We at IISC have the privilege of witnessing heartful, sometimes heart wrenching dialogue about critical issues in our world from multiple perspectives. We work with passionate laypeople and professionals focused on education, environment and sustainability, public health, peace and justice, youth development, racial justice, city planning and community development, to name a few disciplines.
I’m encouraged by a few themes that are coming up more and more in our work. And, I’m even more encouraged that increasingly, they are emerging as imperatives, not just “nice ideas.” As we facilitate processes and bear witness to the struggle to bring forth justice, here are some of the voices we’ve heard calling out: Read More
In her keynote address at Boston’s Martin Luther King, Jr. breakfast, Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry invited us to consider the meaning of Dr. King’s 1967 book, Where do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community (excerpt here) at in this political moment. She reminded us what was going on in 1966, as Dr. King wrote. The Freedom Movement had achieved many legal and legislative victories by then, (Brown vs. Board of Education supporting school desegregation and the Voting Rights Act to name just a few). The Movement and its victories created justifiable hope that the lives of people on the margins of our society could improve. At the same time, poverty and racism still created the need for continued struggle. By 1966-67, many felt their hope was no longer justifiable in the face of violent backlash and intractable injustices. In the face of withering criticism including charges of cowardice, Dr. King continued to urge the country toward community rather than chaos, without shrinking back from the justice issues before him. Read More
“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This often quoted comment by Dr. King forms the foundation of Adam Kahane’s new book, Love and Power: A theory and practice of social change. Melinda Weekes and I attended a recent book talk by Adam, attracted to the topic because, at IISC we’ve been thinking through and practicing the connections among power, love, networks and collaboration for years now. Much of what Adam shared resonates with our thinking. The book builds on the thinking of theologian Paul Tillich. His definitions are worth taking a closer look:
This week, Melinda and I will be facilitating two workshops at the Transforming Race conference, hosted by the Kirwan Institute at The Ohio State University. Here’s a sneak preview of some of what we’ll be covering.
Facilitating discussions and dialogues about race can be tough. Lack of information and knowledge, different lived experiences, unspoken assumptions, varying definitions of key concepts and differing interpretations of problems and solutions are just a few of the things that can get in the way of groups communicating authentically and building solid agreements. I’ve found that attention to three dimensions of preparing for such conversations can make all the difference between productive engagement and destructive experiences that take years to repair.
I’ve been thinking a lot about why people love to hate government, and why I just can’t bring myself to hate it, too. I hold tightly to the notion of government “of the people, by the people and for the people” and want to hold it accountable to serving its role to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
To the people who say (as I heard recently on the news) “I want government out of my life and out of my pocket!”, I say, see how far you get without roads, bridges, schools, water, sewer, fire and police forces, courts, public transit, public parks, libraries, and the like. To those who say (as I also heard recently) “I was raised that if you see something that needs to be done you just do it. No whining. No waiting for government. You just do it.” I have a few questions. Does that include paving a pothole? Educating a neighbor with special needs? Making books available to children and adults doing research? Building an extension to a road or transit system? Ensuring that the air and waterways are not polluted? Providing shelter, health care and other safety net supports for people in need? Making sure that everyone does their part to avert a climate disaster? You get my point. As a tax payer, I’m getting a pretty good deal for what I pay. It would take more than 80 years of paying our property taxes to exceed just the cost of educating three sons in private schools!
Having attended a community MLK Day celebration and listened to several radio programs today, I’m more convinced than ever that we’re missing the point about the meaning of Dr. King.
One student, to his credit, spoke of Dr. King’s opposition to discrimination and linked that to what he saw as injustice in our present day health care system. No one should be discriminated against – and everyone has a right to access health care. Right on! This young man got the point. But, sadly, he’s the only young person I heard today who spoke of justice or attempted to connect Dr. King’s legacy to current day justice issues. I heard several other middle and high school students say things like, “No one wanted to resist Jim Crow until Dr. King gave them inspiration,” or “He opened the doors for hope and then people walked through.”
Check out this article by the Kirwan Institute at Ohio State University about applying systems thinking to race equity work. It is a great overview of how important it is to think about race, racism and undoing racism systematically. Otherewise, we run the risk of reinforcing the very thing we are trying to undo, or even making things worse!
You know what they say—the glass is either half full or half empty, depending on your perspective. Well, I say it’s both! And the empty part has a residue, splashed up from the full part of the glass, so it’s not completely empty after all. All of this comes to mind as I mark the 10th anniversary since I was in a car accident that left me with permanent, chronic pain. This is the first time I’ve thought about how to mark the occasion. On one hand, there’s cause for great celebration. I’m alive and so are the two of my three sons who were with me that day. My husband has not spent the last ten years raising our youngest son alone. Hallelujah! The accident paved the way for us to buy a home and move our kids from three school systems into one. That’s been good for us all! And, I’ve had to adjust my understanding of what I’m physically capable of doing. That’s where the half-empty part starts to matter.
The American economy wasn’t created in a race-blind way and the current recession isn’t race-blind in its impacts. It stands to reason, then, that we won’t get out of the current recession fairly without paying attention to the impact of race as we create solutions.
Listen to this summary of an Applied Research Center report on the issues of race, recession, and recovery.
I’ve never been much of a feminist. In the crucible of my political coming of age, I internalized a strong message. I could either be a ‘race woman,’ devoting myself to improving the conditions of black people, or I could ally myself with bourgeois white feminists. There were no other choices, and clearly only one was acceptable. A small group of female African American seminary students was working out a ‘wymist’ theory that took gender, race and poverty seriously but I didn’t take them seriously at the time. I constructed my identity primarily around race. Like many African American women who’ve played a prominent role in the struggle for freedom and justice, I would advocate for the community as a whole—no particular emphasis on women. Focusing on women, and especially highlighting sexism and misogyny within the black community, was an especially hard row that I didn’t want to hoe.
As a black woman in America, I know a lot about racism and white privilege. I am aware of privileges I enjoy by way of other aspects of my identity—education (graduate level), language (‘standard English’ speaker), able-bodiedness (relatively, speaking), citizenship (American). I’ve always fashioned my sense of Americanness after DuBois’s notion of ‘two-ness.’ I am black in America. That makes me American, but it makes me a “other” American who is set apart from Americanness because so much of Americanness means whiteness. When the attacks of September 11th happened, I didn’t feel like part of the “us” that was under attack. This is my country, but not completely, down to the core of my being.
Even so, I recognize certain things that are very American about me. Take my general stance that most things can be changed; that with enough energy, resources, brainpower, commitment “it can be done.” I recognize that point of view as a privilege that not everyone can partake.
I recognize the privilege of holding that little blue passport in the context of international travel. And, I know I have the privilege of freedom from scrutiny and discrimination in civic and economic processes like registering to vote or applying for a job, loan, or college.
But, there’s an even more basic privilege that I rarely consider. I carry shame and grief at the realization that I have done precious little to leverage or neutralize it. My American lifestyle and the privileges I enjoy are a direct function of genocide. On one level I’ve always known this. There were people here before the European settlers arrived. The Mashpee Wampanoag’s even helped some of them survive and learn to live here. And their repayment? Near obliteration and more than 350 years before the U.S. government would deign to recognize them as an official tribe. The unmitigated gall!
I’m ashamed of my smug progressive stance. Of course Native peoples have been oppressed and I call Columbus Day a Day of Mourning. Yet, I know so little of the history and I’ve been so unengaged in the struggle for justice for Native peoples. I’m only getting outraged in a very visceral way as I ingest spoonfuls of history. (Thanks PBS for “We Shall Remain“!) And, just as I’ve been told white people sometimes feel when they first really confront the reality of their privilege, I’m unsure what to do with the outrage and how to live inside the reality that every day my life is made possible by what has been taken from other people. It’s one thing to understand it in the abstract—to know that we’d need four planets for the entire world population to live the way we do. It’s another to know I that literally grew up on land in Massachusetts that was taken by force from people who initially acted in compassion and good faith. And that was repeated “from sea to shining sea.” And, now we’re back to the two-ness. The people who did that were not my people. And, yet, what they did accrues to my benefit daily.