#amplifymelanantedvoices

For #amplifymelanatedvoices, my top five works and people that have shaped how I understand race in america (and every single one of them is shorter than a book and available for free on the internet):

1. “The Case for Reparations,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates’s 2014 cover story for The Atlantic is a masterpiece, illustrating how 250 years of slavery was compounded by 90 years of jim crow, 60 years of segregation, and 35 years of racist housing policies to bring about the racial disparities we currently see in socioeconomic status, educational attainment, health outcomes, and more. Coates is an infuriatingly good writer and his powers are on full display here: He’s a masterful storyteller and a meticulous reporter, at once blowing your mind and breaking your heart. Should be required reading for every American.

2. Roxane Gay is one of my favorite essayists. Her writing is incisive and penetratingly clear, and she tackles complicated, intersecting questions about race, politics, feminism, and sexuality with nuance and clarity. You can find her work in the New York Times, where she’s an opinion writer; Gay, her magazine on Medium; and – if you’re up for a book – Bad Feminist, her best-selling collection of essays that was bona-fide life-changing for me.

3. Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer, law professor, and the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (an organization you should be donating to), where he and his team represent innocent death row inmates in the South. Desmond Tutu has called him America’s Nelson Mandela, and the analogy is not hyperbolic. I’ve learned more from him about the ways in which the criminal justice system is stacked against black and brown defendants than anyone else. Stevenson is known for his best-selling book Just Mercy, but if you like articles, his 2016 New Yorker profile is excellent; if you like videos, his 2012 TED Talk is legendary; and if you like podcasts, his interviews on Fresh Air and Alec Baldwin’s Here’s the Thing legit changed my life.

4. 13TH, directed by Ava DuVernay. Speaking of the criminal justice system, DuVernay’s 2016 documentary illustrates how a loophole in the 13th amendment incentivized the incarceration of black people in the united states. it is meticulous, unassailable, and infuriating – not just because it meticulously outlines the hundreds of years of systemically criminalizing blackness that our government has done, but because our schools teach almost none of it. The Peabody- and Emmy-award winning documentary is available to stream on Netflix.

5. Another Round, hosted by Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu.  This is my favorite podcast of all time.  It ran from 2015-2017 (and will hopefully return again), and it was just two black writers, then at BuzzFeed, doing segments on whatever they wanted: politics, culture, interviews with writers and actors and athletes of color, professional advice, Tracy’s bad jokes.  Getting to listen in on conversations between two black women taught me more about their everyday experiences than I could have learned anywhere else, and the fact that Clayton and Nigatu are hilarious and smart and deeply fond of each other made the podcast an utter joy. And two people of color hosting a podcast that was about whatever the fuck they wanted – and not just People of Color Issues, though they brought their lenses and experiences to whatever they were discussing – was revolutionary and inspiring for me. You can find this wherever you get your podcasts.

Happy to discuss further or offer more recommendations!

I Didn’t Love the Mulan Trailer as Much as Everyone Else Did

On Sunday afternoon, I was working at a coffee shop when a Facebook Messenger notification lit up my phone. “OMG,” the message read, with a link to the teaser trailer for Mulan that had dropped earlier that day.

Judging from my social media feeds, “OMG” seems to be the consensus around this trailer. Objectively, I can see where this response is coming from: Every scene is beautifully shot. The lead actress, Yifei Liu, is a wonder — a sword-wielding, ass-kicking queen. The fight scenes look elaborate and intense. The entire cast appears to be not just Asian but specifically Chinese — which, given that we’re only three years removed from The Great Wall, is nothing to sneeze at.

The few lines of dialogue we got to hear, however, made me cringe.

Mulan says two lines in the teaser (which, to be fair, is all of 89 seconds long):

“Yes. I will bring honor to us all.”

and:

“It is my duty to fight.”

And I felt my eyes roll all the way to the back of my head.

Continue reading on the Salt Collective

The PAAC Lent Devotional

Last month, a member of Progressive Asian American Christians asked if anyone knew of a commentary or devotional that was maybe a little more progressive and maybe not written by a white man. No one knew of anything, but another member wondered if we could make one ourselves. Within 72 hours, she had gathered (and scheduled!) more than enough people to make one for every day of Lent, including not just writers but also illustrators and photographers and calligraphers and dancers.

Today is the first day of said devotional, and I couldn’t be more stoked. I haven’t done anything in Lent for years, so i’m looking forward to actually doing something. And more than that, I’m so proud of this amazing team for seeing a need and creating something beautiful to meet it.

One Year

A year ago today, I posted a piece on The Salt Collective about how lonely it is to be a progressive Asian American Christian. At the end of it, I linked a brand-new Facebook group that my brand-new friend Lydia Suh had just started. I had no idea that in the course of a year, that group would become a vibrant online community of over 5000, members would host meetups in 17 cities, we’d start a podcast with our new friend David Chang, we’d host a national conference, we’d launch a 9-month online intentional learning community with 28 dynamite fellows and 9 incredible speakers. I had no idea that this community would teach me so much, introduce me to amazing people and dear friends, and make me feel at home in a way that I hadn’t since I was 17. I had no idea how dramatically my life would change.

What a beautiful, crazy, transformative, humbling year it’s been. So thankful for Lydia and the many, many people who’ve made this experience so rich and meaningful.

Still a Progressive Asian American Christian, Now a Lot Less Lonely

I sat in a plastic chair in the fluorescent-lit conference room, leaning on the small tablet desk attached to my seat.  The chairs were arranged in a circle around the edge of the room, filling one by one as people trickled in.  Eighteen.  Nineteen.  Twenty.  I could hardly believe it.

It was the first San Francisco Bay Area meetup of Progressive Asian American Christians, an online community I had inadvertently helped to start.  Less than two months prior, I had written a piece about how lonely it is to be a progressive Asian American Christian.  At the end of it, I linked a then-empty Facebook group that a new friend of mine, Lydia Suh, had created.  It would be a place, I imagined, where people who resonated with the piece could go to see that other people like them existed — where they would see a bunch of profile pictures and feel validated and maybe post the occasional article.

Neither Lydia nor I expected what followed:  Three hundred people joined the group the day after the piece went up; less than six weeks later, we had two thousand.  But it wasn’t just the numbers that surprised us — it was the energy and enthusiasm that these folks brought with them.  They immediately started sharing their stories, discussing controversial topics, asking when we could start meeting in person.  The first meetup took place a month after the group started (in Minneapolis, impressively enough); within the next three months, eight more cities would start their own.

On this sunny Saturday afternoon in February, on the fourth floor of an office building in the city, the first Bay Area meetup about to begin.  As I watched people rolling in — peering around, introducing themselves, finding seats — I noticed an unfamiliar feeling in my chest.

Continue reading on the Salt Collective

Thanks to Barack Obama, I Know That America Belongs to Me

In fourth grade, whenever I got bored during Miss Lieber’s social studies class, I would flip to the back of my textbook and look at the pictures lining the back cover. There were 41 portraits, laid out in neat rows, with George Washington in the upper left corner and George H. W. Bush on the bottom right. As a filmstrip clicked away in the background, I would stare at the faces of these men, their names and party affiliations, the years they held office.

I never consciously acknowledged the fact that all these faces were white; it went without saying that they would be. Of course the person who held the nation’s highest office was white, would always be white. It was the same when I watched the news and Entertainment Tonight during dinner with my family every night: Of course the congressman waving to the camera as he headed into a building was white. Of course every movie star was white. Of course, of course, of course. It made sense, right? America belonged to white people. Families like mine were allowed to be here, tolerated as long as we didn’t complain or make trouble, as long as we were appropriately deferent to the white people who graciously allowed us to inhabit their space. But the thought of having power of any kind never crossed our minds; in order to have that, to have a say in how things were actually done, you had to be white. It was so obvious that it wasn’t even worth noting.

That was the way things were from my earliest memories into my adulthood. But then in 2004 — the summer after I graduated from college — an Illinois state senator named Barack Obama gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention. And in that moment, everything changed.

Continue reading on the Salt Collective

The Loneliness of the Progressive Asian American Christian

For a long and formative time in my life, the Asian American church was my home. I came to faith at 15 in the high school ministry of a Chinese church. This was the place where I started to grasp the idea of a gracious God who loved me unconditionally; it was also where I came to terms with my Asian American identity, something I had been bitterly fighting for a decade. It was the first Asian American community I’d ever been a part of, and for the first time in my life, I felt normal. I now had friends who innately got how I interacted with my family, how I thought about school and college and the future — all the experiences that made me so different from my peers at school. I felt seen and accepted and understood, both by God and the people around me.

In college, I was part of a Chinese American campus fellowship — but as the years went on, I started to notice a disconnect between my friends there and me. I was beginning to care a lot about race, politics, current events, feminism. No one at my fellowship discouraged me from pursuing these things, but for the most part, they weren’t interested in discussing them either. Whatever the reason, when I wanted to talk about those issues, I mostly had to look elsewhere.

And then I went to grad school — a clinical psychology graduate program that was housed in a seminary — and my whole world got blown open.

Continue reading on the Salt Collective

Franklin Graham and the Belief in a Just World

On Sunday, Franklin Graham — a prominent evangelical, the son of Billy Graham and heir to his evangelistic organization — tweeted the following message, along with a corresponding Facebook post:

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-3-11-21-pm

I read this tweet — or, more accurately, some exasperated responses to it — that night and sighed. This was not the first time that Graham had essentially blamed the victims of police brutality for the violence they incurred, but it was the clearest, most succinct illustration of his belief in a just world and how problematic that belief is.

Continue reading on the Salt Collective