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Slaves Of A Different Shade

The Not For Sale Campaign lists 27 million people as slaves today. The site also makes the statement that “slavery is a social, political, and economic issue.” All of us are called upon to be modern day abolitionists and people of faith must not shrink back from advocating for human rights in our churches and communities.

Being enslaved forcibly is an undeniable tragedy. But what of those who volunteer to be slaves?

With the issue of slavery being so pervasive–social, political, and economic, I believe we need to account for perspectives of the slaves themselves which may unknowingly perpetuate the very mechanisms of slavery. Similar to the dynamics of a domestic violence situation, there must be a mentality in the oppressed that rationalizes some of the terms of the dysfunctional relationship in order to have something else. In fact, without knowing all their options, it may be feasible for that person to submit to those conditions willingly perhaps even eagerly so.

All this to say it is possible to become slaves by volition and that it leads to a different type of slavery. And to extrapolate further, it is to propose many Asian immigrants  to the United States willingly subjected themselves and their children to this subtle slavery.

Immigrants, post 1965, boarded ships and planes to arrive in the United States and while they didn’t have the title of slave or indentured servant, the incentives were just too great. The World Wars and the Cold War made the US the only pristine country in the world to strike out a brave new existence. No one pushed them on the boat this time, they were pulled.

Sounds overly dramatic, doesn’t it? Especially when most Asian Americans would say that they serve no masters of any color. But if you were to take a cross-section of Asian American values and identity and you might find that they have largely accepted all the idols of White America, even at the high price of self-effacement. Furthermore, Asians in particular, became the new “Uncle Tom”s with an interesting social contract of “honorary white” status:

The bargain Japanese Americans accepted when they sat with whites was this: “We will let you be honorary whites under two conditions: First, you will never be able to drive the bus. Secondly, you must pay no attention to the people at the back of the bus; you must claim no relationship to the people at the back of the bus; and you must absolutely never, ever protest what is happening to the people at the back of the bus. If you do all this, we will pretend to ignore your color. And someone else will always be worse off than you.”

This bargain is still offered to Asian Americans. When we expect it, we buy into an honorary white status. Other people of color see this. Understandably, it makes them feel resentful and angry toward Asian Americans.

While the reform in immigration policy was considered by many to be part and parcel with the Civil Rights Movement, there are more than a few Whites and Blacks who regret the move. Whites regret it because of the influx of Hispanics; Blacks resent it because it retarded the momentum of the Civil Rights Movement to the point that Whites believe that all the objectives of the Civil Rights Movement were fulfilled a long time ago; and Asian Americans? We were and continue to be too busy trying to be White and forgotten who we are – to the point that re-engaging with our mother cultures often takes the form of taking a class in college. And get this, we’ve been so well indoctrinated with “whiteness”, that we often poo-poo other minorities as though we had exclusive rights to hard work and smarts. We have a White frame of reference when it comes to interfacing with other races, none of it understanding that we stepped on other minorities to get where we are. Another quote from the article excerpt above:

If Asian Americans use the dominant culture to understand other people of color, we will only mirror the racial attitudes of the majority whites. But if we see other people of color through their own histories and our own histories – such as the internment camps for Japanese Americans or the history of anti-immigrant legislation – we can reach very different conclusions about what race means in America. Through new, nonwhite identifications and recognitions, Asian Americans can open up unexplored possibilities of understanding ourselves and others.

In our churches, we emulate White America to the extent that if I closed my eyes and went into any given EM in the country, I wouldn’t even know that it was a non-white congregation. None of the content or presentation is tied to our ethnic identity. To add to the madness, if we actually take what we’ve learned to heart and abandoned the ethnic church to attend white churches, it becomes a huge crisis in our parents’ churches while at the same time we get token seats for increasing diversity at newly minted “multi-ethnic” churches. But at the same time, our white friends will say something as inane as, “I don’t even think of you as Korean.”

So many of us have been slaves for so long, we’ll take any master as long as he doesn’t look like us because we can hardly stand to be ourselves, much less to be concerned for ourselves. Why? Because every good slave knows that a child of the master is more valuable than the child of another slave.

We don’t care about Korean missionaries held hostage in Afghanistan because we look at them and don’t see ourselves, we see foreigners. We sold ourselves into slavery long ago and wouldn’t know freedom if it came up in our own bibles. Those who are not free themselves don’t care to pray for the freedom of others.

We are captives waiting to be freed. The irony being emancipation has happened and we’re still slaves, but only because we wanted to be.

About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

2 responses to “Slaves Of A Different Shade

  1. elderj

    As we say in my community, “You’ve stopped preaching now and gone to meddlin’.”

    I should perhaps not be surprised to see your post as I know you’ve been meditating on this theme for quite some time. This idea of becoming “honorary whites” seems to be pervasive, and yet is tinged with a more recent tendency to want to also enjoy the “benefits” of being colored (for lack of a better term). Despite what lip service many pay to the ideal, it is still true that American = White.

  2. Pingback: does ethnicity matter in church? :

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