For starters, in spite of some folks in the field referring to me as a woman of color, my embodied reality is that I am racially white. I am mixed Euro-American (mostly Finnish) and Ojibwe (my mom is a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community), and I move about the world with bucket loads of white privilege. I never know quite how to act when folks refer to me as a person of color as while I may see the world through indigenous eyes, those eyes are blue. Which is all to say that the views here are from an Anishinaabekwe, Euro-American, Small-Town Girl who believes in healing, forgiveness, and justice.
When it comes to the CCCC Kansas City incident, I find it difficult to speak with any ground firmly underneath me. I waver, I shift, I struggle now, as I struggled then, to hear all sides of the story and to know if there is a “right” answer amidst a sea of bad news. In the middle of our conversations on the CCCC Executive Committee about the location, in one breath I found myself saying things like “we have a failure of imagination! We need to support our colleagues of color no matter the cost!” and in the other breath saying things like “we can’t financially ruin our organization, not at this time when our voices and values need to be part of the civic conversation!” And still, I don’t know what the right decision was, and I don’t know if we made it.
What I do know is increasingly, since the elections of 2016, I find myself embroiled in tumultuous identity politics. These discussions often bring to light issues that we, as a field, need to engage with. Yet, our engagement with these discussions often leaves much to be desired. I find both an unwillingness to listen to views outside our own, as well an increasing us vs. them mentality whereby those who we don’t agree with are treated as ignorant at best, or made “dead to us” at worst. While this is happening on a national scale between conservatives and liberals, I see this playing out amongst folks within our field, folks who are arguably politically aligned and could form productive and powerful coalitions, yet amidst a national landscape where agency often feels futile, we target each other, or our organizations, or anything tangible to target. Which is not to say we shouldn’t have hard conversations, nor is it to say we all, individually and collectively, can’t do better. But it is to say we should pay attention to where we draw our battle lines.
In moments at CCCC Kansas City, I saw the best of us. I saw people bringing up their own hard truths, and I saw those with privilege listening, recalibrating, thinking through how to do better. These moments were refreshing and filled me with hope for our collective future. Yet at other moments, I saw the worst of us. I saw people refusing to listen, claiming the speaker was “just being difficult” or “likes to pick fights,” and I also saw good-hearted people drawing battle lines where, it seems, dialogue would have been the far more productive path. Yet, dialogue means we all need to do a better job listening. It means those of us living in white bodies, myself included, need to do a better job listening, but it also means we can’t keep slicing up our allies into smaller and smaller chunks, lest we cut them all out entirely.
I am often very thankful for growing up in a small rural town in Upper Michigan (my graduating class was a big one at 26 students), as it forced me to engage with people, and form coalitions with people, who I might not always 100% agree with. There were few of us, and those who couldn’t see the forest for the trees ran the risk of getting their car stuck in a snowbank with no one left to help push them out. I hope, as we move forward as a field, we continue to have hard conversations, we open our hearts to disagreement and dissent, all the while realizing we are in this together. Miigwetch.