by Br. Thomas Nguyen, G.H.M.
Br. Thomas is a brother of The Glenmary Home Missionaries, a community that ministers to rural populations in the United States. He is a second-year Pastoral Ministry Masters student at the University of Dayton. His studies, his missionary experience, and his lived experience as a Vietnamese-American Catholic form his views. As he says, “my missionary bent makes me more sensitive to those who are marginalized in our society. The attacks on Asians during COVID have re-invigorated my zeal to fight for justice, especially racial justice. My goal is to help all people see the fullness of the scriptures which have social and spiritual impact. In order to restore justice and peace at times we have to ‘bust the wall of ignorance.’”
An issue that has been on my heart and mind in recent years is the racial divide that still exists in America. For a country that brags and prides itself on progress, human rights, freedom, and civil liberties, there is still much work to be done on this terrain.
The events that acted as a catalyst for me in contemplating the racial divide in America were George Floyd’s murder and the violence against Asian Americans during the rise of COVID. If the death of George Floyd showed us anything, it is that we have a huge problem on our hands, and that is systemic racism! It is not enough to acknowledge the sins of the past and go on as if America has rooted out its racism. The work for racial peace should happen until no one is attacked, killed, or discriminated against based on the color of their skin.
In fighting racism, I am not just talking about the racial divide that exists between Caucasians and African Americans, but I am talking about all forms of racism. Many Americans will acknowledge that a racial divide exists between Whites and Blacks. But I am speaking here about a group that sometimes gets ignored when one speaks about the racial divide in America. I am speaking about a racial community that I am a member of: Asian Americans.
When the reports about attacks against Asians came out during the rise of the pandemic, it was not at all a surprise to me. This resentment and discrimination against Asians has existed for years; it is nothing new under the sun. What upset me was that the hate turned physical. I was enraged seeing members of my racial community being beaten and attacked for just being Asian. I would compare the attacks on Asians to the killing of George Floyd.
These attacks forced me to examine myself. What do I mean by this? This series of attacks against Asians did not come out of nowhere. I believe many Asian Americans (myself included) deserve partial blame for this. Before you say “don’t blame the victim,” let me explain.
These attacks came from an unsubstantiated fear of Asians (especially the Chinese) spreading COVID. Underneath this fear lies a deep resentment that some Americans have for Asians. Racist and derogatory statements have been slung at Asians for years. But the reason why I claim that Asian Americans are partly to blame for this is the reality that many Asian Americans have been taught to ignore casual racism. Many Asian Americans reading these words can attest to the accuracy of this statement. I was taught to lay low and ignore racially prejudicial comments. Many Asians have sucked it up, blown off insults, silently moved on, and became successful. Asians trade dignity and face to move up in status.
Asians are stereotyped as being cooperative, quiet, polite, and smart, but at what cost? The attacks on Asians that occurred during the pandemic made me question what we have gained by this “silence” and what price we have to pay for it. The silence has given Asians the name “perfect minority” because we stay silent when other races trample all over us. There is a reason most of the racial jokes that are said about Asians would not pass with other racial groups.
For me, silence was a way to survive; to be honest, ignoring casually racist comments seemed the best strategy. It took these violent attacks to make me realize how dangerous the silence I have been so accustomed to can be. The attacks caused me to be more articulate about my culture and the pains of my people. I became more aware of the need to speak out about my experience. Yes, I would risk not being seen as cooperative, and I would make some people feel uncomfortable at times, but at least my speaking up might decrease people’s ignorance. The attacks made me ask what role I could play in eliminating the poison of racism.
The daily silence that many Asian Americans are taught leads people to take advantage of them. People think our silence means they can walk all over us. Our silence makes us invisible. People take for granted our success, as if being born Asian means being successful. There are so many Asian students that have to work their butts off to make it through medical school, and yet they have their hard work dismissed as simply the result of “being gifted.”
This is the reason why I can no longer keep silent, not just for the racial barrier that exists for Asians, but for Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and all racial groups. Like John the Baptist, my calling as a prophetic minister does not allow me to be complacent and silent. I must preach the Gospel truth to all people. That means I must proclaim to all people that they are beloved in God’s eyes.
Unfortunately, from my experiences in the rural South, this reality has yet to fully penetrate the hearts and minds of some American “Christians.” I am not saying there has been no progress, for there has been. But is it enough? Unfortunately, no. I don’t believe the work for racial justice is done until all people can go out of their residences unafraid of being attacked because of their racial identity. The truth of the Gospel cannot be realized and lived out to its fullest until there is true peace on earth.
Unfortunately, this cannot happen until preachers preach the Gospel in all its fullness, not veiled by a political agenda. Being Christian should not be seen as identical to being Republican. Being Christian means embracing the scriptures in all its uncomfortableness. It is not being silent, but it is speaking the truth no matter the cost. Surely Jesus did not preach a “comfortable Gospel,” otherwise he would not have been left hanging on that cross! The Gospel message should make you and I shiver in our boots. The Gospel, as Jesus testified with his life, was as social as it was theological. Our mission is not done until there is total peace, for God’s kingdom is a peaceful kingdom.
Let us begin building the kingdom by breaking down racial barriers and replacing them with acceptance and love. Let us build a kingdom where every suffering is seen for what it is. Let us build a kingdom where no one is INVISIBLE and no one is killed as a result of their INVISIBILITY!