In the summer of 2020, as we sat in quarantine with COVID uncertainty at its height, like many of you, I watched the video of George Floyd’s murder and witnessed the protests that broke open the conversation about racism in a way that I have never seen before.
My peacemaker personality became overwhelmed by the conflict all around me – in the media, with my family and friends, at work and church and in my community. Though the temptation was strong to stay home and pray alone in my room for peace in our country, I was asked to co-lead a discussion group on racial unity and thankfully I recognized it as an opportunity to do something meaningful.
It is not my nature to lead discussions, especially about difficult topics like racism. I prefer to write or work behind the scenes for social justice. I would worry that when I talked about racism as a person of color myself, an Asian American, that I somehow diminished the unique struggles of African Americans, even though that was the opposite of my intent. I am not Black and I know that the experience of racism against Black people in America is uniquely horrible and difficult due to slavery and all the injustice that was born out of it.
However, my worry shifted to resolve. There is definitely a time to be quiet and listen, but there is also a time to speak up, to become an accomplice, not just an ally.*
The discussion groups were organized by the school that my kids attend and where I work. It is a special place that was intentionally diverse by design** before that was cool. Whenever I saw and read about the brutality against Black men and women, those who came to my mind first were my children’s friends who are Black. Young boys that they have class with, play soccer with, go to the movies with, and have birthday parties and sleepovers with. Those young boys would soon be men. I feared for them.
Apparently, I was not the only one because 200 parents across races signed up to participate in the eight-week discussion groups every Thursday night to talk together about race. We met on Zoom after long days of working from home, managing online school, social distancing, mask-mandates, quarantining, COVID testing, and coping with the illnesses and loss of family and friends.
The evenings began with the full group listening to a guest speaker (school leaders, teachers, board members, some black, some white) give a testimonial about their own experience with racism. Afterward, we broke out into smaller “rooms” for discussion, using Latasha Morrison’s Be the Bridge as our guide.
The intimacy of each of us sitting in our homes and sharing a small screen together, on top of the exhaustion of pandemic life, allowed for a special kind of vulnerability. We wrestled with hard questions, revealed difficult truths, and through tears and laughter, personal stories and revelations, our understanding for each other grew week after week.
Being the only bicultural person in the group, I literally felt like a bridge at times. Dr. Michelle Reyes, an interviewee on Someday is Here captured my feelings perfectly,
“The challenge of being bicultural is that I have these differing narratives at play, and so I don’t fit into any one category…As I grow in my faith and my culture together, I’m seeing that there is actually beauty in being in that liminal space. To be bicultural, to have multiple narratives going on actually gives me a skill. I can see on both sides of the fence…I think God has uniquely equipped people with bicultural identities to be those bridge-builders.”
Our discussions were not always easy, convenient, or comfortable, but they were worth the difficulty, inconvenience, and discomfort to get to the deeper knowing and understanding that we all have now. I’m not sure if bridges can be built any other way. I’m so thankful that I got to be a part of it.
*Ally/Accomplice: Here’s a link to the definitions of these words related to justice work.
**Diverse by Design: This article describes the model. (My school is not a charter school.)