The Common Good

How I Responded to Public Racial Mockery

A while back, I was in a situation where I was mocked publicly in front of 300-plus young leaders. There were racial overtones.

I was prepared to leave the matter for private discussion and reconciliation. But then the mocking turned against the African-American and Latino teens who were pictured with me on a slide show that was being watched by our entire assembled group. I looked around the room. The ethnic minority leaders in the room were staring at me as this spectacle unfolded. I sensed shock and fear on their faces, shock at what was happening and fear of speaking up about it. The mocking continued. I thought about the young people back at the urban ministry I ran -- what would they think or feel at that moment?

I thought of my own son. If I just receive the mocking and say nothing, I thought, I'll be sending a message that my son should accept similar treatment and not speak up.

So I decided to do something.

As I deliberated about what to do, I thought again about my son. I wanted to set an example of love and concern for all. It would not set a Christ-like example, I felt, if I just stood up for justice but was unloving to the perpetrators.

The mocking incident occurred in the morning. I was the scheduled speaker that night. I spent the entire day in discussion with key leaders, asking, "Am I crazy or overly-sensitive?" and "If I'm not crazy or overly-sensitive, what should be done?" I talked to many people. It was draining. Those discussions included a talk with the main mocker. Through all this, I felt it would be important to make a public response. The offense had occurred in public, so an appropriate response should also be in public. The event leaders agreed with me that a public response should be made in front of the 300-plus.

Before I went on stage, I prayed that I wouldn't do to others as had been done to me.

I brought it up at the start of my talk. I framed my response as a moment when Christian leaders could model to younger leaders how the body of Christ works out a conflict. It wasn't just important for the young leaders to hear an apology from the offending party, I told them. It was also important for these young leaders to see how I, who had been offended, handled the apology. Was I loving? Was I forgiving? Could we walk forward together?

"You will be the judge of those things," I told the 300-plus. "I have to answer to many for my response in this moment."

An unequivocal apology was made. I forgave the offense and expressed a desire for future friendship.

Afterward a number of the 300-plus came to me. They were surprised that the entire leadership team at the event -- myself and the hosts -- had dealt openly with something so potentially explosive. They appreciated the spirit of reconciliation and mercy that they sensed. Some confessed the times when they did not deal openly when they should have. Some who approached were heavy with a spirit of regret. One 19-year-old, with tears in her eyes, was shaking with shame that she didn't speak up on my behalf during the mocking that morning.

I share all this to share two things with Prof. Soong-Chan Rah in the aftermath of the Deadly Viper conversation. First, I don't think you were crazy or overly-sensitive. Second, you were not alone in struggling with the very public aspect of this conflict. You have acknowledged, and many in blog-comment-land agree, that there is an unsettling edge to the fact that this conflict was worked out in such a public and rapid-fire way. I don't know if I would have started things the way you did, but that's why I shared my own complicated story above. I would like you to know that I stand with you as you emulate Christ in finding justice for all in this matter.

My heart went out to Deadly Viper authors Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite. I resonated with Ed Gilbreath's characterization of the widespread online response to this issue as "shock and awe." Perhaps I'm just projecting, but if I were either Mike or Jud I would have been reeling. I wish every blessing on their continued ministry to thousands.

I don't know where this last part fits, but I must say that I've been mesmerized by the plurality of Asian-American voices that are wafting throughout the blogosphere on this matter. Maybe it's me and the hole I've been hiding in, but I've never seen anything like it. Very well-known people, emerging leaders, and voices that didn't know they were voices -- it's been great to hear you. Let's walk together in seeking justice while loving mercy.

portrait-rodolfo-carrascoRodolfo Carrasco has served in urban ministry for 19 years and blogs at urbanonramps.com.

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