A Look in the Mirror:Personal Reflection on Anti-Asian Hate

Rev. CY Yan

More than half of Asian Canadians have suffered discrimination over the past year, according to a new survey from the Angus Reid Institute.  Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, reports of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia have risen in B.C.[1]  Vancouver, particularly, has experienced a 717% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes.  With 98 reported cases over the last year, Vancouver was recently dubbed the “anti-Asian hate crime capital of North America.”  In one incident, a young Montreal man was blinded by a group who attacked him with military-grade pepper spray.[2]

Apart from the Asian community, we have all heard and seen the bitter divide between the black and the white communities in North America, triggering the rise of a whole “cancel culture” where numerous statues of monumental significance have been defaced or even toppled due to their association (proven or perceived) with racial oppression in history.  Here in Canada, our recent celebration of Canada Day has been marred by the gruesome discovery of unmarked residential school graves in B.C. and Saskatchewan.  As a result, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II Statues were toppled in Manitoba.  What has been simmering below the surface is now quickly boiling over!

Lurking behind this “cancel culture” is a school of thought that sees every human relationship as a race-based power struggle.  Institutions like law, education and business are labelled as the primary source of racial problems. The solution it promotes is, therefore, to overthrow these institutions.  It divides people into racial groups and pits the groups against each other.  The Anglo-Saxon race is often seen as guilty oppressors by default and people of colour as innocent victims.

Interestingly, whereas the acclaimed social rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. has famously advocated for “a nation where (people) will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character,” this school of thought is now promulgating a reverse version of racial inequality.  People are being judged by the colour of their skin (in this case, white) and not by the content of their character.  Martin Luther King Junior would probably have rolled over in his grave if he had lived to see what was happening in our days!

As an Asian living in Canada, this has brought me to a point of reflection.  In the wake of all the anti-Asian hate around us, it would be easy for me to think of myself as a poor victim of discrimination without realizing that we can also be culprits of the same crime that we are often quick to decry.

Years back, there was a laundry detergent commercial in China. In it, a pouch of ( XX ) – turn white cleaning liquid is forced into a dark-skinned African man’s mouth, and he is then bundled into a washing machine by a smiling Asian woman. After a cycle of muffled screams, she opens the lid, and a grinning, light-skinned Asian man climbs out. He winks at the viewer before the slogan flashes on the screen: ‘ Change begins with (XX ).’ The commercial aired for months in China without generating much debate.  A copy of the detergent ad posted on a local video-sharing site with a caption asking, “Is this ad racist?” had not drawn a single comment.  When confronted, the spokesperson for the company that produces the detergent said critics had overreacted. “The foreign media might be too sensitive about the ad,” he said. “We meant nothing but to promote the product, and we had never thought about the issue of racism.”[3]

But what if the ad showed a person of Asian origin being ‘washed’ white? Wouldn’t we, as Asians, be crying foul right away?

It has forced me to look at myself in the mirror.  As a Chinese person, I can be just as racist as others in my words and thoughts towards people of a different ethnic background!  We are often quick to condemn others but slow to examine and see the same flaws in ourselves.

Sociologists and missiologists have always known the reality of “ethnocentrism.” We were in all directions.  Our fallen all tend once, and our ways are better than others. We can be both givers and recipients of the same poison, often not consciously aware. Racial prejudice is so deeply ingrained in the fallen human psyche that it usually rears its ugly head on the societal level, spawning racial inequality and social injustice.

I want to honor the noble desire to correct such inequality and injustice. Still, I also need to sound an alarm on the danger of overcorrection in the opposite and equally disconcerting direction.  Romans 16:17 says, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” (ESV)

Let us, therefore, be wary of any school of thought that sets one group of people against another.  God’s Word should be our guide.  Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (ESV)

I highly respect people from the African community who speak up against the danger of such over-correction.  Two great examples that came to my mind are Voddie T. Baucham (an African American Christian leader who recently wrote a book “Fault-Line”) and Samuel Sey (a dear brother in Christ, originally from Ghana, who now lives in Brampton, Ontario, Canada). Neither has anything to gain by going against the flow and saying what needs to be said.  If anything, they are putting themselves at significant personal risk.  It’s precisely these voices of conscience that we need to pay more attention to.  Both of them can show from African history that the horrors of the slave trade could not have happened without the accomplice of enslavers from their race who got to reap the ludicrous proceeds of selling their people into the hands of Westerners at the time.

Murders happen daily, which is a sad reality of our fallen world. Every murder that happens is one murder too many, but what both Baucham and Sey can show from statistics is that when a white person murders a white person, a black person murders a white person, or a black person murders another black person, it’s just another murder. But, when a white person murders a black person, it suddenly turns into a racial issue.

Shai Linne, a Christian hip-hop artist of African background, said this in an article on The Gospel Coalition: “There are many conversations about ethnicity in the church today. I see a lot of anger. I see a lot of sarcasm. I see a lot of unforgiving and mockery. What I don’t see is a lot of humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love.”[4]

In response specifically to the “cancel culture,” I would like to point to Romans 3:23, where Paul says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (ESV)

Aren’t we grateful that the God we know doesn’t have a cancel culture?  His love finds a better way – Romans 5:8 says “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ESV)

In the Book of Genesis, Joseph powerfully demonstrated what this looks like in real life.  He had suffered immense injustice at the hands of his brothers, who sold him as an enslaved person. Yet, God redeems his story and works in a powerful way to bring him to the second most powerful place in all of Egypt.  God puts Joseph in a position to punish his brothers or to bless his brothers.  After all of Joseph’s suffering, he chose to bless.

Let me share a sober and gracious quote from the Cowessess First Nation’s Chief Cadmus Delorme in the wake of the residential school unmarked grave tragedy here in Canada.  He said, “We all inherited this. Nobody today created Residential Schools. Nobody today created the Indian Act. Nobody today created the ’60s Scoop. We all inherited it and must acknowledge that people are healing and hurting. Let’s do something about it.”[5]

At a certain point, we must let history be history.  We need to learn all the hard lessons to learn and move on without indulging ourselves in bitterness and grudge.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”.

(Note from the author: Nothing in this article is meant to minimize or dismiss the reality and gravity of systemic racism worldwide.  It is his reflection from another angle – a more personal one – on loopholes and pitfalls that we can easily fall into if we are not careful.)

Rev. CY Yan currently serves as Ontario Regional Director and Director for Connections East Asia at OMF Canada.  He has been charged with the responsibility of giving leadership to mobilization and partnership efforts within the province of Ontario, and promoting and advancing Gospel outreach to and through East Asian communities all across the nation.

[1] Hernandez, J. (2021, June 08). More than half of Asian Canadians experienced discrimination in past year: Survey | CBC News. Retrieved July 18, 2021, from www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/anti-asian-discrimination-angus-reid-poll-1.6056740

[2] Baylon, J., & Cecco, L. (2021, May 23). Attacks make Vancouver ‘anti-Asian hate crime capital of North America’. Retrieved July 18, 2021, from www.theguardian.com/world/2021/may/23/vancoucer-anti-asian-hate-crimes-increase

[3] Graham-Harrison, E. (2016, May 28). Black man is washed whiter in China’s racist detergent advert. Retrieved July 18, 2021, from www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/28/china-racist-detergent-advert-outrage

[4] Linne, S. (2021, May 23). Shai Linne on Pursuing Unity When Discussing Ethnicity. Retrieved July 19, 2021, from www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/unity-ethnicity/

[5] Canada Day — A Response from Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess First Nation. (2021, July 01). Retrieved July 19, 2021, from www.ucte-ucet.ca/canada-day-a-response-from-chief-cadmus-delorme-of-the-cowessess-first-nation/