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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Let Us Not Stand Silent

Jessica Vazquez Torres, Core Organizer Trainer

A native of Puerto Rico, Jessica Vazquez Torres identifies as a “1.5 generation Queer ESL Latina of Puerto Rican descent.” She works as a consultant and core/organizer trainer for Crossroads. Jessica holds a BA in Criminal Justice and Masters degrees in Theological Studies and Divinity. She lives in GA with her spouse and two Shih-Tzu’s.

Bearing the weight of truth that challenges human assumptions is something Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did well.  If the photos and grainy videos show the whole story, he was a man who could stand in the face of great and difficult problems with aplomb, and speak with passionate certainty about grim reality and hope.

In the United States we have done Dr. King a great disservice by imprisoning him to one speech, a marvelous and uplifting speech about a dream, but nonetheless one that obfuscates his evolution as a nonviolent resister and thinker.

Exactly one year before his assassination, April 4, 1967, from the pulpit of Riverside Church in New York, Dr. King spoke at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam calling for an end to the war and articulating the implications of failing to take such a bold step. He titled his remarks, A Time to Break Silence.”

Dr. King’s journey to this powerful speech was a difficult one.  The movement he was leading appeared to be unraveling. There was tension and dissent among the ranks over whether or not the struggle for African-American civil and economic rights should be connected to the struggle to end U.S. military operations in Vietnam.

Close allies like Whitney Young were concerned that to take on Vietnam was to jeopardize all the work they had done on behalf of African-Americans.  Younger movement leaders like Stokely Carmichael were also challenging the core principles of the civil rights movement as articulated by King.  In their frustration at the slow pace of change, significant members of the younger generation of civil right organizers and revolutionaries were abandoning the idea that non-violence could bring change.  While chanting “Black Power,” Carmichael and other emerging civil rights leaders were calling for armed confrontation of racist Whites, the use of violence when necessary, and Black separatism.

Those concerned with preserving the focus of the civil rights movement of issues of race primarily and class secondarily, pleaded with Dr. King to remain silent.  Those concerned with the disproportionate drafting and loss of African-American men in the war and the U.S. efforts to disrupt the movement for self-determination in Vietnam pleaded with Dr. King to speak.

In between these two pulls Dr. King struggled until the harrowing images from Vietnam, the piled bodies of U.S. soldiers and Vietnamese women and children, and the obvious links between war, poverty, and racism could not be avoided anymore. Early in his speech at Riverside Church King offers this confession, “Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart.”[1] He then follows this acknowledgment with a powerful and urgent plea for the soul of his nation.

We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.  Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message — of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.”[2]

No longer able to ignore the links between war, poverty and racism nor the movement of the Spirit of the God in whom he believed, King begins to push the civil rights movement in a radically different direction.  Resting in his conviction that the Creator desired a reordering of society, King challenged his nation and those gathered at Riverside Church to find the moral courage to make a choice: These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.”[3]

Dr. King knew that when he linked the struggle for civil rights with the struggles against poverty and war, he would bring discomfort into his life.  He knew that when he began to name the unholy trinity of U.S. materialism, militarism, and systemic racism people would resist.  But he also knew there was no alternative.  He knew that for freedom to ring in every mountain, valley, and corner of his beloved nation, he had to link these social sins.  And so must we.

The dream of Dr. King we love to cite will remain an elusive fantasy until we too link systemic racism with corporate greed, militarism, and the rampant materialism of our times.  In the last month alone our congress has acted not to extend unemployment benefits for millions of Americans while also ensuring corporations can continue to profit as the poor and vulnerable struggle.  Homeless shelters are filled with women, children, and men.  Those seeking jobs have stopped searching, resigning themselves to permanent unemployed status which means they are of no account.  Our public school systems are failing to educate the poorest and criminalizing those who fail to conform to our common core curriculums.  Our prisons are filled to the brim with non-violent offenders who are not being rehabilitated while the companies that own the prisons revive de-facto forms of Jim Crow.   And all along the stock market thrives.

Bringing about, working toward, honoring the dream of Dr. King demands that we see the connections linking systemic forms of oppression.  It demands that we speak out when it is unpopular; that we take stands not just on matters of racial discrimination but against xenophobic and homophobic legislation as well as the military and prison industrial complexes that destroy life.

Do we have it in us to speak? Do we have it in us to protest? Do we have it in us to raise our collective voice to speak out against systemic forms of oppressions like racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism, just to name a few, especially when part of speaking out is naming our complicity in this social ills and oppressions?

Dr. King said toward the beginning of this powerful speech, “the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony[4] because “the human spirit [moves with] great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty.”[5]

Let us not be mesmerized by the conundrums we face.  At stake is the soul of this nation. Let us not stand silent.

[1] Martin Luther King and James Melvin Washington, I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World ([San Francisco]: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), page 136.

[2] Ibid, page 151.

[3] Ibid, page 153.

[4] Ibid, page 136.

[5] Ibid, page 136.

Analyzing & Understanding Crossroads: An Introduction to Systemic Antiracism by Robette Dias

Robette has been Executive Co-Director and a Core Organizer/Trainer since 2002. Prior to that she was an antiracism program coordinator for the Unitarian Universalist Association’s (UUA) Faith In Action Department, providing training, technical support and advocacy for the Journey Toward Wholeness antiracism initiative. As a Karuk Indian, Robette brings a specifically indigenous perspective to antiracism organizing. She is a founding member and past president of Diverse & Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM), the continental support and advocacy organization for UUA People of Color. She is currently Board President of Oyate, a Native American resource and advocacy organization.

Readers who have recently attended a Crossroads “Analysis Workshop” may recognize the title of this post as a riff on the name of that workshop. If people know anything about Crossroads its usually that we do workshops that teach people about racism. And it’s true, we pride ourselves on our ability to break down racism with razor sharp, laser directed and sometimes mind-blowing presentations AND we do so much more than that! The challenge of living in a world that invites a power analysis of racism at every turn is that you can’t just switch it off! Because we encounter racial injustice and racial disparities around every corner, we are highly motivated to apply that analysis and work with “institutional perpetrators” to find solutions that will lead to social transformation. Well, that was a pretty heady mouthful! What does that mean?

Who IS the real Crossroads then?

The Crossroads of today has to be understood in the context of our origins.  We are still that Crossroads of 1986 AND we are also an evolving, complex, and transforming Crossroads. Launching the Crossroads blog on the week in which we remember the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is quite intentional. It is a nod of gratitude to the Crossroads founders who participated in the Civil Rights Movement and who wanted to make sure the Movement was kept alive in religious communities. We continue to be inspired by the life-long commitments to racial justice of our founders and the early builders of Crossroads Ministry: Joe Barndt, Susan Birkelo, Susan and Chuck Ruehle, Victor Rodriguez, and Melvin Hoover. They are the foundation of Crossroads and they opened the space from which the Crossroads of today emerges.

Sometimes that space has been contested space, make no mistake. It wasn’t easy transitioning from an organization with a strong Civil Rights identity and orientation to an organization focused on racial justice more broadly. We are clear that People of Color continue to struggle for civil rights and equal access and control of the public institutions in the United States, but we are also clear that racial justice includes the sovereignty movements of Indigenous Peoples, and the anti-colonial movements of People of Color under direct and neo-colonial domination by the US. We know that racial justice has to be tied to revolutionizing our economic system because the exploitation of People of Color and poor White People is what fuels U.S. capitalism.

It also wasn’t easy transitioning from our Protestant Christian origins. Christianity, the way our founders understand it, is the path to restoring a human family deeply divided by racism and other systems of oppression.  The diversity of spiritual and humanist traditions that exist in Crossroads today share a similar ethos, and may express it in radically different ways. It is not just a divide in the human family needing restoration, but the alienation from creation as the source of all life (which some may refer to as the Sacred or Spirit) that needs to be healed.

The guiding principle transforming Crossroads today is accountability to People of Color. It manifests in our current leadership: five Women of Color and one White Woman comprise the salaried and contract staff of Crossroads, our board is 75% People of Color, 40% of our 23 contract organizer/trainers are People of Color.  More than a numbers game (as some of our trainers remind us, the plantation was a diverse workplace too), accountability to People of Color has led us to articulate a radically inclusive power analysis of racism and to invest in what we call Regional Organizing. That is, institutional organizing grounded in geographically identified communities in order to be in direct relationship with the Communities of Color for whom racism is a life and death reality.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Creating this blog is a commitment to transparency and nurturing the Crossroads learning community. It’s an invitation to Analyzing & Understanding racism today and exploring Antiracist Interventions. Clear, deep analysis of the power dynamics of white supremacy has always been key to successful, effective resistance. Analyzing & Understanding racism today is as important as ever. There are more ways to criminalize and exploit People of Color now that at any other time in our country’s history.

  • More Men of Color are incarcerated now than were ever enslaved by the institution of Chattel Slavery and under Jim Crow. There are more Black and Brown men in prison than in college, and with the expansion of the criminal industrial complex and privatization of prisons, a large and profitable sector of the US economy thrives while Communities of Color are decimated.
  • The US economy is sustained by the labor of undocumented workers. The deportation of those workers, which is higher than ever, is tearing apart families and lives.
  • American Indian families opposing the adoption of their children by non-Indians have been arrested for obstruction of justice, contempt of court, even kidnapping. Indian families are expected to stand by and watch as state troopers remove their children from their homes. Meanwhile, non-Indian men who rape Indian women go unpunished and walk free to perpetrate their crimes with impunity due to issues of convoluted legal jurisdictions.
  • Past racial justice accomplishments are being gutted: everything from voting rights to affirmative action.
  • Even the growing wealth divide is highly racialized and highly gendered. At the prime age of income potential, Women of Color continue to have negative wealth while their White sisters median is $42,000.
  • Racialized health disparities continue to manifest while study after study confirm racism is bad for the health of People of Color.

Yes, the work of antiracism, the work of Crossroads is needed now more than ever! So…I invite you. Read the blog; get to know us more deeply, get to know about racism and antiracism in all its complexity. Apply the Analysis and let us hear from you!