Go Back To Your Country

Post Author: Mihee Kim-Kort

just-race-dec-2016It was on the way to pick up the kids from school.

I slowed to a stop at the crosswalk that connects a paved walking trail with a rails-to-trails path on a fairly busy street in Bloomington. I had seen the bicyclist slow down to wait to cross, but even though I was in a hurry, I waved him on anyway. My eyes flicked up to my rearview mirror, and I noticed the car behind me abruptly stop, like the driver hadn’t been paying attention. Maybe he didn’t expect me to stop for the lone person waiting to cross the street. Maybe he was on his phone. Maybe he was in a hurry to pick up his kids.

When I drove further down the road, the lanes opened up, and I got in the left-turn lane. That’s when I noticed the same car behind me come up and zip around even before the lanes split off. As I turned to watch him drive by, he slowed down a little with his driver’s window down and screamed out:

Bitch, learn how to drive or go back to your country.

Then he sped through the intersection. I missed my chance to turn left as I watched him drive away, my knuckles turning white from gripping the steering wheel. I couldn’t help but immediately default to thinking: Was I not supposed to stop for the bicyclist? Did I do something wrong? Am I a bad driver?

I know all those stereotypes about Asian drivers and women drivers and God, watch out especially for those Asian women drivers. I crack those jokes about myself all the time. Except that this time didn’t feel like a joke. It was another reminder that if you look like me, you don’t belong here and you are supposed to go back to your country. It was another reminder alongside the monthly questions I get about my age (Oh, you Asians always look so young!) and my citizenship status (Where are you from? Are you an international student? Your English is so good!). It was another reminder that life in the diaspora, especially in the US, means constantly being reminded that we are foreigners. That we are outsiders.

What’s still amazing to me is that #thisis2016, and yet this happens on a regular basis. Kathy Khang, writer and speaker, wrote about a similar experience at a rest stop, and Michael Luo, a NY Times editor, wrote an open letter to the woman who screamed at him on the street. Luo’s letter started a hashtag conversation replete with similar stories, and not only from the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) community. Many stories also came from the Latina/o community and from those of Arab descent.

Let’s name this point blank. These stories—alongside those that involve police brutality, mass incarceration, environmental destruction, and the violent crimes of hate—are a reminder of the many shades of white supremacy in this country. Native scholar Andrea Smith provides a framework for understanding the way white supremacy is present in overt and insidious ways. White supremacy operates on three pillars of logic, rendering various groups of people as “slaveable,” expendable, or a threat. Though they are distinct and provide different experiences of racism, these pillars reinforce each other. Smith gives the example of how dismissing Latinos or Arab peoples as “white” and placing them “higher” than Blacks in a racial hierarchy gives them some privilege, but it is a privilege that marks them as perpetual foreign threats to everyone. Likewise, focusing only on the black/white binary, though it does provide us with “the racializing logic” within the US, obscures the other binaries and relationships at play.

The nuanced structures of white supremacy are tangled up within the structures of so many of our institutions. Especially church. We try to make up for it with efforts at multiculturalism that Smith critiques as tokenizing—and silencing—the most marginalized. We try to work towards understanding but worry more about the hurt feelings of those in the majority culture. We try to tell stories about reconciliation and justice, but our talk is just that: talk.

So I find the possibility of hope in the work of Kwok Pui-Lan, Episcopal scholar and priest, who challenges us in Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology to employ a “diasporic consciousness.” The phrase comes from diaspora, a common image of the scattered and displaced community throughout the Bible. Her work gives me the energy and material to try to imagine a church that reflects God’s kindom (not kingdom). She writes that this kind of consciousness rooted in the Holy Spirit “finds similarities and differences in both familiar territories and unexpected corners.”[1] It blurs the lines and boundaries. We aren’t as defined by territory and walls, and we are ready to find commonalities with others that aren’t so obvious on the surface. In the same way, stories can awaken a sense of interconnectedness—and the possibility of profound solidarity with other human beings—when “one catches glimpses of oneself in a fleeting moment or in a fragment in someone else’s story.”[2]

Because it’s the stories—the ones that come from the periphery, the honest ones, and the hard ones—that make us confront the darkness within ourselves. They are the reminder that we are all complicit in these systems of oppression and violence. I don’t know what that other driver’s story was that day. But his words do not have the ultimate say, and our interaction doesn’t have to shape my reality. I can tell a different story. Because that’s how we’ll survive.

But what will we do, what we will say, what stories we will tell as we pilgrimage through this world as the church? What would it mean to imagine our life together as Christians in terms of migrating through this world, knowing in Paul’s words that our citizenship—a term that is fraught with numerous problematic connotations right now—that our citizenship belongs to heaven? What would it look like to live out a displacedness as Christians, to live out being in the world and yet not of the world in ways that expand our solidarity with all of humanity and creation?

Despite the reality that these sentiments will persist—that I, and those that look like me, don’t belong here—maybe the real story is that no one truly belongs here. Our lives here are temporary, each of us travelling through this world scattered from Adam’s rib and Eve’s garden. But our words and actions, the stories we tell, can give a glimpse of the One to whom we belong, whose presence continuously shapes and guides us through all the starts and stops of our days.

[1] Kwok Pui-Lan, Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology (Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 48-49.

[2] ibid., 50.

Mihee Kim-Kort is the Director of Presbyterian Collegiate Ministries (UKIRK) at Indiana University and the author of Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology (Chalice Press). She is the spouse to another Presbyterian minister and mother to three children, three fish, and a boxer dog. You can find her at www.miheekimkort.com.

Image by: Mihee Kim-Kort
Used with permission
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