Maybe I am the only one wondering “What can I do?” as I watch and read the news of demonstrations throughout the country. I have a lot of excuses. I can’t go to the protests tonight because my son has a concert. I don’t coordinate the church service and announcements, so I can’t control what will and won’t be said. I’m on sabbatical so I won’t be a part of the conversations that I hope will happen between colleagues at meetings. But I hope I am not the only one wondering what can be, needs to be, ought to be done.
The videos are chilling – Eric Garner’s life is being choked out of him until he goes limp on the sidewalk and Tamir Rice is being gunned down, the police squad door barely opening as the officer drives by. The images of protests and protesters being tear gassed and throwing canisters back at police armed in riot gear remind me of the summer I spent in Korea, marching in protests against U.S. military presence. That was the summer I learned about wearing damp handkerchiefs near my eyes and over my nose to help with the sting of tear gas and how to wet the wick of a homemade Molotov cocktail before lighting and lobbing. A few years later in a hotel room in Indiana after a job interview, I watched protests and riots take over Los Angeles. Living with, wrestling with injustice day in and day out is a bit like a kettle of water just about to hit boiling. At some point, the water boils, the steam is released.
I have changed my profile pictures on Twitter and Facebook to a black-and-white depiction of the U.S. flag hanging upside down. I chose that image after a friend posted a similar image with the flag code explaining the symbolism.
I became a U.S. citizen in January 2010 after decades of wrestling with the idea of belonging. I immigrated the United States in 1971. I was eight months old. I grew up identifying myself as a Korean American even though the American part continues to be questioned — most often by white people. It isn’t enough to say I am from the Chicago suburbs. How could I be “from” Chicago when I don’t look “American” is the unspoken, underlying question — the code switch. I finally decided to act upon the privilege to apply for citizenship and took the oath, pledging allegiance to the flag. I take my citizenship very seriously, having passed a test on the U.S. Constitution, having my fingerprints taken, having my English competency tested, being interviewed, writing checks, waiting in line, and finally giving up my green card that wasn’t actually green.
So as people marched in protest, I watched and read. And the image popped up on my Facebook feed. I changed my profile picture because as an American who at some level has freely chosen allegiance I wanted to show other Americans and Christians who know the power of symbolism that I am utterly disappointed and disgusted by a justice system picks and chooses how to define and apply justice. I changed my profile picture because the flag is something we see on a daily basis — in front of fast food restaurants and sometimes in our churches, but I don’t often think about the code governing its display. I changed the picture because if your world doesn’t feel like it has been or is turning upside down maybe you aren’t watching carefully enough.
We are in a time of dire distress so the flag hangs upside down on my profile photo and in front of my home. Perhaps for some of us where the flag hangs in the sanctuary or somewhere on church grounds, it ought to hang upside down as well.
The lives of our black brothers and sisters remain in extreme danger.
Author’s note: A version of this piece ran on the author’s personal blog late last year.
Kathy Kyoung Ah Khang is currently serving as a regional multiethnic ministries director with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF)/USA. Kathy is one of the authors of More Than Serving Tea, and she continues to write on her personal blog More than Serving Tea.