Beyond Colorblind: Redeeming Our Ethnic Journey

When people meet me for the first time, they often assume that I’m Japanese because of my last name. But “Yamasaki” is my married name, and I’m actually third-generation Chinese-Canadian.

“Oh, Chinese and Japanese,” said a new acquaintance recently. “You have a cross-cultural marriage.”

She didn’t assume that all Asian cultures are the same. She seemed genuinely interested in my ethnic background and story. Instead of being colorblind, she was “ethnicity aware” as Sarah Shin describes it in her book, Beyond Colorblind: Redeeming Our Ethnic Journey (InterVarsity Press, 2017).

In this book, Shin draws on her experience as a resource specialist and trainer in ethnicity, evangelism, and the arts for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. But Beyond Colorblind reaches beyond student ministries and applies more broadly to churches and other Christian organizations seeking to work at ethnic reconciliation and justice. It’s basic enough for those still discovering the limits of colorblindness, with a range of stories and strategies to engage those more experienced. I recommend this positive, practical, and hopeful book.

beyond Colorblind to Ethnicity Aware

Instead of being colorblind, we need to become ethnicity aware in order to address the beauty and brokenness in our ethnic stories and the stories of others. (page 10)

Ethnicity Awareness and Justice

Knowing and owning our ethnic narratives helps us understand the real issues of injustice, racial tension, and disunity that exist in the world. Ethnicity awareness helps us ask the question of how to prophetically engage in pursuing justice, racial reconciliation, and caring for the poor while we give the reason for our hope: Jesus, the great reconciler of a multiethnic people. (page 19)

ethnic reconciliation and evangelism

Ethnic reconciliation is not separate from evangelism; it’s not an extracurricular activity for Christians. When Jesus reaches out to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, he is doing reconciliation and evangelism at the same time. Jesus embodies a redeemed Jewish ethnic identity as he begins to challenge and heal the history of broken interactions with women, sinners, and Samaritans. As a Jewish man, he is sharing the story of God with non-Jews—the way it was always supposed to be. When the woman says yes to Jesus, she shares the gospel news with the village of her own people—a village she had avoided because of the shame of her broken past. Her ethnicity, and Jesus’ ethnicity, no longer prevent mission. They become vehicles of mission. (page 86)

Stewarding Our Ethnic Identities

Ethnicity-aware behavior requires not just a mindset but the willingness to learn and embody the skills that help you build trust, learn others’ stories, and share your story with Christians and non-Christians alike. It’s essential to our witness and also how we care for each other and pursue justice. (page 97)

I especially appreciate this book’s many stories and practical tips on stewarding our ethnic identities well:

  • how to ask questions that embody a learning posture,
  • avoiding stereotypes and offensive language,
  • addressing implicit bias and building trust,
  • learning to communicate in groups and work through conflict,
  • and much more.

These real-life ways of interacting with other people point the way forward—moving beyond colorblindness and beyond good intentions toward living them out.

Beauty, Brokenness, Redemption, Restoration

For more on Beyond Colorblind, check out this overview and introduction to the related video course by author Sarah Shin:

Beyond Colorblind: Overview from InterVarsity twentyonehundred on Vimeo.

Disclosure: Thank you to InterVarsity Press for providing me with a complimentary copy of Beyond Colorblind: Redeeming Our Ethnic Journey. As always, the choice to review and my opinions are my own.

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Resident Author with a liturgical worship community. Editor of Purpose: everyday inspiration. Author of Four Gifts, Sacred Pauses, and other books on Christian living. Blogging on Writing and Other Acts of Faith (aprilyamasaki.com) and When You Work for the Church: the good, the bad, and the ugly, and how we can all do better (whenyouworkforthechurch.com).

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