Seeking Restorative Justice in America as an Asian immigrant_Part1: Justice

San Baek
12 min readJun 9, 2020

This is a four-part series of “Seeking Restorative Justice in America”. Find the first part here (introducing Justice X Love Model), the second part here (Seeking Restorative Justice in Society, Church and Politics), and the fourth part here (Seeking Restorative Justice in America as an Asian Immigrant_Part2: Love)

Asian American advocating people with color who’s been oppressed

Enough of other people, how am I going to seek justice and seek love in the midst of great distress in American society?

Seeking Justice Humbly

To begin my journey of ‘seeking justice’ with the spirit of ‘love’, I had to constantly fight against my soul that desires to just act. I had to remain truthful and take one tiny step at a time. Here’s my past 10 days of journey.

Internalizing the matter with authenticity

First of all, before I take any stance (let alone adding anything on my social media), I tried to internalize the situation and collect my thoughts/minds truthfully. As an Asian who’s only been in this country less than 10 years at a liberal state of CA, jumping into the issue of “racism” didn’t come naturally. I didn’t want to impulsively jump on social media hashtag without fully digesting the matter. I certainly didn’t wanted to compromise my integrity when I noticed urging others to name one’s stance can easily be another form of violence. (e.g. People are calling on Dr. Tim Keller’s instagram feed to voice whether he stands for #BLM or not.) Also, I felt doing so without sincere heart can be empty, disingenuous, hypocritical “moral credentialing.”, and even offensive.

I also took time to ask questions — is this a battle I am called to fight? At times, there are many other justice seeking movements in Asia that are more personal and thus I feel more called to have a long-term sincere engagement. What if there are multiple conflicting justices? How about me supporting one justice (e.g. #BLM)might without me knowing, endorsing certain political framework and thus harm another justice (e.g. safety and security of small business that are threatened by looting)? I took time to contemplate on these questions.

Listening and getting myself educated, humbly

My second step has been getting myself educated, humbly. This meant acknowledging my ignorance on these complex, multi-layered matters. This also meant recognizing my natural desire to stay in my clan by keep feeding myself with the identical, self-reinforcing viewpoints. In other words, I realized digesting information only from my so-called preferred sources is extremely dangerous and I must deliberately chose to consume different view points. So I went outside of my comfort-zone to learn and listen. As I read information from social media, thought leaders, and different medias, I tried very carefully to surround myself with multiple view points while always evaluating the sources/contexts with critical lenses. I also reached out to people I trust who knows this matter much better than I do (both African American, white, asian, etc) to learn and listen. This is my way of building muscles on an issue that I’ve had very little understanding and skin in the game. To this date, I admit that I’m in a very basic stage in my understanding of the issue “racism” and overall social injustice in US.

Allinsides media bias rating. I used this map to map out where they stand, and also to understand where do I stand in my comfort zone

I spent bulk of my time getting my self educated with the issue of “Racism” and “Racial injustice”. Let me share what I’ve learned so far. I loved how late president Obama clearly states the cause of the protest, and share his advices on how to make it constructive. I learned this has been gradually built up lately and there’s a lot to be learned from the history from Trevor Noah as he lays out multiple latest incidents, and he pointed out similarity with the war between black and white in South Africa (btw, if you haven’t read his biography, I highly recommend it! Born a Crime).

More than anything else, I learned so much about the issue from Reality SF sermon series of “Racism”. I loved, loved how Pastor Dave Lomas introduce this sensitive topic. In the first sermon of this series, When we talk and what we talk about Race, He addressed several heavy questions such as “Is it right that church discuss such a social and political matter?” first, and share how much of Racism is deeply ingrained in this society.

Do we talk about this at church? Absolutely. Apostle Paul confronted Peter at the early church saying Peter was acting in a racily prejudiced way by not extending equal grace to the gentiles, and this isn’t living in line with the truth of the gospel. Naming Racism and rooting it out is deeply in line with the truth of the gospel. Racism is made by human to oppress other human being. To inflict upon power and discrimination. It started and stemmed in the inception of this country…

If you are looking for where to start, I highly recommend listening to this series.

I found his next sermon, Disrupting Racism, deeply inspiring and concrete. The process of healing and reconciliation was actually very much similar to the healings from other sins and structural injustices (which reminds of this talk — Fight like a peacemaker, where she talks about conflict resolution between married couple). Let me introduce step by step action plans to disrupt racism by Dave Lomas.

  • 1. We must allow ourselves to be disrupted by the holy spirit.
  • 2. No one understands when Racism is and where it hides. Even implicit Racism needs to be called out.
  • 3. We need to build racial stamina. We need to staying in the conversation no matter how painful it is.
  • 4. We need to expel Individualism. Social structural evil needs to be recognized and dealt with.
  • 5. Lament. Lamenting is a heavy work. It’s a concrete action that will bear fruits.

Other talks/sermon shared the similar sentiments.

Lastly, hearing directly from African American friends as well as learning what other African American fellow brothers and sisters are going through has been deeply instrumental in my journey of learning. This write-ups from a Black hiphop artist Shai made me teared up and mourning. Let me quote a few paragraphs on his reply to a Christian white sister’s email “how are you doing”

I am heartbroken and devastated. I feel gutted. I haven’t been able to focus on much at all since I saw the horrific video of George Floyd’s murder. The image of that officer with hand in pocket as he calmly and callously squeezed the life out of that man while he begged for his life is an image that will haunt me until the day I die. But it’s not just the video of this one incident. For many black people, it’s never about just one incident. Just as it wasn’t just about the videos of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott, Rodney King, etc., etc., etc., etc.

This is about how being a black man in America has shaped both the way I see myself and the way others have seen me my whole life. It’s about being told to leave the sneaker store as a 12-year-old, because I was taking too long to decide which sneakers I wanted to buy with my birthday money and the white saleswoman assumed I was in the store to steal something.

It’s about being handcuffed and thrown into the back of a police car while walking down the street during college, and then waiting for a white couple to come identify whether or not I was the one who’d committed a crime against them, knowing that if they said I was the one, I would be immediately taken to jail, no questions asked.

It’s about walking down the street as a young man and beginning to notice that white people, women especially, would cross to the other side of the street to avoid walking past me — and me beginning to preemptively cross to the other side myself to save them the trouble of being afraid and to save me the humiliation of that silent transaction.

It’s about taking a road trip with my sons to visit Blair’s family in Michigan — and my greatest fear being getting pulled over for no reason other than driving while black, told to get out of the car, cuffed, and sat down on the side of the road, utterly emasculated and humiliated with my young boys looking out the window, terrified, which is exactly what happened to a good friend of mine when he took his family on a road trip.

It’s about the exhaustion of constantly feeling I have to assert my humanity in front of some white people I’m meeting for the first time, to let them know, “Hey! I’m not a threat! You don’t need to be afraid. If you got to know me, I’m sure we have things in common!”

It’s about me sometimes asking my wife to do things in certain customer-service situations, since I know she’ll likely get treated better than I will.

It’s about borrowing a baby swing from a white friend in our mostly white suburb of D.C. and her telling me, “Sure you can borrow it. I have to step out, but I’ll leave it on the porch for you. Just go grab it” — and then feeling heart palpitations as my car approached her home, debating whether or not to get the swing and being terrified as I walked up the steps that someone would think I was stealing it and call the cops on me.

It’s about intentionally making sure the carseats are in the car, even if the kids aren’t, so that when (not “if” — it happens all the time) I’m stopped by the police, they will perhaps notice the carseats and also the wedding band on one of my visible hands on the wheel (which I’ve been taught to keep there and not move until he tells me to — and even then, in an exaggeratedly slow manner) and will perhaps think to himself, This man is married with a family and small kids like me. Maybe he wants to get home safely to his family just like I do.

It’s about having to explain to my 4-year-old son at his mostly white Christian school that the kids who laughed at him for having brown skin were wrong, that God made him in his image, and that his skin is beautiful — after he told me, “Daddy, I don’t want brown skin. I want white skin.”

It’s about having what feels like genuine fellowship with my white brothers and sisters who share the same Reformed theology — until I mention racism, injustice, or police brutality, at which point I’m looked at skeptically as if I embrace a “social gospel” or am some kind of “liberal” or “social justice warrior.”

And it’s about sometimes feeling like some of my white friends aren’t that particularly interested in truly knowing me — at least not in any meaningful way that might actually challenge their preconceptions. Rather, it feels like they use me to feel better about themselves because I check off the “black friend” box. Much more could be mentioned. These were the first things that came to mind.

So when I watch a video like George Floyd’s, it represents for me the fresh reopening of a deep wound and the reliving of layers of trauma that get exponentially compounded each time a well-meaning white friend says, “All lives matter.” Of course they do, but in this country, black lives have been treated like they don’t matter for centuries and present inequities in criminal justice, income, housing, health care, education, etc. show that all lives don’t actually matter like they should.

Praying and lamenting

One of the greatest blessings to be a Christian is that I can get to pray and lament/engage with an issue that has been outside of me. In this sense, prayer is essential step to enlarge my heart, to understand and to connect with those who are afflicted. Ever since the tragic incident happened, I started praying and feeling the pain of the nation (especially the black and brown community’s pain) in my soul. I couldn’t stop but lameting. I lamented with the prayer of John Piper. I lamented with pastor Dihan Lee and Renew LA church as they invited everyone to pray together for the lost souls and generational sins of the nation.

As I pray, for the first time in my life, I was able to embrace how much I benefited from America, and how much I love her.

Thanks to her, my mother land South Korea were able to protect its freedom from communist party. My father, who were born before the 1950 Korean war, could’ve carried on his life in a democratic society where they leveraged American’s aid to build the miracle of Han-river. And most of all, thanks to the value she holds in the constitution and the society to this date, I was able to met Christ at the age of 29. I came to understand that those grace didn’t just born out of one day nor come without a cost. America was started at the expense of brown native American and grew at the expense of black African American. I shared the sentiment that thanks to Black community’s support, Asian American can maintain its current states as these two thoughts claim: Hasan: we (Asians) can’t stay silent, Asian American Complicity in Racism.

Repenting, examining my day to day lives in a different lense, and start making a small but continuous lifestyle changes

I’m about to be really vulnerable here. What happened today is that as I’m writing this article, I made a lunch delivery. And as I’ve been doing for the past 9 yrs ever since I came to US, I lowered the tip from suggested 15% to 12%. Yes, I did that. To give you a pretty lame excuse, I never got used to paying tips as it doesn’t exist in the country I’m from and I never tipped for the first 30 yrs of my life. And also, living in bay area with single income with 3 kids, I’m still struggling to pay the rent and earn grocery money. That said, I realized how hypocritical I am when I saw this African American man who handed over my $20 lunch with a big smile that only African American brother has. He was filled with joy as he drove an old sedan with loud hip-hop music. I felt so little at that moment. I was convicted that my version of seeking social justice should come from repenting my ignorance, not just in my head knowledge, but in my entire lifestyle. I realized I need them more than they need me. He didn’t need extra $1 from me, but I need to start practicing generous giving and extending my love in order to break my bubble and connect to his world.

Let me be clear. I’m not here saying that we should tip more to fight racial injustice nor I’m categorizing my black/brown brothers/sisters’ social classes. How dare am I if I attempt to do so. And I don’t think I’ve been racism by my stingy tipping habits. My point here is that I learned the importance of making a small lifestyle change in participating the journey of brining more “social justice”, before I do anything big. So what I did? Yes, I changed my tip % to 20%. But more importantly, I made up my mind to start examining my life 360 degree, and make continuous efforts to fight against structural injustice.

This is the third post of a four-part series. Find the last part here . Also, you can find the first part here and the second part here.



San Baek

In search of authentic and vulnerable stories. Christ follower, husband, father, son. Entrepreneur/Operator/Blogger. Endlessly seeking the awe.