Author's confession (March 21, 2019): Since publishing this post that went surprisingly viral, I've been taught about the history of the term "intersectionality" and how law professor Kimberle Crenshaw defined the word when she created it in 1989. Now knowing this, I repent of my participation in the appropriation/morphing of her word. I'm still trying to figure out what alternative word to use for recognizing that issues of discrimination/marginalization intersect and that we must examine the layers/intersections of oppression whenever we address social justice issues.
My UMC companions in this journey,
I know you are probably still emotionally raw from GC2019, but there’s something we need to talk about, and we need to talk about it now before we get too far down the road in our “what’s next?” planning. Please, please hear what I’m about to say as coaching from a missiologist who applauds your passion and wants to help you maximize your effectiveness.
I’m not even the first to apply the assertions to what has been happening the past few days in The UMC (read, for example, the Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey's public Facebook post). I am writing this because, if you won’t listen to the Rev. Dr. Lightsey, who is a highly accomplished scholar and author, and the first out Black lesbian elder in the UMC, perhaps you’ll listen to me. After all, I present as a non-threatening slender and porcelain skinned cisgender heterosexual female. As a POC friend with the body of an offensive linesman once pointed out to me, all this plus my “morbidly sweetened personality” gives me a cloak-and-dagger superpower that he does not have. That is to say, I can get away with saying the exact same thing that friends and colleagues have said and not only be heard but come out miraculously unscathed. I don’t get labeled as “angry” or “divisive.” At worst, I’m branded a maverick and given the cold shoulder by those who believe (often correctly) that I'm talking about them.
|Listening can be liberating|
Everything I want to teach or remind you in this blog post is stuff that countless folks smarter and wiser than I am have expressed more competently than I am about to do—and many did so generations ago.
This specific power/privilege of mine has its roots in the intersection of racism and sexism in America. It is not my fault that I have it, and there’s almost nothing I could do to get rid of it,* but it is my responsibility to study the historical/sociological reasons why I have it and how, as follower of Jesus who is committed to being on the side of the marginalized, to appropriately leverage and check that power. And so, I’ve done a lot of reading and listening on the topics of racism, sexism, colonialism, and a host of other isms, including those that most directly impact the lives of GBLTQI+ persons. I’ve read about the importance of recognizing how forms of oppression overlap and interact, how a person can be simultaneously oppressed and an oppressor but never neutral,** and how failing to explore the complex intersections of power and forms of oppression often results in “liberating” one group at the detriment of another.*** I've stared into the mirror and called myself out many times, and I welcome receiving constructive criticism as I continue to learn and grow.
And, yes, I share all of this mostly just to ease you into what I really want to say, and I’m saying it primarily to my friends who benefit from the most number of privileges (especially, but not exclusively, to white cisgender heterosexual persons):
Your privileges in this society might not make you the best person to try to pull together all the coalitions, sit at the table where decisions are being made, or be a core member of the dream team that leads us into the emergence of something radically new.
Please, please consider stepping aside from the doorways and podiums you probably don’t even realize you are dominating and fall inline behind the folks who have so much more right to a place at the head of the table where these decisions are to be made. Yes, come and bring to the table your resources (material and financial) and your connections, but then go sit quietly in the corner of the room unless/until those with more claim to the table request your input. Trust me on this:**** while at first it may feel disorienting and somehow wrong to not be the one mobilizing the troops and leading the charge, it is liberating to take a back seat and instead focus your efforts on amplifying and supporting someone else’s voice and vision.
** There is so much to unpack in this statement—especially when we talk about how to be a faithful ally when one marginalized group does harm to another marginalized group. During GC2019, this question moved from the theoretical to the pragmatic for me. Also: I highly recommend (re)reading Albert Memmi's The Colonizer and The Colonized when wrestling with the myth of neutrality when living in a society with oppressors and those being oppressed.
Again, I know this is hard to hear. And I deeply appreciate all that you have done, are doing, and will do in your ministry and advocacy work. I too am wound up with passion and ready to mobilize my people and shout "Allons-y!" But I know that ultimately that wouldn't be helpful to the cause.
And so, I humbly suggest that, instead, let us put our names on multiple ally sign-up lists, and wait to be told where and when to show up and to whom to write out the check.
An intersectional ally and your friend,
* Except perhaps shaving my head and dressing/presenting as “butch” or an androgynous person. And to my white male friends: it isn't your fault that society assumes that you are inherently smarter, more competent, and a better preacher/leader than the rest of us. Just don't be fooled into believing that you are. Leverage your power to hand others the microphone and to publicly admire their work (and, yes, this includes demanding they get at least equal pay and appointment opportunities).
***For example: the racist history of the women’s suffrage movement in the USA.
****Why should you consider trusting me? Perhaps because I’m a recovering white savior who now serves as the Rev. Dr. Mande Muyombo's (UMC Bishop of North Katanga) assistant. I feel less angsty, more at peace, and more involved in a mission to transform the world by doing tedious tasks for him (e.g. proofreading letters, filling out grant forms, creating Power Point slides, etc.) than I ever did when I was trying to be the sort of activist who gets written about in history books.