Institutional discrimination and systemic oppression negatively impact marginalized people in myriad ways, from racism to sexism and classism to heterosexism. It can be dizzying to sort out all of the ways in which dominant groups leverage power that damage disenfranchised groups. It can be even more challenging to build connections between different oppressed groups. Because of these concerns, last Sunday we had an important conversation about racism and intersectionality–and what we can all do to challenge the status quo. Our guest facilitator was PaKou Her, a local community organizer and anti-racism trainer/facilitator.
PaKou is also our lead trainer for The Open Table’s anti-racism training project, which was funded through Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, thanks to a generous Leadership Development Grant, so we were excited to have her with us for the evening! She is Principal of Tseng Development Group, LLC, a consulting firm that provides lectures, workshops, organizational development, transformative leadership coaching, and grassroots strategy development designed to build racial equity and create systems change. She holds 20 years of anti-racism organizing experience, a decade of which was as the Director of a national racial justice training program with Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training. She spent three years at 18MillionRising.org (18MR) in the roles of Campaign Director and Executive Director, and has also worked with MoveOn.org and UltraViolet. Born and raised in the Midwest, she takes great pride representing Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders living in the nation’s midsection, and believes there are invaluable stories to be told by People of Color living in the most rural areas of the United States.
After setting some ground rules with some helpful cat memes, we agreed to explore, engage, reflect, and apply, and agreed not to blame, shame, avoid, and derail. PaKou asked us to turn to a neighbor and discuss where we found ourselves in this conversation and what was giving us hope. She shared examples from the book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa, and encouraged us to think about power in these terms, which she shared in her presentation:
Centering, normalizing, consolidating power:
white, male, heterosexual, cisgender, documented, English proficient, Protestant Christian, able bodied, middle/upper class, educated, middle-aged, embodying a certain standard of beauty
Borderlands people exist because there is a “normalizing” center.
There is beauty, conflict, possibility, chaos, and creativity in the borderlands. Bringing the borderlands into the center demands that it conforms to the norms of the center. This destroys its spirit.
Our organizing task is to take the center out into the borderlands. This shifts culture and the narrative of a universal “normal.”
There are many ways our various privileges (e.g., race, gender, sexual preference, language, class, etc.) draw us in towards a center of power, while others are not allowed the same access. Taking the center of that power out into the borderlands is an action Jesus modeled in his life and ministry, and we see that as an important part of our work in our city and the world.
This was just a teaser of our conversation that night, so we encourage you to listen to the audio recording of the whole thing here on our podcast, and check out the corresponding resources below!
Our next gathering will take place on Sunday, Jan. 28 at 6:30 p.m. at Second Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, MO, and will focus on gentrification and race.
Book: Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa
Food for Thought: Check out this article at Cultural Organizing to see an example of what PaKou was describing regarding the “fence comic” that’s been passed around, and how equality, equity, and liberation are not the same things.
Prayers: Our prayers this evening were adapted from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Where Do We Go From Here” speech, given August 16, 1967, and shared in honor of MLK Day. Read on to find out why our benediction that night named our task as going out “with a divine dissatisfaction.”
If you would like to contribute to the cost of our shared meals and conversations, we invite you to donate by texting the word “give” to 816-656-3310.