Emerging Voices: Bo Lim, PhD, Asst. Professor of Old Testament

Posted: November 15, 2009 in Uncategorized
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A range of voices from the academy continue to chime in on the issue.  Bo Lim, Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Seattle Pacific University provides his perspective on the DVZ controversy.

Bo Lim

The authors of Deadly Viper and Zondervan have heard from Asian American Christians that the book is hurtful and have apologized, but they continue to sell the book.  By their actions it appears they do not believe that the book itself is harmful.  I believe the authors and Zondervan do not believe that the book is harmful because they do not understand that the U.S. is a racialized society and the how negative ethnic stereotypes function within such a culture.

The U.S. possesses a legacy of inequities based upon race.  In America black means something different than in Africa.  Yellow in the U.S. means something different than in Asia.  Because of this the authors cannot bypass the concerns of Asian Americans when they employ Asian stereotypes.  A recent event in Seattle demonstrates the harm in importing foreign cultural symbols without the consent of Americans of the same race.  The Seattle Zoo constructed an East African village within the zoo grounds complete with people from the Maasai culture.  The Maasai were proud to display their culture in the US, but it is African Americans who have had to deal with a history of being caricatured as primates.  It is African Americans who have to deal with comments like, “Your people are in a zoo?”  The use of Asian cultural symbols by the authors of Deadly Viper may possibly flatter Asians, but it may cause harm to the Asian American community because we are a racial minority in the U.S.

Certainly negative stereotypes are insulting, but are they actually harmful?   Yale historian Matthew Jacobsen observes that the phenomena of “pan-whiteness” which emerged in the 20th century is defined by the following two characteristics:  one had to shed ethnic identity markers that were traditionally not white; and one had to perpetuate acts of violence against non-whites.[1] I can attest to an example of this from my youth.  At the middle school I attended in San Francisco we had so many recent Chinese immigrants that Cantonese and Mandarin could regularly be heard in the school yard.  I recall when a white friend of mine grabbed a hold of a smaller student speaking in Chinese, slammed him against the wall, and screamed in his face, “This is America!  Speak English!”  I am ashamed to say that I laughed consentingly at his actions in my desire to be accepted by my white friend.

Will Deadly Viper encourage acts of violence against Asian Americans?  I should think not given its target audience.  But what it does do is objectify Asian Americans in the same demeaning manner as those who do engage in acts of violence against Asian Americans.  While not encouraging violence, Deadly Viper does support Jacobson’s definition of what it means to be white in America.  Viewed in this manner the book is harmful to not only Asian Americans, but also to white Americans since it reinforces a destructive identity of what it means to be white.

A couple of weeks ago while shopping at a Game Stop in a Seattle suburb I unintentionally annoyed another white patron.  He and I were both in search for good deals on used PS2 games and apparently he didn’t appreciate the fact that I was in competition with him.  He was there with his son and I was with my children.  He grew so angry that he openly began to boast of how he was going to beat me up, punch me out, and smack me down while his son giggled gleefully at the machismo displayed by his father.  Unsurprisingly, he referred to me as, “That damn Chinaman!”

The man did not assault me, but I do wonder if his son will grow to one day assault my children or another Asian American.  Unfortunately Asian Americans continue to be objectified as “damn Chinamen” or “Chicka Wah Wah” (see ch 5).  I am particularly troubled by the depiction of Asian women in the book.  They are stereotyped as the submissive and sexy Geisha girl, the martial arts mistress, or the dominating Dragon Lady.  They are exotic objects either to be feared or mastered by men.  While the authors and Zondervan are not responsible for causing injustices against minorities, they are responsible for how they respond to them.  If Christian discipleship involves seeking justice and righteousness (Amos 5:24), our responsibility is to fight against hurtful stereotypes in order to bring harmful acts to an end.

To my Asian American sisters and brothers I remind us that if we are going to claim that an injustice has taken place then we must advocate for others who are in similar need.  Otherwise we are merely engaging in identity politics and the accusation is true that we merely show the race card when it conveniences us.  To the authors and Zondervan, do not recall the book due to political pressure.  Recall it if you believe that is the just thing to do.  If you do recall the book please educate the masses of people who comprise your audience why you chose to do so lest blame fall on Asian Americans.


[1] Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color:  European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 1998).  I am indebted to Jonathan Tran for introducing me to this work.

 

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Comments
  1. dewde says:

    Bo Lim:

    You have written a compelling article from a very balanced perspective. I appreciate you sharing your insight.

    One minor correction. While the DVCA book has a clear and obvious Asian/Oriental theme, page after page the authors weave in American pop culture memes that are not Asian. It is a potpourri blend of ideas and references. One of these is the term “Boom Chikah Wah Wah”. It is actually a credit to your character that you did not recognize that this is a reference to the standard opening musical riff in pornography videos. It’s a phonetical reference mimicking the sound of an electric guitar. Anyone who has struggled with pornography, like me for example, identifies it immediately and doesn’t associate it with anything Asian. This chapter of the book deals with sexual integrity, hence the chapter title.

    I have no idea if this makes the book more offensive than before, but I think it is important to point out that in this case, the authors were not trying to make a “damn chinaman” style mock language “ching-chang-hey-look-i-speak-Chinese”. They were speaking my language in a way that I understand. I haven’t surfed pornography in 7 years. But if I ever let temptation defeat me, and started watching a video, and it opened with a similar Boom Chicka Wah Wah guitar riff… my mind would be sent back to the content of that book immediately. I hope that I would be reminded that, metaphorically, the sin of sexual immorality is an Assassin who wants to see my integrity dead and buried. In my moment of lust, this clever naming of the chapter and the metaphorical Assassin might be just the thing that God uses to jog me back to reality, and turn from my current path.

    Again, good article. Thank you.

    peace | dewde

  2. Esther Lee says:

    Had him as a prof of OT at Biblical two semesters ago. I can vouch for him….great prof…really know his thing.

  3. gracex2 says:

    Bo, we met a few years ago at Quest while my husband and I were home for Christmas (we always visit Quest over the holidays). I really appreciated your comments here. You’ve given me a lot to think about – especially your last paragraph. I really appreciate that you work at SPU. There was only one minority professor when I was there (Prof Bah) and we really needed voices and leadership like yours as well.
    Also, I looked up DVCA on amazon and there were only two negative reviews… do you think this is an appropriate way to influence the sales of this book?

  4. Bo says:

    Everyone, thanks for all the comments.

    @Dewde – thanks for clarifying that for me and for your honesty. I am glad that the book helps you. What struck me was the image of the geisha girl with the sword in her hand on p 106? from that chapter. I get what they are trying to say – that what may seem appealing and inviting to you will actually destroy you and so it is a powerful image and can have a positive message as in your case. Unfortunately they use colonial stereotypes of Asian women. Most likely given the target audience of the book, I imagine sexual temptation will come in the form of a white woman for the reader. Now I recognize that the sexual temptation may in fact come in Asian form as evidenced by the high rate of Asian prostitution, sex trafficking, and brothels. So in one sense the image is true. But I would add, is the image used responsibly? By getting carried away with this Asian theme the authors only add to the fantasy of the Asian mystique that is destructive for both Asian women and white men.

    @Gracex2 – I’ll be around at Quest this Christmas so please say hello. SPU has gotten better but there’s still a ways to go. I also saw the reviews on Amazon. I’m glad that the first review that comes up points out the book’s flaws regarding racial stereotypes. I’m not surprised that the overwhelming majority of the comments praise the book but it is sad to see someone write, “This book is beautiful! It is truly worthy of being a coffee table book because of the art inside.” Since the controversy broke my wife noticed that the preview pages of the book on Amazon changed. Previously more of the images inside the book were available. This is unfortunate b/c many now believe that AAs upset over just a cover.

    As in regard to getting “political” – influencing sales over the book through negative reviews, boycotts, demonstrations, etc. – I’ve thought about that. Not sure. I don’t want to divide the church. Through such means we may be able to get our way but in doing so divide the church and when the church is divided we lose. I would only do so if we are not being heard.

  5. dewde says:

    @Gracex2:

    I would hope that individuals would critique the book honestly, and based on personal experience. For example, “I have not read this book. I took one look at the nonsensical Kanji on the cover, and flipped through the book at Barnes & Nobles, and I immediately put the book down. I do not understand how a book like this could assert to be about integrity while it reinforces hurtful stereotypes.” This would be an honest review.

    However, for a bunch of people to jump in and down-vote the book without having given it analysis themselves, well, to me that feels hypocritical. I hope that would not happen.

    peace | dewde

  6. Dave Ingland says:

    Bo,

    So interesting that when we were connected here in the Sacramento Valley, we talked a lot about what was going on in the Anglo church, but now that you are in the Pacific Northwest we have reconnected through discussing Asian-American issues 🙂

    I really appreciate your perspective and it’s one that I think many in the Asian-American community will relate to. However, from my perspective, if the authors have apologized and removed the Asian cultural references from their website, do we really move forward calling them out on it still? If the book is still on the shelf, I agree that it’s a hurtful issue, but not in the control of the authors Mike Foster & Jud Wilhite. So, for me, at this point I’d afford them grace and see if some response comes from Zondervan. In the meantime, drawing attention to your closing statement, “If you do recall the book please educate the masses of people who comprise your audience why you chose to do so lest blame fall on Asian Americans.” is something that I think we can help set the record straight on. While the majority of Americans may think we as Asian-Americans need to settle down and quit being so sensitive, I truly believe that the ensuing discussions about the issue is helping to change some minds and realize why it is insensitive and perpetuating negative stereotypes. It’s going to take some time, but I think patience and grace will allow many to be enlightened as they become open to learning more about the matter, rather than just respond to the uproar.

  7. […] [update] more from David Swanson, Church Marketing Sucks, Ken Fong, Joel Hamernick, Benson Hines, Scott McClellan, Andrew Lee, Dave Diller, Jessica Pegis, Melody Hanson, Jonathan Tran, Bo Lim […]

  8. […] not surprised at the outcome.  In my open letter to the authors and Zondervan, I asked for 2 things:  1)  That they would make a decision not […]

  9. Mike says:

    I still think that this is one of the worst things that the church has ever done to itself. Your view of history is slanted please realize that the Irish would fall under a similar set of circumstances and many of us (red beards and all) still face an up hill battle in overcoming the situations that we grew up in. So its not all anglo people that fall into the top teir group! FYI.

    Second Im going to venture that you are not in any way a business prof. If you would take the time to read the ethics of business as Harvard has them set you would realize how badly a book like DVCA is needed in business! Even more important is a book written with a light hearted tone with a clear message.

    Third aren’t there way better battles to fight? Seriously my mom has bi-polar and it would be a stupid battle to go after churches, authors, publishers (including Zondervon) that publish authors that don’t believe mental disorders are valid. It is far better for me to fight battles that are progressive and for the greater good.

    I’ll leave you with a quote from Abraham Lincoln please ask yourself if you really want the church to go the direction of pleasing all people at all times!
    “You can please some of the people some of the time all of the people some of the time some of the people all of the time but you can never please all of the people all of the time”

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