The March 16th Atlanta-area shootings have left us in grief and anger. Among eight people that were killed, six were Asian American women, including four Koreans. This week’s Time Magazine featured Cady Lang’s article “Confronting America’s Legacy of Anti-Asian Violence” as its cover story. At the beginning of the article, Lang quotes social media specialist Mark Kim, who wrote, “This Atlanta tragedy lies at an intersection of race, gender, class and the legacy of America’s history of colonization and violence in Asia.” Kim rightly pointed out the essence of the problem.
We remember how Korean women and girls were forced into sex slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army before and during WWII. Pro-Japanese collaborators sent off our daughters, deceiving them into thinking that they were doing service for the country. The exploitation of Asian women continued post-WWII: In countries where US military bases were stationed, legalized military prostitution began to take root in the so-called camptown communities. And from the top to bottom of the social hierarchy, people unabashedly lived off by taking advantage of vulnerable and marginalized women. The dehumanizing and destructive culture of sexual objectification is engraved in our history at large, as well as in the subconscious minds of many men. Countless Asian women and girls have been harmed by this evil, and what fed this injustice and oppression was militarism. Korean army perpetuated that violence too, by taking advantage of Vietnamese women while stationed as the U.S. hired mercenaries in the Vietnam War.
There exists a widespread, unacknowledged assumption that it is okay to discriminate against Asians. But this land’s history contains echoes of Chinese Exclusion Act signed by President Chester Arthur in 1882. This country still bears scars from Executive Order 9066, which forcefully relocated and incarcerated approximately 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry between 1942 and 1945. During the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, which was triggered by white police brutality to an African-American man, Korean-Americans came to a rude awakening as the police left Koreatown to burn. These patterns of discrimination continued to unfold, leading to a surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Against this backdrop, the mass shooting that happened in Atlanta-area last Tuesday wasn’t just a grievous mistake of one young person.
Hatred knows no bounds. Asian men and women, both old and young, have become targets to hate crimes. Just as our elderly have been attacked and assaulted, very recently a 13-year-old boy had to hear racial slurs and was shoved to the ground in the playground and taken to Flushing hospital. It’s heartbreaking to learn what’s going on. Why so many people still think it’s okay to discriminate against Asians?
I also find fault in the current US foreign policy toward the Korean Peninsula. It is unfortunate that the American outlook and approach toward North Korea, as well as its relations with South Korea, have not undergone any change with the Biden administration. Both Republican and Democratic administrations, conservatives and liberals alike, discuss potential conflict escalation in the Korean Peninsula as if it’s subject to policy experiment. There is no toning down the rhetoric when it comes to the US’s assertive policy of deterrence and containment, should any problems arise in the Korean Peninsula. The US foreign policy toward Japan has been always prudent and diplomatic, perhaps due to the history of two atomic bombings. But Korea’s case has been different. The U.S. has been South Korea’s primary benefactor of the Korean War. While that doesn’t give the US a license to rude and discriminatory foreign policy behavior, that’s what we have been witnessing and unfortunately, such behavior had long spilled over to general cultural subcontext in America.
The love of God in Jesus propels the church to be a welcoming and caring presence for all who are afflicted, exploited, and underprivileged. During the staff meeting yesterday, I encouraged our pastors to think about ways for our church to be more missional toward the marginalized and helpless around us. And I’m grateful that God is stretching our horizons for God’s mission: This past week, New York Justice for Our Neighbors (NY-JFON) proposed a partnership with our church as their new Flushing site. It is a United Methodist immigration ministry and a church-based, volunteer-supported national network that provides free legal advice and representation to vulnerable, low-income immigrants. Partnership with NY JFON’s missional endeavor will open our church a channel to live out our call to the social gospel in Flushing area.
God is calling us to find our solid ground in the ministry of Jesus Christ, leading and shaping us anew through the coronavirus era. God of new beginnings is paving a new path so that we could be more faithfully present and closely connected to our neighbors in local communities. May we continue to follow, pressing forward to love as Jesus loved and walk as Jesus walked.