28 Aug

Working Across Difference

Photo by Adam

Photo by Adam

Ferguson is not a black and white thing. Ferguson happens all over the country, to black folks, brown folks, asian, native, trans* folk. It crosses racial lines. Ferguson (and all the other violence and killings that happen in our country) is also at the intersections of race, class, and gender…and so Ferguson happens to poor folks, to middle class folks, to women, to trans* and gender non-conforming folks—by men, and primarily white men. Our country’s history is centered at the intersection of whiteness, masculinity, and wealth, and our suppression tactics through violence, fear, and economic sanctions stem from that place as well.

As I have been processing all of what is happening and having conversations with friends and colleagues, it occurred to me that our “justice work” efforts have been largely single issue actions and responses. We do our work in the silos. Race is salient in this country in very particular and meaningful ways, and we work that. Class has a very real and tangible impact on families and communities, and we work that. Gender has a fluidity that resists being boxed and harassed into narrow imaginations, and we work that. But we end up segregating our efforts, never getting to the intersection that leads to the oppression in our country.

Don’t get me wrong. Intra-race work is important, and so is Inter-race work. But in order to make lasting and meaningful change in this unjust system, we will need to work in the intersections.

We just don’t know how.

This place of the intersection is illusive, complicated, and not always straightforward to untangle and understand. But it shows up constantly in our daily life, and until we can bear witness to the complex culmination of system influences playing out in front of us, we won’t be able, as a collective, to create a new system based on justice, love, and equity.

Before we can get to the place where we can co-create the “world we wish to see,” we first need to heal, so that we can work to trust.

This can be scary. We don’t have role models, and we don’t have much training. Conversely, we have a lot of training in hate, prejudice and violence. We need to replace the bad training with the good if we wish to change things.

I was afraid (and sometimes I still am) to bring new training to the world—to act counter to the conventional norms. I see and feel the pain and suffering doled out by a system from which I directly benefit. I don’t always know how to disentangle it all. I don’t always know what to say or do. While I would manage my fear, and bring forth courage needed, I felt alone.

It wasn’t until I found two colleagues, and we worked well together, that I began to find my way. Mamta, becky, and I found each other through our shared careers in higher education, our shared action and voice in social justice work, and our shared values.

Between presentations and facilitations, we’d talk with each other and dialogue (often over crème brûlée). In these dialogues, we explored the issues of the time (sadly there are many), and we built a friendship and trust. As we did so, we explored our vulnerabilities, fear, scars, wounds, and hopes and dreams; in addition, we explored our lives in the intersections of race, class, gender, ethnicity, and spirituality—across our differences. We created a space for us to share, to grieve, to celebrate, to hold accountable, to support, and to heal. Our work together is generative, inspiring, and soul-filling. It is a glimpse in what the world could be—what we hope that it could be.

Engagement with others across difference requires courage and vulnerability. Rather than viewing it as a deficit, vulnerability is really a place of strength and worthiness (Brené Brown speaks on this here and here).  This sense of worthiness and courage allows us to take risks (saying some of the messy things that we have been trained to say but keep in our head takes courage), imparts a commitment to speak honestly, and encourages us to listen fully (Williams and Brigham speak more on it here).

It is indeed a commitment to learn together.

When we, in all of our intersecting parts of ourselves, show up fully, we heal. We heal our past individual wounds. We heal our collective pain caused by oppression and injustice. We fill our world with love and justice and we role model a path toward change.

This is more than individual healing…this relationship and working action group helps us understand and shift the system of power in our worlds. We work in our “spheres of influence,” as Beverly Daniel Tatum describes it, and within our spheres, we can effect the system toward a more just, equitable, structure.

In love, justice, and crème brûlée, we hold ourselves accountable to do so.