I’m a white Anglo male in case you didn’t know. ;-P And recently I was reminded that I am at the top of the oppressive food chain. Not a good place to be sometimes.
Recently Professor Soong-Chan Rah wrote an open letter to Mike Foster, Jud Wilhite and Zondervan stating publicly his offense at the book, “Deadly Viper Character Assassins.” Professor Rah’s primary concern was what he called “orientalism”.
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.”
You can read the rest of the letter here, but it pretty much comes down to the this:
“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.”
Mike and Jud used an expression of Oriental culture in a way that was offense to those in the Oriental culture. And to be fair, many in the comment section to Rah’s post recognized that there is likely no malice in the intent. Mike and Jud probably just saw it as “cool”. But cool isn’t always cool, is it?
Sadly, Mike, Jud and Zondervan have largely ignored the event up to this point, which seems rather strange (or ironic) given the content of the book. Mike Foster actually deleted a message from Jeff Straka on his Facebook page, which requested an apology. Not the smartest way to sell a book about radical integrity.
But this post is actually not about the letter, Orientalism, or Mike, Jud and Zondervan’s response. It’s about something deeper than that.
You see, when I read the letter, it didn’t immediately connect. I didn’t get what Professor Rah was talking about. I’ve read Deadly Viper and actually wrote a book review about it when it came out. I praised it for its call to confront the enemy within in a compassionate way.
And then suddenly I realized that I am a white, Anglo Saxon male from the United States. This position in life, which I did not choose, affords me a way of seeing the world from extreme privilege. The door of opportunity opens for me simply because I have these attributes in a way that would never open for a African American or Asian woman from another country. And suddenly I realized that it has also blinded me to the concerns of the other, in this case Professor Rah. The enemy within naturally saw the position of Mike and Jud because they are like me. It closed me eyes to seeing how the other felt.
You see it’s just easier to ignore that enemy within, calling the other out and saying you’re being too sensitive. It’s just easier to sit from privilege and ignore the offense. And sadly this is not only what Mike and Jud are doing, which invalidates the content of the what they are saying in the book, but it also invalidates me. When I ignore the offense of those who are different from me, I invalidate myself. When I stop listening to the cry of my brother, I am not only harming the other, I am harming myself.
And I also don’t want to make the same mistake of the original offense. I don’t want to take sides. I stand with Professor Rah in the defense of his dignity. But I also stand with Mike and Jud reminding them that with privilege comes responsibility. We are all on the same side, the human side created in the image of God. To confront the enemy within we must embrace the truth with a radical sense of integrity, even when we are the one’s who have committed the offense. And we must also embrace a radical sense of grace that restores everyone involved. The problem isn’t people. The problem is the lie that we hold onto that perpetuates invalidation and ignorance of the other.
Sadly, calling out Professor Rah’s letter and confronting it head on would actually validate the content of the book, which was never the concern in the first place. It would actually strip away the fluff, which is what the Asian design component really is. It would show that Mike and Jud were serious about is message, even at the cost of image.
So I ask you Mike and Jud, for the sake of your fellow human beings created in the image of God, to address this issue.
Update: When I wrote this post I had not seen this video (which you have to be on Facebook to see). All I can say is, “Wow!” Come on guys. And sadly, I checked Mike’s Facebook page for any word on the letter, a response, or comments, and…nothing. But I did see this quote. Mike said, “dont be afraid to courageously admit your failures. take those skeletons in the closet out for a dance. #potsc” Ironic.
Update 2: You can also read Mike’s original response to Professor Rah’s letter here.
Update 3: Apparently Mike is working to speak directly with those in the Asian culture to find ways to address the issue.
Update 4: Mike and Jud posted this on the Deadly Viper site.
Update 5: A meeting happened.
Dan Iwao – My thoughts on the controversy
Todd Thomas – The Deadly Viper Controversy
Marian Wang – Stop Pimping My Culture
Edward Gilbreath – Deadly Assumptions
Dave Ingland – Don’t Disprespect Me Because I’m Asian
ABC Pastor – Seeking God In Deadly Vipers