Mr. Wu, We Met a Racist!
Mr. Wu We Met a Racist!(Click here to listen on Soundcloud)
By David Wu, Director of Equity and Inclusion
April 10, 2018 was not an ordinary day for me. Christ the King had requested a presentation on the equity work we have been doing here at Lexington Catholic High School. Ryanne Pults (Campus Minister of Spiritual Life Office, click here to listen), Fr Norman Fischer (LCHS School Chaplain, click hear to listen) and I all shared and it was a powerful experience. The student body was so welcoming and engaged! I shared my story of being bullied (click here to listen) and Ryanne spoke about the science of skin color and the need for ally-ship. Fr Norman and Ryanne led an exercise called “Stand up if…” Students were instructed to stand up if specific statements applied to them ie. “…if you have curly hair, if you have been made fun of because of your height, if you have allergies, if you can speak another language besides English…” They were told to quietly observe and respect the diversity in the room. Fr Norman ended with a story from his childhood.
He began by sharing that his father is African-American and mother is from the Philippines. He was raised on a farm in Perryville, KY and recalls his first encounter with the ugly sin of racism. One afternoon, as a young student, Norman and his siblings got off the bus as they always did. But this exit from their bus was marred with a hateful statement from an older student on their bus who yelled, “GO HOME!!! You (N-WORD)!!!” out of his school bus window. Fr Norman, as a child, did not know what the word he had just heard meant but he recalls the hatred and vitriol that accompanied the word but felt sad and hurt. His parents explained what the word meant and had a meeting with the school and bus driver to make them aware of the threat that these children experienced. To this day Father Norman remembers the hate that was aimed at him as a child.
At the end of the presentation, Father asked for 7 students to come forward and share what they learned. The first student shared that “words can affect a person for a lifetime.” Each one of those students had a meaningful takeaway that he/she shared with the student body.
We returned to Lexington Catholic and when I entered my "Introduction to Theology class" which is comprised of all new international students (the focus is an introduction to Christianity and American culture), I was surprised by the statement of one of my students. She said, “Mr. Wu, we met a racist!” My response was “What? What do you mean, what happened?” She went on to explain how she was walking home with two other Asian friends when a man in his 30’s drove by, rolled down his window and screamed, “CHING CHANG CHONG!!!”.
The students were clearly shocked and disheartened by this interaction. We spent the rest of class discussing this incident. One of the students asked, “What do you do in a situation like this?” I echoed the student’s question and opened the floor to ideas. One of the first responses shared was to just yell profanities back at that person. I began to offer alternative scenarios.
I spoke up and said, "If I were with you, and if his car stopped at a light, I might have run up to the car and said, ‘Hey, my name is David, did you say something? Nice to meet you.’” I had shared that on occasion when I had been unfairly attacked, that face to face interaction often can reverse prejudice. It can be risky confronting someone, but it can also be empowering. It gives the offending person the chance to apologize, backpedal or double down. I continued to imagine other ways the story could have played out.
“What if we had a time machine and could go back before this random act of hatred? What if the man got a flat tire before he could yell out his window? And what if you three offered to help push his car into a parking lot? Do you think that the latent racism in his heart might be challenged by the kindness of three Asian international students?”
Recently I shared this story with a friend. He said, “I have never heard anything like that before.” I responded, “Of course you haven’t. It doesn’t typically happen around other white folk who can challenge or discredit that behavior.” It most commonly happens in isolation. Many white brothers and sisters don’t even believe the behavior exists at all. Often times when stories of injustice occur there is shock and an expression of regret or sympathy. “I’m sorry that happened to you,” is a common response. That is totally natural. But my hope is that people will move beyond inactive sympathy and work for real change.
I believe in dignity for all people. As Director of Equity and Inclusion at the only Catholic High School in our diocese, my hope is for every student, teacher and staff member to be a defender and bringer of human dignity. My hope is for all of us to have the integrity to stand up for those who are vulnerable. All of us at Lexington Catholic are called to recognize the image of God within each person and defend the inherent dignity that God so graciously gives through Jesus. We are called to empathize for others and embrace them as brothers and sisters. We are called to empathize for the Christ and act accordingly.
I dream of a world where people’s inclination will be to listen, acknowledge, advocate, protect and rescue any human who is being unfairly attacked. I dream of a world which no longer screams, “CRUCIFY HIM!!!” or “GO HOME!!! You (N-Word)!!!” or “CHING CHANG CHONG!!!” I dream of a world where people will be taught to see the holiness of God’s image within each person and automatically be ready, willing and able to protect that dignity. I look forward to the day when we will all automatically see the image of God in every person.
With Christ's Peace,