But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race Bruce Reyes-Chow
I was inspired to read this book because of conversations about race happening with my colleagues in the Young Clergy Women Project. I am glad I read this book and think it leads itself to being read with a group to inspire conversations about a topic that needs to be discussed. This book will not take you long to read. Putting into actions the suggestions in this book will require energy, time, trial and error, and space for forgiveness. It is good, hard work that we must do.
Here are some things I learned and found thought provoking-
While it may seem helpful to say something like “I don’t see you as Asian. I see you as a human being.” The intent behind a statement like this is we are all humans and I see you as one too. Statements like this can be hurtful because we may be overlooking someone’s “Asianness” (discounting a part of who they are). Instead Bruce asks us to “please do see that I am Asian and take the time to explore the nuances of that reality” (78-79).
Ask the question you want someone to answer. “If you would like to know someone’s ethnic background, ask them, “So, what’s your ethnic background?” and if you want to know their hometown, ask them, “So what is your hometown?” But please don’t ask, “Where are you from?” (85). The problem with asking where someone is from is that the answer may be here. The person you are asking may have been born here in this country and you may have assumed that he or she was born in another country simply because of her/his race. Where are you from has also been used as a way to say go back where you came from which is hard for someone who is from here.
In Chapter 7, “Don’t Be So Sensitive”, Bruce encourages us to stop saying this to each other. These conversations we are called to have are difficult. Emotions will come to the surface. It is okay to be sensitive and emotional. It is okay to listen to each other’s stories in whatever ways we are able to tell them.
What can we do? Although the author directs these comments at the generation younger than his, I think they can apply to any of us who want to engage this issue. “I hope young people will embrace the past and hold onto the hope that the United States can achieve even greater racial harmony. And second, as they nurture this hope into being, I implore them not to abdicate their responsibility to monitor and respond to the ongoing racial discrimination that is going on around us all” (113-114).
Tokenism is the idea that if we include one person who is “different” we are diverse. Being the token doesn’t feel very good. Once I was asked to serve on a committee because I was a young(ish), white, ordained woman. I helped them create diversity in this committee. I wanted to be part of this group because I brought gifts and talents to the table not because of three things I could not control-my age, my race, and my gender. The author’s concerns around tokenism is that we expect the person “bringing diversity” to speak for his/her whole race, and this is not helpful. Instead, “the best thing for groups to focus on when grappling with diversity and issues of representation is creating a space where people who bring different racial experiences are encouraged to share their stories-not just through the lens of their skin color, but from the fullness of their whole life. In other words, yes, we need to be aware of who is included, but we must remain open to the reality that all people bring perspectives that have been impacted by their racial realities, gender, education, economics, and so on. By setting such a space up, the group gives itself a better chance at becoming the type of racially diverse group it hoped to be when it originally extended the invitation” (124).
I try very hard not to join two thoughts together with the word but. Years ago someone told me that using the word but negates everything you have said before. I want to go to your party, but…really means I don’t want to go and am making up an excuse. I love that dress on you, but…really means wear something else. Taking but out of your vocabulary is hard and worth the effort. In Chapter 15, “I don’t mean to be racist, but…”, means someone is about to say something horrible. So, if you don’t want to eliminate but from your vocabulary, please stop and encourage others to stop saying, “I don’t mean to be___________” because whatever comes next is going to be hurtful. I tried to think of a positive example like “I don’t mean to be your best friend in the world, but I am just awesome.” Truthfully, I’ve never heard anyone use this phrase in a positive way, and I’d love it if we just stopped saying it.
Chapter 1 is a long introduction and explanation for what is coming next. Chapters 2-23 are short and each one focuses on things that are said and done and how to approach these situations differently. This book doesn’t attack people for being wrong or hurtful. It encourages thought around statements and situations that each of us may have been in or may have even orchestrated. What were we trying to accomplish? How might we have done this in a way that was more sensitive and inclusive for all involved and all we wished had been involved?
I would recommend this book for anyone willing to wrestle with the conversation on race. I would recommend this book for anyone willing to admit they may have had a part in causing the problem and now want to be part of the solution. I recommend you read this book with a friend or a group of friends and live out what you learn from these pages.