Wednesday, April 13, 2016

On Solidarity Among Women of Color

This post is based on the talk I gave on a call of the Women of Color in Ministry Project on April 8, 2016.

Solidarity is biblical
  • 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 
If one member of Christ’s body suffers, all suffer.  If one member is honored, all rejoice.
  • Matthew 5:21-24 
 Be reconciled to one another before coming to the altar.
  • I Peter 4:8-10 Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.

Meanings of solidarity
In the Christian world, there is a tradition of solidarity.

US Conference of Catholic Bishops shares the following Catholic social teaching on solidarity:
[Solidarity] is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all. On Social Concern (Sollicitudo rei Socialis. . . ), #38

We have to move from our devotion to independence, through an understanding of interdependence, to a commitment to human solidarity. That challenge must find its realization in the kind of community we build among us. Love implies concern for all - especially the poor - and a continued search for those social and economic structures that permit everyone to share in a community that is a  part of a redeemed creation (Rom 8:21-23). Economic Justice for All, #365

In my Presbyterian tradition, which is a creedal tradition, our confessions and creeds have spoken to solidarity.

The Brief Statement of Faith, adopted in 1983: the Holy Spirit “gives us courage…to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.”

The Belhar Confession, from the church in South Africa, written in 1982 and adopted by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in 1986, to be formally adopted by the PC(USA) in 2016:
·      that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream;
·      that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.

Solidarity means being political
Loretta Ross said, “When you choose to work with other people who are minoritized by oppression, you’ve lifted yourself out of that basic identity into another political being and another political space.”

In the church, we often think political is bad. Here’s what political means: concerned with policies, governance, or influence in a system. The church is made up of humans, and it is a system. It is our system.

As women of color in ministry, we are, by definition, influencers. We want to make an impact because the gospel calls us to share the good news, preach liberation to the oppressed, make disciples (not fans or friends, disciples). To have an impact, sometimes we find ourselves needing to maneuver. If we were judged purely on our own merit and our own faithfulness, grace would abound, and we would be so effective, I’m sure. But because the church is full of humans, we are often judged on our gender, our appearance, our education, how we speak, who we know, what our faces look like when we’re thinking, how often we’ve been able to preach at certain churches or events, our race, how we do and do not challenge the status quo. Being political is how we make our ministries influential for the reign of God. Being political, sometimes, is how we support our sisters in ministry in sustainable ways.

White supremacy and patriarchy are the problems.

You have heard of divide and conquer strategies? We who are marginalized fight amongst ourselves for a few crumbs. A classic example of divide and conquer that I experience a lot in a majority-white church is our tendency to fall into competition instead of collaboration.

White supremacy and patriarchy depend on divide and conquer between racial or ethnic groups, men and women of color, women who have been able to get a foot in the door and women still fighting for recognition, and between generations.

There are those of us who decide we’re unicorns. I don’t mean the recognition that we are rare, because many of us are rare where we serve, but the unicorn mindset means we fall into the belief that we are also super-special and exceptional. When women of color decide we are exceptional, and that we got where we are with simply hard work, and if you could work harder, you could achieve the same (the myth of meritocracy), this is also a triumph of white supremacy and patriarchy. It disrupts the potential for working together in a coalition. It isn’t enough to lean in. Leaning in doesn’t undo white supremacy and patriarchy, and worse, leaning in can cost us.

We’ve all worked with or been around difficult women. You know these women. They’re the kind that don’t back up other women, don’t help bring other women into conversations, don’t share space at the table. We’ve all worked with these women.

It’s tempting to throw them under the bus or write them off when we can. But instead of shutting them out, it might be important for us to consider what it must be like to have been the pioneer, the first, the woman making it in a man’s world, and have a little compassion for the damage that patriarchy and white supremacy can do to us, and to the women who went before us.

An important reminder to me is that even when we are “making it,” whatever that means in our various contexts, we are at risk of being used by a part of patriarchal systems. When we are benefiting from those systems and not actively dismantling them, we are being used to prop up those systems. We never want to be “the one,” the token, used as an example that it isn’t so bad here.

Another reminder is to consider the other women who make our work possible. Those of us who “make it” in ministry are often reliant upon the (cheaper) labor of other women to populate our programs with teachers and others, along with relying upon the labor of women to provide us with the services we need when we’re running around doing ministry (like cleaning, cooking, childcare, etc.).

Solidarity involves learning
To be in solidarity across divisions, particularly racial and ethnic groups, we need to know each other’s culture, history, literature, preaching, music, liturgy, and worship. We need to know there is more to black people than the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We need to know not all Asian Americans are the same. Not every Latinx speaks Spanish or is an immigrant. Not all Native Americans belong to the same tribe or share the same traditions. To be in solidarity means taking the time to learn, to read, to watch, to listen, to ask questions.

Solidarity involves showing up
It can be really hard, in the midst of all the other things we do, to show up. But being in solidarity means showing up in other spaces. It means for those of us who aren’t indigenous to stand against appropriation, and support the cause of native sovereignty. It means for those of us who aren’t immigrants to show up to support immigration reform and help those caught in the U.S. web of deportation and detention. It means for those of us who aren’t black to show up for Black Lives Matter. It means for those of us who aren’t Asian American to show up to protest hate crimes and to refuse to laugh at jokes made at the expense of Asian Americans. It means for those of us who aren’t Latinx to show up and protest police violence against especially undocumented Latinx people. We need to buy each other’s books, support each other’s art, invite each other to preach and teach.

Solidarity involves making mistakes
When we try to be in solidarity, we will make mistakes. We will be culturally ignorant, misread social cues, and accidentally hurt each other’s feelings. We will sometimes not be able to show up for each other.

We will need to practice this from Matthew 18:21-22.

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”

We will make mistakes, and we will need to get good at forgiving each other.

What solidarity looks like

  • Rep. John Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement, supports women’s rights, immigrant rights, and LGBTQ rights.
  • The owner of a bar in Indianapolis barred a customer who made demeaning comments about women.
  • Palestinians and Black Lives Matter activists have supported each other on social media and are having conversations in person, exchanging tips and finding new ways to support each other.
  • Groups of Asian American activists have formed Asians4BlackLives.
  • Asian Americans work with other activists on issues of immigration reform, ending detentions and deportations, and collaborating to end hate crimes, bullying, and disproportionate surveillance based on religion.
  • The Black Panthers and the Brown Berets worked together.
  • Students at Prescott College in Arizona signed a petition to increase their own tuition costs in order to fund scholarships for students who are undocumented immigrants.
  • I have heard of a speaker who, when invited, insists the organizers invite both the speaker and a younger protégé of the speaker, so that the audience hears from both.
  • When I can’t accept an invitation, I send names of alternatives. I try to include women, people of color, and younger people in my recommendations.
Solidarity means working together for success, but not necessarily the kind of success that means a great call at a church or a big paycheck.

What success means
  • We have managed to live in solidarity. 
  • When we advance, we pull others along with us. 
  • We challenge the structures that maintain patriarchy and white supremacy and we are not alone when we do the challenging. 
  • Success means making people mad because we are standing up for others whose voices are being ignored. 
  • Success means living the gospel at the risk of our own standing. 
  • Success means believing God expects more of us than looking out for ourselves. 
  • Success means building relationships and coalitions.
Questions to think about:
Q: Does your religious tradition have a history of or statements on solidarity?
Q: What more can you learn about your sisters in ministry in order to support them?
Q: Where can you show up?
Q: Where do you want people to show up for you?

Resources (by Westminster John Knox)
Race in a Post-Obama America: The Church Responds, edited by David Maxwell
Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World: Finding Hope in an Age of Despair by Otis Moss, III
African American Theology: An Introduction, by Frederick L. Ware
An Introduction to Womanist Biblical Interpretation, by Nyasha Junior
Teología en Conjunto: A Collaborative Hispanic Protestant Theology, edited by José David Rodriguez & Loida I. Martell-Otero
Off the Menu: Asian and Asian North American Women's Religion and Theology, edited by Rita Nakashima Brock, Jung Ha Kim, Kwok Pui-Lan, & Seung Ai Yang
Microaggressions in Ministry: Confronting the Hidden Violence of Everyday Church, by Cody J. Sanders & Angela Yarber

Resources (by other publishers)
A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn
A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, by Ronald Takaki
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga & Gloria Anzaldúa
Postcolonialism, Feminism and Religious Discourse, edited by Laura E. Donaldson & Kwok Pui-Lan