Speak Out Against Racism

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My wife and I were still newlyweds when we were in downtown Hamilton, Ont. As we were filing into a crowded elevator, a white man pushed me and said, “Out of my way, Chink!” Later, as I reached forward to press the button for my floor, saying, “Excuse me,” he said: “There’s no excuse for you, Chink!” My wife, who is white, was stunned. I didn’t know what to do. I had never experienced such blatant racism before. Sure, I had experienced the occasional drive-by “Go home” before, but never so in-my-face. All the way up the ride, I wondered if I should say something. I was afraid to confront the man. I also didn’t want to be the angry minority person. My Chinese upbringing emphasized peace, harmony, and self-effacement. Everyone hurriedly streamed out of the elevator when the doors opened, ending an excruciatingly silent ride.

That overall silence and non-reaction from everyone else made me, the only person of color in that elevator ride, feel alone and added to my self-doubts. I wonder now if the silence and non-reaction to his first racial slur only emboldened the man to make his second one. In hindsight, I probably should have said something, firmly but politely. But I was young, inexperienced, and unprepared.

In his article, “Combating Anti-Semitism,” Doug Bratt wrote about how silence in the face of anti-Semitism is dangerous because silence protects and enables hatred and violence to flourish. Bratt urged Christians to speak out against anti-Semitic racism. Indeed, out of love for God and neighbor, we have a duty to speak out against any form of racism.

In the wake of senseless deaths of black Americans—George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor—and the global wave of protests for black lives, and in Canada Indigenous lives too, many are speaking up against racism, including the CRC. And I join that chorus in support of black and Indigenous lives.

Black and Indigenous people are made in God’s image and deserve justice and equal treatment from individuals and institutions. The CRC’s 1996 Synodical Report, God’s Diverse and Unified Family, states that racism is a sin and “may manifest itself interpersonally as well as institutionally.”

Yet there are counter-voices among Christians, especially white Christians, who deny systemic racism; or who counter “black lives matter” with “all lives matter.” Even the CRC’s Council of Delegates had dissent. These Christians may be well-meaning, but I want them to know these actions are hurtful to most people of color, especially to black and Indigenous folks.

I don’t have space here to argue for systemic racism or fully explain why saying “all lives matter” in response is misguided. But can you imagine if I had spoken out in that elevator many years ago, and, instead of support, the others started denying, “Oh, I didn’t hear a racial slur”? Or if they said, “You should be careful not to hurt his feelings; his feelings are important, too”? I would have been re-traumatized by the bystanders. And I believe that is what many black and Indigenous people experience when they encounter such responses and denials to their cries for justice and equality. This happens every time they cry out.

People of color experience racial trauma from generations, or at least a lifetime, of racism. Such denials are re-traumatizing many of them.

So, for Christ’s sake, please give a care.

About the Author

Shiao Chong is editor-in-chief of The Banner. He attends Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Toronto, Ont.

Shiao Chong es el redactor jefe de The Banner. El asiste a Iglesia Comunidad Cristiana Reformada en Toronto, Ont. 

시아오 총은 더 배너 (The Banner)의 편집장이다. 온타리오 주 토론토의 펠로우쉽 CRC에 출석한다.

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Comments

Thanks, Shiao, for recounting your first hand experience of racism.  I question whether such stories are very effective in eliminating racism.  It just encourages “me too” stories, whether told from a white perspective or a black.  There are plenty of such stories.  When much younger, I went to trade school on the south side of Chicago.  Being called “white trash” is about all that is printable as to what many of us white students were called on a regular basis.  One of my fellow student’s and friend’s brother was killed by a black gang.  In Chicago, more recently we’ve seen millions of dollars in damage and lives ruined for the cause of “black lives matter,” as though such hatred is justified.  I doubt that such stories really help remedy the situation of racism.  Lots of such stories can be told from a variety of perspectives. We can do better than to tell such stories.  We all - whites, blacks, asians, hispanics, or whatever race must contribute to the solution, and we all need to stop pointing fingers.

I"m a white male who catagorically rejects the notion of "systemic" racism because to in fact recognize it is part of the problem and not the solution. Racism exists, no question. It's found in every race of people on earth and can only be repented of individually and that comes from the gospel penetrating human hearts by the word and Spirit. Blaming systemic racism exacerbates the problem because the only remedy in such a scenario is to dismantle the "system". Short of revolution how does anyone expect to accomplish such a thing. The only attempts I know of are rooted in anarchy...CHOP/CHAZ rings any bells. Who suffers most when the law and its enforcers are vilified? From what I can tell, mostly people of color always suffer most when the radicals take center stage. We could use a lot less "posturing" and virture signaling and a lot more simple love and respect for all of us made in the image of God. However, we'll never get there if the simple fact of objecting to everything "Black Lives Matter" ,as an organization, stands for ideologically is anathema. Personally, I think we ought to be championing the restoration of black families in our culture. How about it? Say it with me Black Families Matter. 

Much of the "dissent" Mr. Chong refers to has to do with the fact that the denominational leaders chose to encourage church members to support several explicitly left wing political organizations in their letter. This was completely unnecessary and had next to nothing to do with police violence, racial injustice etc. Anyone upset about opposition to the letter ought to be honest and ask "Why did the CRCNA have to exploit the current situation to promote a narrow political agenda?"

Shiao, I wish I had been with you on that day. I would have told that guy to "Shut your mouth, you jerk." I would have stood up for you. And I would have physically placed myself in between you and him. I'm sorry if that isn't exactly a Christ-like response. But that's the reaction of righteous anger I feel when I encounter situations like that.

You, being more mature and self-controlled than me, probably would have felt emboldened by my support to respond to that man with forgiveness and a more civil answer to his comments (more like Jesus would have). And hopefully that guy would have learned he can't treat people like that in a civilized society.

Thank you for your words.  First, I am glad we have you as editor at this time.  We need to hear your voice.  I've spent weeks trying to figure out how I, as a middle aged white guy can speak into this without coming across as a "bandwagoner".  Yet, to remain quiet is not an option. This is as far as I've got but its been challenging me.  If I am to live what I believe, that in Christ, there is not Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, then I must make sure I live treating others as Christ treated me, worth dying for.  This is a good reminder that we are called to die for others.  Die to our power, die to our reputation, die to our wants for the sake of others.  I'm an immigrant's kid who felt he had little power growing up.  I have learned (and been surprised by) how much power I actually have as a white guy in an area where no one knows my story.  So now I get to use the influence I have as Jesus used his, for the sake of others.  Thanks for reminding us of that.

Thanks Chong for sharing this, speaking up is being part of the solution!  and I believe more stories should be shared... I love the approach that Angela M. Povilaitis (Staff Policy Attorney-Michigan Domestic & Sexual Violence) took with the "army of survivors" sharing their impact statemtents... there is something powerful and profound that happens on many levels when these impact statements are shared. History tells us that the silencing of these stories and the impact of abuse (whatever form that takes, including racisim) is what perpetuates abuse/racism...    

"We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." Elie Wiesel

and yes, we need to fight this on both an individual level and on a systemic level... when laws, policies and procedures are written or implemented in discriminating against some, especially the more vulnerable, in order to benefit/protect those in power, we have systemic abuse of power going on - and systemic racism is one aspect of systemic abuse of power...  

Thank you, Mr. Chong, for a thoughtful article about combating racism. While you make some excellent points, I am not entirely in agreement with your dismissal of the words “all lives matter.” Even you refer to “actions are hurtful to people of color.” As far as I know, black is not the only color. The phrase “people of color” in the US usually refers to non-whites such as African Americans, Native Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islander Americans, Middle Eastern Americans and multiracial Americans. In other words, the phrase “black lives matter” is not really inclusive of all who suffer from racism even if we recognize that African Americans may suffer more than others. As a white immigrant, black lives matter to me but so do the lives of all those other people and that includes whites as well. Our only solution is to respect the lives of all people created in God’s image and treat all people as our neighbor like the Samaritan did.

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