I have been asked by a number in our annual conference to share a personal reflection on the recent spike in acts of hate and violence against our Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and individuals. I have been reluctant to do so because I don’t want this to seem like I am biased because I happen to be Asian American, for as your bishop I represent all of you in a very personal and denominational way. However, because I represent all of you, it seems imperative that I speak out in a direct and prophetic way.
Have I personally experienced this racial violence? Yes, all my life, as have most of us who are racial minorities in the United States. I grew up in a poor Hispanic neighborhood, as my parents ran a small grocery store in that community. I was the only Asian American in my grade school, as a minority of a minority, subject to all of the discrimination that brings. My way of dealing with this, instead of taking the bullying, was to fight back. After a lot of physical fights, you finally gain the respect of your peers, but it wasn’t the easiest way to get along. It never is.
As I grew up and navigated through higher education, the racism morphed into a subtler yet more insidious form. I can’t tell you how many times I was asked “Where to do you come from?” or told “You speak English so well.” Because of my background, I very seldom just ignored it, but my Christian upbringing tempered my response. We racial minorities become very adept at knowing when things are spoken out of innocence and when they are designed to hurt you. At least, we think we are adept at that!
As I studied more and more, I learned how insidious racism has been throughout all of history. AAPI hate has a very long history in America and especially in California. All of the Asian American sub-groups have cycled through it, and we have all been the number one targets at some time in our history. The fact that we are mistaken for each other’s Asian ancestry is in and of itself the very embodiment of this racism. The fact that I am not Chinese (the number one target right now) makes me stand in solidarity with Chinese Americans, rather than pointing out that it is just the case of mistaken identity. All of us as Asian Americans must stand together in solidarity against this looming threat.
Which brings me to the main point: that all culturally different groups have been subject to Western racism throughout our history, and some have experienced even more violence and hatred than others. I am dismayed that the Black Lives Matter Movement has been supplanted by the AAPI response, as the violence against our Black population has been longer and more destructive than our own. You can say the same thing about our Native American and Hispanic populations, as well as any culturally different group on our shores. We can add our LGBTQI population to this list, but we must remember that our ethnic gay persons suffer from the double identification of ethnic and gay.
My other concern is that with the six Asian American murders in Atlanta, we are missing the reality of Asian misogyny, whether the perpetrator acknowledges this or not. Asian American women suffer racist violence the most, and we have to deal with the racial sexism that has been perpetuated by our media and the worst form of stereotyping. Again, women of all culturally different groups have suffered from this misogyny, and we must name it for what it is: a true sin against women, all women, themselves.
Our nation and the world must come to a true reckoning: any form of racial or sexual violence and hate must be stopped. We can talk about it all we want. We can analyze and dissect it ad infinitum. We can do what I am doing and write endless diatribes against it. But the fact remains, unless we do something tangible to stop it, it will continue on unabated.
Now is the time for us to stop it. I invite you to join me in doing just that. As the California-Pacific Annual Conference we as United Methodists must take a stand and do everything in our power to put an end to racial and sexual hate and violence. Words will do us no good – now is the time to act!
Be the Hope.
Bishop Grant J. Hagiya is a graduate of Claremont School of Theology and Pepperdine University, as well as the author of a book, “Leadership Kaizen.” Prior to his election to the episcopacy, he served as the Los Angeles District superintendent, executive director of the Center for Leadership Excellence, and a faculty member at Claremont School of Theology.