I am not white enough

No matter where I’m dropped, I always struggle with a sense of not belonging. I’m a gay, half-Japanese, ex-Moonie, college drop-out, Quaker who believes in Jesus, speaks in tongues, and takes communion. I am in many ways a paradox, but more than anything, I’m a really bizarre human being. And my last post about “White Appropriateness” deeply reflects my own exhausted experience in the white mainline Church. Yes, I painted the mainline world with a broad brush. I recognize that I am currently going through a sudden and painful life-change and some of that hurt may have been funneled into my last post. That said, I stand by everything I wrote, and I hope I can clarify a bit on what I mean by “white appropriateness”, and how I have encountered it among liberal mainline Protestants and even Quakers.

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My best friend and I watching TV and mutually encouraging one another in the sloppy, wacky, and foolish way of Jesus`

“I am not white enough.”

It scares me how often I think this, especially when engaging with my faith community. The biblicism, homophobia, and overall lack of critical thinking were hard to deal with in charismatic circles, but I didn’t struggle as much with shame for not being white enough. Perhaps this was because the charismatic fellowships I was a part of tended be racially and socioeconomically diverse. To be fair, a lot of my experience in Evangelicalism was also haunted by this notion, but not nearly as intensely as I’ve experienced in the past few years of participating in white mainline communities.

For my white readers, I know some of you are thinking, “how often does one’s economic and racial/ethnic background even come up in church?”

I want you to understand that I am constantly interpreting the tongue of white folks. Coffee hour at Quaker meeting is not easy. I listen to Friends talk about summers spent in France, granddaughters at Bard, family trips to Thailand, dietary needs, and Book TV on C-Span. I’ve found that these conversations require deep listening, discernment, and, for better or for worse, self-censorship. It isn’t like people are constantly probing me with questions that expose where I lack privilege (though, I will say, this does happen every time I’m asked about my education, which is every time I go to meeting or church) but I am constantly on my toes, trying to relate, trying to listen, trying to hear, and it is often worth it.

But here’s where it gets discouraging.

When I am myself, authentic and open, sharing my heart or telling my story, talking the way I talk, I’ve often experienced not being heard. I cannot tell you how many times people’s interest in me dissipated after pushing me to tell the story behind my unpronounceable name (which they insist on shortening to “Hye”) and finding out I am an ex-Moonie, or after finding out I am a Christian of a more evangelical orientation, or even when I simply act like me… goofy, emotional, and weird.

By no means do I count “weirdness” as a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s a gift Jesus possessed. Perhaps the way he is portrayed as eloquent, constantly centered, and simply carrying a powerful aura that caused souls to yield, is accurate. But I have a hard time believing that he was not at all a freak. He cursed a fig tree to death because it didn’t bear fruit (Mark 11:12-25), which is a bit extreme, a bit magical, perhaps profound, but most definitely strange. His whole ministry path was not exactly typical, sensible, or even rational. I like weird. And thankfully, Quakers can handle weird. We have our fair share of eccentric folks, with strong personalities and brilliant minds and beautiful souls. That said, it seems to me that “nerdy weird” is the tolerable weird in Quaker circles, and that kind of weird, which I respect and love, can be kind of… white.

And I am not that kind of weird.

I’m speaking in tongues, grew up in a cult, openly weeping over my Irritable Bowel Syndrome, amateur Mormon historian, child of an interracial arranged marriage kind of weird. I’m the kind of weird that is often made to feel inadequate for not finishing my college career, the kind of weird that is demanded an explanation for my “exotic” or “funny-sounding” name (actual things that have been said), and the kind of weird that is dubbed by various believers as either too fundamentalist or overly-spiritual, and either way, too ignorant. I’m the kind of weird that feels irrelevant and invisible in a mainline congregation.

And maybe this doesn’t sound like a racist, classist issue, and maybe I am just an over-demanding special snowflake, but I cannot help but see how much the upper-middle class, white, liberal, and (over-)educated have managed to control whole denominational cultures. I cannot help but see how the Other is forced to conform to a certain cultural standard to the best of their ability to enter the life of the Church. And I cannot help but feel, today and too often, that I am simply not white enough to do this.

 

 

 

 

 

10 thoughts on “I am not white enough

  1. Reblogged this on The Armchair Theologian and commented:
    Some really challenging thoughts for us who are from the ‘white intellectual liberal elite’. How can the Church break out of the cultural boxes which hold it back? How can the Church just be the Church? Hye Sung Francis gives you some food for thought.

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  2. Even as someone who is white I’ve never felt like I belonged to the people of the church. Now as a polytheist, Jesus being one of whom I worship, I know I will never fit in. Being bisexual doubles that. So I get where you’re coming from.

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  3. Little Whitey McWhitington says:

    I’ve had IBS really bad, where I was bedridden and in agony. I use skilled relaxation therapy to keep IBS in check. It takes years, but it works, and it won’t interfere with medication. Zen-style meditation is one way, progressive muscle relaxation is another. Hope you feel better soon.

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  4. I’m Liberal Friend who has no college education (I also love Jesus but my background is much more conventional-midwest baptist-than yours). I spent more than a decade feeling I had to keep that hidden so I could pass within Friends communities. When I felt God telling me I should share who I am, I experienced so many “Well you certainly seem smart enough!” kinds of comments from clueless Friends. Still do, although now I often head them off before the speaker can say something thoughtless. Thank you for sharing yourself in this way. We Friends need to examine what of our faith is of the Spirit and what is cultural.
    with love,
    Mary Linda

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jesus Himself isn’t “white enough” for much of American Christianity. Recently He appeared to me in a vision and said, “Stop making and using pictures of me as a white male. I will not be reduced to your categories of race or gender. There’s so much more to me than that.”

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  6. Conversion involves letting go, and that’s hard for those who are accustomed to being in control. Even after you’ve given your heart to Jesus, your brain might be trying to stay in the driver’s seat with whatever tricks and conceits come with your (my) social status.

    Loving greetings from Elektrostal!

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  7. I love how honest and real your thoughts are here! If it’s worth anything, some of us who are white enough are tired of feeling like we have to perform in church as well. Thanks for sharing.

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  8. Rachel Hester says:

    Sometimes, I feel like if I wasn’t “nerdy weird” or “Zooey Deschanel quirky” (because apparently Deschanel has a monopoly on quirkiness? Do tell!) that a lot of people in my neoliberal white congregation wouldn’t talk to me. A lot of people don’t talk to me at church or connect with me on a personal level. I often feel tokenized and that people only hear what I say as a intellectual exercise (because of the academic, multiple degree background these folks often have). That’s why I get tired of people saying that they “appreciate” when I share something that is real or something out of my pain. That doesn’t mean that I do not love them, and I feel relatively safe enough to be queer and black in that space (most of the times, at least a lot more than the other spaces that I’ve been, some people still struggle to hold multiple identities together like QUEER AND BLACK not [assumed white] queer or black ). However, with most people, I don’t feel safe enough to have an authentic connection because I don’t feel like they are interested in connecting beyond whiteness (Zooey Deschanel humor, being pregnant with a kid or having small children, being middle class, coffeebeercoffeebeercoffee, brunch, masonjarpopmusic, etc). It’s not that those things are bad, but its alienating when they are centered and become “white-things” and measures of a Christian’s worth — markers of “White-tianity” — it’s bad when they prevent people from seeing and caring about and forming relationships/bonds with those who say… might not ever own a home because of racial disparities in economics or someone who likes punk music. And, maybe it does go back with privileged folks’ need to control spaces and conversations. Sometimes, I feel like most people in my church are okay with everyone looking and acting like them and having the same stories (whether in retrospect or the course of one’s future). And that just seems too boring and additionally un-Jesusy to me.

    I’m so glad that I am not alone, Hye Sung. I know that our struggles are SUPER unique and different, but it is also interesting to see where I am not alone.

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