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.
Bruce Reyes-Chow has dared to point out the elephant in our American family room, the racism that lurks beneath the surface of our culture, poised to stampede at any moment, the problem we tiptoe around, pretending it no longer exists, despite regular evidence to the contrary. In his latest and timely book, Reyes-Chow offers examples of personal encounters with racism that in turn made me laugh, wince in recognition of my own occasional misguided, if well-intentioned behavior, and want to weep. Although some might consider me a privileged WASP, some of his chapter titles and discussions reflect my experiences as a woman who has struggled against male privilege.
A pastor and former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Bruce Reyes-Chow’s is an important voice that deserves to be heard. He previously authored The Definitive-ish Guide for Using Social Media in the Church, (Shook Foil Books, 2012) and contributed to Insights from the Underside: An Intergenerational Conversation of Ministers, (Broad Mind Press, 2008).
As the subtitle, Curating Conversations About Race, promises, this book is intended to begin a communal conversation on the topic of race in this country. I found his approach to this topic to be both a strength and a weakness. His conversational style makes the book as personal and accessible as a chat with a new friend. At times, however, I would have preferred a less abstract discussion paired with more concrete examples. The examples offered and the chapter titles, such as “No, Where Are You From?”, “We Need At Least One, ” and “I Don’t Mean To Be Racist, But…, ” are what I remember most vividly about the book. In fairness, however, Reyes-Chow explicitly says that this book is designed neither as an academic treatise nor as a manifesto for action. Instead, he hopes to “engage both our hearts and minds in the process [of discussion]. This middle ground where most of us live and interact on a daily basis.” (Loc. 275-77).
Reyes-Chow offers a timely reminder that our perceptions of reality are inextricably bound up in our context and that “[p]rivilege is when we begin to believe that our particular version of the world and experience of reality is the norm.” (Loc. 390-91) His honesty and openness are refreshing. If for no other reason, read this book for a glimpse of what it feels like to live as a member of a racial minority in this country, specifically Asian, which is a different viewpoint than we usually encounter on this topic.
According to the United States Census Bureau projections Reyes-Chow presents, “by the year 2018, there will be no ethnic majority among people in the United States under the age of eighteen… and by 2043, no ethnic group will make up a majority of the overall population.” (Loc. 344-46). He also reminds us that while Americans born into privileged circumstances can feel “like things are being taken away, ” (Loc. 394-96) as groups who have been historically excluded from those privileges begin to make progress, in reality all that is happening is the playing field is being leveled for all of us.
Reyes-Chow has begun a much needed conversation. Our challenge is to respond. If we do, we might finally begin to solve a problem that has tarnished American history and promises to overshadow our future unless we act now. Reyes-Chow offers a gentle and forgiving approach to an explosive subject. How better to begin this critical conversation? If not now, when? We have a chance to remake our culture and set ourselves on a path of hope and promise for the future. As a member of a multi-ethnic family, I pray we will accept the challenge for the sake of my grandchildren, and yours. Christians especially have an obligation to pursue this conversation in order to offer the possibility of peace and wholeness to our society, and more importantly to each of God’s children in our American family.
Donna Curtis Bowling is a writer, poet and occasional preacher. She blogs at www.songofgraceandhope.blogspot.com. She obtained her B.A. in Psychology from the University of Oklahoma, her J.D. from the University of Oklahoma College of Law, and her Master of Arts in Theological Studies degree concentrating in ethics from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She co-authored the book Reclaiming Civility in the Public Square: Ten Rules that Work, with Cassandra Dahnke and Tomas Spath, the co-founders of the Institute for Civility in Government. Her poetry has appeared in Windhover, the 2013 and 2014 Texas Poetry Calendar, Peace Words, Blue Hole and the Baylor House of Poetry.