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Ecclesio: An Introduction to the Discussion on Embracing the Other by Grace Ji-Sun Kim

Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love. Eerdmans, 2015

When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, it became evident that a coalition was needed to resist his practice of designing policies that adversely affect those in our country who have already been pushed to the margins.  President Trump has repeatedly demonstrated a fear of others, expressed through the Islamophobia that lies behind his travel ban on Muslims, the misogyny behind his attacks on women, and the stereotypes that shape his attitude and action toward people of color. In such a context, embracing one another has become a crucial element of resistance movement.

My personal struggles include the burden of living under racism and sexism and fighting white supremacy and patriarchy. This is part of the reason why I wrote Embracing the Other. I am grateful to have Drs. Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, Valerie Bridgeman and Edwin David Aponte as important conversation partners this week on ecclesio.com about my work. Their reflections encourage us to explore the ideas of how we can begin to love and embrace the other.

The concept of whiteness helps makes us understand how racism is institutionalized and woven into the fabric of America. Whiteness is a social construction of calling people of different ethnicities who have fair skin (such as English, Irish, French, German, Italian, and so forth) white.  This construct was not a matter of finding a common ethnic name for a group of people rather it was a case of “ethnic erasure” in which the distinct histories and ethnicities of peoples are erased so they can be identified as “white.” This results in the othering and oppression of groups based on the construct of whiteness.

Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty writes a personal piece that explores her whiteness and white privilege in the context of racism. She frames her reflection on her experiences and understandings of whiteness as a way to understand her privilege.  She writes, “My skin is white.  In US culture, whiteness affords me the privilege of not having to think too much about my body’s pale exterior.  Most of the people with whom I work and count as close friends are conscious of the concepts of whiteness and white privilege and view them with suspicion.  However, many times I also have been taken by surprise by other white people who falsely assume that because of my skin that I will agree with them that whites need to preserve privilege and power for themselves.” Hinson-Hasty encourages whites to confront racism, noting that it is their duty to do so. As beneficiaries of the social construction of whiteness, white people need to break their silence, seek to stand in solidarity with people of color, and work to disrupt racism and increase racial equity.

White supremacy works when people of color are in constant disorder and opposition to one another. White supremacy works when people of color do not support each other and ignore each other’s plight for equality and opportunity.[1] People of color have been ghettoized in the margins of society, neglected, discriminated against, and stereotyped. Pushed to the perimeters of society, people of color are sensitive to experiences of oppression which create deep wounds. The intersection of racism and sexism deepens the pain and compounds the oppression that sidelined women of color experience.[2]

Valerie Bridgeman reflects in the space of a hyphenated woman. She is an African-American who bears the pain of not fully belonging in the United States and living with the understanding that another continent lives in her body. She has experienced racism and sexism and deeply understands the struggles of racialized bodies. Her experiences resonate with the aspirations of Embracing the Other and provokes her to “feel all of what it means to be the woman” that she is, and be in a relationship with God, others and all of creation. Her reflections challenge me to build solidarity with “sisters in the struggle” to engage in transforming this world with love.

Socially created whiteness erased entire groups of diverse people into singular, monolithic groups.  In so doing, it also created a privileged group in relation to “non-whites”.[3] This erasure makes the “white group” appear pure while other groups are considered impure. People who are different from the white group are considered “ethnic”, while the white group is not.[4] This category of whiteness reinforces racism against people of color as it continues to shape and define U.S culture, history and society. “White privilege” is the outcome of a pervasive presumption of the racial superiority of whiteness. We need to renegotiate justice by making the privilege visible and dismantling it.[5]Embracing the Other seeks to dismantle dominant social structures and replace them with plurality, equality, and mutuality. This paradigm shift recognizes that there are many centers. Rather than searching for purity, we need to embrace “hybridity” and hyphenated identities.

Edwin David Aponte speaks as a second-generation Puerto Rican from New England and reflects on my notion of the in-between place on the margins as a place of creativity. He understands the importance of using the Asian understanding of Spirit-Chi. He challenges me to explore Girard’s mimetic theory that asserts that humans “imitate each other, leading to jealousy, enmity, conflict, and violence. This is resolved by a scapegoat for the perceived problem.” This is very helpful to me as I believe that Asian Americans are viewed as the “perpetual foreigner” and are often blamed when something goes wrong in society. I will explore, as Aponte suggested, “alternatives to the type of marginalization that employs a scapegoat theology.” Perhaps this will be a future book project as it is important to understand the dynamics of marginality and scapegoating as it applies to people of color and especially to women of color.

It is important that we diversify our theological conversation partners; diversity is both necessary to and enriching of our understanding of God. That is why I encourage reading books by Valerie Bridgeman, Edwin David Aponte and Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty. As we broaden our reading to include people of all races and gender identities we increase our capacity to build solidarity and dismantle sexism, racism, homophobia, and other systems that divide the human family by privilege some people and disadvantage other people.

 Embracing the Other emphasizes that Spirit God energizes us for the work of healing in the world. We participate in God’s healing work as we stand in solidarity with those who are pushed to the margins as we are all created in God’s image. We are called to love our neighbor and just as God loves us completely and eternally, we are called to love all people with that same extravagant and inclusive love. This is my hope and in hope we all live.

Grace Ji-Sun Kim serves as Associate Professor of Theology at Earlham School of Religion. She holds degrees from Knox College and the University of Toronto, and is the author or editor of 12 books. Among these are The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s ChristologyThe Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology; and Contemplations from the Heart: Spiritual Reflections on Family, Community, and the Divine. Eerdmans included her in their list of Five Great Women Scholars, and the Englewood Review of Books named her in their list of Ten Important Women Theologians You Should Be Reading. Grace is an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). She is married and the mother of three children.

[1]http://time.com/4241460/chris-rock-racism/

[2]http://www.huffingtonpost.com/grace-jisun-kim/embracing-the-other-and-l_b_8974778.html

[3] See Rosemary Radford Ruether, editor, Gender, Ethnicity, and Religion:  Views from the Other Side  (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2002), x, xi.

[4]http://www.thefeministwire.com/2013/04/overcomingracism/

[5]http://www.thefeministwire.com/2013/04/overcomingracism/

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BN7A3104-MGrace Ji-Sun Kim is an Associate Professor of Theology at Earlham School of Religion. She is the author of Mother Daughter Speakco-written with Elisabeth Sophia Lee; Intercultural Ministry coedited with Jann Clanton-Aldredge; Embracing the OtherMaking Peace with the Earth;Here I AmChristian Doctrines for Global Gender Justice co-edited with Jenny Daggers; Theological Reflections on “Gangnam Style”co-written with Joseph Cheah; Reimagining with Christian Doctrines co-edited with Jenny Daggers;Contemplations from the HeartColonialism, Han and the Transformative SpiritThe Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other; and The Grace of SophiaShe is a co-editor with Dr. Joseph Cheah for the Palgrave Macmillan Book Series, “Asian Christianity in Diaspora”.

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