Journey Towards Reimagination: Society of Race, Ethnicity and Religion
Much of my personal life intersects with race, religion, and gender issues. In some ways, the word intersects is too gentle. Perhaps collide better captures what occurs in my life as an Asian North American woman theologian, writer, minister, and mother. As I try to engage in theological dialogue, live in community with the dominant, unfamiliar culture, and raise my kids with concerns on how to be just in this world, I realize that the lives of all people, especially people of color, collide and clash with others on the critical issues of race, religion, and gender.
Due to such clashes and collisions on critical issues, it is important for scholars of color to come together to discuss new ideas, concepts, and thoughts on handling such encounters. This was the vision of my friends, Drs. Miguel De la Torre (Iliff School of Theology), Stacey Floyd-Thomas (Vanderbilt), and Anthony Pinn (Rice University), who had the foresight to begin such a forum in the form of the Society of Race, Ethnicity and Religion (SRER). Scholars of color are doing important scholarship which should not be ignored by the wider academy. Scholars of color must continue to work with each other to express concerns, issues, and the importance of scholarship from a different perspective of the minoritized, as well as to continue working through mainstream journals, classes, schools, and professional societies. Solidarity must be reaffirmed and encouraged. The cross pollination of scholarship must be encouraged, and now there is a venue where peer review is done by true peers.
This new society is bursting with potential. I really did not know what to expect from the inaugural meeting was held in Chicago, April 26-28, 2013 at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and McCormick Theological Seminary. I did not know if many people would attend, what type of scholarship was going to be shared, and how people would accept the scholarship. Due to these uncertainties, I decided to send a very “safe” paper proposal in response to the theme for the meeting, which was the “State of Our Union.” What I mean by a “safe” proposal is that I submitted one which does not deal with racism.
I can write about racism in books, articles, chapters, and columns, but to talk about it in front of an audience or class is very difficult to me. It is difficult since it is so personal. I have experienced racism throughout my life. Now as a mother, it is also difficult to experience it in front of my children and see my children experience it.
I realize the personal can become political and I recognize that it is important to address it. It takes courage publicly to talk about racism. It takes courage because the act of engaging racism entails some “letting go.” It involves “letting go” of some comfort and entering into the wilderness of “unknowing.” It opens the door for criticism, hostility, and opposition. You never know what kind of “land mines” you may touch off by colliding with the opinions of some members of your audience.
Taking steps to talk about racism publicly also involves “reimagining.” To me, reimagining implies taking a “risk.” It implies taking a risk to make a mistake, a risk to lose what one believes, and a risk to feel betrayed by one’s people. It also means being open to change. Change may involve changing one’s course and one’s personal perspective. This involves being open to the transformative power of the Spirit, not unlike the spirit of kenosis described in Philippians 2:6-10. When this happens, there may be an element of surprise, wonder, and astonishment.
So instead of taking risks and having some courage to do a paper on racism, I decided to give a paper on “Sustainability and Han.” It was a paper on eco-justice and the suffering of the earth and its people. It was a safe paper because it is such a familiar topic among theologians on the margins.
However, as each presenter went up before my talk, they all addressed racism and or shared their personal experiences about racism. It is clear that racism exists within societies, academies, and even within religions. The presenters were passionate about this topic and they were courageous in sharing their personal stories of racism.
As I heard each presenter talk about this sensitive issue of racism, I knew this was a safe place to discuss delicate topics such as racism, white privilege, supremacy, and structural “isms.” Perhaps, I should have taken the risk. Perhaps I should have “let go” and should have begun the journey towards “reimagination.” If I had done this, my personal reality would have become political. My personal concern may have encouraged others to take a risk. Furthermore, it may help us take action so we can all help one another go on this difficult journey to rectify the injustices in our society and country for a better world for our children and the generations to come.
As we think about our children, it is imperative not only to write about the problems of racism, but also talk about them so we can work towards eliminating racism. In addition, as we also work towards a more equal society for both men and women, we also need to talk about male privilege, supremacy and structural ‘isms’. We need to engage in dialogue and perhaps live by the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who stated, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”