It’s a term I used in my previous post that I should not have used without much more nuancing. But, use it I did. In my pain and anger, I labeled Regent College as a white supremacist institution, and have used the term elsewhere. Yet after some significant conversations, I see now that I was unwise in using it flippantly. I expect better of myself, especially as one who strives to use words to heal and not wound without cause.
Over the last week I have become aware that what I have written has spread much further than I intended and hurt people. In addition, I have spread my ignorance of efforts that Regent College has indeed made to address the traumatic events of the last few years. Also, if some have taken the implication that Regent made an effort to “bury” me due to scheduling, they did not. I was reflecting on my experience of the sum total of the events surrounding the evening lecture. There is no conspiratorial effort to keep me at arm’s length or make a disingenuous show of my presence and efforts. In addition, in my venting, have contributed to a possible regress in the progress compassionate and dedicated people have been trying to make. For these, I am deeply sorry.
In the past, I have criticized Regent for not making public statements in support of movements such as Black Lives Matter or against anti-Asian racism over the course of the pandemic. However, I was wrong. Regent has issued public statements regarding support for movements expressing the trauma of the last years– something I am still sifting through with respect to its impact on me and my attitude.
From June 4, 2020, which followed after George Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020:
A post from March 23, 2021, which was one week after the Atlanta shootings where 8 people were murdered– 6 of whom were women of Asian descent:
From April 16, 2021, after a UBC student of Korean descent was assaulted in a racist incident mere footsteps from Regent College itself:
From May 10, 2021, Prof. Mark Glanville’s theological response to racism:
So while no particular mention was made of George Floyd or of Black Lives Matter in the first post, I have come to understand that this was issued with the intent of addressing the protests and that this was, maybe, as close as they could get with the various internal resistances that needed to be navigated. It should be noted that the following pieces were more direct and specific, which perhaps shows that there was a culture shift in the intervening months.
I have written these words first as I wanted those of you without the time or space to read and process the rest to know that, above all else, I am remorseful. Let these be the words that now– maybe?– will spread to the ears that need to hear them.
But what of the term “white supremacy”, and why did I use it? After all, it carries the connotation of a conscious and systematic oppression of non-white minorities–which I do not think Regent College does. it is evident that in the years since BLM and the advent of renewed anti-Asian racism, Regent has made efforts to call a more diverse representation amongst its faculty. Courses like the one I have just finished teaching on Culture, Faith, and Mental Health wherein I touched on divisive topics such as intersectionality and critical race theory would never have been taught a handful of years ago. And, this summer, there are courses that touch on non-Western approaches to history and theology taught by professors of non-European descent. So, Regent is not white supremacist according to majority interpretations of that term.
But has it been guilty of “white (male) normativity”? Yes. Has it traditionally reinforced paradigms of theological education as necessarily proceeding from primarily Western European contexts? Yes. Have the faculty historically been primarily represented by white males? Yes. And so, when you put these together, it appears as though Regent has engaged in putting forth a vision of theological education that presumes the default Christian view is also that of a white male. When it is assumed that a largely Western European perspective on the history of the church, the development of theology, and the heroism of males in its propagation is the “standard” way of engaging these studies, then white male normativity is being practiced.
I have been processing the education I received at Regent 15 years ago and the particular lenses that were assumed and not critiqued while I was there. I remember asking professors– out of curiosity, not out of wanting to be a shit-stirrer– about happenings in Ancient China around the time that the groundwork of the Bible was being laid. None could answer me or point me in certain directions. I remember a friend being denied by a professor the topic of Liberation Theology for one of their papers because of its contentious nature (at that time.) One hallmark of an education at Regent is a deep concern for Christian history, and despite reading quite a bit of it over the course of my 3 years there, there appeared to be little, if any, interest in how God might have appeared and witnessed to my ancestors. From a curricular perspective, my culture and ethnicity didn’t seem to matter. I can tell you more about John Wesley than I can about Watchman Nee. It didn’t seem as though my ancestors were anything more than God-forgotten people who were lucky enough to be objects of mission by good Europeans.
Is this view changing? I hope so. With every successive hiring of a professor that reflects the makeup of the student body and the world at large and with every course that reflects non Western traditions, in time, the needle moves.
It is difficult to think about Regent and not reflect more about my interactions with my white classmates when I was there as a student. What is this feeling I carry with me, after all this time? While my social difficulty at that time seemed to have been mostly rooted in the tension between local and out-of-towner, I remember particular people for whom I seemed invisible. Whether it was having to introduce myself multiple times, or overhearing the plans they were making with each other, or feeling unqualified to be “chosen” as a “mentee” for a white professor, I recall feeling as though I didn’t fit into the relational culture. Maybe that was on me, as I’m a mostly unremarkable student, not the most outgoing, and was used to my own company. But when I think of my closest friends from that time, we Asians tended to stick together. To coin a phrase, why are all the “brown” kids sitting together in the cafeteria? It’s because we’re not sure we would be welcome if we displayed all of our ethnic particularity. Sometimes, it’s just easier to share dried cuttlefish and tea eggs with people you know will appreciate it.
But in the wake of significant movements over the past few years, perhaps things are changing. Having separated myself psychologically from Regent over the past few years, I had imagined something of a bastion of the same ol’ stuff, when there are people who do want change. I do think that awareness and its cousin, consciousness, has been stirred up (awakened?). Perhaps the increasing volume on concepts such as white privilege has led to greater self-scrutiny in white folk as a whole, which is the beginning of greater mindfulness of diversity in culture and tradition (if those can be separated at all.) I can see it in the way I’ve been approached by people who have listened and who are putting effort into helping Regent change– and who, understandably, are frustrated when I’ve said things that haven’t helped their cause.
I should mention that one of the technicians from my evening lecture approached me after I finished teaching the course a few weeks ago. He related appreciation for the lecture and my apparent graciousness in speaking with the crank (though I did almost lose it when the crank implied that colonialism was a result of Europeans applying advanced technology– I replied, “that was all military technology” with the unsaid subtext, “asshole“). The fact that this technician saw and heard and was aghast indicates a softening that I’m not sure would have been present in the student body when I was there. But, he was unsure of whether he ought to say something. I encouraged him that intervention, if even only to say in that chummy white guy way, “maybe sit this round out, champ.” That would have been nice. Knowing that I had possible allies would have made a tremendous difference that evening.
As my prior blog has likely raised defenses against change (something I’m all too familiar with in counselling), my remarks have probably had the effect of making things more difficult for those who see, care, and are putting their lives into changing the system. I am saddened that they’ve apparently had to field calls from donors, Board members, and others taking issue with the term “white supremacist” because of the interpretation of it as the domain of torch-carrying Nazis.
And yet, I wonder if the offense of using terms like “white supremacist” is a matter of perspective when considering the emotion it evokes. For those of us who have been victims of racism (and not just the microaggressive “slighting” kind), it may be an apt description from a disempowered position to describe even unconscious biases leading towards privileging of certain methods and positions. “White normativity” is a less emotionally-charged word which means roughly the same thing as “supremacy” as I’ve used it above. But maybe, moving forward, this is a way to create buy-in from people whose defenses are raised. One thing I have admired about people like Cornel West is his stubborn insistence on calling everyone “brother” or “sister”, as though we all are at church. But it’s an artful way of reminding himself and others that we are family. And though I spend way too much time working with people from families that they objectively are better off leaving, the ideal is that we all, somehow, learn to treat each other with love, dignity, and respect.
In the wake of the words I have written, I find myself wondering, why did you write them? Anger, yes, coming from disappointment. And activation from seeming invisibility and then confrontation. But as I’ve had some time to reflect, I wonder if a theme of the past years for me have been a rooting out of what amounts to trauma. From childhood. From adolescence. From an adulthood spent witnessing the gradual fracturing of the world I had hoped would be better by now. I don’t care much for calling everything “trauma”, as I was trained in the more conservative school of diagnosis in which you reserved that word for life-threatening events. But when I sit and call to mind all the little vignettes of casual and not-so-casual racism, yeah, it feels like I’ve been through some trauma. Not just with race, but with the way our world has gone. The way I’ve had to hold in planes flying into towers, the streets I loved full of yellow umbrellas, and years of wondering if my next breath will take in the microscopic elements of my death. And now, while I am still alive, I often feel as though I am sitting on a battlefield, concussed, wondering what the hell happened here. And maybe, I’ve underestimated how much of a toll it’s all taken on me, to try and hold out some sense of hope that things are changing for the better– or at the very least, to try to convince others of it. But lately, I find myself not being able to say that with as much conviction or verve. And sometimes, I admit to clients that the corner store has run out of the good stuff today, and I can’t say when the next shipment is coming in.
But I think they appreciate that honesty.
I have been wondering whether to delete my previous post. After all, that seems the modern modus operandi for people when they publish things they later regret– if even mostly for propagating falsehood and some for the brevity of explanation. But I think I’ll let it sit, and I’ll let you, my dear reader, decide on the words I’ve written both then and now. I do feel foolish and embarrassed for speaking falsehoods out of anger. I thought I knew better. Yet if I have been telling myself one thing throughout, it is that I respect people even as old as I am who admit their mistakes, ask for forgiveness, and then make pains to correct themselves for the future. I just hoped I would not have to be that older man still making mistakes and asking forgiveness. For reference’s sake, and in case you didn’t know, it feels like shit to be that guy, even if you admire him from afar. As for correction? Maybe. I can only say that if the opportunity is there– truly there–maybe it’s time to put aside the dynamite and take up a bricklayer’s trowel instead.