The next day was a mixture of super practical and helpful and also very uncomfortable. I was so very grateful for the practical tools provided by the facilitators.
There was one community building exercise in which we had to write down:
A) 2-3 things about ourselves that someone knows by looking at us. 1 of the things had to be an aspect of our identity.
B) 2-3 things about ourselves that someone who is an acquaintance would know.
C) 2-3 things that only someone who knows us really well would know.
I am white. I am in my 40’s. I am southern. (I decided to include hearing and not just sight.)
I am a creative. I am a mother. I am a person of faith.
I live cross culturally. I have “adopted” children. I practice Christian hospitality.
As we were sharing these aspects of myself, I could see a red flag. I could feel myself wanting to defend my A’s with my C’s. In other words, the things people can see about my identity are things I am not proud of and don’t want to be associated with. (Well, except, I really like being southern.) The things I wrote down in C were things I felt like balanced out the badness of A. I shared this with my group and also chastised myself for thinking this way. I’m still unpacking what it means. As I was sharing, I felt nervous that I was over sharing or micro-aggressing or something akin to that. I’m not sure if I did. No one said I did. I apologized even so.
Later, in another discussion, someone mentioned that they had already heard a good bit of whiteness and micro-aggressions throughout our days together. I tried to think back- was it me? Did I do something? How would I know? Who would tell me? I don’t want to mess up. I want these people to like me.
We were given a list of characteristics of White Supremacy Culture and were asked to talk about our organizational and individual experience of them within NBA. Having the list of characteristics and some framework to talk about them was very practical and helpful to me. The method the facilitators chose to have us discuss these topics was by racial identity caucusing.
Racial Identity Caucus is a strategy used to “confront the effects of internalized racist oppression and internalized racist superiority. Team members work in their respective racial identity groups, either as People of Color or White People...Caucusing creates a foundation upon which to build concrete organizing strategies for People of Color and Whites to work together as anti-racist allies.”
There’s a particular story I hear inside myself whenever I take part in a racial identity caucus: I’m not like these other white people. I have a very particular perspective that these other white folk do not have. I do not fit here. The things they are saying don’t relate to me. I have a unique viewpoint that cannot be matched by this particular “identity” grouping. This is not my identity. Where’s the identity caucus group for people who live hybrid lives, cross cultural lives, integrated lives? I do not relate to this label, at least not all the way.
At the same time, I’m also hearing something like: You’re right, but you know you can’t say that outloud and you know you’re not all the way right. You are white and also you live a hybrid life. But so do other folks. Almost everybody here has some sort of intersection of oppression and marginalization. We are living in empire extraction, everyone suffers from the oppression of the structured sin of capitalism. You do have a particular place in the world that is unique, but so do others. Get over yourself.
Most of the time, the first voice is much louder than the second.
The whole while, I’m going along, participating in the conversation, wishing I wasn’t there, wanting to have these talks with the folks in the other caucus, and wondering what in the world good is coming of this. When the caucus conversations are over, we get back into the large group and we talk about how that went and what we felt. As I weighed out in my head whether it was worth taking the risk of expressing my internal dialogue, the people of color began to share: “this is so helpful, I am feeling hope for the future of the church, we’ve been needing to have the conversations for years, I am proud of NBA and hopeful for what is to come.” Listen, Helms, be open and guided.