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“The Color Of Fear” / Fear Of Color

Conversations about race and ethnicity are really difficult, especially if you care about the people involved. Sometimes I feel like I’m crazy when I try to discuss race as a reality, because it’s so visceral to me, but to others, it’s the “race card,” a complication in the relationship, a red herring, etc. And these conversations can be so painful, even with loved ones, that I (and I believe, they) avoid them.

But avoiding the conversation doesn’t seem to be the solution, especially in places where terms like love, justice, mercy, forgiveness and righteousness are mentioned. When we darken the doors of those places, why is it the most difficult issues, the most intimate pain, the most vulnerable soft spots don’t get mentioned?

I don’t always think of communities of faith being places where we acknowledge the realities of pain, prejudice, abuse, and injustice, but I believe that we need to get better about “going there”. I believe we need to grow in our capacity to bear one another’s burdens, to hear one another out, to feel each other’s pain, to drink one another’s poison and not be hurt.

So it is in the vein, I wanted to share a few clips from the documentary, “The Color of Fear,” directed Lee Mun Wah. I haven’t seen the video in its entirety yet, but my good friend and mentor, Jimmy McGee has spoken very highly of it. As I watched this, it felt “real” to me, as real as the difficult and painful conversations I’ve had.

I have a favor to ask: Once you’ve watched the videos, could you reply in the comments, what do you think of it? When was the last time you’ve had a conversation like that? Thanks in advance.

Part One:

Part Two:

About David Park

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

13 responses to ““The Color Of Fear” / Fear Of Color

  1. Christine Lee ⋅

    Hi David! I’ve been trying to catch up on this website, but I’ve missed a lot.

    I watched the two videos. The last time I had a conversation like this was actually a couple weeks ago at our last small group for the year. Our group is half white, half Asian of a few kinds. It’s kind of refreshing to me because I’ve never been in quite this kind of church group setting, both racially and with such a diversity of personality. I don’t think those are very connected — we’re a pretty weird group of people altogether.

    I can understand where each person is coming from here, at least to the extent of which I’ve been exposed to each culture represented. It’s interesting that they are all males — if you included females, viewpoints even within the same ethnic groups would surely vary to some degree — and that it must be the 90s, since some of the guys have on some short shorts. Not that that’s bad, just indicative of an earlier time.

    It is important to listen. One of the issues that came up during our small group’s conversation is that my friend who is white was talking the majority of the time. I see this here in the video as well, that it’s almost always two groups — the whites and then the non-whites. Hey, even my high school lottery system for admission was that way, but that was a 1970s-imposed law. This two-groups mentality is perpetuated by both groups… and in some sense it is unfair to attack the white guy with the orchards, when there are all sorts of other problems between non-white cultures too. This bothered me, but also makes sense. Everyone needs to be open to listening, to change, to hearing about pain that has occurred in the past. We can’t ignore hurt or frustration from each person, no matter how justified or irrational it may seem. It’s like pretending we’re not damaged people, denying pieces of each other to feel like things are okay enough.

    The interesting thing about my small group is that we also have members who are white who present the non-white culture to other whites, different ways of thinking and understanding. This doesn’t surprise me. I want people to know how I feel, and I want to know how everyone else feels. Maybe sometimes it takes someone from one’s own culture to best communicate the beginnings (and middles) of understanding another culture.

    Perhaps the biggest motivator for listening, for hearing each other out, is that we can walk through life together, hearing about our past hurts and crushed idealism, as well as our hopeful dreams or skeptical apprehension for the future… we’re all too different to ignore, and we should enjoy that. What a great gift God has given us!

    And if I was in the video? I’d say that I’ve been working on understanding my own hybrid culture as a Korean and an American, especially from Tennessee. I’ve seen such different responses and viewpoints from other Korean Americans from California, from Alabama, from Illinois, or missionary kids in other countries. These people sometimes confuse me more than someone from another culture, because they look like me and sound like me, but they think differently from me. I mean, what is it like to grow up around Koreans? What is it like to approach the more majority races — whites, blacks, hispanic — with more apprehension, with fear?

    And of course, there’s the discussion of culture vs ethnicity vs nationality vs race. But that can be for another time. Thanks for reading!

  2. Catie Spencer ⋅

    David – I thought this was a better venue in which to respond than on fb.

    I watched this whole series in college. A part of me watches this again and just feels like crying. On so many fronts; because the white guy won’t listen and consider the validity of the other mens’ experiences ( how scared they are driving up 101, for example). Because as a white person, I don’t feel I’ll ever be able to get it right and not offend people of other races and I get sick of feeling like I’m a failure and people of different ethnicities find it a burden to have me around. I like to be liked : who doesn’t? And if I offend you through my stupidity, I can’t make you think well of me. Because i know that I have to change and that, ultimately, the point of the gospel is that it isn’t about me. Let’s say I meet a person who happens to be black and with whom I want to be friends. If the same black person never believes that I care about them and decides to write me off because I’m white, all that matters is that God sees me for who I am and that my righteousness is in Christ, not other’s opinions of me.
    The best take-home I heard was the statement that racism isn’t the problem of asians, blacks, or latinos. It is primarily a white problem. For me, that’s where my focus needs to go; on what I can do looking at my own heart and repenting of whatever I see there that doesn’t match with the gospel.

  3. hey christine! thanks for dropping by and reading, i always respect what you have to say and of course am very envious of your small group and church; that is a true gift to be able to have these conversations locally. you are quick to notice the “all males” factor. they did this intentionally in order to isolate the conversation on race as much as possible. in subsequent conversations, they include women, but broaden the conversation to sexism and sexuality. you are also very astute to point out there is missing an “intra”cultural discussion. this is primarily trying to overcome the first step of race relations, that is between minority vs. dominant majority awareness. this is because power is distributed typically according to racial lines, and most people of the dominant majority are completely unaware of their privilege in a highly racialized society. so there are definite shortcomings of this video from the early 90’s, but you can see they were trying to focus the conversation as much as possible.

    @ catie, thank you so much for your honesty and seeking to understand. your willingness to listen is a huge part of it and although it may take some time for others to embrace you, please know that i appreciate it. this is not easy for any side, white, black, asian, latino or native american. that is pervasiveness of sin. it always separates us and desires us to block each other out, but our key work as christians is to continue to abide with one another. even in our discomfort, if we can do that, i think the kingdom will begin to show up in ways we never thought of.

    • Christine Lee ⋅

      fyi, i think our church still has a long way to go in terms of multicultural awareness, but at least we’re beginning to try. i hope the trying is a broader one, from the staff to the lay person. you know.

  4. William Yoo ⋅

    David, I think you’re right on in wanting to tackle race and ethnicity head on. Though not all portions of the documentary clips are agreeable, I appreciated the honest discussion and the opportunity each of them had to share from their perspective. I think that these types of discussions should take place more often in the church, even if it gets heated and visceral. As an Asian American Protestant, I think my identity matrix and ethnicity are important components of both my faith practice and Christian thought. I can certainly relate to the Asian American men in the documentary when they discuss the ambiguities and complexities of what it means to be an “American” by others or in a self-identifying way. At the same time, I think Asian Americans may offer a richer prophetic voice if we go beyond sharing our minority struggles and also delve into the kind of self-reflection that is unafraid to be self-critical. In addition to asking why Asian Americans are often considered as ‘other’ in a pluralistic nation or marginalized as a model minority in mainstream America, we can also ask why Asian Americans are not more actively speaking out in defense of the illegal immigrant or participatory in American civic life.

  5. ok, funny story time.

    I was on a bus trip in the Pac NW themed on racial reconciliation – and this was on the dvd – we were required to watch it, but I was so motion-sick and tired I slept up till 30 min in – and then the black dude has this total freak-out, droppin f-bombs left and right.

    I thought we were having a racial crisis on the bus and woke with a start – needless to say I couldn’t go back to sleep and watched the whole thing.

  6. jiolasa ⋅

    I wish I could answer you fully. I’ve had this tab open for the last day and a half, trying to will myself to watch the whole thing.

    I’ve only been able to watch it in short segments, and each time I ultimately get so frustrated with the white orchard-owner guy that I have to stop it and get back to work for a while. So far I’ve only made it about 7 minutes in.

    I’m white, and I so clearly recognize the orchard-owner’s entitlement, superiority, pride, his know-it-all/in-control posture (both mentally and even physically), his domination of the conversation, his giving his blessings to the others (as if they need it), and so much more. I recognize it from myself in the past, tendencies I have to be careful to avoid in the present, and the behavior of many white people I’ve seen in similar multiethnic conversations.

    I wish I could be so calm in regard to this, but it makes me so angry! Just look at the postures of the people of color in the room when he’s talking. Defensive, hurt, frustrated, closed, quizzical–yet he keeps talking. Why can’t we just learn to listen some times instead of BS-ing our way through conversations? AGH. OK. Thank you for posting these. Maybe I’ll comment again when I’ve had a chance to watch the whole thing.

  7. elderj

    I’ve seen this video series but didn’t watch it this time (since I’m in a meeting and shouldn’t be blogging). I think the video is good though it is old.

  8. s

    I saw this video while at a diversity conference for christian colleges. (I think I’ve seen it at least once more since then…) I think it’s a powerful film. As to the last time I had a conversation like *that*? i moved from the pacnw to the midwest, and I felt that culture/ethnic shift/segregation as soon as I stepped foot here. I love the friends and community we have here, and I admire that we are trying to progress toward a diverse church – but “diverse church” has such a different meaning here than it does out West or East.
    I am often shocked at the language I hear used around me – subtly racist language embedded in suburban white culture. But I’m not at liberty to bark at everyone who engages like this, because I know that it’s just culture and it’s not necessarily a personal sentiment. I’m trying to find the in-between. It’s hard and I miss home because I read all of these blogs about APA issues that aren’t even relevant to me anymore, because we’re *still* stuck on the black/white issue here. (e.g. during my first year in grad school, a classmate/friend of mine told me that she had just found out that asians aren’t white. she thought the world was divided into either black vs. not-black. and this was an extremely well-educated individual talking). I realize that this is an extreme position, but it really demonstrates where some of our communities are – in our race-dialogue.
    Thanks for posting these links to these videos. I will be sharing this post with others!

  9. elderj

    s – I’m sorry you have to suffer so with all us benighted rubes in flyover country.

  10. s

    elderj- did not mean to offend those in the midwest – which i believe includes you (i’ve read your blog and enjoy it!). i do indeed love it here, but i think there will always be aspects of west coast city living that i miss. apa diversity is one of those things.

  11. Stephen ⋅

    Hey David, I briefly spoke with you at CCDA last week. I’ve really enjoyed following your blog, and I just wanted to let you know.

    I’ve seen this video in an all day training workshop with Jimmy. I would recommend watching it in community with others. I’m looking forward to someone doing an update someday. I think you should do it!


    • thanks stephen. you’re right that video is pretty old. it would be interesting to see a more up-do-date version. i don’t think i have the ability to do it now though. i still get tense in those conversations. but it would be interesting if a party from ccda would work on something like that, huh? maybe we should pitch that as an idea next year. good meeting you there, btw. hope to see you there again.

      peace, david

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