Racism in Rickshaw Rally
by Doris Kung
Lifeway Christian Resources, the Southern Baptist's publishing house, is promoting its Asian-themed Vacation Bible School curriculum for Summer 2004: "Rickshaw Rally: Racing to the Son." Their intention is to use VBS to teach children about Jesus Christ while exposing them to different cultures and worlds that they may not readily experience. While the intention is admirable, the result is a racially insensitive, inaccurate curriculum based on racist popular Western stereotypes and images of Asian cultures.
The Rickshaw Rally is overrun with offensive images and concepts. The rickshaw, for example, is a mode of transportation used pre-WWII and is a symbol of class systems, poverty, and slavery. The material focuses on pre-WWII Japan in serene agricultural landscapes replete with cherry blossom trees and peasants in rice fields; today's Japan is an exploding metropolis. The curriculum employs Japanese words as novel labels of different activities and events in VBS (often mispronounced in the videos). Though Rickshaw Rally is primarily Japanese in location, images and language, Lifeway president Jimmy Draper has defended "Rickshaw Rally" as Asian because it utilizes images from other Asian countries. The curriculum includes nametags for VBS participants in the form of Chinese take-out bins, an invention of American Chinese fast-food resturants. Using a curriculum that is primarily Japanese and then mixing in popular images of another Asian culture does not produce an Asian theme. Asia is a wide diversity of cultures, complete with different peoples, languages, histories, beliefs and value systems; it cannot be represented by a shoddy recipe of mish-mashed ingredients of cultures.
When the Asian-American Christian community protested the release of the Rickshaw Rally, Lifeways' reponse was dismissive. Among Draper's many defenses of the curriculum, the repeated mantra is "Lifeway did not mean to offend the Asian- American community." Apparently this is enough of a reason for them to continue marketing and distributing the materials throughout North America and the world.
The tragedy of this situation is manifold. This summer, little boys and girls will learn about the love of Jesus Christ through stereotypes of Asia, Asian culture and Asian peoples, breeding misinformation and opening doors for prejudice and racism. Asian Americans have been and will continue to be alienated from the body of Christ and Christianity upon seeing the church promote such wrongful depictions of their heritage, their culture, and their identity. When a white-dominated Christian publishing house determines to use materials based on popular stereotypes to depict peoples of another culture, and then refuses to concede to the protests of those peoples in order to prevent economic loss, this publishing house is clearly making two statements: The feelings and viewpoints of these peoples are not important to the decision-makers and have no place in determining how they will be represented; and The cost of economic gain is worthier than the cost of lost souls. One must ask: "Whose side are you working for?"
If you are interested in finding out more, visit a website concerning "Rickshaw Rally" – http://www.geocities.com/reconsideringrickshawrally – which offers a more detailed picture of the matter, as well as links to other websites, an online petition, and contact information for Lifeway President and the Director of VBS Curriculum.
Doris Kung is in her last year of the M.Div/M.B.A. program in Global Economic Development program at Eastern Seminary and Eastern University.