by Eric Ferguson
A Multi-Ethnic Perspective on Inter-Ethnic Community Relationships
I have been blessed to live in a region of the United States where I was able to positively identify with both sides of my ethnic heritage. As a multi-ethnic person in Southern California, I was not limited to only one ethnic influence. My father is African-American and my mother is Korean; both the African-American and Korean communities are strongly represented in the Los Angeles area. I never had to choose one side of my heritage over the other – I am both. I love being African-American. I also love being Korean. I am not ethnically schizophrenic, Korean one day and African American another. I am a fully-hybridized multi-ethnic person. Everything I am, everything I say, and everything I do comes out of my God-given, fully-hybridized existence.
As a hybrid, I have always possessed a hope of inter-ethnic cooperation that does not come easily for many people. Back in 1992, I remember a Sunday car ride on the way to an African-American church.
This was the weekend after the LA Riots. My mom jokingly asked my dad, “Do you think people will care that we’re together?” That question blew my little mind. I had never considered until that moment whether the love my parents had was not normal. As a result, at the age of 8, I had my first identity crisis. I had taken my hybridity for granted, not knowing that it is often difficult for different ethnic communities to get along.
The hope of inter-ethnic cooperation is my God-given inheritance as a multi-ethnic individual. If inter-ethnic cooperation was not possible, I would never have been born. Therefore, giving up on the hope of inter-ethnic cooperation is like choosing non-existence and wishing that I was never born. I could never be neutral about ethnic communities working together. Many mono-ethnic people in mono-ethnic churches see inter-ethnic cooperation as an optional accessory. I cannot. It just isn’t in my DNA.
While I have great zeal for inter-ethnic cooperation, I want to make clear that this argument is not about American civil rights. Forgive me if that offends you. I love the American civil rights movement. Without this movement, I would be totally blind to issues regarding class, race, gender, and sexuality. However, I am more concerned with inter-ethnic cooperation being truth than it being a movement that fits neatly into the American political context. If anything, American civil rights are only a mere glimpse of the honor due to all people made in God’s image. God’s plans for the ways human beings should treat each other are far better and far more robust. Therefore, when it comes to the subject of how people are treated in America, I am a Christian before I am an American.
As a Christian, I believe that the divisions (not differences*) between all people have been broken down, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14 ESV). By faith, we can participate in the fullness of inter-ethnic unity according to God’s provision. Inter-ethnic cooperation as truth means that by God’s grace, we have access to a living, dynamic, and robust inter-ethnic unity provided by the cross, the resurrection, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. While my own personal hybridity may seem new or the hopes of inter-ethnic cooperation out of my experience as a hybrid might seem new, the unity and inter-ethnic cooperation that I hope for is not new at all. Christ has already accomplished it and the Father is more than willing to testify to His Son’s accomplishment.
When we pursue any sort of Christian vision of inter-ethnic cooperation, we must ask ourselves: When it comes to the subject of inter-ethnic cooperation, are we striving for truth or are we striving for American legal rights, liberties, and privileges? The difference is important because when we strive for truth, as we know it through Jesus Christ, we unavoidably arrive at the enormity of American sin, which we all share corporately as members of this nation. Our blind entitlement to national rights, liberties, and privileges often leaves us unwilling to confront the greatness of our corporate sin, a national history of hating God and inter-ethnically hating our neighbors inside and outside of our borders.
If you are an American, no matter your descent, you are politically and economically tied to a nation that is a world superpower. We collectively benefit from the way America, as a nation, has treated people throughout history. If I am given $20, I spend it without recognizing these dollars required a century’s worth of African exile and enslavement to make US currency what it is today. If I am served a burger, I eat it without acknowledging that its ingredients were farmed on lands systematically stolen from Native Americans who were massacred and exiled.
While we may only picture white faces when we think of the culprits behind African slavery or Native American genocide, all Americans alike benefit from America’s historical lust for free labor and free land**. Millions of human lives impoverished, exiled, enslaved, and massacred got America this far. Whenever we spend money or eat food, we eat from the table of America’s unjust history. If the benefits of this sin have not yet evaporated or disappeared, is it not safe to assume that this sin still remains? As an American Christian, I have to take these things into account and ask the Lord’s forgiveness.
But if inter-ethnic cooperation is truth, slavery never had to exist. If inter-ethnic cooperation is truth, this land never had to be stolen. Imagine how colorful this nation would be without the systemic annihilation of African and Native American people in America! Would America have actually been wealthier over time, if by the truth of inter-ethnic cooperation, Americans, Africans, and Native Americans partnered and prospered? It is in the wake of God’s vision of inter-ethnic cooperation that we must gaze upon American corporate sin and lament what was lost when our American ancestors sinned and did not choose the unity already made possible in Christ. If American sin necessitated inter-ethnic conflict, American sanctification necessitates inter-ethnic cooperation.
* This is not a “color-blind” statement.
** Rah, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity, (Downer’s Grove IL: Intervarsity Press, 2009) p. 70.