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the invention of white people

(This is part two of a three part series on what we talk about when we talk about whiteness. Check out part one here.)

In my last post, I shared my view that although race is a shared, complicated, and complete fiction, common ways of talking about race are such that these fabricated boundaries are often taken as literal fact. But from where did this sure system of human difference emerge?

From the steps of the Montgomery State Capitol building at the conclusion of the Selma march, Martin Luther King described the problem as he understood it:

“The southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow…when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man…and when his undernourished children cried out for the necessities that his low wages could not provide…his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow, their last outpost of psychological oblivion.”

What King is referencing is the historic truth that there were sinister groups of wealthy European-American men (they weren’t yet “white” as we understand it) who came together to figure out ways to prevent their exploited workers of various national backgrounds from working together to oppose their economic predation. In a sinful stroke of brilliance, they decided to offer a thin strand of privilege to some of their human fuel by creating legal and social systems of advantage for people they deemed “white.”

“Through their control of mass media,” King insisted, “they revised the doctrine of white supremacy. They saturated the thinking of the poor white masses with it, thus clouding their minds to the real issue involved.”If you picture monied devils gathered cackling in a castle as lightning crackles outside, theologically speaking you would not be far off. These pioneers began to split apart people groups based on national origin and skin color, enforcing these whimsical distinctions with the full and brutal power of the law.

Generations colluded to codify and propagandize formal rules around who exactly would “count,” racially, as “white,” “black,” or “other,” coining the desperate lie that a person’s genetic ancestry automatically slots each human into a caste system of worth, intelligence, temperament, and social privilege. These rules, while fictive, were not incoherent or random – they, like racism itself, were fully intentional, always linked to persons, economic power, and territorial conquest.

If you have a single African ancestor (one drop of their blood in your veins!), the elites plotted, under the law we will consider you “black” – this, they reasoned, would fulfill the dual purpose of preserving the children of our white-on-black rape as chattel and would multiply the forced labor needed to sustain our slave-fueled economy.

Next, the councils determined: if you have Native American ancestry but do not have a certain “percentage” (or “quantum”) of “non-white blood,” then welcome! you are now considered “white,” which means that we can continue to shrink your Native population in the name of our blatant occupation and theft of your tribal lands.

Human beings have not always attempted to group all the globe’s peoples into wooden categories called “races,” demanding solidarity and sleuthing shared traits from each bloc. Yet my continent’s slavers and social alchemists didn’t have to start their work from scratch – in many ways, they were working directly off a rich European tradition of anthropological classification that continues to serve as modern racism’s template.

The Age of Enlightenment produced in many participants the desire to “rise above” culture, to collect specimens, and to spread the reign of impartial, rational Civilization for the good of all “uncivilized” peoples (read: non-Christians living free from Western colonial rule). A popular pastime materialized among many of these educated thinkers, who drove their scientific minds towards the project of slotting humans into distinct categories and divining which characteristics are innate to each separately evolved race.

Whiteness’ inaugural architects could never quite agree on race’s supposed clear organic markers – some looked at the world’s human population and said there were two races. Others named three, seven, eleven, or twelve subspecies. All erased tribes and tongues and gave each of their pet breeds awful names – Negroid, Caucasoid, Mongoloid. This discordance did not slow the folk scientists in their work of measuring skulls, regulating cranium dimples and nose lengths, publishing books and landing speaking gigs where they taxonomized and assigned worth and intelligence to some persons while advocating for the sterilization and subjugation of others.

pick one

This practice – from which the concept of “the white race” and “white people” was first birthed – emerged in tandem with increased violent and paternalistic contact with foreign peoples, in the form of eager European participation in the African slave trade and the frantic plunder of the “New World.”

The validity of these peculiar classifications has been embraced for centuries. This strained racial logic echoes in the halls of the universities and museums this era produced, in white claims of culturelessness and colorblindness, and in more popular views that race is scientific fact, and not a product of histories of compulsive rationalism and colonial exploitation.

When the United States Census’ creators noted in 2000 that all of their categories “generally reflect a social definition of race recognized in this country” and “do not conform to any biological, anthropological or genetic criteria,” they did so specifically to combat this legacy. That is, these categories, and the practice of ethnic data collection itself, has been used as a weapon by those who insist that race is indeed “biological, anthropological, and genetic.”


This is our cognitive heritage in the West: ruminated in Europe among the founders of modern science, prayerfully invoked to justify chains and slave auctions across oceans, seeded in the United States as a tool for the wealthy to split apart their chattel.

All the rules around race we accept without blinking were carefully concocted by well-fed men, with names, university degrees, and great-great-grandchildren. Charlatan academics in Europe dug up the wells, and poor whites in the United States drank this spiritual poison and swallowed the bastard Eucharist of white supremacy out of desperation rather than malice, internalizing their racial better-ness as a survival mechanism, sanctioning the subjugation of black bodies because they were hungry, because their children were hungry.

The “divisions of race” do not exist as some innate part of “human nature.” As others have observed, there have always been human beings with lighter and darker skin, straighter and curlier hair, taller and shorter stature, brown and blue eyes,  it is the forced grouping of these people into differently-valued races that is a more recent act of colonial violence. There was a time before this current system, and there may, we hope, be a time after the reign of white supremacy.

Now that we’ve heard a bit about race’s foundational history, is there anything we do about it? What are solutions or possible ways forward people of different ethnic backgrounds can speak into this context?

This will be the focus of my final post.

what we talk about when we talk about whiteness

(This is part one of a three part series on “what we talk about when we talk about whiteness.”)

Sometimes I engage in conversations about whiteness that make people bristle. Questions are often raised like: so is “white” automatically wrong? Why is “whiteness” evil? Are you saying “white people” are inherently bad? My impression is that there is a bit of talking past one another that happens in these discussions, so it is my hope to define terms and better flesh out my perspective here.

First, it may be helpful to recognize that “whiteness” can be understood as a synonym for white supremacy: the pervasive belief that people can be hierarchically sorted into separate “races” based on what regions of the world their ancestors came from, and that “the white race” is the best of these groups. This is an ideology that is actively enforced through bodily and psychic violence directed towards the groups of people who are assigned immutable “racial” traits and deemed undesirable.

Secondly, we might note that “whiteness” as a social and historical trend has relatively little to do with skin color. Indeed, what constitutes “being white” today is not the same thing as fifty, much less two hundred and fifty years ago. German, Greek, Jewish, Irish, Spanish, and Italian immigrants to the United States are all examples of ethnic groups once rejected for their racial inferiority, considered subordinate, but who are today viewed as an allied coalition of groups under the banner of being fully and simply white.

To interrogate these supposedly stone-ingrained logics, we might ask: are the Sami people “white?” Is each new mixed race person the marker of another race? Are Armenians and Iranians, whose countries the Caucasus mountain range runs through, actually Caucasian? Although the United States has historically classified “Middle Eastern” people as white, explosions of anti-Arab antagonism, from lynching to post-9/11 attacks and hate crimes, make it clear that although Central and West Asian people must continue to check “white”on the census, they are not so easily absorbed into whiteness.

Then and now, cultural groups can be either pushed out of the good graces of whiteness, or ushered deeper into its realm, for good time served. The tricky racial alchemy by which a people are made into an inferior or superior race might be called the careful art of “racecraft” – the pseudo-scientific assigning of humans into categories of worth based on each race’s “fixed” physical characteristics and emotional temperaments.

This washing white of ethnicities once considered “non-white” or less-than has always been tied to the economies of immigration, finance, and the preservation of political power. We can unearth these legacies through a basic historical surveying in which we are not left to guesswork – we can easily track popular definitions of race over time, through perusing government documents, editorials, exclusionary laws, formal propaganda, and the analysis of formal tools of measuring race like the official United States census.

Through this social archaeology, what we might detect is that although it is often invisible, whiteness is never neutral – rather than a neat tool for categorizing individuals based on skin pigmentation, it has historically served as an organizing principle for the gifting of power to some and for the social predation and economic disenfranchisement of others.

gift of whiteness

When James Baldwin verbally jousted with an interviewer in July of 1968, insisting that white “is not a color, [but] an attitude,” he was pointing out that there is no actual biological classification for “being white.” There is no defined genetic criteria you can meet to enter this category and there is no country or region of the world called “whiteland.” If you believe you are “white,” you are generally acknowledging you have been socialized into a majority “cultureless” culture, and lost, to some degree, the traditions your ancestors held. “You’re as white as you think you are,” Baldwin insisted, “It’s your choice.”

As author Ta-Nehisi Coates’ has explained, while today we ask questions about “the black race” and “the white race” and think this framework legitimate, seventy years ago Americans spoke as if “the Japanese race” were a distinct entity. One hundred and fifty years ago Southerners believed that their “white” Northern foes were actually a separate racial group, “a slave race, the descendants of Saxon serfs” rather than the descendants of Jacobite and Huguenot settlers like them, the noble “Southern race.”

“I think race is oppression, and nothing else,” writes the Irish socialist writer Richard Seymour in a blog post called “As long as you think you’re white, there’s no hope for you.”  What he is revealing is that the belief that race is reality, and not epic fantasy, drives the mechanisms by which we continue to harm each other based on culture and physical appearance. Because there is no medical or biological definition of race we must acknowledge that “race” is only linked to powerful systems of Enlightenment-era classification and colonial exploitation. Our compulsive desire to coalesce cultures into discrete racial groups has undergirded many of the most awful social projects in human history, including Eugenics and the Holocaust.

We must name this awful duplicity – the odd truth that it is actually our own dogged determination to assign race that creates racism. That is, it’s not the “fact” of race that fosters discrimination. It is in believing in the “reality” of race – insisting that each separate continent has essentially “birthed” its own discrete racial group with its own innate characteristics – that gives rise to the practice of prejudice.

Race is oppression and nothing else – it is a fictional belief maintained by physical violence, undergirded by a gnostic and colonial insistence that our individual bodies and cultures do not matter and should be either crushed by or subsumed into Something Bigger. Now, as much as our culture of American individualism might profess the importance of personal agency, an odd racial formula seems to persist – if you and your immigrant descendants remain in the United States long enough, as long as you meet certain criteria, you can be treated as white.

What are those criteria? Community organizer Scot Nakagawa has pointed out that “anti-black racism is the fulcrum of white supremacy,” by which he means that whiteness by nature is constantly positing itself above and against blackness as its opposite, the sole defining mark of unwelcome, antithetical otherness. Among the only requirements for smooth participation into whiteness is that you are at least a) willing to be treated as the dominant racial group and b) okay with being anti-black.

Segregation sign

To be white is not about your skin color but about your ready socialization into a privileged group membership that defines itself against blackness, a legacy emerging from an understanding of black bodies as fuel, the needed refuse by which a capitalist, slave labor economy can sustain itself. As long as blackness is its opposite point, whiteness is willing to cross all sorts of awkward ethnic lines in strange, irrational ways in order to ensure its survival.

For example, when my father, a Japanese man from the big island of Hawai’i, was told to check “White Other” on his census form when entering the police academy, he was being invited to erase our culture under the guise of a benign, gift-wrapped welcome into social privilege, instructed to do so by defining himself primarily against blackness.

Japanese Americans who visited the segregated South from concentration camps were sometimes confused when they were ordered by bus drivers to move up from the “colored” section and sit at the front of the bus, as their very presence frustrated determined “whites good/blacks bad” binary logic. The cases of various Asian Americans who petitioned the courts to be either legally treated as white or as black are all revelatory of whiteness’ frantic, obsessive drive to organize immigrant groups against black people, who are viewed as the idle, perpetual counterpoint of the American dream.

When we say race is a “social construction,” we are saying it is a “shared delusion.” It is a superstition we all participate in spreading, whose sacred power is fueled by our active belief in its existence. Our understanding of race itself is a porous, shifty thing that has changed over the centuries, and continues to morph along the fault lines of political power today. There are well-established historic reasons for this logic and other racial classifications, and it is to this point that I will turn in the second part of this post.

Terror, Remembrance, and the Lynching of Katsu Goto

“A Japanese storekeeper, K. Goto, was found dead this morning at 6 o’clock, hanging from a cross…A two-inch thick rope, evidently purchased for the purpose, was used…from all appearances, no bungling hands performed the work…a genuine hangman’s knot was under his left ear.”

– Daily Pacific Commercial Advertiser, October 29th, 1889

Katsu Goto traveled to the Kingdom of Hawai’i in 1885, seeking work and adventure as Kanyaku Imin, among Hawaii’s first cohort of Japanese contract laborers. After completing three strenuous years of indentured labor in the cane fields, Goto struck good fortune, and the twenty seven year old’s community connections and English proficiency encouraged locals to support his competitively priced general store. Goto quickly gained a reputation for his gregarious business skills, as well as for advocating for immigrants in court and mediating their conflicts with plantation management – actions that had drawn the ire of local white business owners, who resented his growing influence. On the morning of October 29th, 1889, Katsu Goto’s mangled body was found swinging from a telephone pole near his work in the small plantation town of Honoka’a, Hawai’i.

Author P.Y. Iwasaki includes this harrowing sketch of Goto's lynching in her wonderful graphic novel

Nikkei author P.Y. Iwasaki includes this harrowing sketch of Goto’s lynching in her graphic novel “Hamakua Hero: A True Plantation Story”

Less than twenty years before Goto’s murder, the largest incident of mass lynching in the history of the United States took place in Los Angeles’ Chinatown neighborhood, when a mob of over five hundred men raided the district with torches and weapons to massacre the city’s Chinese residents. Within one day, nearly every home and store in the area was razed, and eighteen Chinese men had been tortured and lynched.

Over the next century, anti-Asian sentiment continued to broadly fester with the implementation of a number of exclusionary and repressive laws. Anti-Japanese racism reached its apex during the second world war, as Japanese people began to be depicted in comics, songs, film, and government propaganda not as human combatants but as creatures to be exterminated – as skunks, rats, monkeys, termites, lice, rabid vermin. Military recruiters began to distribute mock “Jap Hunting Licenses” that called for “open season” on the enemy. Writing of the “underlying racism” that motivated the American mutilation of war dead in the Pacific, historian James Weingartner notes: “the Japanese were loathed more intensely than any enemies of the United States before or since.”

Public consensus was reflected by both political/military leadership and popular media. One Marine Corps general publically remarked that, for him, “killing a Japanese was like killing a rattlesnake.” In an article called “the Question of Japanese-Americans, the Los Angeles Times boldly editorialized: “A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched.” Seeing the Japanese as reptilian allowed white Americans to shed their sympathy like snake skin – as their enemies fell further from “human” status, it became mentally easier to exterminate them. Army psychologists found that while only one in twenty American soldiers agreed with the statement “I would really like to kill a German soldier,” around fifty percent of combatants answered affirmatively when the statement concerned the Japanese.

In January of this year, humanitarian and freelance journalist Kenji Goto was publicly murdered by Islamic militants in Syria after demands for his ransom went unanswered, despite overwhelming public support for his rescue (see: I AM KENJI). Goto had traveled to the region in the hopes of rescuing his friend Haruna, but himself was captured shortly after his arrival. In the days before Goto’s brutal execution, Daesh released propaganda threatening the Japanese people for their government’s recent pledges for humanitarian aid, and denigrating their adversaries as “satanic.” In the Levant as well as the Pacific, it is always easier to murder and mutilate your enemies when they are snakes and satans rather than fellow persons. When you believe you are fighting animals or “demons” – to echo comments made by Darren Wilson on how he saw black teenager Michael Brown – you are free to literally collar, cage, and crucify them accordingly.

Japanese Christian and journalist Kenji Goto in Syria, months before his capture

Japanese Christian and journalist Kenji Goto in Syria, months before his capture.

Kenji Goto’s lynching by religious progressives in Syria has been consistently condemned as a terrorist act – that is, an event motivated by a philosophical tradition that believes sensationalist purging of innocent life is an acceptable way to win desired political ends. Those who engage in the creation of such terror rarely consider the direct victims of their violence to be “the point” of their crimes – rather, the desired goal is the larger communal impact, the rippling out of fear calculated to catalyze social change or horrify a population into continued submission.

Lynching is, at its core, a more intimate, localized form of terrorism. All public killings are designed to demonstrate a clear marker of permanent penalty: “if you resist our empire, we will make an example of you.” The first century lynching of Jesus of Nazareth by political leaders in Roman-occupied Palestine (on the charge of insurrectionism!) certainly stands in this tradition. Likewise, labor leader Katsu Goto had one body, but he was crucified to terrorize a populace, ravaged because haole plantation owners feared his mounting influence would empower their exploited workers. 

This ritual spans both geography and century. Eighteen Chinese Americans were strung up along Los Angeles’ “Nigger Alley” in 1871 because white city dwellers wanted to stem further Asian immigration, fearing the encroachment of “yellow bodies” and the economic power, Eastern magick, and deviant sexualities they were said to carry. Vincent Chin was murdered in 1982 by disgruntled whites who, blaming Japan for Detroit’s failing auto industry, wanted to physically inscribe their anger on an body they saw as foreign.

In recent years, white supremacist assassins have orchestrated racial terror in Oak Creek, Chapel Hill, and Charleston for similar reasons, killing persons in an attempt to subjugate a people. Abroad, children and religious minorities have been crucified throughout the territories occupied by Daesh, and on August 19th the group beheaded and publicly hanged an eighty two year old Syrian antiquities scholar to intimidate others who would work with “infidels.”

A historical perspective reminds us that terrorism is not only carried out by lynch mobs, lone gunmen, or fledgling caliphates. Well-established, powerful states too can choose to terrorize, manufacturing massive civilian deaths, shock, and fear to achieve political goals. Indeed, the kindling of atomic fires in Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the dawn of the Cold War – actions consistently informed by state-sanctioned racist and debasing teachings about Japanese sub-humanity – must be acknowledged as violent relics in this same tradition.

Dr. Fumiko Kaya is a hibakusha, one of hundreds of thousands of civilians who survived the opening of hell’s mouth on August 6th, 1945. In her biography of Kepanī lynching victim Katsu Goto, she writes of her pilgrimage to Goto’s place of death: “When I first visited my uncle’s grave and found it broken in 1965, I asked Mr. Ukichi Kuramitsu to restore it.” Twenty years after the Bomb fell, Dr. Kaya traced her uncle’s fateful journey from Japan to Hawai’i, where she met with my great grandfather in the town where Goto lived, prospered, and hung. Ukichi, a popular mechanic, community leader, and President of Honoka’a’s Buddhist temple, invested in the project, and rallied his family and community in support. He led volunteers in the task of restoring Katsu’s broken grave by physically incarnating the memory of Goto in a public work.

Katsu memorial

at a ceremony celebrating Katsu’s restored monument – my grandfather Hawaii is seated far left, great grandmother Nobu and grat grandfather Ukichi far right, and great aunts in second row

Volunteers mounted a towering shrine in his name, and crafted a monument whose ingredients traverse the Pacific, intentionally highlighting the connection our two island lands share: builders used Hawaiian ‘Ohi’a (Pele’s sacred wood), volcanic rock, stones from Hiroshima, Hinoki (Japanese cypress), and Japanese blue-tiled roof to uniquely capture the cross-Pacific impact of this young man’s death.

Goto Monument

one of two memorials to Katsu Goto’s life

It is Obon season. In Hawai’i, we enshrine our lost in marble tombs, send them off on floating lanterns, seal them in boxes of pine and concrete. They are sustained in bronze, in sculpture, in shroud, in myth and glory, in peace poles and at Punchbowl’s burial grounds. We light incense, spark flames, trace their likenesses in stone, wood, and stained glass; we erect landmarks in their name, leave mochi at their graves, ink the anniversary of their deaths on our body’s largest organ.

These visible markers all exist to point us to deeper, invisible truths: in a very real way, those who have been extinguished are, through our lives, still living. The crucified peoples of history – in Honoka’a, Hiroshima, Syria and beyond – are remembered not only in physical monuments, but in the ways they continue to shape our lives. As one hibakusha recently recounted, “it’s our duty as survivors to carry on for as long as possible, to honor the memory of those who are no longer with us.” We write on our hearts the names of those who have been lynched, and something is stirred to life within us. We triumph over forces that dehumanize and terrorize when we reject the paralysis of silence, when we boldly celebrate the lives of people like Kenji, Katsu, and Fumiko, marshaling their memory into common action.

Nikkei incarceration and Episcopal faith

Several young adults of color (and one white person, certainly by mistake) were asked to speak to a small gathering of Episcopalians at General Convention this week to share our stories on the intersections of “faith, race, and justice.” Here is roughly what I shared. 

I found the Episcopal Church in August of this year, two months after I was able to link my racial identity with my faith in Christ for the first time. In June, I went on a pilgrimage with a group of college-age Japanese Americans to a desert three hours north of Los Angeles, to a place called Manzanar. During world war two, over one hundred thousand Japanese Americans were incarcerated by our government and put into domestic concentration camps. Ten thousand ended up in Manzanar. Some people have called this experience an “internment,” although what happened to our community in the 1940s was very different than the practice of wartime internment.

When we arrived, the reality of the camp hit me. It felt like the spirits of the people who had lived there were inches away. I sensed their heartbreak and loss so intimately. I saw the husks of barbed wire fences and guard towers. Stood on the hot, burning sands of the desert. At one point I just stood there with my eyes closed – and felt this total, eerie silence I haven’t experienced anywhere else. Though there was nothing for miles around, when I closed my eyes it felt like I was standing in a tiny, soundproof closet. It was deafening, and shattering. That is the first time I experienced how silence itself can be a literal form of oppression. That was when I started to believe that talking about race was actually important, and that if my faith was going to mean anything, it would have to start here. Not only with reflecting on race and racism in general, but here, in the sand, with these people who were held behind barbed wire.

What happened to our community is disturbing, but it’s familiar in light of the history of the country in which we church. Communities of color have historically been intentionally ghettoized, segregated, incarcerated, detained and deported, pushed onto reservations as their land was consumed. And yet we see every time this happens is that these transcendent, really divine forms of resistance begin to emerge through music, from hip hop to the blues to jazz, and art, these crushed communities consistently produce these beautiful, powerful emblems resilience borne from the crucibles of our pain.

In our case, they took Japanese Americans from coastal fishing villages and all manner of places, and placed us in a scorching desert. And we labored, we crafted, we irrigated, we created koi ponds and paper cranes and stone sculptures and transformed hard land into gardens and rivers, all while inward-facing machine guns were pointed at our heads. Where could this activity be from apart from the empowering presence of God, the work of the Holy Spirit? Divine spirit enables oppressed peoples to resist trauma with radical creativity. Those who oppress us never expect this. I am reminded of that old proverb: they tried to bury us – they didn’t know we were seeds.

cracked cement riverbed in Manzanar

cracked cement riverbed in Manzanar

The Helper is already dwelling in these places, at work empowering our peoples to survive pain of biblical proportions. So while I love this talk about Holy Spirit descending down upon us from heaven, if Jesus is to be found primarily among the bleeding and the incarcerated, perhaps we could also pray that the spirit ascend from these low places and trickle up to those of us who come from positions of privilege.

Now, some questions I have for us in the Episcopal church: if we believe that God is literally incarnated among those who are incarcerated, that God is most intimately present with people who are beaten, starved, shot, erased, disappeared, lynched, and crucified – then what does it mean for us to be the “Church of the Presidents,” senators, and financial tycoons? What does it mean for us to be consistently ranked the highest earning and highest educated Christian denomination in this country, and to house the halls of power?

What does it mean for me, as a Japanese American, to belong to the church of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who without apology demanded the plunder and incarceration of my people? What does it mean to be a part of a church that in the history of General Convention has never invited an Asian American or Pacific Islander to preach at the Eucharist? I have heard people say that we are not truly Catholic until we are all included, and this seems true here.

And wasn’t today’s worship amazing? Today was the first time my dad asked me to tell him more about our church. Why? I called him right after worship and asked, can you believe it? They had Taiko drums during the Eucharist. Dad, during a church service of mostly white people, yes, they honored the first Nikkei priest (who was incarcerated during world war two) and the mass was celebrated by Utah’s Japanese American bishop. And they brought a fleet of Taiko drums in to replace the usual calm, choral communion music with loud, powerful, palpable drumming. As Rev. Fred Vergara has said, this morning you heard the throbbing heartbeat of the Asian American community. No…we not some silent, complacent, calm, model minority. You heard the shouting of our drums today, and we are powerful, dangerous, an active threat to the evils of racism and white supremacy in our church and country.

Our white-dominated church needs our voices. Not to fill a diversity quota but because we bring irreplaceable perspectives to the living out of our Christian faith. Who better than hurting peoples forced to march trails of tears to teach us the meaning of biblical exoduses, or Jesus’ family fleeing King Herod after his birth? Who better to talk about the meaning of the story of Jesus’ family being turned away at the inn, Christ being born in a manger, than Seattle-area Japanese Americans, who were forced to live in horse stables and sleep on piles of filthy hay before they were sent to concentration camps? As North Americans, what else can we look to besides a tortured, lynched body to understand the meaning of the cross of Jesus?

Jesus said he is present wherever two or three are gathered together. What about ten thousand, trapped behind barbed wire, corralled into a crowded desert prison? Jesus promised to be present among two or three. What about hundreds of black bodies, chained together on a slave ship sailing across the Atlantic? What about the thousands of crucified bodies that literally littered the American South during the lynching era? Surely Jesus is also powerfully gathered wherever embattled communities of color in the United States have been given no spiritual food by our church other than what Dr. King has called the spoiled meat of racism.

The God of the Bible is living among our people, in our stories of creativity and resistance. If we do not begin looking for the Spirit of God here, I don’t know we’ll ever find her.

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David Westlake

What on earth is God doing and how do I join in


A blog about how to better serve the poor and vulnerable of our world.

the life of ashley marie

Smile! You’re at the best site ever

Good Deeds Are Easy

Do something good today!

Married in Mile Square City

life & love in Hoboken

Ad Dei Gloriam

My thoughts and work on philosophy, theology, and politics.

Walking Christian

One Way, One Truth, One Life

Thoughts from a Catholic

I've been Roman for a while


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