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by Phung Banh
MYTH STATEMENT

White is Right!

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Kathy Khang

Kathy Khang is the author of Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up (IVP, 2018) and Alabaster Guided Meditations, Psalms Vol. 1 + 2 (IVP, 2020), a contributing editor for Sojourners magazine, and a contributing author of More Than Serving Tea (IVP, 2006). She blogs at www.kathykhang.com , tweets and Instagrams as @mskathykhang, posts at www.facebook.com/kathykhangauthor, and partners with other bloggers, pastors, and Christian leaders to highlight and move the conversation forward on issues of race, ethnicity, and gender within the Church. Ms. Khang has a BS in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and worked as a reporter in Green Bay and Milwaukee, WI before working more than two decades in parachurch ministry. She currently serves as the vice-chair for the board of Christians for Social Action.

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FOREVER PUERTO RICAN

Carlos Rodriguez

Carlos is passionate about reaching others with God’s radical love. He is a provocative preacher who serves communities and loves to pastor prisoners, young adults and anyone who dares to think differently. For 15 years he has been traveling the world reaching broken people with hugs, passion and the stories in Luke 15. He is the author of Simply Sonship, Drop The Stones and the upcoming, Proximity. His main passions are leading The Happy NPO and spending time with his wife, Catherine and their 3 adorable children. Oh yeah, he also wants everyone to know that he’s a Puerto Rican (living in Puerto Rico) and he can’t wait to host you there.

Forever and ever, I will be Puerto Rican. 

And I say this as a scriptural fact. 

Approved and confirmed by the Bible itself. 

Yes, the apostle John saw me as a Puerto Rican in eternity, speaking Puerto Rican Spanish in heaven, with a Puerto Rican palm branch in my hand and soaking in the sun. 

“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9-11). 

Si, our cultural identity is eternal. 

Holy. 

A gift from God. 

Unfortunately for me, when I started to learn English, I worked harder on eliminating my accent than actually speaking the language. Every cool-dude / main-character / gets-all-the-ladies guy I saw on TV was male and white, and I wanted their thin hair and their whitish skin. I drank the “America Is Superior” kool-aid and worked hard to dress, act, and feel more like an all-American man. 

And when I visualized God (as only a Charismatic-Pentecostal can visualize God), 

he was white 

and old 

and rich. 

The opposite of Jesus, of course, 

who was brown 

and young 

and poor. 

Kinda like me. 

Still, every time I saw Jesus on paintings, and Bibles, and TV, he was always white. 

Beautiful green eyes, a soft smile, a lighter skin than mine. 

Holy. 

“Message received, America!” Whiteness is closer to godliness. And the euro-centric gospel is all that I wanted. 

My first interaction with a white American was my home-room teacher, Mrs. Strickland. And like Jacob meaning supplanter or Esther meaning star, I wish I knew at 9 years old that God still speaks into our stories through the names of the people in it. 

Mrs. Strickland was exactly that – a rough welcoming to a strict land – a land where my lack of English and my lack of whiteness proved to be a good enough reason to be mistreated. 

She would speak to me loudly in English, as if volume was my problem. On multiple occasions, while my amigos were outside playing, I had to remain in the classroom to clean up after the lighter students. Mrs. Strickland’s message was clear: my only contribution to the class (and maybe even to the whole of society) was as janitor. 

That was the first time I encountered white supremacy. 

The first time my Puertoricanness meant being second-class. 

And the first time that I knew I was never really wanted. 

Por favor, do not take pity on me for such a statement. I am actually more empowered because of it. God always wanted me to be Puerto Rican. And now that I really know that, I can work towards our shared goals in the Kingdom. 

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but sometimes Christians over-spiritualize things in order to undermine others. 

We say things like, “The church is a family”, “God loves everyone”, “All lives matter”, “I see no color,” and other unhelpful platitudes. 

But, “I see no color” is not the goal. 

“I see your color and I honor you. I value your input. I will be educated about your lived experiences. I will work against the racism that harms you. You are beautiful. And I will do better.” 

That’s the goal. 

Maybe we keep trying to push the agenda of “we are all equal,” so we can continue to promote places and stages that treat some better than most. 

We lie to the family, by saying things like “we are all family,” while treating people like we’re running a business. 

A badly run business. 

A kinda racist business. 

And I did this myself! For 10 years, I pastored in America. And, for 10 years, I tried to erase myself in order to be more “Christian.” 

It felt like the biblical thing to do. 

It sounded biblical, at least. 

The problem was “Christian” meant white and American. 

So, in order to be part of this family, I had to be less brown and less Puerto Rican. 

Let me go back to where we started here.

There’s no erasure of your skin color in heaven. There is no one nation that absorbs all nations. The tribes will not be colonized in order to make the Kingdom more uniform. 

Actually, and precisely, it is literally the opposite. 

The key now is intentionality. 

Jesus did it best when he asked the privileged lawyer, “who is your neighbor?” 

And then the most famous of parables was spoken. 

A parable about a Samaritan. 

A “lesser” race. 

An “unholy” group. 

A people “despised.” 

Jesus does not make the Samaritan the victim that needs charity. Neither does he invite the hearer to forget how Samaritan the Samaritan is. 

Jesus turns the Samaritan into the hero. And his “samaritanness” is at the center of the lesson. 

Don’t deny the cultural identity of the other, And don’t even try to be their savior. 

Actually, watch them, learn from them, and realize that maybe just maybe, salvation will come through them. 

You’re not the good samaritan, white America. You’re the one in need of oil and wine and rescue. 

* Oh, and by the way, after your finish reading this article, type in “who is the perfect human” in Google search. 

Forever and ever, I will be Puerto Rican. 

And I say this as a scriptural fact. 

Approved and confirmed by the Bible itself. 

Yes, the apostle John saw me as a Puerto Rican in eternity, speaking Puerto Rican Spanish in heaven, with a Puerto Rican palm branch in my hand and soaking in the sun. 

“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9-11). 

Si, our cultural identity is eternal. 

Holy. 

A gift from God. 

Unfortunately for me, when I started to learn English, I worked harder on eliminating my accent than actually speaking the language. Every cool-dude / main-character / gets-all-the-ladies guy I saw on TV was male and white, and I wanted their thin hair and their whitish skin. I drank the “America Is Superior” kool-aid and worked hard to dress, act, and feel more like an all-American man. 

And when I visualized God (as only a Charismatic-Pentecostal can visualize God), 

he was white 

and old 

and rich. 

The opposite of Jesus, of course, 

who was brown 

and young 

and poor. 

Kinda like me. 

Still, every time I saw Jesus on paintings, and Bibles, and TV, he was always white. 

Beautiful green eyes, a soft smile, a lighter skin than mine. 

Holy. 

“Message received, America!” Whiteness is closer to godliness. And the euro-centric gospel is all that I wanted. 

My first interaction with a white American was my home-room teacher, Mrs. Strickland. And like Jacob meaning supplanter or Esther meaning star, I wish I knew at 9 years old that God still speaks into our stories through the names of the people in it. 

Mrs. Strickland was exactly that – a rough welcoming to a strict land – a land where my lack of English and my lack of whiteness proved to be a good enough reason to be mistreated. 

She would speak to me loudly in English, as if volume was my problem. On multiple occasions, while my amigos were outside playing, I had to remain in the classroom to clean up after the lighter students. Mrs. Strickland’s message was clear: my only contribution to the class (and maybe even to the whole of society) was as janitor. 

That was the first time I encountered white supremacy. 

The first time my Puertoricanness meant being second-class. 

And the first time that I knew I was never really wanted. 

Por favor, do not take pity on me for such a statement. I am actually more empowered because of it. God always wanted me to be Puerto Rican. And now that I really know that, I can work towards our shared goals in the Kingdom. 

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but sometimes Christians over-spiritualize things in order to undermine others. 

We say things like, “The church is a family”, “God loves everyone”, “All lives matter”, “I see no color,” and other unhelpful platitudes. 

But, “I see no color” is not the goal. 

“I see your color and I honor you. I value your input. I will be educated about your lived experiences. I will work against the racism that harms you. You are beautiful. And I will do better.” 

That’s the goal. 

Maybe we keep trying to push the agenda of “we are all equal,” so we can continue to promote places and stages that treat some better than most. 

We lie to the family, by saying things like “we are all family,” while treating people like we’re running a business. 

A badly run business. 

A kinda racist business. 

And I did this myself! For 10 years, I pastored in America. And, for 10 years, I tried to erase myself in order to be more “Christian.” 

It felt like the biblical thing to do. 

It sounded biblical, at least. 

The problem was “Christian” meant white and American. 

So, in order to be part of this family, I had to be less brown and less Puerto Rican. 

Let me go back to where we started here. There’s no erasure of your skin color in heaven. There is no one nation that absorbs all nations. The tribes will not be colonized in order to make the Kingdom more uniform. 

Actually, and precisely, it is literally the opposite. 

The key now is intentionality. 

Jesus did it best when he asked the privileged lawyer, “who is your neighbor?” 

And then the most famous of parables was spoken. 

A parable about a Samaritan. 

A “lesser” race. 

An “unholy” group. 

A people “despised.” 

Jesus does not make the Samaritan the victim that needs charity. Neither does he invite the hearer to forget how Samaritan the Samaritan is. 

Jesus turns the Samaritan into the hero. And his “samaritanness” is at the center of the lesson. 

Don’t deny the cultural identity of the other, And don’t even try to be their savior. 

Actually, watch them, learn from them, and realize that maybe just maybe, salvation will come through them. 

You’re not the good samaritan, white America. You’re the one in need of oil and wine and rescue. 

* Oh, and by the way, after your finish reading this article, type in “who is the perfect human” in Google search. 

Our cultural identity is eternal.
I see your color and I honor you. I value your input. I will be educated about your lived experiences. I will work against the racism that harms you. You are beautiful. And I will do better.
There’s no erasure of your skin color in heaven. There is no one nation that absorbs all nations. The tribes will not be colonized in order to make the Kingdom more uniform.
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UNPACKING MY TIFFIN

Sherrene DeLong

Sherrene DeLong (MATS, Westminster Seminary California) is working on a PhD in higher education at Azusa Pacific University. She is a contributor to All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church and Hear Us Emmanuel: Another Call for Racial Reconciliation, Representation, and Unity in the Church. Sherrene lives in Virginia with her husband and son, and they attend Christ Church PCA in Arlington.

When I was in college, I bought a shirt that said, “Everyone loves an American girl.” It was a black shirt with a big red heart and white letters emblazoned across the heart, and I wore it with pride . I wanted people to read my shirt and acknowledge me as American. After all, everyone loves an American girl.

I’m sure that, when my parents immigrated to the United States from India twenty or so years earlier, they would have never imagined their US-born child wanting nothing to do with their Indian heritage. However, whenever I faced a conflict between my Indianness and the white culture around me, my parents taught me to compartmentalize my identity. If your peers at school make fun of your Indian lunch, don’t take Indian food anymore; Buy the hot lunch at school. Please don’t show your friends that movie about slums in India; We don’t want them to think we grew up like that. You can wear Indian clothes at family functions, but no need anywhere else. The instructions weren’t intended to instill shame in me for being Indian (although that was still the result). It was just… easier. It is simpler to deal with whiteness by slowly allowing it to erase your culture than it is to stand up to it. And for hard working immigrant families, life was challenging enough. Adapting to whiteness was the solution.

My culture couldn’t be compartmentalized, no matter how hard I tried.

As a result, I attempted to live my life like a neatly compartmentalized tiffin. My Indianness was in one compartment, and my Americanness was in another. Each one was sealed off from the other, and it was my responsibility to only open, or use, one at a time.

But no matter how hard I tried, my tiffin compartments never stayed separate. My brown skin, dark eyes, and thick black hair conflicted with my California accent and white friends. My sheltered childhood and strict upbringing was always a source of anxiety in my dominantly white school. My pierced ears with golden hoops betrayed me when my teenage friends were longing for piercings too. My culture couldn’t be compartmentalized, no matter how hard I tried. 

The third layer in my tiffin was my religion. My mother was raised in a Roman Catholic home, and my father was raised in a Protestant home, both in Bangalore. Coming to North America must have felt like a natural fit. My family no longer had to represent a religious minority in India. My family was free to speak English exclusively. They reached the land of ultimate opportunity, a place where I could have a “better” life. 

I’m 33 years old, and only now I’m starting to understand how my parents and ancestors understood the concept of  “better.” 


White Culture is Better

When my great-great-great grandfather converted from Hinduism, Christianity was deemed “better.” And according to British missionaries, Westernization was “better” too. Pants and dresses were “better” than saris and kurtas. English was “better” than local Indian languages. A Westernized Biblical name was “better” than an Indian name. Food suitable for British palates was “better” than regional Indian food. Classical music was “better” than the sitar and tabla. Anglicized names of cities were “better” than the original Indian names. Statues of British rulers were “better” than any Indian leader. British education was “better” than Indian education, and the British way of ruling was “better” than the “uncivilized” Indian way. 

As scholar Susan Visvanathan puts it, “The improvement of the life and soul of the Indian became the centripetal force of British life in India.” The white way was extolled as an improvement. It was simply “better.” And since the British held the power, they could make India “better” too.

So what becomes of my tiffin identity? I have my Indianness, my White Americanness, my Christianity, and my family’s history of better-ing (read: whitewashing) through colonization. I have no choice but to look back that far to understand why I am the way I am. I’m Indian in some areas, but I want to fit in with my white friends, which shouldn’t be too hard because I’m Christian in America, and my inherited Christianity teaches me that White Christianity is best, which is then reinforced by local American Christians and churches who tend to ignore my Indianness anyway. 

A quick Google search will tell you that a synonym for better is “supreme.” That’s why scholars call this dynamic between who holds the most power and what ideas permeate the society as “white supremacy.” The white way is the ideal, the standard, the more favorable option. And that idea is reinforced time and time again through unintentional and intentional thoughts, words, and deeds. White supremacy says that the white way of being is better. This is white supremacy.

Believing that one type of person is superior to another violates the doctrine of the image of God.

And the legacy of white supremacy has marked my life. Nowhere in my story does the KKK appear. No burning crosses, no pointy hats, no stereotype of extremists. Just the idea that the white way is better, normal, or neutral, while my Indianness is different, abnormal, and exotic. And I bought it. I didn’t know any better. Without knowing it, I pushed myself to be as white-adjacent as possible. But it took some challenging instances of blatant racism to help me realize that as much as I acted like it, I’m not white. I just had internalized white supremacy. 


Changing the Architecture

Believing that one type of person is superior to another violates the doctrine of the image of God. Every person is made in God’s image and has inherent dignity, value, and worth. My internalized white supremacy made me think that Indian people, myself included, were not quite as valuable as white people. I would never articulate that, of course, but it was evident in my lifestyle, and it came out in my priorities, my choices, and my words. I remember correcting my parents incessantly on their use of Indian English, their pronunciation of certain words, and of idioms they used. I was embarrassed every time I used an Indian English phrase at school and was mocked. So I went home and promptly told my parents that they were wrong, this is the “right way” to say it, and that they didn’t know how to speak English properly. Little did I know that Indian English is a legitimate dialect, with its own set of idioms and phrases. It even has a dictionary dating back to 1886

Although I have repented of my internalized white supremacy, I am still being sanctified from it. I still attend a predominantly white church in a predominantly white denomination. My husband is white, and I am still surrounded by mostly white friends. The good news is that forsaking white supremacy does not mean forsaking all white people. It means forsaking whiteness. Jun and Collins describe whiteness as architecture, or “a design that creates limited choices one can make when it comes to moving into certain spaces, opening doors, staying, or departing.” The architecture is designed to be an ideal fit for only one particular group-- white people--and demands that all other groups adapt to fit into the space. In order for me to fit into my school, I needed to change my language and take on phrases unnatural to me because it was deemed “normal.” As long as I conformed to the architecture of whiteness, I could fit through the door. 

The kingdom we represent consists of every tongue, tribe, and nation, all using our unique cultural identities to worship the Triune God in unity.

At my predominantly white churches over the years, the architecture was the same. To fit through these doors, I needed to learn more about common white experiences just to make sense of the sermon illustrations: baseball, Star Wars, pop culture in general. Expressions of lament and suffering were limited to illnesses or abortion. Prayers centered on “our nation” with the American flag up front and patriotic songs were sung on American holidays. Church leadership was usually all white, from the pastor to the music leaders to the Sunday school teachers. Although I was told I was welcome there, everything about the service expressed that it was not made for someone like me. If I wanted to be comfortable, if I wanted to be truly Christian, I needed to embrace whiteness. That was the architecture.

However, if whiteness is built into the architecture of our church spaces, then celebrating diversity is like throwing a party for the non-white people’s ability to awkwardly contort themselves to fit in the door. Churches need to realize that compositional diversity does not dispel white supremacy in the church. Is this really our best effort to be kingdom embassies? Because the kingdom we represent consists of every tongue, tribe, and nation, all using our unique cultural identities to worship the Triune God in unity (Rev. 7:9). Jesus taught us to pray for this reality, the clear will of God, “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). How can we settle for cultural whiteness alone when heaven will be in technicolor?


Re-Evaluating My Tiffin

At this point in life, I’m learning to embrace my tiffin, to learn the skill of being fully me in all my spaces. The beauty of the tiffin is that one compartment may hold rice, the next compartment holds sabji, and the last contains dal. Each item is sufficient on its own. But when that tiffin is opened fully, and I mix the dal and sabji into the rice, the flavors meld together for a delicious bite. The aroma of the spices mix together in the air, and a delicious meal is complete. Similarly, my identities work best when taken altogether, as a beautifully complete course. To prioritize one compartment over the other minimizes the creative genius of the Maker.

Although I am extraordinarily skilled at fitting into the white architecture around me, allowing myself to notice my discomfort, notice my contortions, notice my adaptations, and resist bending over to fit is a small act of resistance. Rather than mindlessly contorting, I am actively choosing to learn how to be fully me.

Practically, that looks like allowing myself to use Indiannisms in front of my White husband. It looks like cooking Indian food more regularly. It looks like reading more Indian authors, following Indian scholars, learning about Indian history, and celebrating regional holidays with my family. It also looks like raising my son to embrace his Indianness too. We have a map of India in our home, we read South Asian children’s books, and we listen to different types of Indian music together. Even writing this article is an act of resistance as I dig deep to bring out examples and share my personal narrative without white-washing my experiences. Some of these experiences come naturally, while others take much more intentional effort. That effort is my resistance. That effort is adding complex flavor to my tiffin.

At times, the process of unlearning my internalized whiteness and relearning who I truly am has left me feeling undone. Anzaldua (2015) describes this process as Coyolxauhqui, the symbol for reconstruction. Her point is that our knowledge is constantly being undone and remade as we process new information, perspectives, and patterns. We do not approach knowledge as neutral beings or blank slates but come with preconceived ideas and a sense of knowledge that has been building since birth. Knowledge must be processed, tested, broken, and rebuilt. And for someone like me who is regaining an understanding of what was historically stolen from my identity, I am “re-membering,” literally pulling in pieces of my identity and reconstructing myself as a whole, healed being. 

Re-membering will be a life-long process. But getting to open and enjoy my tiffin as a whole is worth it, not just for me, but for my world. Our knowledge is deeply personal yet has a broad impact on society. This tension between personal and societal is what makes awareness of one’s cultural identity an important investment as it affects not only ourselves, but also how we interact with the world as influencers and change-agents. Society, the church, and other institutions that have embraced white architecture may invalidate my identity, but the more I embrace who I am, the stronger I am to put some dents in those walls. My cultural identity, once weaponized against me, becomes a God-ordained tool in dismantling systems that do not honor his intentions and goals for his world.

When I was in college, I bought a shirt that said, “Everyone loves an American girl.” It was a black shirt with a big red heart and white letters emblazoned across the heart, and I wore it with pride . I wanted people to read my shirt and acknowledge me as American. After all, everyone loves an American girl.

I’m sure that, when my parents immigrated to the United States from India twenty or so years earlier, they would have never imagined their US-born child wanting nothing to do with their Indian heritage. However, whenever I faced a conflict between my Indianness and the white culture around me, my parents taught me to compartmentalize my identity. If your peers at school make fun of your Indian lunch, don’t take Indian food anymore; Buy the hot lunch at school. Please don’t show your friends that movie about slums in India; We don’t want them to think we grew up like that. You can wear Indian clothes at family functions, but no need anywhere else. The instructions weren’t intended to instill shame in me for being Indian (although that was still the result). It was just… easier. It is simpler to deal with whiteness by slowly allowing it to erase your culture than it is to stand up to it. And for hard working immigrant families, life was challenging enough. Adapting to whiteness was the solution.

As a result, I attempted to live my life like a neatly compartmentalized tiffin. My Indianness was in one compartment, and my Americanness was in another. Each one was sealed off from the other, and it was my responsibility to only open, or use, one at a time.

But no matter how hard I tried, my tiffin compartments never stayed separate. My brown skin, dark eyes, and thick black hair conflicted with my California accent and white friends. My sheltered childhood and strict upbringing was always a source of anxiety in my dominantly white school. My pierced ears with golden hoops betrayed me when my teenage friends were longing for piercings too. My culture couldn’t be compartmentalized, no matter how hard I tried. 

The third layer in my tiffin was my religion. My mother was raised in a Roman Catholic home, and my father was raised in a Protestant home, both in Bangalore. Coming to North America must have felt like a natural fit. My family no longer had to represent a religious minority in India. My family was free to speak English exclusively. They reached the land of ultimate opportunity, a place where I could have a “better” life. 

I’m 33 years old, and only now I’m starting to understand how my parents and ancestors understood the concept of  “better.” 


White Culture is Better

When my great-great-great grandfather converted from Hinduism, Christianity was deemed “better.” And according to British missionaries, Westernization was “better” too. Pants and dresses were “better” than saris and kurtas. English was “better” than local Indian languages. A Westernized Biblical name was “better” than an Indian name. Food suitable for British palates was “better” than regional Indian food. Classical music was “better” than the sitar and tabla. Anglicized names of cities were “better” than the original Indian names. Statues of British rulers were “better” than any Indian leader. British education was “better” than Indian education, and the British way of ruling was “better” than the “uncivilized” Indian way. 

As scholar Susan Visvanathan puts it, “The improvement of the life and soul of the Indian became the centripetal force of British life in India.” The white way was extolled as an improvement. It was simply “better.” And since the British held the power, they could make India “better” too.

So what becomes of my tiffin identity? I have my Indianness, my White Americanness, my Christianity, and my family’s history of better-ing (read: whitewashing) through colonization. I have no choice but to look back that far to understand why I am the way I am. I’m Indian in some areas, but I want to fit in with my white friends, which shouldn’t be too hard because I’m Christian in America, and my inherited Christianity teaches me that White Christianity is best, which is then reinforced by local American Christians and churches who tend to ignore my Indianness anyway. 

A quick Google search will tell you that a synonym for better is “supreme.” That’s why scholars call this dynamic between who holds the most power and what ideas permeate the society as “white supremacy.” The white way is the ideal, the standard, the more favorable option. And that idea is reinforced time and time again through unintentional and intentional thoughts, words, and deeds. White supremacy says that the white way of being is better. This is white supremacy.

And the legacy of white supremacy has marked my life. Nowhere in my story does the KKK appear. No burning crosses, no pointy hats, no stereotype of extremists. Just the idea that the white way is better, normal, or neutral, while my Indianness is different, abnormal, and exotic. And I bought it. I didn’t know any better. Without knowing it, I pushed myself to be as white-adjacent as possible. But it took some challenging instances of blatant racism to help me realize that as much as I acted like it, I’m not white. I just had internalized white supremacy. 


Changing the Architecture

Believing that one type of person is superior to another violates the doctrine of the image of God. Every person is made in God’s image and has inherent dignity, value, and worth. My internalized white supremacy made me think that Indian people, myself included, were not quite as valuable as white people. I would never articulate that, of course, but it was evident in my lifestyle, and it came out in my priorities, my choices, and my words. I remember correcting my parents incessantly on their use of Indian English, their pronunciation of certain words, and of idioms they used. I was embarrassed every time I used an Indian English phrase at school and was mocked. So I went home and promptly told my parents that they were wrong, this is the “right way” to say it, and that they didn’t know how to speak English properly. Little did I know that Indian English is a legitimate dialect, with its own set of idioms and phrases. It even has a dictionary dating back to 1886

Although I have repented of my internalized white supremacy, I am still being sanctified from it. I still attend a predominantly white church in a predominantly white denomination. My husband is white, and I am still surrounded by mostly white friends. The good news is that forsaking white supremacy does not mean forsaking all white people. It means forsaking whiteness. Jun and Collins describe whiteness as architecture, or “a design that creates limited choices one can make when it comes to moving into certain spaces, opening doors, staying, or departing.” The architecture is designed to be an ideal fit for only one particular group-- white people--and demands that all other groups adapt to fit into the space. In order for me to fit into my school, I needed to change my language and take on phrases unnatural to me because it was deemed “normal.” As long as I conformed to the architecture of whiteness, I could fit through the door. 

At my predominantly white churches over the years, the architecture was the same. To fit through these doors, I needed to learn more about common white experiences just to make sense of the sermon illustrations: baseball, Star Wars, pop culture in general. Expressions of lament and suffering were limited to illnesses or abortion. Prayers centered on “our nation” with the American flag up front and patriotic songs were sung on American holidays. Church leadership was usually all white, from the pastor to the music leaders to the Sunday school teachers. Although I was told I was welcome there, everything about the service expressed that it was not made for someone like me. If I wanted to be comfortable, if I wanted to be truly Christian, I needed to embrace whiteness. That was the architecture.

However, if whiteness is built into the architecture of our church spaces, then celebrating diversity is like throwing a party for the non-white people’s ability to awkwardly contort themselves to fit in the door. Churches need to realize that compositional diversity does not dispel white supremacy in the church. Is this really our best effort to be kingdom embassies? Because the kingdom we represent consists of every tongue, tribe, and nation, all using our unique cultural identities to worship the Triune God in unity (Rev. 7:9). Jesus taught us to pray for this reality, the clear will of God, “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). How can we settle for cultural whiteness alone when heaven will be in technicolor?


Re-Evaluating My Tiffin

At this point in life, I’m learning to embrace my tiffin, to learn the skill of being fully me in all my spaces. The beauty of the tiffin is that one compartment may hold rice, the next compartment holds sabji, and the last contains dal. Each item is sufficient on its own. But when that tiffin is opened fully, and I mix the dal and sabji into the rice, the flavors meld together for a delicious bite. The aroma of the spices mix together in the air, and a delicious meal is complete. Similarly, my identities work best when taken altogether, as a beautifully complete course. To prioritize one compartment over the other minimizes the creative genius of the Maker.

Although I am extraordinarily skilled at fitting into the white architecture around me, allowing myself to notice my discomfort, notice my contortions, notice my adaptations, and resist bending over to fit is a small act of resistance. Rather than mindlessly contorting, I am actively choosing to learn how to be fully me.

Practically, that looks like allowing myself to use Indiannisms in front of my White husband. It looks like cooking Indian food more regularly. It looks like reading more Indian authors, following Indian scholars, learning about Indian history, and celebrating regional holidays with my family. It also looks like raising my son to embrace his Indianness too. We have a map of India in our home, we read South Asian children’s books, and we listen to different types of Indian music together. Even writing this article is an act of resistance as I dig deep to bring out examples and share my personal narrative without white-washing my experiences. Some of these experiences come naturally, while others take much more intentional effort. That effort is my resistance. That effort is adding complex flavor to my tiffin.

At times, the process of unlearning my internalized whiteness and relearning who I truly am has left me feeling undone. Anzaldua (2015) describes this process as Coyolxauhqui, the symbol for reconstruction. Her point is that our knowledge is constantly being undone and remade as we process new information, perspectives, and patterns. We do not approach knowledge as neutral beings or blank slates but come with preconceived ideas and a sense of knowledge that has been building since birth. Knowledge must be processed, tested, broken, and rebuilt. And for someone like me who is regaining an understanding of what was historically stolen from my identity, I am “re-membering,” literally pulling in pieces of my identity and reconstructing myself as a whole, healed being. 

Re-membering will be a life-long process. But getting to open and enjoy my tiffin as a whole is worth it, not just for me, but for my world. Our knowledge is deeply personal yet has a broad impact on society. This tension between personal and societal is what makes awareness of one’s cultural identity an important investment as it affects not only ourselves, but also how we interact with the world as influencers and change-agents. Society, the church, and other institutions that have embraced white architecture may invalidate my identity, but the more I embrace who I am, the stronger I am to put some dents in those walls. My cultural identity, once weaponized against me, becomes a God-ordained tool in dismantling systems that do not honor his intentions and goals for his world.

My culture couldn’t be compartmentalized, no matter how hard I tried.
Believing that one type of person is superior to another violates the doctrine of the image of God.
The kingdom we represent consists of every tongue, tribe, and nation, all using our unique cultural identities to worship the Triune God in unity.
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LIBERATION FROM WHITE SUPREMACY

Jai Patel

Jai Patel (B.A. in Business, Communication and Philosophy, University of Texas San Antonio) is a first generation Indian American who is passionate about helping people experience their newfound identity in Jesus Christ and unpack the beauty and complexity of their cultural and ethnic heritage. Raised in a culturally Hindu household, he placed his faith in Jesus in the summer of 2014 and never looked back. He has served on staff with Cru, an international campus ministry, as well as a local church, discipling and equipping college students to rest in the finished work of Jesus, thrive in their walks of life, and usher in God’s Kingdom to a lost and broken world. Jai currently works as an editorial assistant for Pax and lives in Houma, LA with his wife, Priyanka.

Within me, as a first generation Indian American, are conflicting narratives. One tells me to hold tightly to my ethnic heritage and live by the myths and legends that have been passed down to me. Deeply baked into the heart of Indian culture are mythical stories that flood the imagination with knowledge and experiences that help make sense of our world; stories that instill a sense of purpose and morality into our lives. But, another narrative tells me to let go of my heritage and be a true “American.” In the U.S., I was subliminally taught to do away with myths because they were a waste of time. “Put your head down, work hard, and make a good living for yourself and your family,” was the message I swallowed. I was taught to reason, think rationally, and develop a good work ethic in order to get ahead in life. I knew that my Indian culture was home to thousands of mythological stories, but I didn’t realize that America had her own myths she was feeding her citizens: the myth of white supremacy.

Growing up in a small rural town outside of Austin, TX, I was heavily entrenched into the customs and traditions of my Indian culture. We went to Diwali programs, Garba/Raas nights, big Indian weddings of random members of our community who I didn’t even know that well, and many other outings. But, in the middle of my high school career, things began to change. I stopped hanging out with my family and Gujarati community and began to spend more time with my mostly-white high school friends. I began to slowly change the way I acted in order to fit in with them. The way I talked, dressed, treated others, and viewed myself began to change too. And, before I knew it, I was facing an identity crisis. I didn’t know who I was anymore. Who am I? Why do I hate being dark-skinned? I don’t like being Indian. How come my white friends get more accepted than me? I’m not white enough to be white, and I’m not dark enough to be black, so what am I? These are the questions and thoughts I was wrestling with, and I didn’t realize what was happening, but I can look back now and see that I bought into the lies of white supremacy. I was buying into the false notion that said, “the white way is the right way,” and this lie was slowly eroding any value I had for my Indian culture. White supremacy told me that white was “normal,” or “the standard,” while being Indian was irregular, less than, and something to be ashamed of. 

I get to journey with Jesus as he untangles lies, misconceptions, and false narratives in order to know him, myself, and the glory of his Kingdom.

I hated myself for being Indian and having dark skin. I picked up the belief that if I had a lighter skin tone, I would be  more attractive and people would like me. This mentality even started at an early age when we were told by parents, aunties, and uncles that we shouldn’t go swimming when it’s hot outside or else we’ll get too dark. Teammates of mine would make off-handed jokes about my religion or race and would use me at the expense of their laughter. Buried down within were deep-seated cuts and large wounds. And being one of the only people of color among my friend group, I never knew how to respond when I heard these derogatory remarks. 

White supremacy even skewed my view of Christianity. I would drive by one of the largest churches in our roughly 5,000 population town and see hundreds of white people entering and leaving the building on a regular basis. I thought to myself, “I can never go in there.” In my eyes, Christianity was the white man’s religion, while Hinduism was the religion of my people. There would be moments where my friends and I were eating lunch in the cafeteria and a youth pastor from one of the local churches would make his way over to the table. Instead of staying put and waiting for him to come over, I would see him walking and immediately pick up all of my belongings and leave the table. I didn’t want to talk with him about life or God because that’s what his people did; it’s not what my people do. I did everything I could to become more white cultured (except entertain Christianity), but it was never good enough. The more I tried, the more lost I felt, and the more empty I became. My need for existential belonging became more apparent the more I fell victim to the schemes of white supremacy.

Fast forward ten years, and I am beginning to realize the depth of white supremacy and how far this fallacious belief system truly runs. My walk with Jesus Christ is equipping me to process the lies so many of us have digested. Since becoming a Christian in 2014, God has been recovering what was once lost, including my spiritual, ethnic, and cultural identity. He is showing me that Western Christianity, as I know it, does not encompass the full scope of Biblical Christianity even though it often claims to. This means I get to journey with Jesus as he untangles lies, misconceptions, and false narratives in order to know him, myself, and the glory of his Kingdom. This also means plugging into Christian communities of color to help me better attain a more bibliocentric view while denouncing the lies of a white supremacy-ridden Christianity. 

Our respective cultures and ethnic heritages are not to be erased, but redeemed according to the gospel of Jesus.

Along with this, I am more honest about the realities of racial trauma, understanding my need to heal, equipping myself with accurate knowledge of history, theology, ideology, and sociology. Creating healthy boundaries, protecting my circles of influence, and expanding my readership is crucial in this life-long quest for truth and being an active participant in societal change that accurately reflects God’s character. It also means being prayerfully rooted in God’s Word, while intentionally developing a caring and empathetic support system of brothers and sisters of color who pray for each other, fight for each other, and love each other well.

Being Indian American is not a liability, nor a detriment, nor something to neglect “for the sake of the gospel,” as Western Christianity may teach us. Instead, it is an aspect of my identity that God has ordained and intentionally hand-crafted in order to magnify his creativity and beauty. Our respective cultures and ethnic heritages are not to be erased, but redeemed according to the gospel of Jesus. Spaces for healing, honest reflection, learning and unlearning, and creatively expressing our faith through our culture is what God is calling us to, so we can experience true liberation from the lies of white supremacy.

Within me, as a first generation Indian American, are conflicting narratives. One tells me to hold tightly to my ethnic heritage and live by the myths and legends that have been passed down to me. Deeply baked into the heart of Indian culture are mythical stories that flood the imagination with knowledge and experiences that help make sense of our world; stories that instill a sense of purpose and morality into our lives. But, another narrative tells me to let go of my heritage and be a true “American.” In the U.S., I was subliminally taught to do away with myths because they were a waste of time. “Put your head down, work hard, and make a good living for yourself and your family,” was the message I swallowed. I was taught to reason, think rationally, and develop a good work ethic in order to get ahead in life. I knew that my Indian culture was home to thousands of mythological stories, but I didn’t realize that America had her own myths she was feeding her citizens: the myth of white supremacy.

Growing up in a small rural town outside of Austin, TX, I was heavily entrenched into the customs and traditions of my Indian culture. We went to Diwali programs, Garba/Raas nights, big Indian weddings of random members of our community who I didn’t even know that well, and many other outings. But, in the middle of my high school career, things began to change. I stopped hanging out with my family and Gujarati community and began to spend more time with my mostly-white high school friends. I began to slowly change the way I acted in order to fit in with them. The way I talked, dressed, treated others, and viewed myself began to change too. And, before I knew it, I was facing an identity crisis. I didn’t know who I was anymore. Who am I? Why do I hate being dark-skinned? I don’t like being Indian. How come my white friends get more accepted than me? I’m not white enough to be white, and I’m not dark enough to be black, so what am I? These are the questions and thoughts I was wrestling with, and I didn’t realize what was happening, but I can look back now and see that I bought into the lies of white supremacy. I was buying into the false notion that said, “the white way is the right way,” and this lie was slowly eroding any value I had for my Indian culture. White supremacy told me that white was “normal,” or “the standard,” while being Indian was irregular, less than, and something to be ashamed of. 

I hated myself for being Indian and having dark skin. I picked up the belief that if I had a lighter skin tone, I would be  more attractive and people would like me. This mentality even started at an early age when we were told by parents, aunties, and uncles that we shouldn’t go swimming when it’s hot outside or else we’ll get too dark. Teammates of mine would make off-handed jokes about my religion or race and would use me at the expense of their laughter. Buried down within were deep-seated cuts and large wounds. And being one of the only people of color among my friend group, I never knew how to respond when I heard these derogatory remarks. 

White supremacy even skewed my view of Christianity. I would drive by one of the largest churches in our roughly 5,000 population town and see hundreds of white people entering and leaving the building on a regular basis. I thought to myself, “I can never go in there.” In my eyes, Christianity was the white man’s religion, while Hinduism was the religion of my people. There would be moments where my friends and I were eating lunch in the cafeteria and a youth pastor from one of the local churches would make his way over to the table. Instead of staying put and waiting for him to come over, I would see him walking and immediately pick up all of my belongings and leave the table. I didn’t want to talk with him about life or God because that’s what his people did; it’s not what my people do. I did everything I could to become more white cultured (except entertain Christianity), but it was never good enough. The more I tried, the more lost I felt, and the more empty I became. My need for existential belonging became more apparent the more I fell victim to the schemes of white supremacy.

Fast forward ten years, and I am beginning to realize the depth of white supremacy and how far this fallacious belief system truly runs. My walk with Jesus Christ is equipping me to process the lies so many of us have digested. Since becoming a Christian in 2014, God has been recovering what was once lost, including my spiritual, ethnic, and cultural identity. He is showing me that Western Christianity, as I know it, does not encompass the full scope of Biblical Christianity even though it often claims to. This means I get to journey with Jesus as he untangles lies, misconceptions, and false narratives in order to know him, myself, and the glory of his Kingdom. This also means plugging into Christian communities of color to help me better attain a more bibliocentric view while denouncing the lies of a white supremacy-ridden Christianity. 

Along with this, I am more honest about the realities of racial trauma, understanding my need to heal, equipping myself with accurate knowledge of history, theology, ideology, and sociology. Creating healthy boundaries, protecting my circles of influence, and expanding my readership is crucial in this life-long quest for truth and being an active participant in societal change that accurately reflects God’s character. It also means being prayerfully rooted in God’s Word, while intentionally developing a caring and empathetic support system of brothers and sisters of color who pray for each other, fight for each other, and love each other well.

Being Indian American is not a liability, nor a detriment, nor something to neglect “for the sake of the gospel,” as Western Christianity may teach us. Instead, it is an aspect of my identity that God has ordained and intentionally hand-crafted in order to magnify his creativity and beauty. Our respective cultures and ethnic heritages are not to be erased, but redeemed according to the gospel of Jesus. Spaces for healing, honest reflection, learning and unlearning, and creatively expressing our faith through our culture is what God is calling us to, so we can experience true liberation from the lies of white supremacy.

I get to journey with Jesus as he untangles lies, misconceptions, and false narratives in order to know him, myself, and the glory of his Kingdom.
Our respective cultures and ethnic heritages are not to be erased, but redeemed according to the gospel of Jesus.
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