What We've Learned From "Skits That Teach"

Since Soong Chan Rah broke the news about Zondervan publishing an egregious racial faux pas from The Skit Guys in their latest book, “Skits That Teach”, there has been a lot of activity online to get people to speak out against the publisher, the authors, and key distributors, i.e. Youth Specialties (YS). Thecuttingtruth and emergingtruth, two fellow Asian American bloggers are indeed “holding their feet to the fire” by holding the parties involved accountable, with thecuttingtruth proving his point by ordering the books in question this morning despite YS having promised to “freeze all remaining stock”.

After communicating with thecuttingtruth this morning, I sent Youth Specialties the following email content:

Is the book “Skits That Teach” listed in your Store section the one in question with racially egregious material towards Asian Americans? If so, I humbly request that you temporarily remove it from your store site until the revisions demanded are made.

I have not been able to access the YS storefront since late this morning. I have left a message with Soong Chan Rah and hope to follow this through with someone at YS or Zondervan directly. It appears at best that Mark Oestreicher, President of YS, is proactively engaging Prof. Rah, thecuttingtruth, and emergingtruth in the form of comments. He comments that he is waiting to make a statement on his blog, ysmarko.com, until he communicates with Rah, so please be on the lookout for this. While emergingtruth accuses these actions as merely “damage control”, I have hope that measures, if not all, are being taken to rectify the matter. This scenario is far different from the Rickshaw Rally disgrace from the Southern Baptist Convention (which is still friggin’ posted!) because of the relative speed and reasonability in which the parties are responding to the feedback. So while some of us are the hunt for our pound of flesh, I believe we have made this a worthwhile effort and it has been effective in this instance.

However, this indicates a severe pathology in the ways in which non-Asians perceive Asians as these “Skits That Teach” have taught me the following:

1) We are not ready to laugh.

Forget the distributors and the publishers, it’s the authors I have a problem with. Your initial dismissal of this offensive material makes it sound as though Asian American Christians are the ones who take themselves too seriously. I suspect you never thought that minorities would be buying your book? Or are minorities not part of the Kingdom? Or perhaps lesser in your mind — which makes them perfect fodder for ridicule? That’s not playful banter, Skit guys, it’s Rosie O’Donnell material. Shame on you.

2) We need to create our own content

And shame on us. If African-Americans can have their own line of Hallmark greeting cards, then for Christ’s sake, we need to contribute Asian American content in bible studies, dramas, skits, talking points, other YS-like material and work at informing non-Asians about who we are and how we are wired. The Skit Guys are partially guilty for the ignorance, but the responsibility of engaging and informing non-Asians about sensitive stereotypes falls on us. The fact that our churches are so segregated and ethnocentric only reinforces the notion that Asians are not Asian AMERICAN.

3) We need to engage more in the larger Christian community

And shame on all of us. This problem exists in the Christian community because we are all so segregated from one another. Sure there are multi-ethnic churches where we all face the same direction in worship and prayer, but rarely do we break bread together, look one another in the eye, and listen to one another. In essence, we need to engage, church-to-church, person-to-person, and repent. We can point the finger and say that this is a clear reflection of the Western superiority complex, but I guarantee you that patronizing, exclusivistic, and rabid self-aggrandizing sin is in our Asian heritage as well. We must hate the sin and love the sinner in the collective sense and in tangible and realistic ways, make this part of our everyday.

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Comments

  1. daniel so says:

    these are some great thoughts. i can understand where the bitterness and frustration of some asian-american believers comes from. all those years of being alienated (both by the “home” culture and this american culture) can create some intense feelings of anger. my first reaction to all of this was to lash out.

    thankfully, redemption is possible. for everyone of us, because Lord knows we all need it. i think it is helpful to see how differently the zondervan/ys folks have handled this compared to the lifeway people. i don’t mean to suggest that they are beyond criticism — but it does appear that significant progress is being made. and as marko has pointed out, these are real people with whom we are dealing. in many ways, our communities have let them know that we are real people, not to be caricatured and mocked. it’s so trite to say it (but i’ll say it anyways) — we should live out the principles we want others to follow.

    the church must be the church here. people should certainly be held accountable, but there must be room for forgiveness. otherwise, we cannot really say we follow Christ. it is sobering, utterly sobering, to realize how far His forgiveness extends.

    it does take some time to deal with these things. if, for some reason, zondervan/ys did not address the issues in the way they said they would, there should definitely be serious repercussions. i’m not blindly believing everything they say, but it would be a whole new category of wrong if they were purposely misleading people regarding their intentions. i can’t see that happening.

    sorry for being a bit long. thanks for sharing the lessons you’ve learned. i am completely with you regarding our need to create our own content. as a youth pastor for over ten years, anytime i have picked up curriculum, games, or idea books for youth, i’ve always had to run it through a cultural filter. it would be amazing to put together resources that did some of this cultural filtering up front. i wonder if we could come together in our communities to support and produce such materials (even in our small asian-american communities, we are so divided).

  2. Al Hsu says:

    According to a comment on Soong-Chan’s blog from YS’s president Mark Oestreicher, the current edition of the skit book is still listed online as available for purchase, but any orders will be backordered and not fulfilled until the new corrected edition is available. I work for a publisher, so I understand the reasons behind doing it this way. Even so, at the bare minimum they should have something on the page saying that the book is not currently available because the new edition is in the works. I don’t know, maybe if you order it it will tell you that it’s backordered and won’t be available until such-and-such a date.

    (And of course this doesn’t do anything about however many copies are already with booksellers and distributors, like Amazon or wherever. It’s logistically impossible for a “recall” in the publishing world, so practically speaking, Zondervan and Youth Specialties have actual control only over the inventory in their own warehouses that is not shipped.)

    And hear, hear, on your comment #2 about creating our own content. Andy Crouch talks about how it’s not enough to critique culture – the only thing that truly changes culture is to create culture. This is why I’m personally committed to publishing books by and for Asian Americans (most recently More Than Serving Tea), as well as books by AA authors on whatever topics for a wide general audience. The more culture we create, with contributions reflecting the diversity of the overall body of Christ, the healthier the American church will be.

  3. David Park says:

    Thanks Al,

    I heard back from Prof. Rah today and you are right, YS and Zondervan have done what they can to control their inventory, but whatever is out there is out there. But I think it says a lot that they froze their inventory over the feedback from the Asian American Christian community. It says a great deal about their organization.

    I plan on giving Mark O. a call as soon as I leave my “real” job to thank him for his stance on this issue and just let him know that I appreciate the fact that attributes as much gravity to situation as we feel.

    Al, I love how you say, we need to “create culture”. I think that’s something that many of don’t feel that we have the power to do, but in essence, I believe that is what I’ve been learning, even in this process of blogging. It is an act of creating culture. Good to hear it articulated that way.

  4. David Park says:

    Just got off the phone with Mark O from YS who was very cordial. He assured me that he and the entire staff of YS are taking this situation very seriously and working to resolve it and prevent it from happening again. After reading the material in question, he says that he was just as flabbergasted as I was that those words made it out of the author’s keyboard, under an editor’s nose and out to be printed. He also said that he has a phone call scheduled with Prof. Rah tomorrow and will subsequently issue a formal apology then.

    He was very receptive to hearing my view on this being the “perfect storm” for this faux pas with Rosie’s racial slur just months ago, and Rickshaw Rally still fresh in people’s minds. To which he threw in, “Yeah and that Piper thing too!” (credit to thecuttingtruth on posting on that issue).

    His comment that encouraged me the most is that he hopes the authors have learned from this and that God will still turn this into something good. I hope so too.

    So stay tuned for that tomorrow.

  5. Craig Kim says:

    In regard to the need to form a large community for Asian American churches, I wholeheartedly agree that such must be done. Since many Asian communities have been extremely busy just to stay alive, even realizing such a need has passed them by. In the past, it would have been more difficult to form a large community but now that the internet is ubiquitous, it’s much easier to form virtual communities for Asian American churches. This site, for example, is providing a wonderful service for the purpose. Indeed, we should not stop at forming virtual communities but strive to form true communities where everyone regardless his or her ethnic background will be comfortable and happy to join in.
    Starting from those who feel the need, one should contribute more to the cause and take an active part in promoting such a movement. We can only benefit from each other.
    With only one person or even one church, it will not be possible. Acknowledging that it’s not somebody else’s work but our own, each one of us must take the ownership and be committed to support the larger community for Asian American Christians.
    God has clearly demonstrated that in Acts 2. God can do it again as we walk with God.

  6. I agree with you, especially #3. While I believe there is a place for ethnic-specific ministry, I believe that God desires for us to engage the rest of society, both Christian and non-Christian. We can still live together in this world without being of the world.

    Perhaps we can attribute their insensitive and offensive content to ignorance. How do you remedy ignorance? By letting others get to know us. If we do not want to be objectified, we need to make ourselves “subjectified” by engaging with others.

    By the way, I contacted Christianbook.com and they have removed “Skits that Teach” from their inventory, and has informed Zondervan exactly why. I’m encouraged. Social action does make a difference!

  7. I left some follow up comments on my blog, regarding the zondervan controversy, a post entitled, “Why I draw a hard line…and refuse to budge.”

    Hopefully this clarifies where I’m coming from, whether or not you agree with it.

    http://www.xanga.com/emergingtruth

  8. David Park says:

    emergingtruth, I encourage you to give Mark O. a call. We spoke about you and some of your demands, and I can assure you that Mark is more than willing to do what he can. In my conversation with him, he expressed regret even for his defensive language in the comments that he had left on various people’s sites, saying that after a talk with his wife, he realizes that minorities and oppressed groups are much more sensitive to his words as a white male. Believe me when I say that I stand convinced that people have been duly warned about the type of content that has slipped under the radar in this instance. I don’t know whether that would satisfy you, but if your refusal to budge doesn’t preclude a phone call, I strongly urge that you speak to him directly.

    That being said, I’m not happy either with the fact that this offensive content got so far down the pipe, but we would be shortsighted to be vigilant about the outcome, we must be vigilant about the sources, and to avoid being hypocrites, we should be vigilant about ourselves as well. I like your hard lines, I do, but “Skits that Teach” is not the Rosa Parks that you need.

  9. andre says:

    David

    Thanks for informing us on this. The fact that such content survived the editor’s cutting room is concerning but also informative. In the broader society, it is still ok to take racist shots at asians and the christian community is just part of that.

    True change takes place in the heart and mind – and that just hasn’t happened yet. Here’s an opportunity to christian community to be distinctive and we’re squandering it. Pity.

    BTW, what was meant by “Yeah and that Piper thing too!”…could you enlighten me. Thanks in advance.

  10. David Park says:

    Andre,

    What do you mean by squandering it? And I sent you a link for the “Piper thing”.

  11. It seems to me that the Asian American Christian response to all this is:

    Speak with Mark Oestreicher.

    I have no doubt in my mind that if I speak with him, he will come across as sincere, honestly contrite, and an altogether upstanding guy. The comments regarding him have almost to the person been one of commendation.

    But the issue is grander and larger than the feelings/opinions of me or any other individual. A public sin has been commited against a very specific people group. As such, the only appropriate action here is a public apology to that specific people group.

    (Furthermore, if I felt that speaking with Mark would help him understand how I feel, I would call him. But he already knows).

    I do not need to speak with him to understand. I already understand. I do not need to speak with him to forgive Zondervan/SkitGuys. I have already forgiven. I do not need anything.

    But the Asian American community needs something. A public apology for this very public sin.

    Mark Oestreicher has already stated that he intends to make an apology. Although unacceptably late in the coming, I am glad that he is finally making this step. He has already stated on emergingtruth’s xanga blog the degree to which he will make this apology public, a decision that must have been difficult. For I recognize that he is under undue pressure from the Asian American community, the Zondervan corporation, and the tuggings of his own inner convictions. Mark, I implore you to make the apology as public as your inner convictions demand of you.

  12. e cho says:

    another thing that we all learned:

    we’re all desperately depraved and jacked up;
    we all need to confess, repent, and seek the mercy and grace of jesus. thankfully, it is available. phew.

    e cho

  13. David Park says:

    Amen brother, Amen.

  14. Mark O’s public apology is now posted online: http://www.ysmarko.com/?p=1379

  15. andre says:

    David

    I wrote “True change takes place in the heart and mind – and that just hasn’t happened yet. Here’s an opportunity to christian community to be distinctive and we’re squandering it.”

    Just to be clear, what I mean by “squandering it” has nothing to do with the conversation here.

    I mean that as the church, we can be setting the pace in providing a picture of unity, grace, celebrating differences rather than maliciously making fun of them. Having a heart to pursue a multi-ethnic, multi-colored, community and being eager to defend that against cultural stereotyping and any form of cultural divisiveness. When we err, to act quickly, decisively and without sounding to trite – feel the pain of the brother we’ve legitimately offended.

    I just think we’ve got a ways to go before we can say to the world – look to the church for a picture of God glorifying, celebratory unity

  16. gar says:

    The skit guys have also posted an apology here:

    http://skitguys.com/skitguys/apology.php

  17. paul says:

    i like the 3 points you learned, especially the last one; also the 2nd one. it may, ironically. betray a racist attitude of our own (as an asian community).

  18. David Park says:

    Thanks Gar for the notice on the Skit Guys’ apology. Here’s what I got from Ed James, one of the Skit Guys, this morning.

    Hey David,

    I appreciate your email. Thanks for taking the time to write us and tell us how you feel. We are learning, I wish I had this awareness sooner in my life because we didn’t or never want to do any harm to any person.

    Thanks for your grace and how you and so many are teaching us and educating us instead of the opposite (we’ve had a lot of those).

    I hope if we are ever in the same place that we can meet and shake your hand.

    Sincerely,

    Eddie James

    —–

    I think it says a lot about these guys that they are responding to each and every email and addressing the issue head on. It shows that the criticism has weighed heavily on them, but that awareness in the body of Christ has increased. We are not successful however if we point out the error of others’ ways, we will be successful when we can find and abolish the racism in our own circles, as Paul points out.

  19. John says:

    You’re absolutely right about the segregated nature of the Asian-American church. That’s because they’ve centered their churches around their ethnicity rather than around Christ. And that is simply wrong. The ethnically-targeted church (in contrast to an ethically targeted evangelistic ministry) is a denial of what the true Church is, where Christ unites all those who believe in Him.

    You’re right also, “rarely do we break bread together, look one another in the eye, and listen to one another.” Of course, that’s largely because Asian-Americans segregate themselves and divisively break off into churches based on their own culture.

    I left a post after an earlier article (in mid-Jan) about some of the inherent problems with the ethnically-targeted church.

  20. Mike says:

    Lately we all hear so much about Obama and race issues as Black/White, and it makes me always wonder if the Teachable Moment there is that there are many more races left out of the conversation if people would take time to include everyone into that national conversation that might be a good place for him/Obama to start.

Trackbacks

  1. […] 25th, 2007 by David Park In the aftermath of the YS/Zondervan “Skits That Teach” fiasco (h/t to Soong Chan Rah on a well-executed campaign to address the issues), I think that we saw some […]

  2. […] up some resources for our youth ministry. I was deeply disappointed to discover an old edition of Skits That Teach still on the shelves — the one that opens with a mocking, racist portrayal of a […]

  3. […] to be fair to Mike, he probably was not aware of the Rickshaw Rally fiasco. or about the Skits The Teach blunder or about the internal discussion that Camy Tang generated.  He had no idea that Rah and other […]

  4. […] of Asian Americans on the internet. There was no such rapid communal response to Rickshaw Rally or the Skit Guys. Social media hadn’t developed that back much then, it was still the Stone Age, you know, […]

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