Asian Lives Matter
Hyepin Im and Rev. Mark Whitlock
July 21, 2021
Rev. Mark Whitlock: I watched the news reports of Robert Aaron Long, 21-year-old who went on a rampage at three spas in the Atlanta area, killing six women of Asian descent and 2 others. I posted the question on Facebook: Why should the Black Church support “Asian Lives Matter?” The question wasn’t prompted by animosity, despite the disagreements between the Asian and African American communities. To my surprise, very few of my clergy Facebook friends responded.
Perhaps, the low response from clergy was due to the lack of knowledge of racial challenges faced by the Asian American community. Some may have had a negative encounter with a store owner, clerk, or driver within the Asian American community. Some remember the shooting death of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins in Los Angeles on March 16, 1991, by convenience store owner Soon Ja Du, a Korean immigrant. This senseless killing laid the foundation of anger and resentment that would eventually explode into the worst riot/civil unrest in America after the Rodney King verdict. Mrs. Du was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, but her suspended sentence — five years of probation, 400 hours of community service, and a fine — enraged much of L.A.’s black community and the world.
Yet, I also have admired Asian-American pastors, and the family values, entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to succeed that I have witnessed in the Asian American community. I also agree with Asian American leaders’ proposed goals to create stronger legislation for hate crimes. I too feel the sentiments of the Asian American community disgusted and frustrated by the racist violence in Chinatowns and Asian American communities across the country since last spring. When the pandemic emerged, the President began calling the virus ‘kung flu’ or ‘China virus,’ which weaponized racial conflict, hate, and violence against the Asian American community.
The media has fanned the flame of anti-Black sentiment and reignited conversations on Black-Asian conflicts. Because some of the videotaped offenders have been Black, some observers immediately reduced anti-Asian violence to Black-Asian conflict. While Rev. Al Sharpton has spoken up, there has been a deafening silence from the Black church. I too have been silent until Hyepin Im, founder and CEO of Faith and Community Empowerment (FACE) called. FACE’s mission is to empower faith community leaders to better serve underserved communities. FACE trains faith leaders, educates underserved communities, and provides advocacy so that the voiceless may have a voice.
Hyepin Im: I reached out to Rev. Mark Whitlock as he has been a longtime mentor who has always welcomed me into his fold. As an Asian American, this past pandemic year has been wrought with much pain including suffering from two viruses – the coronavirus as well as the hate virus. With over 6600 reported hate incidents against Asians in America since March 2020, the daily barrage of attacks that doesn’t seem to be abating has brought new terror and fear. For the first time in my 47 years in the U.S., I find myself, along with so many other Asian Americans, carrying a new level of burden when we go out into the public. Even in a recent experience dining outside, I couldn’t help but feel vulnerable that I could be an open target just because of my Asian identity.
Despite our cries for help, it finally took the Atlanta massacre that killed six Asian lives and two others, to finally catch the world’s attention. Even then, I and other Asian Americans couldn’t help but feel the outrage when the police that seemed to justify the perpetrator’s reference to these victims as a “temptation” that needed to be eliminated. The distorted mainstream media coverage just reinforced the experience of Asian Americans being erased and demonized.
The dominant powers in this country have set the gameboard where different communities are pitted against one another with myths that we tell of “the other.” Contrary to the model minority myth, many Asian Americans suffer from the same racist system that hurts all communities of color. Thus, it pained me that the recent optics of crimes of Black on Asian communities are fueling dangerous sentiments and animosities. Until recently, one area that I held close to my heart was my discomfort with how Black leaders would view Asian storeowners. I felt this chasm that seemed impossible to bridge in building understanding. However, with the Atlanta massacre, I saw a God-given opportunity to build solidarity as so many allies, especially from the Black community, raised their voices in support. Thus, I reached out to Rev. Mark for his help.
The dominant powers in this country have set the gameboard where different communities are pitted against one another with myths that we tell of “the other.” Contrary to the model minority myth, many Asian Americans suffer from the same racist system that hurts all communities of color. Following the Atlanta massacre, I saw a God-given opportunity to build solidarity as so many allies, especially from the Black community, raised their voices in support.
Rev. Mark Whitlock: I have known Hyepin for thirty years and I felt uncomfortable dealing with the Black-Asian conflict. I prefer to engage this type of matter behind closed doors. Hyepin proposed a public discussion with Asian clergy and Black pastors. Frankly, I was blind to problems the Asian community. She opened closed eyes. Nonetheless, I accepted the invitation. When I attended the zoom call, Hyepin immediately made me feel very welcomed. There were some familiar pastors on the Zoom call, and people of various ethnic groups, genders and age ranges.
Hyepin asked me to share my feelings. I had intended to slip into the safe non-confrontational background, but she pulled me to the forefront of the call. I was out of my comfort zone and afraid of being outed by other clergy for having a bias against Asians. I was filled with doubt for even coming! My mind raced for a means of escape, but I have worked in the ministry of social justice for thirty years. The African Methodist Episcopal Church is known for marching and speaking truth to power. I reluctantly accepted the offer to share and offered my feelings about Asians.
Hyepin Im: I must admit that I had my own fears and prayed a lot before the meeting asking God to open hearts and eyes to see the truth. The first and subsequent conversations have been so powerful and healing in building trust. I know that God was in our midst when one of the faith leaders, Dr. Barbara Williams Skinner stated, “I just didn’t know much about the Asian community. We need to start connecting and stop hating.” Others wholeheartedly agreed. Praise the Lord.
Rev. Mark Whitlock: As I started sharing, I was surprised at how comfortable I felt. Following the comments, I discovered the meeting was much more about fellowshipping than organizing a public protest. It was a method of bringing the community together. And the members of the Asian community wanted to partner for progress and peace. Yet, there was even more significance to my reflections. I was a representative of the AME Church, a mainline denomination, endorsing Asian Lives Matter. An old civil rights organization was partnering with a new method of civic engagement. It was a moment of healing for the Asian community and opening the doors for a new partnership with the Asian community. And it was, for me, confirmation that I need to stay involved with ALM.
Hyepin Im: I know that when I embarked on this journey, I felt quite small and fearful in such an undertaking. I praise God for his faithfulness. Just as Bezalel and Oholiab were prepared by God to stand with Moses, so many amazing leaders have contributed their gifts for a new chapter and new season of seeing truth of one another and building solidarity between our communities. May we live Christ’s great commandment in our communities: “And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31, KJV)
Hyepin Im is president of FACE. Rev. Mark Whitlock is pastor, Reid Temple AME Church.