphan, the widow, the poor and more times than not that care looks like trying to break the cycles that made them orphans and widows…