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.