• Charlene Jin Lee

Protection

05.23.20

For the final in a course called God and the Human Experience, I ask students to reflect on an ancient text of a prophet's picture of true community: where the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the calf and the lion will graze together, as a small child leads them along. The students are to write an essay with an assigned title: Borrow My Vision. It is an invitation for each student to envision a just society. A powerful essay was submitted by a quiet, 6’7” basketball player who crouched into the tight table-chair combo in my 8 a.m. class. The college senior started his paper with a poem:

Borrow my vision

and you will see fathers embrace their sons with contagious strength.

You will stand tall, really tall, stand proud.

You will walk, walk everywhere, anywhere, even without a shield.

Borrow my vision and you will see me. All of me.

Not just my skin and the fear you choose to see of it.

He followed these words with a moving essay about how coming to college and walking around campus donning the college basketball team’s crimson uniform was the first time he saw people walk toward, not away, from him.

As an African American young man, he knew what it was to be perceived as dangerous, to be feared. He knew what it was to be subject to unwarranted suspicion and humiliation. In his incisive essay, he wrote about his jersey. It was his protection. It was his shield. He was especially sure to wear it when running errands in the neighborhood around campus. The jersey let people know he was safe, not dangerous; he was a college athlete, at a private university no less. He ended his essay worrying about life after graduating, when he can no longer rely on this protection.

I have been thinking about my former student these days. I thought about the time I turned around hearing, “Good morning, prof,” at a gourmet market near campus.

There we were, standing at the checkout, feeling the eyes of the people in line uniformly, silently, turning toward us: quite visibly, the only two people of color in this place. We smiled, happy to see one another, feeling the strength of our feet grounded next to one another, feeling the curious attention of the people around us. As we walked toward the exit, he grinned, “Good thing I’m wearing my jersey today. They were probably afraid I was going to hurt this petite Asian lady.” If only they knew the lamb-like heart inside this towering figure, I thought.

This “Asian lady” is now needing a jersey of her own. Two days ago, an Asian American couple walking in their neighborhood was slapped and beaten down by a man yelling, “It’s all your fault.” A Chinese American ER doctor who attends to patients suffering from coronavirus went to the market on her day off, to stock up on groceries for her family, only to face a shopper announce behind her, “They bring the virus and now they are hoarding all of our stuff.”

Ever perpetual foreigners, people who look like me have become targets of covert and overt racist attacks. It is a very lonely place to be. It helps when we see another’s feet next to ours, reminding us that we are not standing alone. It helps to borrow the hope of those who have known that utterly lonely place far deeper, far longer.

Borrow my vision

and you will see fathers embrace their sons with contagious strength.

You will stand tall, really tall, stand proud.

You will walk, walk everywhere, anywhere, even without a shield

Borrow my vision and you will see me. All of me.

Not just my skin and the fear you choose to see of it.

We are all injured in the ever churning grind of belonging and othering regulated by the insidious whim and need of empires dependent on division and hierarchy. In the kin-dom God is creating, all will belong. The weakest and the strongest among us will look to one another with honor, with reverence. We will neither harm nor destroy.

Until then, may our hearts turn toward one another. May we practice regarding one another with mutual grace. May we be one another’s protectors. Maybe then, all of us will be able to walk, walk everywhere, anywhere,.

even without a shield.

To learn more about the experience of Asian Americans during this crisis:

A Conversation about Anti-Asian Racism in the Age of COVID-19



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