Posts Tagged ‘Deadly Vipers’

A few have asked about how Said’s concept of “orientalism” relates to the issue of Deadly Vipers.  In the two video clips below (presented in a workshop at the Christian Community Development Association National Conference), I discuss orientialism and its role in understanding the Rickshaw Rally debacle from a few years ago.  Part I (CCDA 2009 Part 2, Lecture Series Multi-Ethnicity) discusses “what is normative/normal” as well as an initial explanation of Said’s concepts (begins at about the 3 minute mark).   Part II (CCDA 2009 Part 3, Lecture Series Multi-Ethnicity) describes the Rickshaw Rally debacle in light of Said’s concepts.

PART I:

PART II:

More videos at www.youtube.com/profrah.

Without trying to be too presumptuous about the resolution of an ongoing story, I’m doing some personal reflection on the last few days.  And hoping this blog post responds to some questions that have been raised.  I am thankful for the ways that Mike and Jud have come public with their mea culpas.  We are praying for the same from Zondervan. In the same way, I would like to offer my necessary apologies as well as my immediate aftermath reflections :

1)      Christians should not shy away from issues of justice.  As an educator, I am concerned about what seems to be a rather shallow understanding of God’s justice among Christians. If an injustice or a public offense exists (particularly if perpetrated by the Christian community), then there needs to be a public redress of that injustice. A public sin requires a public response. I also don’t think that it is helpful to label the victims and prevent the victims from speaking out against the wounding that has occurred. It is also significant that many saw this as an offense to the entire Christian community. Understanding the Biblical, systemic, corporate, and public aspects of injustice is an important part of learning as a Christian community.

2)      Publishing a private e-mail exchange.  This is something I am still agonizing over.  I offer a public apology to Mike Foster. I plan to offer a personal apology as well. I offer this paragraph not as a justification but as an explanation.  The posting of the e-mail was in direct response to what I felt was an inaccurate statement posted on Mike’s blog: “i have done my best to respond to your concerns through email.” I did not see this public declaration as a wholly honest statement.  I published the e-mails to refute a public statement.  Again, this is not a justification, but it is an explanation.

3)      “Shock and awe”.  My good friend Ed Gilbreath used this phrase in his blog reflection.  I love the way Ed writes – very descriptive and on point.  I don’t think that there was an intentional “shock and awe” strategy.  Remember that exchange between Obama and McCain during one of the Presidential debates about what’s a strategy and what’s a tactic?  I still haven’t figured that one out.  And then, there is the all important “strategery”.  I don’t think there was ever a “strategery” to this thing.  (And there wasn’t one for the Rickshaw Rally and the Skitguys stuff either).  Things sort of developed and with the added speed of communication and the capacity for viral postings, they develop very, very quickly.  I would assert that the level of passion reflected in the fast and furious postings (mostly from the Asian-American community but from across the spectrum) opposing the material really came from a deep sense of alienation that many Asian-American Christians (and many other people of color) feel.  Which leads to:

4)      The tone of some of the e-mails and postings. I would like to offer an apology to those who have been offended or hurt by my tone.  That was not my intent.  I would also ask that those who have been troubled by the tone of some of the posts from the Asian-American community examine whether pre-conceived notions are distorting expectations.  I think about the seemingly angry protests that have been raised in the past by Christians.  Political protests opposing abortion, protests over The Last Temptation of Christ, or the classic Biblical example of Jesus overturning the moneychangers’ table. No one on these blogs were biting fingers or picketing movie theaters or even overturning any tables. Given the level of pain experienced by many, I think most of the concerns were raised in a civil, but strong and forceful manner.  It is okay for Asian-Americans to speak in a strong and forceful manner. Our voices have often been ignored or silenced. The fact that this is the third (actually more) time that a major Christian publishing company has done this also contributes to this particular scenario. Please seek to hear the stories of previously silenced voices. In my book (The Next Evangelicalism), I speak about the need to hear from the voices on the margins of evangelicalism. We are experiencing an increasingly multi-cultual and multi-ethnic American Christianity.  We need to hear the stories from those in other communities, so that we don’t make the mistakes of marginalizing and silencing important voices.  (For examples: see Vince Campbell’s youtube clip on the early African church and Randy Woodley’s perspective on Native American Christianity).

This is my third time involved with the insensitive portrayal of Asians by a major Christian publishing company (There are more instances, but only three that I was directly involved with).  Honestly, I am tired.  I’m tired of the stereotypes.  I’m tired of hearing that I need “to get over it” that I’m the problem and not the ones who have committed the offense.  That “this wouldn’t be an issue if you would not raise it as an issue.”  I’m tired of being told that I’m angry. I’m actually not angry — I’m more frustrated than angry.  I actually like to smile and laugh. Maybe my students and friends can chime in here. J

And I’m tired of the lack of progress in the larger evangelical power structures.  In fact, when I first saw the book in the Zondervan catalog, my first instinct was to close the page and let it go.  But three things happened: (1) I explored a little further and found the offense was much larger than simply using Kung Fu as a gag for the book title, (2) Seeing the editorial board and executive board of Zondervan and not seeing a single person of color on either list, and (3) I thought of my children.  I know the following paragraph may sound mawkish and sentimental, but please give me the benefit of the doubt that it is from the heart:

When this whole thing first showed up and my wife saw that I was getting involved, she challenged me to do this not because I was all riled up, but she said bluntly, “Do it for our kids.” We have two absolutely beautiful and wonderful kids. We are trying to create the belief in them that they can be anything that God has called them to be. I am especially hopeful that they will be leaders and examples within and for the Christian community.  But we also want to protect our kids. We want to protect our kids from stereotypes — stereotypes that have wounded us as we have grown up in majority culture. Stereotypes that tell us we are either a pet (over-sexualized Asian women or buffoonish Asian men) or we are a threat (the dragon lady or the violent, sinister martial artist).  We want our children to be judged by the content of their character.  Two nights ago, as I was putting my son down for the night, I told him that I was proud of him and that he could be whatever God wants him to be. I want to start believing that.  Not just for my kids, but for the whole family of God. We do this for the benefit of all God’s children.

So next time this comes up and I pray, pray, pray that it doesn’t happen again, I hope to be on the sidelines encouraging others to raise their voices while I remain silent.  Or maybe not.

We are still waiting for an official response from Zondervan.  I have heard back from one of the editors that they are researching to get all the facts, followed by appropriate private conversations, before going public with a response.

I think it is very appropriate to let Zondervan know our concerns.  That should be part of the research they are doing.  I think we have the right to be direct and firm in our response to Zondervan.

I am told the appropriate person to contact would be the VP of PR and Communication: Jason.Vines@Zondervan.com

UPDATED (TH – 1:37PM) – Zondervan has scheduled a conference call.

UPDATED (TH – 7PM) We’re scheduled for the conference call tomorrow. Please state in the comments what you feel needs to be conveyed to Zondervan.

On Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 4th, several folks gathered on a phone call to talk about the various postings related to the Deadly Viper’s book.  The people in the conversation were Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite (Authors),  Chris Heuertz (Director, Word Made Flesh), Soong-Chan Rah (Prof., North Park), Kathy Khang (InterVarsity Multi-Ethnic Ministries Director), and Eugene Cho (Pastor, Quest Church).  The conversation was facilitated by Nikki Toyama-Szeto (Urbana 09 Program Director).

Various people in the conversation share their reflections on that conversation below:

Kathy Khang writes:  The conversation didn’t begin until our moderator, Nikki Toyama-Szeto, introduced the individuals at our virtual table and then lead us in prayer. The very act of praying and acknowledging our common need for and desire to seek after God, and hearing Nikki’s voice invite us to the conversation and into God’s presence, reminded me that leadership does not always look, sound or feel the way or come from the places we expect it to. Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite did not expect our voices, our concerns or our leadership when this started with a Facebook status and blog post, but now here we were on a conference call. What I heard were the voices of leaders all committing to begin a conversation that took energy, passion and a common agenda of seeking to start the process of reconciliation. For me, Eugene Cho and Soong-Chan Rah, the conversation is not a new one. But before I could even begin to answer questions about next steps and reconciliation and share even more about our concerns I knew I needed to hear something from both Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite. I needed to hear an apology with no if, ands or buts. I heard what I believe many of us wanted and hoped to hear: “We’re sorry. We didn’t know. We want to learn. How do we do that?” And then Mike and Jud listened. We start right there, and we hope to continue.

——————–

We, Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite, started a positive conversation with members of the Christian Asian-American community today who have been part of the blog discussion about Deadly Viper and Asian culture. We’ve waited to comment on the situation until now not because we weren’t listening, but because we hoped for a better understanding and for a conversation. Much can be misconstrued in a blog post. We are learning a lot. For one, we deeply offended some members of the Asian-American community who feel like we hijacked their culture for our purposes. We sincerely apologize for this and want to take steps to listen and respond to concerns. We will be removing a video and some content immediately and we’ll talk with our Asian friends to make sure our community embraces all peoples. We are on a learning journey here. Please have grace with us. This was never done intentionally or with any malicious forethought. We each have many Asian friends, some of whom have been part of the Deadly Viper community. We’ve also made some new friends who have shown us kindness. We desire to honor Asian culture and those friendships. We prefer to have these conversations in ways that have more potential to generate light than heat. In that regard, we’ll continue to have conversations about this topic offline, continue to learn and continue to grow.

—————

Soong-Chan Rah writes:

This afternoon I was part of a conversation with the authors of Deadly Viper (and Chris Huertz) and a number of Asian-American leaders.  I am thankful that we were able to engage in a direct conversation over what has become a highly charged issue.

I am thankful for the authors’ genuine remorse for the ways that many in the Body of Christ were wounded.  The telephone conversation should pave the way for further dialogue and ways to remedy what has been a source of great pain to many, but specifically to the Asian-American community.

I know that the authors have already taken steps by removing offensive material.  This action was taken with great sincerity and with a desire to move the process forward.  I believe we have taken a very significant step in dealing with a serious issue and believe in the sincerity of the authors to move further along the process of understanding and reconciliation.  I ask that they continue along that journey, as difficult as that path might be.

On a very central level, we are brothers and sisters in Christ seeking to understand each other.  There are many potential places of misunderstanding in the Body of Christ, but we are united by one Savior and we are part of one Church.  Thanks to our brothers who were willing to hear the pain borne by others.  Thanks for your commitment to continue on this journey.

Let me begin by stating that I applaud the intent and subject matter of your book.  Integrity and character in leadership needs to be discussed and should be an important part of leadership development.  But the “theme” you have chosen and the application of that theme (particularly in your media clips) reveals a serious insensitivity to Asian culture and to the Asian-American community.

My contention is not about the content of the book itself (i.e. – the material that discusses integrity and character).  It is with the way in which you choose to co-opt Asian culture in inappropriate ways.  Let me cite Edward Said in Orientalism where he states: “Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient – dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style of dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.”

Mike and Jud, you are two white males who are inappropriately co-opting another culture and using it to further the marketing of your book.  You are not from our cultural framework, yet you feel that you have the authority to represent our culture before others.  In other words, you are using what are important and significant cultural symbols to make a sale or to make your point.  It is an affront to those who are a part of that culture.  You’ll notice that there are a number of individuals that take offense at the ways you misuse Chinese characters.  You also confuse aspects of Japanese and Chinese cultures.  These are two very distinct and ancient cultures that you did not take the time to understand before using those symbols as a fun way to market your products.

Here are some examples of the more glaring and egregious offenses:

This video clip is extremely offensive and portraying Asians in a cartoonish manner in order market your merchandise.  Particularly offensive is the voiceover of a white person doing a faux Asian accent: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=35881373178&ref=mf

This image presents Asian as sinister enemies: http://www.facebook.com/search/?q=deadly+viper&init=quick#/photo.php?pid=2233965&id=101311418670

This quote reveals an insensitivity to the Chinese language and mocks Chinese names: “There is a killer called Zi Qi Qi Ren. No, this is not some communicable disease, but it certainly is deadly. This funky Chinese word”

The use of Chinese characters and kanji in a non-sensical manner.

Other offenses:

The confusion and conflation of Chinese and Japanese cultures.

The use of Asian symbols, like a Japanese garden, kimonos, samurai swords in a non-essential manner that does not honor the heritage or culture of Asians.

You are taking a caricature of Asian culture (the martial arts warrior, the ninja, etc.) and furthering the caricature rather than engaging Asian culture in a way that honors it.

The bottom line.  You are representing a culture that you do not know very well to thousands of people.  You are using another culture to make your message more fun.  That is offensive to those of us that are of that culture and seek to honor our culture.

What specific things can you do:

(1)    Issue a PUBLIC apology on your blog and other venues.  To let the Christian community know that you have wounded your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Whether that was your intent or not, that was the outcome.  Admit your wrongdoings and seek forgiveness in a public manner because your offense was in a public setting.

(2)    Immediately remove the offensive material or material that co-opts the Asian theme.  They can be reposted, but with significant edits and after significant consultation with the Asian-American community.

(3)    Drop the entire martial arts theme.  It adds NOTHING to what you are trying to say.  And as evidenced by the outpouring of concern, it distracts from your true message.

(4)    Consult with leaders in the Asian-American community (there are many to choose from) and discuss ways to increase sensitivity (both for the authors and for Zondervan).

I appeal to your sense of Christian brotherhood/sisterhood. Your actions have deeply wounded many of your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Lead with integrity by admitting wrong and be willing to make changes to address these wrongs.

I appeal to your sense of integrity to what is the main message of your work. Christians should be above this kind of childish characterization of another culture, particularly, when the topic of your book is on character.  Show the character that you are calling others to emulate.

Take ownership of your actions.  Admit failure. Don’t justify it.  Seek ways to understand those that you have hurt and seek ways to redress these wrongs.  Isn’t that the ultimate expression of character and integrity?

Specifically to Zondervan:-

This is your second egregious offense in the last few years.  Clearly something is wrong with the structure and system of this publishing company that allows and even promotes cultural insensitivity to this degree.  Maybe the answer comes from the pictures in your catalog and your website that show your editorial and publishing staff.  Every single person is white.  Please do not let this learning moment to pass by.  Address the structural issues at Zondervan that allows this sort of offense to continue.