This week we welcome Naomi M. Wong to the blog. Naomi is a third-year M.div student at Princeton Theological Seminary. She is also a poet and novelist.
As a mixed-race, Chinese and Black person, I have found that to speak of my Asianness is also to speak of my Blackness. The two are inseparable––unable to be sorted, categorized, and selectively accepted or rejected. I always thought that I would be a “bridge person,” the kind of person that knows a lot about both sides in a conflict between people groups enough to empathize with both, translate each to the other, and bring them together. This was, after all, what my parents spoke over me and hoped for fervently.
My mother often says, “God brought Black and Chinese together for a reason. It was not an accident.” Maybe that is her way of making meaning of what has been a difficult road for us as an interracial family, and maybe––like much meaning that has been made by Christians across space and time––it is also true.
Both of the communities associated with my heritages have experienced real, though unique, pain. This pain has sometimes been inflicted by majority culture, or equally lamentably, by one to the other. In recent years, my desire to work for reconciliation and solidarity between these groups has led to interesting results. Instead of my acting as a bridge person, my function in Black and Asian communities has felt more like that of a lighting rod. When I enter these communities––or when I enter a space where one community of each kind has come together–– people who previously were in conflict with each other tend to suddenly find solidarity against a common threat: me.
In recent years, my desire to work for reconciliation and solidarity between these groups has led to interesting results. Instead of my acting as a bridge person, my function in Black and Asian communities has felt more like that of a lighting rod.
As far as I can tell, what is so threatening about me is my ability to manifest similarity and difference in one body. It is the difference that makes me stand out, but it is the concomitant similarity that brings about such a violent response from people. Minority groups often seek refuge from white dominance in separation and perceived similarity. So, when difference cannot be separated from similarity, it seems to be a negation of the groups’ established means of maintaining security. Moreover, the coexistence of similarity and difference introduces the potentiality of change, for better and for worse. I need only step into a room filled with people from either of my cultures to arouse latent fears about change, change in the greater Black and Asian communities as well as potential change in what solidarity can look like.
If an all-Asian or an all-Black community accepts a person who is both Asian and Black, that community opens itself to the possibility of looking, feeling, caring, and acting differently than if it were homogenous. And what if the inclusion does not stop at one person? Change becomes possible on a larger scale, and the community could end up looking, feeling, caring, and acting completely different than it traditionally has. Because of this, some people go so far as to say that mixed people embody the impending erasure of their heritage communities. Unfortunately, these kinds of views have been most prevalent in my experience in ethnic-specific worship communities. I am confident that ethnic-specific churches can be an important safe place for people who are linguistic and/or cultural minorities. However, there is a specific perversion of that desire for safety, which arises in certain cases. This takes the form of seeking false security in physical similarity in such a way that physical alterity becomes justification for ostracism and, sometimes, intimidation. I have seen it and lived it; it happens in church and in seminary classrooms. It happens everywhere.
My legitimacy as a Black and Chinese person is not established by popular vote. I claim both ethnicities because I am both, by ancestry and by choice of solidarity.
My legitimacy as a Black and Chinese person is not established by popular vote. I claim both ethnicities because I am both, by ancestry and by choice of solidarity. A lot of people with two parents of the same race may wonder about what the proportions of my ethnicities or races must be. Am I half? Again, I will cite my mother, who was immersed in theological education long before I was thinking of attending seminary. She insists that I am fully both.
“Like the hypostatic union,” she says. “Jesus is fully God and fully man. You are fully Black and fully Chinese.”
With her, I do not address the mess of heresies that is the history of people squabbling and puzzling over whether Jesus is half human and half God, more God than human, or more human than God––much in the way that people obsess over blood quantum. To be clear, I believe that Jesus is fully human and fully God in a way that is quite mysterious, and I will leave it at that for this post. What I want to highlight, though, is my mother’s comparison of those of us who are mixed-race to Christ. This is a claim about God’s solidarity with mixed people. Jesus came to his own, and his own did not receive him. He walked among them, embodying similarity and difference. His difference they did not comprehend. His concomitant similarity was a threat.
Did Jesus’ appearing not signal some kind of change in his community? Oh, they could certainly sense that change was imminent, and they feared that change would mean erasure. Little did they know that his appearing was the declaration and the proof of the reconciliation of God with humankind and of humankind with humankind. Reconciliation meant that God’s people would be empowered to look, feel, care, and act differently. Christ’s very being preached this good news, even as he ministered, loved, suffered, died, and rose again. In the same way, mixed-race people are called to follow our Lord into this ministry, love, suffering, death, and resurrection.
Being mixed-race is a divinely blessed, physical and social declaration that solidarity is possible and that reconciliation is the healing of humankind. Because of this, I am certain that being Black and Asian does not signal erasure, as some suppose. Rather, it is a reminder of God’s great act of reconciliation for all peoples in Christ, who charges us to live in solidarity and unity––unity, not uniformity. Solidarity and unity in Christ mean that different people must stand together and see each other as being a part of the same Body. This requires a radical change in the way that we commonly understand racial and ethnic security. We must choose to be together in difference, to learn, and, yes, to admire. We must learn to look, feel, care, and act differently. Such is the nature and the call of Christ as well as his invitation to those who belong to him.