Hapas, Hybridity, and Harmony: Raising Non-White Kids in a White Congregation

I picked up this article off of Racialicious. Color-blindness used to be the “goal,” until people realized that it wasn’t really doing the work. If people were “color-blind” to me it usually meant they saw me as “white,” or disregarded my tie to the Korean culture. This wasn’t helpful in terms of real connections with people.

Dr. Brandesha Tynes researched the problematic ways “white students and those who rated highly in color-blind racial attitudes were more likely not to be offended by images from racially-themed parties where attendees dressed and acted as caricatures of racial stereotypes.” It’s interesting how much I encounter an expression of this kind of perspective here – that 1) color-blindness is necessarily good, 2) racism is not present anymore, or 3) because-I-attend-a-diverse-school/work/whatever-then-I-am-not-racist-or-have-certain-stereotypes-that-still-drive-my-assumptions.

Though the research utilized a small slice of the student population, it is still incredibly telling. What she discovered confirmed some of my own experiences as well as what I’ve heard from others:

“If you subscribe to a color-blind racial ideology, you don’t think that race or racism exists, or that it should exist,” Tynes said. “You are more likely to think that people who talk about race and racism are the ones who perpetuate it. You think that racial problems are just isolated incidents and that people need to get over it and move on. You’re also not very likely to support affirmative action, and probably have a lower multi-cultural competence.”


All this is on the forefront of my mind as I draw near the end of my first pregnancy and now turn to the chapters of caring for babies in all the baby books instead of the chapters on pregnancy symptoms and the pictures of how big the fetuses are inside. How will my children deal with these racial perspectives? A place I go to often for compelling experiences is Kimchi Mamas, a fun, thoughtful blog about mothering Korean American kids. They had a post up a while ago entitled “Being Other; Being Whole,” that talked about the Hapa project exhibit at a Chicago museum. My husband actually bought that book by Kip Fulbeck for us a while ago (the image to the right comes from there), and I just found it fascinating  that there was such a wide range of beautiful mixed-Asian faces. I loved reading how they define and understand themselves.

I think I’m drawn to these images for a couple of reasons, but namely that these hapas exhibit physically what I feel inside – a mixture of sorts…

It’s pertinent to me because of how much I engage racial identity through this notion of hybridity at a number of levels, particularly in my identity. The concept has postcolonial roots and generally refers to the creation of transcultural forms often as a result of colonized or diasporic communities. It may manifest itself in language, foods, and most compelling, in people, too. But, the mashing of cultures can be a subtle occurrence, particularly in the hodge-podge of cultures in the stew of US America. I remember growing up trying to navigate two distinct worlds. My dad would literally say to me very often: “When you’re out there you’re in America, when you step into our home, you’re in Korea.” This forced delineation eventually gave way to an effort to stop compartmentalizing the cultural pieces (we would eat spaghetti and kimchee, I’d watch the Simpsons after watching Korean dramas with mom, etc.) and hybridity became a way of being in the world. There are social-political ramifications, too, of course, I’m thinking mainly the ways that it is experienced in association with oppression.

In terms of faith, I am hopeful that this concept and lived experience can potentially speak to a fruitful theology as a way to experience redemption as “already-not yet” in palpable ways. I think that the very existence of hapas, who have the option to very physically, but also culturally, emotionally, spiritually, live in various worlds will perhaps be a metaphor and sign for for us of how to express God’s kingdom in terms of reconciliation. I also love how the hapa suggests ambiguity…I appreciate the gray, the in-between, the third space. It is a creative space, particularly when it comes to identity and faith formation. It’s a space where anyone can inhabit honestly, because it seems that more and more folks are able to trace their ancestry to many cultures.

But I can’t discount the difficulties associated with not fitting in clearly anywhere…though I dream that soon no one will truly “fit in” someday, and in that not-fitting-in everyone will really fit in? There are also the histories of brutality and violence often associated with hybridity that must also be raised up, so that hybridity can’t just be seen as this romantic ideal. Thankfully, Andy and I will have children someday in a space of love and affirmation, and I can only hope, pray, and work for the same for all those who experience some kind of marginalization whether because they are hapas, or just don’t “fit in,” socially or economically. We pray that in the midst of the varying, confusing experiences our twins will inevitably have some day, wholeness will be a part of their lives, and I am envisioning experiencing a kind of wholeness through them, too.

Photograph by Kip Fulbeck from this website.


I love this piece, Mihee. This is a topic where the "being nice" ethic of the mainline church has really done a ton of damage. I had a parishioner tell me recently that I shouldn't refer to my son as black. Which is really weird, given that he is black - but her discomfort with the word itself was intriguing. I think the thought of embracing ambiguity is such a faithful response. Thank you for such a well-reasoned article on a topic we so desperately need to address in the church.

As a hapa, I am so glad you wrote this! An additional dynamic to hapa-ness is that cultural hybridity is a great strength to the individual in terms of navigating multiple contexts, but the rest of society is driven by those pesky legal boxes of race (making racial hybridity far more problematic than cultural hybridity, if I may make that distinction). Others will always try to drive the hapa person into one box, even if that box is "other." My observation is that racial hybridity is differentially accepted based on the "mix." As a half-Japanese, half-white Jewish hapa, I am considered somewhat more acceptable in society as a whole than I think I would be if my father were not white.

You probably already know this, but a good book for parenting hapas is "The Multiracial Child Resource Book." And see this website for great baby gear: http://blacklava.net/#/listing/toddler/ I think they sell onesies that say "mixed well" and "hapa." Super-cute!

Thank you so much for these words, Mihee. I grew up in a house where we were Norwegian at home, but the line was not as severe as you describe for me. Thank you for this invitation to consider my own social location and better engage how I engage in relationships with all of God's children.

i like that

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