How I Became a Critical Apologist for Antiracism?

Jo Ann Mundy is one of two co- Executive Directors of ERAC/Ce (Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality), and a Core Organizer-Trainer for Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training, a national partner working collaboratively with ERAC/Ce toward the institutionalization of racial justice in public and private institutions throughout southwest Michigan. Currently Jo Ann serves on the boards of Crossroads and the People’s Food Coop. As a founder mentor of the NIA Project, Jo Ann encourages the celebration of identity, purpose and sisterhood in adolescent women of color. Additionally, Jo Ann is a founding member of the Three Rivers Area Faith Community (TRAFC), an ecumenical faith-based social justice network of churches striving to build a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-generational anti-racist faith community in Three Rivers, MI where she completed her doctoral thesis Sacred Actions to Bring Racial Reconciliation. Enjoying over 25 years of pastoral ministry, Jo Ann currently serves as pastor of On Common Ground of Three Rivers Michigan. Jo Ann enjoys reading, music, her guitars and computers and, most of all, the young people in her life.
Jo Ann Mundy is one of two co-Executive Directors of ERAC/Ce (Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality), and a Core Organizer-Trainer for Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training, a national partner working collaboratively with ERAC/Ce toward the institutionalization of racial justice in public and private institutions throughout southwest Michigan. Currently Jo Ann serves on the boards of Crossroads and the People’s Food Coop. As a founder mentor of the NIA Project, Jo Ann encourages the celebration of identity, purpose and sisterhood in adolescent women of color. Additionally, Jo Ann is a founding member of the Three Rivers Area Faith Community (TRAFC), an ecumenical faith-based social justice network of churches striving to build a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-generational anti-racist faith community in Three Rivers, MI where she completed her doctoral thesis Sacred Actions to Bring Racial Reconciliation. Enjoying over 25 years of pastoral ministry, Jo Ann currently serves as pastor of On Common Ground of Three Rivers Michigan. Jo Ann enjoys reading, music, her guitars and computers and, most of all, the young people in her life.

Several years ago when I began developing my antiracist organizing identity, I sometimes found it difficult to build relationships with other People of Color. I was always getting into my own way. One time I was tripping up attempting to build relationship with a Native American, another time I “stepped in a pile” with an Asian American, another time I was told by a Latina organizer, her community did not need my “help”. On another occasion, I was informed my willingness to speak-up for others felt abusive, and since I know myself to be particularly “helpful” this assessment caused me great pause.

As I began a season of self-reflection, I asked antiracism elders in our racial identity caucus why I seemed to be the recipient of disdain from other people of color groups. Here I was trying on my new antiracism identity, bringing my outsized, first-born, degreed self into the anti-oppression conversation and being met with cynicism and contempt. I began asking myself, “Why were so many not welcoming me with open arms?” “What could I do to be more effective?” my answer came swiftly: become a critical apologist. I recognize some may be unfamiliar with who are and what do apologists do so a bit of context is necessary before going any further. Literally, apologists were and are those people who take on the task of offering an argument in defense of something controversial or unpopular because they believe it to be true and misunderstood. In a myriad of ways, apologists give witness to their convictions by arguing, advocating, taking a stand, and sometimes embodying them. Critical apologists push their advocacy further by exposing the social conditions that make their bearing witness to an alternate narrative or to a counter cultural set of convictions necessary. This of course is my conception of what a critical apologist is and does but one that opened the way to stronger relationships with other people of color.

History is most often the best teacher. Many people of color groups – Asian American, Latinos/as, Native American, Arab and Middle Eastern – experience the dominant narrative of the US as existing in a Black/White racial paradigm. Our schools provide limited education with respect to the historic colonialization of the people of the Americas, South East Asia, and more recently the Middle East. Members of these communities know their own history and to be told their stories must be made to fit into the commonly understood Black/White racial paradigm of the United States is profoundly dehumanizing. Native Americans, Asian Americans and Latino/as are constantly experiencing their history, social and statistical reality as “insignificant” in the context of the United States in comparison to African-Americans. Even more recent African immigrants detest the ever-present assumption that they fit into the African-American narrative. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks of this in her TED Talk – the Danger of a Single Story. The hidden implication is power continues to be held by those who create and maintain “the story”, who tells the story and where and when the story gets told.

So, heeding the wise counsel of an Asian American woman, I learned to be a critical apologist. In claiming this identity I learned my way into the task of building solidarity across the chasms built by racism and its binary. As a critical apologist I give witness with my lips and my life to the countercultural conviction that together we are stronger. This has been the most liberating, empowering, grace-filled, and humanizing experience of my life.

LESSONS LEARNED

Photo by B. Jo Ann Mundy

Photo by B. Jo Ann Mundy

Demonstrating humility and respect matters. As a critical apologist I recognize that dehumanization all people of color experience as a result of racism and I acknowledge the power dynamics that minimize the stories of oppression of some while elevating the stories of others. I acknowledge this minimizing as morally wrong, and I commit to act in a way that demonstrates respect for the individual stories and histories of other people of color communities. And then, (if I’m on my game) I shut up and listen. I demonstrate respect by listening without interrupting, and certainly not arguing over details. I choose to show consideration for another point of view.

Learning to listen well is critical. We demonstrate “we are not know it all’s” and have something to learn. That our experience is not the only, chief, best, or fill in any other “comparative” analysis noun. When I am successful in this, I learn. I learn to appreciate the struggle of other communities. I learn we all have a story to tell. I learn we all have success and challenges. I learn even more effective ways and methods for disarming systemic and institutional racism, and dismantling structural oppression. And I learn to be a more effective critical apologist for the antiracism values around which we organize our work; cooperation & collaboration, in particular.

Photo by B. Jo Ann Mundy

Photo by B. Jo Ann Mundy

This way of demonstrating humility and respect through deep listening re-humanizes us and acknowledges the humanity of others. I find tender places in my heart, and the hearts of others. I allow myself to be touched by another and allow my soul to connect with the humanity of another. It builds deep empathy. This simple yet powerful act validates the other. Listening authenticates and affirms the humanity of the other, and in this way builds power.

Claiming our histories. In the telling and hearing of one another experiences and histories, we develop the potential to begin to see our collective interest and invite one another into our larger stories. In this way we can begin to gain a clearer and fuller perspective and focus our collective power. It is empowering to understand we are not alone in our struggle. Many, many others have experienced what we have experienced. Our particular stories are not the same, yet they are similar. As we understand we are not alone, we build power through aligning our efforts.

Building solidarity and inclusion is different from becoming an ally. Being an ally is based on what I can do for you, building solidarity is what we can do together creating ever widening circles of inclusion.

Acknowledges the complexity of structural oppression. The framework of the Black/White racial binary paradigm constricts us from understanding the fullness, dynamic and complexity of structural oppression. In order to be effective at dismantling racism, it is imperative that we understand the complexity of structural oppression. Minimizing and marginalizing the reality of the racist oppression experienced by those who are not African-American is like leaving out 3/5s of the construct and this will never lead us to effective solutions that challenge White supremacy!

SEEING THE CONNECTIONS

In my experience the social justice movement and individuals within it, have been harmed by the Black/White racial binary paradigm. So I will give witness to this countercultural conviction and I will offer a critical apologetic at every turn in order to make us all stronger together.

Unjust immigration polices are impacting more people than just Mexicans. Alarming deportation rates and the shattered families left in the wake of the popular immigration story is harming all of our communities. All of our communities are impacted by the notion that some people don’t belong here. We all have a stake in immigration reform.

“Stop and Frisk,” “Stand Your Ground,” and the Prison Industrial Complex are not just about Black bodies. All of us; Native Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and African-Americans experience the criminalization of our bodies. These laws and institutions are a threat to all of us.

The Black/White racial binary paradigm does not serve us individually, institutionally, or culturally. Rather it serves the dominant culture as one of the most efficient, disempowering and disorganizing processes. In my mind it is the most destructive of strategies. If we developed the capacity to hear the story of another, we will become more effective organizers.

 

 

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The Black-White Binary and the Model Minority Stereotype

The Reverend Laura Mariko Cheifetz serves as the Executive Director of Church & Public Relations at the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. She received her M.Div. from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, and her MBA from North Park University in Chicago. She is an ordained Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). She enjoys spending time with friends over food, exploring whichever region in which she happens to live, and still believes The Wire is the greatest television show in history.

The Reverend Laura Mariko Cheifetz serves as the Executive Director of Church & Public Relations at the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. She received her M.Div. from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, and her MBA from North Park University in Chicago. Laura has a chapter in the book “Streams Running Uphill.” She is an ordained Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). She enjoys spending time with friends over food, exploring whichever region in which she happens to live, and still believes The Wire is the greatest television show in history.

Whenever people who are not Asian American tell me I have lots of privilege, I would like that credit to go into my microaggression account. Thanks to my reality as a biracial Asian American woman in the U.S., the weight of microaggressions can sometimes overpower my usually healthy sense of self and place in the world, and I head into what I call my spiral of despair. I have to go read Asian American or Latin@ or Native American feminists to pull myself out of the emotional quagmire. I have to remind myself that I’m not alone.

I have the spent the past couple of months cycling between rage and indifference at Amy Chua, the co-author of The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America and the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I’ve been mad because I think her work does not deserve the attention it is getting. I’m mad because I think no amount of cultural gumption will ever overcome systemic discrimination based on race, class, and citizenship, but the latest book by Chua and her husband gives people reasons to overlook discrimination and accuse groups of people of not having the right cultural “stuff.”

But mostly I’m mad because I think what she has done is given more fodder to the model minority myth, driving a wedge between groups who could gain more by working together, but instead play right into the divide and conquer tactics practiced by the system of power and privilege we know as U.S. racism. This latest book just expands and makes more specific the number of groups who get deemed “superior” due to their culture.  And I should be clear I am mad at Amy Chua herself. Yes, AT her. Not at her husband. Because as a woman of color, I think she should know better.

Hello, Model Minority stereotyping. I haven’t been able to escape you since the 1960s.* Have you heard of this? This is one of racism’s finest achievements: the capacity to dupe everyone into thinking that certain minority racial or cultural groups are just inherently superior, regardless of the amount of structural racism facing those groups, and regardless of what the actual data show. This has been so successful that not only do white people often believe it—

“Oh, you Asian Americans are doing just fine. Look at how high your household income is!”

Implication: Racism is over for you!

Implication: You are just so much better than those other people of color, who won’t stop whining about their oppression. Let’s unite against other brown people, even though you’re never getting that promotion.

And the real success? People of color believe it! Too many Asian Americans are totally cool with the Model Minority stereotype:

“At least it’s a positive stereotype.” (I’ve actually had that conversation.)

So do other people of color:

“Asians.” (snort) “Privilege.”

“What we really need to focus on are the needs of African descendants.”

It’s true. When 18millionrising began and hosted a Twitter conversation using the hashtag @NotYourAsianSidekick, it opened the door for other Twitter users to begin posting using the hashtag #AsianPrivilege. Some of the Asian American participants didn’t help, and responded by lashing out against other communities.  While we people of color are in a corner busily accusing each other of having privilege, or being blatantly bigoted, or trying to explain how the data obscure the realities of racism and discrimination, the system of racism that privileges white people is having a party in the middle of the room. This, my friends, is not the Olympics. The only winner is the system.

What the black-white binary does is limit the conversation, narrows our analytical lens, and leads to an incomplete organizing strategy. The Model Minority Myth plays into this binary by marginalizing the fastest-growing racial group from the discussion, and isolates distinct communities of people of color from one another. That’s right: Asian Pacific Americans aren’t black. (I have been accused of not being black. It’s true. I’m not.) And by not being black, we are divided from our African-descent brothers and sisters. The binary and the Myth mean the organizing power of people of color is divided, and we end up primarily relating with white people instead of with one another.

This is exhausting.

I feel exhausted, because now I have the sense that I need to go through an actual data breakdown to prove that Asian Americans should be in this conversation, along with Latin@s and Native Americans. I would like to walk away from this conversation, but I won’t. If I walk away, the system wins again.

So instead of playing into the black-white binary, let’s try something else. Let’s try learning one another’s stories. Instead of comparing our puny pieces of the American story, or the amount of visibility or power or economic influence we have, let’s take a step back to look at the whole picture. Let’s try to determine how we add our collective power and stories together to fight a dehumanizing and bloodthirsty system. Let’s figure out what Native American sovereignty has in common with immigration and criminal justice reform.

* In the 1960s, the narrative emerged that certain immigrant and other minority groups, primarily Asian Americans, were doing great, over and against other distinct communities of people of color.