The storm over Barrack Obama’s former pastor, Reverend Wright, made me look at the issue of racism within the church. I understand why people of color have a problem with whites. My own family suffered egregiously in the white oligarchy that existed in Hawaii pre-World War II. The African Americans, Native-Americans, and other non-white groups were wronged. But so were the Asian, Latino, Jewish, Middle Eastern, Irish, and Italian immigrants to the United States. The beauty of our country is that we are a nation founded “under God” and the principles of the Bible.
It is time to break the chains of prejudice, fear, and the past. Let us refuse to lick the wounds of our past because we’re better than that. Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to remember the past. As a historical fiction writer, I am mesmerized by the past. I wrote the movie and the novel, “September Dawn.” Some movie reviewers slammed us for being “historically incorrect.” Although the event was shrouded in secrecy for almost a century, movie reviewers suddenly became experts at something that took me two years of research. I didn’t write to condemn and create hard feelings. History is written to insure that it never happens again. We don’t use the past to keep hatred alive, but to learn.
Prejudice and persecution are not exclusive to people of color. The pursuit of religious freedom sent the very white Pilgrims to America.
Raised in Hawaii, I’m proud of being Asian. But when I moved to Colorado, I discovered I was Asian-American. I always thought I was just American. By contrast, Brazilians do not consider themselves to be Asian-Brazilians, African-Brazilians, or white-Brazilians, they are just Brazilian.
While in Chicago, I persuaded a blond girlfriend of mine to attend a church that was recommended by another friend. It didn’t occur to me that my African-American friend probably went to a black church. As we got closer to the church, my friend said, “This is an upscale black neighborhood.” I told my girlfriend I loved black churches.
The service had already begun and the sanctuary was almost full. Although the ushers were sending people upstairs, we were escorted us to the main level, in the center of the third row. It was a spirited service. My girlfriend sat impassively, I knew she was unfamiliar with charismatic churches. I wondered what she was thinking.
She loved it and still visits the church sometimes. She told me she’s still the only white in the audience.
I wish we would no longer be black churches or white churches, but Jesus Christ churches.
My sister Sandy married Jerel, a German-Irish pastor whose father was a Baptist pastor raised Mennonite. Jerel warned Sandy that his father considered inter-marriage unacceptable to God. It bothered us, but then again, my Korean grandfather was a pastor and he didn’t speak to his oldest child for a long time because she didn’t marry Korean.
Fear of the unknown and unfamiliar divides us. Jerel’s father feared different races because he had no experience with them. As he got to know Asians, he grew to love Sandy and got along great with our family.
My father encountered prejudice as a child and enlisted man during WWII. Every Asian was considered “a dirty Jap.” He hated whites until his daughters defied him and married white men. In time, my father, who told us he would “disown” us if we married non-Asians, bragged that his Irish-German son-in-law Jerel was “just like Jesus.”
In my novel, “September Dawn,” the heroine, Emily, is distraught because her best friend, a slave, has been sold and taken away from her. She asks her pastor father, “Daddy, do you think we should stick to our own kind?”
He says, “I think God sees us all as just one kind. To Him, we’re all just people.”
We are all wonderfully different, but we’re all still just people.
By CAROLE WHANG SCHUTTER
View a trailer for Carole's book and the movie for which she wrote the screenplay here: