Pictured above: (left to right): Brian Ng, Pastor Chris Butler and Bishop Edward Peecher of the Chicago Embassy Church Network, Tai-Chi Kuo of the Living Water Evangelical Church, and David Wu, Executive Director of the Pui Tak Center in Chicago’s Chinatown
Tai-Chi Kuo currently serves as Secretary for the American Solidarity Party of Illinois. He previously served on the ASP National Committee from 2018-2020, and as ASP-Midwestern National Convention Delegate in 2019 and 2020. He gave these remarks in a private capacity, on behalf of his church (the Living Water Evangelical Church, a historically Chinese American church) at an event hosted by the Chicago Embassy Church Network (a historically African American church) on how their respective communities have encountered racism in the past, also how their communities have hurt each other in the past, and how to move forward in Christian Solidarity.
Hello everyone! My name is Tai-Chi Kuo, and I attend the Living Water Evangelical Church in Naperville. Several weeks ago, my friend Pastor Chris Butler reached out to me about partnering with Chicago’s Asian American Pacific Islander community on a speaking event for his church, the Chicago Embassy Church Network, concerning the recent violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, how racism has impacted our community as well as the African American community, how both our communities have in many ways been complicit in racism against each other, and also how we can move beyond the hurtful attitudes of the past and forward in Christian solidarity together.
Today, I’m privileged to speak to you all on the topic of how racism has hurt Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, individually and in turn, also how AAPI people have bought into racist attitudes which have hurt others, specifically Black and Brown Americans.
As Christians, racism is an affront to our beliefs that all of humanity is fearfully and wonderfully made in the “Imago Dei” (the image of God), and racial discrimination runs counter to Christian teachings in Romans 10 that there ought be “no distinction between Jew and Greek for the same Lord is Lord of all”. As such, it is especially important for the Church to understand racism as it exists today, and lead in overcoming it in our society. As Christians, we are also taught in Matthew 7 that we must “take the plank out of our own eye” before addressing the sins of others, so before speaking on how our AAPI community has been hurt by the racist actions of others, I must first take some time to address how, sadly, our Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have been complicit in racism against others.
I’ve heard on more than one occasion that cultural expressions in America reflect not a “melting pot” where cultures are melded together homogeneously, but rather a “salad bowl” where individual cultures retain their distinctiveness within the broader whole. This is definitely true for Asian Americans. Asian Immigrants and their Asian American offspring have retained much of our cultural distinctiveness and our ethno-centrism from back in the Old Country. While some of this is due to the language limitations and loneliness in the absence of broader community experienced by the immigrant generation, our isolationism has also manifested in some very unhealthy ways. Whether through inability, arrogance, or unwillingness to build relationships, our isolation has resulted in friction and confrontation with neighboring, often Black or Latino communities in urban settings. It is not uncommon to find Asian Americans looking down on the less-fortunate, being uncaring/ungenerous in bettering the community, or extra-suspicious of theft or other wrongdoings in our restaurants, convenience stores, beauty supply shops, and on the street. We have a broken and curtailed understanding of who our neighbors are, who are brothers are, and it is this type of brokenness that led to Soon Ja Du killing Latasha Harlins in her store, a noted antecedent leading up to the 1992 Los Angeles Race Riots and which turned L.A. Koreatown into a warzone. In more recent times, we also see some Asian immigrants and Asian Americans rallying against Affirmative Action in Higher Education out of self interest and an elitist and myopic obsession with obtaining Ivy League Educations. If we are to move forward in Christian Solidarity, the challenge to Asian immigrants and Asian Americans is to repent of overly-isolationist, ethno-centric, and materialistic worldviews, and to remember Christ’s teachings that even as the hated Samaritan was “Good” to his Jewish neighbor, so ought we to “love our (Black and Brown) neighbors as ourselves”, and also “love one another as (Christ) has loved us”. May this come to pass, Amen!
As we turn our attention to racism impacting Asian Americans on an individual-level, it is important to note that broadly-speaking, that there are multiple streams of racism against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. So, I will outline some of the more prevalent forms which we’ve seen become more relevant in recent days as incidents of physical violence and intimidation targeting the AAPI Community continue to arise:
One significant type of racism we see against Asians is known as “Yellow Peril Racism”; a fear of Asian civilizational, economic, military, academic, entrepreneurial, and familial strength; that these strengths would eventually lead to Asia eclipsing and displacing the West. Yellow Peril Racism has notable roots derived from Asia’s historic technological sophistication, success repelling Western Imperialism, World War 2 and subsequent Cold War conflicts in Asia, and Asia’s success in rapidly-modernizing their economies, all of which feed into modern-day military geopolitical tensions and trade wars on the world stage, as well as resentment against Asian immigrants and Asian Americans. Again, this is not a new thing. The deep insecurities of Non-asian Westerners have manifested in targeted racial violence dating as far back as 1877 with the San Francisco riots against Chinese workers, continuing on through the 20th Century with incidents like the Highland, Michigan murder of Vincent Chin in 1982 due to tensions over the decline of the American automotive industry and the rise of Japanese car manufacturers, and into today’s globalized world, where fears of jobs moving overseas combine with fears of viruses moving here in a toxic mix of attacks and beatings – of which some, like Antoine Watson attacking Vicha Ratanapakdee, have had fatal consequences. In addition to violence, Yellow Peril Racism often also takes the form of behavior meant to intimidate or emasculate, such as attempts to denigrate Asian mens’ physicality or manliness, as has been experienced by professional athletes such as former NBA basketball players Yao Ming and Jeremy Lin, or Hollywood actors such as John Cho who were told they were “unsuitable” for leading man roles.
“Yellow Fever Racism” is another prominent form of Anti-Asian racism and it is the hyper-sexualization/fetishization of Asian women as subservient, willing, and otherwise desirable sex objects – often portrayed in our American media as needful of a white (or black) savior to deliver them from their “oppressive” home cultures. This form of racism also owes much of its roots to American military adventures in Asia and its ancillary exploitation, prostitution, and the taking of “war brides”. It has resulted in sex-related human-trafficking, where women are smuggled into the United States and into indentured servitude, often to perform sex-work or sex-adjacent work until they are able to pay off the steep price of entry. This type of racism remains extremely relevant today, not only with Robert Aaron Long’s sex-related motives in the recent Atlanta-area massage parlor slayings, but also in the more common kinds of sexual harassment that Asian American women receive on a regular-basis.
The trauma that results from these two types of racism has been manifested in different forms of self-hate ranging from a lack of self-confidence and psychologically limiting oneself as only suitable for certain, “non-threatening” careers, to the active rejection of one’s Asian heritage. In recent months, this self-hate has also been compounded by the pain and frustration felt when racial violence has been directed specifically at the elders in the AAPI community. Many of our Asian cultures are Confucian in orientation, and while here in America we don’t include the Confucian Analects or the Doctrine of the Mean in our formative K-12 schooling, as Asian Americans our filial duty, devotion, and honor for our elders permeates informally through almost every aspect of our home lives. Our elders made the hard decision to leave homes, friendships, careers, and reputations in the Old Country, often taking lesser-paying jobs here in America so that our generation could lead a better life than theirs. Our elders take a lead role in taking care of young children and grandchildren. Preposterous that this most precious task gets offloaded to daycare centers! In return, Chinese Americans send their hard-earned paychecks to support aging relatives overseas, Vietnamese Americans count their pennies and joyfully consider whether they can finally afford to buy their parents a new car or home, Japanese Americans bring their aging parents to live with them, refusing nursing homes unless absolutely necessary, and Korean Americans bow respectfully when visiting grandfather’s tomb. We love our elders deeply, and the pain, the frustration, and the rage when we see them hurt is real.
Moving forward in Christian Solidarity will be a challenge for all our communities. It will require honest introspection, a willingness to confront “inconvenient” facts about ourselves in both Asian and African American communities, and the willingness to prayerfully forgive. While this will be a long and hard process, the alternatives are too chilling to contemplate. Already, our news reports are full of stories of minorities (Asian and Black) purchasing weapons and arming themselves against some future, multi-pronged racial nightmare of “Rooftop Koreans” and Tongs versus Black Panthers and Latin Kings versus White Nationalists. Let this not be so! Let us beat our swords into plowshares, let us see each other as neighbors and brothers, and let it begin with us. Amen and Thank you!!