Editor’s Note: This post is part of the Red Letter Book Club, featuring Bruce Reyes-Chow’s latest book: But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations About Race.
This isn’t a large book, but it packs a heavy challenge. Conversations about race with people of varying races isn’t a common thing (or at least not in my white, AARP-aged, Southern reality). Yet there has never been a time in our country where these conversations are more necessary.
Bruce walks with us on a journey of recognition and acknowledgement: recognition that racism, prejudice, stereotyping and hate do exist, and acknowledgement that the only way to overcome these evils in society and (most importantly) in ourselves, is to talk. No, not with people like us (in my case white, liberal, Southerners, for example). That kind of talk is easy, and it has been done.
Bruce’s book pokes us – all of us, whatever our race or cultural heritage – in a sore spot. Look, we Americans spend a lot of time shouting about race and gender inequalities, whether it is the right-leaning talk show hosts who rant about “illegals” or the left-leaning activists who point out (often at the top of their lungs) organizations and institutions who systematically perpetuate racism, sexism, and the like. What we do not do very often is really talk with one another. As a result, we’ve ended up with a largely “us and them” culture.
Bruce writes, “We as a society are like a couple struggling in their relationship. We have reached the end of our rope and have given up on the—pick your metaphor—‘melting pot, ’ ‘fruit salad, ’ ‘tapestry, ’ or ‘mosaic’ experiment that has been the ongoing narrative of our country. We cannot afford not to talk about race. Otherwise, we are like the struggling couple who says that they don’t have the time, money, or energy to go to counseling.”
We must engage in the difficult, dangerous, conversations with one another – conversations across racial and cultural boundaries, uncomfortable conversations where we learn to acknowledge the uniqueness of one another’s racial and cultural heritage and experience and, rather than using it as a method of labeling and dismissing, learn to embrace it as part of what makes us human.
Bruce writes, “On more than one occasion, someone has said with the best of intentions, ‘Bruce, I do not see you as Asian. I see you as a human being.’ …[W]hen you say this to me, you are saying that a significant part of who I am … No, I am not only those things that have to do with my race, I also have my personality and other attributes, but I am nowhere near the same person if you choose not to factor in the Asian parts of who I am. …[P]lease do see that I am Asian and take the time to explore the nuances of that reality. This is not permission to default to lazy stereotypes …but an opportunity to expand your understanding of the human experience… By taking this opportunity, people will see how each of us sits in multiple locations, each historically and currently impacting the lives of others.”
With humor and an engaging writing style, Bruce Reyes-Chow invites us all to take a difficult journey through “us and them, ” not to destroy race, but to recognize, embrace, understand and grow together. This book is precisely what it claims to be – the first step. We – you and I – must take the next step, and the next, and the ones beyond.
John Harrison is a Commissioned Ruling Elder in the PC(USA) and currently serves Fairfield Highlands Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama. He is a fair-to-middling guitar player, occasional writer and graphic designer, and works full-time in the life insurance industry.
Read more reviews, an interview with Bruce, an excerpt from the book, and find out more about But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations About Race in the Red Letter Book Club