The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor
Chapter 10: Distorted Names
Nigger. Homeless. Immigrant. Stupid. Spick. Slave. Harami. Prostitute. Butch. Poor. These stigmas can be assigned to people of a different gender, intelligence, race, disability, sexual orientation, economic class status or people group. Words like these have long histories and are excruciatingly offensive to some. When offenders name people in this way, they are essentially saying, “They (the devalued people group) are not worthy of equal status. And whatever makes them different from me is unacceptable in my community.” Generally, when people use these words, it is for the purpose of causing harm, de-valuing, and inflicting pain on another person.
When some of us hear or see these words used by others, we may not immediately understand the offense. We may ask ourselves, “What does the word mean? And why does the use of it inflict so much pain?” I found myself asking those very questions as I interviewed friends for the “Raising Our Voices” segment of my racial reconciliation series. While researching and interviewing for the “Raising Asian American Voices” piece of the series, I came across the word, “chink.” Chink is a racial slur used towards Asian Americans. Within a couple days, I read the word in a book and in an article. My senses were heightened and I sadly wondered if I had come across this word before in all of my readings of literature and studies and simply missed the offenses taking place in the story or text. The thought of this possibility made me sad.
So I reached out to a few friends to ask for their perspective, seek education on the word, and maybe receive a little historical context. When I asked Marlene Molewyk (an American of Chinese descent) about the use of this word—which apparently refers to the “slanted” or “chinky eyes” of those with Asian descent—she immediately made the connection between the word “chink” and the word “nigger,” which vividly helped me understand how painful this term is for those in the Asian American community. We should pay attention to the words used to define people.
Not only do we distort the truth of a person’s humanity by assigning improper names or misnaming others, we also distort the God’s image bearing truth by presenting faulty images or making light of the distorted images of others. Such was the case of concern with the recent Facebook photo of a Chinese Red Guard posted as a joke by Pastor Rick Warren, for which he has since apologized. The conclusion of the conversation, at least among some is that the post and its lack of explanation reflected the cultural sensitivity of the evangelical community towards minorities, and our Asian American sisters and brothers in particular. Where it would be easy for any of us who are not Asian American to ignore or gloss over these issues, by assuming that they are not our issues or a source of our concern, removing ourselves from the situation is equally offending.
Loving our neighbors means that we make our neighbors’ issues our concern. If my neighbor is offended, then as a Christian I should come along side my brother and sister and not take those offenses lightly. After all, we are called to, “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:15-16a).” If my brother or sister is offended or grieved, then I should also be in mourning. I should pay attention. I should speak life. I should pray. I should comfort. I should name correctly. I should stand with them and say, “No more.” We can start by listening and reading, “An Open Letter to the Evangelical Church: On Cultural Insensitivity and Reconciliation in the Church.” If you agree with the contents of the letter, you too can sign the petition here.
When we see our brothers or sisters offended, compassion calls us to put ourselves in their shoes. Consider: “What, if any, painful memories of being misnamed have you experienced in your life or seen in the lives of others that prohibit you from being who you are? From using your gifts? From expressing your freedom? What has been the impact? What does it take to reverse the damage and to see the name right (pg. 139)?” After we have considered the cost of misnaming, we should willingly take those steps of restitution on behalf of another. This is the teaching of Christ that we follow, “Do to others as you would have them do to you (Luke 6:31).” How would you want others to respond on your behalf?
I am responding in love on behalf of my Asian American sisters and brothers, Helen Lee, Vivian Mabuni, Soong-Chan Rah, Marlene Molewyk, and Margaret Yu, who have all greatly enriched my life and increased my understanding of what it truly means to live as reconciled people of God.
In Christ, © Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2013
Catch Up on the Discussion:
Introduction: Dangerous Act and a Heart Like the Grinch
Chapter 1: Stop Rubbernecking, It’s Dangerous
Chapter 2: WE See No Evil
Chapter 3: Injustice and the Problem of Misperceiving
Chapter 4: Learning to See
Chapter 5: Looking in the Mirror
Chapter 6: God Help Us
Chapter 7: Choosing to Name
Chapter 8: Why Naming Matters
Chapter 9: The Power of a Name