Workshop invites people to open conversations, hear each other's stories
Composer, author and cultural consultant Ana Hernández facilitated a Dec. 1 workshop on "Healing Racism: Multicultural Responses in a Local Context" at Spokane's Episcopal Cathedral of St. John. It drew participants from several western states.
Other workshop leaders were Eric Metoyer, associate for congregational ministries and liaison to multicultural ministries with the Episcopal Diocese of California in San Francisco, and Monica Whitaker, rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Sedona, Ariz., and former secretary for the Asian Commission of the Diocese of California.
The workshop was designed to build listening skills to help dismantle racism by inviting people into cross-cultural awareness and conversations.
After leading some group chanting, Ana spoke of the need to resolve dissonances and consonances.
"Beautiful voices are different but better in concert," she said. "When we hit dissonance, something has to move for the sound to become consonant. I have to move."
Ana said four hosting skills help create meaningful conversations
• "We need to be aware of how we converse with ourselves.
• "We need to listen deeply to connect and communicate on the personal level.
• "We need to practice life in common and hear each other's stories to change a community.
• "We need co-creating, not hero-based leadership. Paying attention to the community, we need to work with others to co-create the future.
Being present, listening, hearing stories and being co-creators are tools to help people overcome racism in one-to-one relationships.
"The amount of energy we put into building relationships influences how sustainable they are," she said. "Institutions do what they are intended to do. If we believe, love and build relationships across all our lines of difference and we open gates to build transformative institutions, another world is possible and on its way."
Participants shared their cultural backgrounds. They self-identified as being Scottish from a multicultural area in Detroit, from an Irish Catholic family in Eastern Washington for 130 years, white from New England, a Polish-Italian-Puerto Rican mix, a British-Scottish-Irish-German-Dutch mix, a British-French-German-Native American mix and more. The lists of cultures showed a variety.
Eric said that just as people come from different cultures and bloodlines, they also come with biases and prejudices, so "intercultural conversation can put us in a vulnerable space about who we are."
Monica's mother who is third-generation Chinese-American, and her Anglo father, who was from Massachusetts, met at the University of Michigan.
"I am hapa—half white and half Chinese," she said, adding that she has learned that some in her family ancestry were probably slave traders, some came on the Mayflower and one baptized Pocahontas.
Recognizing that people are shaped by their national, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, Eric said: "I'm a child of the South from Northwest Louisiana. My father was French creole. I'm Irish Catholic, Black, with some Cherokee ancestors. I was raised in Northeast Vermont among Yankee dairy farmers. Some in my family were doctors and went to private schools in New England. I came to California and mixed with people from around the world. My son ate breakfast burritos, not oatmeal."
Eric said he has taught in Kenyan, Korean and Mexican cultures.
"We can learn about our cultures, our hopes and our fears," he said. "As we come to know each other, we hear stories about our cross-cultural selves.
Ana said such conversations build understanding, helping people "socialize into love," which, she said, "takes longer than we think. The work of love is painfully, beautifully slow, but we need to keep loving."
"With the rise of white supremacy, we may feel we lost gains made in the 1960s civil rights movement. If we feel that loss, we need to keep working until love grows stronger than hate," she said.
"Even though people in ignorance may hurt others, avoidance is not the option," she said. "We only learn about each other by being with each other.
"The hope is to educate ourselves to love, to continue conversations beyond our comfort zones to attain access to other cultures," Ana said. "Then we can be in solidarity and step back from tribalism to reconcile by participating in learning and healing.
"The more comfortable we are in our own skins, the more open we are to others," said Ana, observing that this time of struggle may be a time of transition—a time of birth.
"If we're in childbirth," Eric quoted Sikh activist Valerie Kaur, "Breathe! Push!"
"What we do in our community and in conversing with each other, listening across traditions, faith boundaries and cliques, is walking into Jesus' world," he suggested.
"I work in a diocesan office and know how institutions seek to perpetuate themselves, but I also know that by working together in institutions, we can change the world. We can influence institutions to invite others to change the institution and the world," he said.
That's how people of faith can help heal racism and recognize the "isms" that keep people out of institutions, Eric added.
Monica said church members may need to invite people to go out into the community as well as invite people in.
"We can be allies, acknowledging our privilege and authority, while standing with people who are marginalized and isolated," she said. "Working with institutions on issues, we can stand in solidarity with people. We can welcome people into leadership.
"We need each voice," she said. "We need to go sensitively, gently and humbly to be in solidarity with people without co-opting their cultural practices."
"Listening to stories changes us," said Ana, "so we can connect to the future that is emerging and be open to how we may change for the future."
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, January, 2019