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Where is our Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson?

[cross-posted from]

African Americans have their Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. While these few do not represent the whole, they boldly speak up for the whole. And, the mainstream media goes to them for their perspectives.

Caucasian Americans have their Billy Graham and Rick Warren. There’s also Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Again, they don’t represent the whole diversity of Anglo Christians, they boldly speak up for the whole.

Latino and Hispanic Americans kind of have Jesse Miranda and Luis Palau as their voices. I don’t know exactly who speaks for their tribe, but I think they’d boldly speak up for the whole.

Even the Hebrews had their Moses and Joshua.

Asian Americans have no one who boldly speaks up for the whole. We need a voice.

What would it take to have that voice?

Passion. A clarion voice that boldly speaks up with confidence and persuasion. You can’t fake passion. You have to have that fire in the belly, no fear to speak up even if you’re misunderstood, even if you don’t have the perfectly-crafted words. Public speaking is 93% about delivery and only 7% about the words.

Platform. A clarion voice has a large audience that listens to what s/he has to say for both intangible and tangible reasons. Some call it charisma. Definitely need cross-over appeal in both the religious and civic realms, as well as inside the tribe and outside. Need to have an organization with financial supporters that keep that platform active too.

Conviction. A clarion voice has to have something to say. That person has to have a sufficient understanding of the tribe’s compelling concerns. And that person is taking action to address those concerns and boldly advocating others to join the cause. That person lives out that conviction with an unwavering lifetime commitment through both actions and words.

Like it or not, we as Asian Americans will be stereotyped because we have that face. But without a voice, there is no way to change that stereotype of silence. Without a voice, we’ll be invisible and misunderstood.

I know there are many differences among Asian Americans: ethnicities, languages, cultures, generations, affinities. “Asian American” is not an attractive label or strong rally cry. Asians are known for being group-oriented, but Asians aren’t known for rallying around a voice. Without a voice boldly speaking up for the whole, we’ll remain apart.

Could I be that voice? You’ve got to be kidding! I know a lot of things I don’t have in and of myself. It takes a driven and focused Type-A personality to be that clarion voice.

What I do have is my personal blog. I’ve occasionally advocated for the next generation Asian Americans. But like others who are in this space, I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed or stereotyped. I prefer being eclectic and speak of my many varied interests.

But last week has changed me. I will use my words to advocate for the next generation Asian Americans. 7% still counts.


About djchuang

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3 responses to “Where is our Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson?

  1. Jermaine

    Being a African American, I really don’t want a Al Sharpton nor Jesse Jackson. Reason being is sometimes they try to speak for a whole community and sometimes they say things that are just insane to say the lest. But I totally understand your argument. Good read.

  2. Al Hsu

    As I commented on DJ’s blog, I think Soong-Chan Rah may be the closest we have to a public AA Christian representative leader these days – his voice is heard in public controversies like Rickshaw Rally and the Skit Guys, and he wields his influence well. But it’s not just him – it’s any and all of us that contribute and weigh in on things, in whatever circles we are a part of.

  3. I want to believe that Jermaine doesn’t mean it quite the way he structured it: as if to same “his blackness is offended by a Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton.” It’s easy to despise the food at your mama’s table–a table you didn’t pay for, you may not have helped to set, but is always available to you.

    One of the values of the Jacksons and Sharptons of the world (regardless of whether one agrees with them) is that they guarantee that there are always chairs at the table for those whom they represent and other marginalized persons; and if there are chairs missing, they make sure the injustice of it can’t simply be ignored (which is quite often the way injustice persists). So I get why DJ laments such a voice rising out of the Asian-American experience. Those of us outside the AA community would also benefit from the opportunity to hear that voice in the public sphere more often.

    Jermaine, as a human, not simply an African-American, I am offended when we discount the value of any person, but particularly those who make our privilege to discount possible, audible and meaningful.

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