This post is a little ramble-y I warn you in advance. I kinda switch themes and points throughout, but rather than trying to fix it, I am going to leave it as is. I hope that it illustrates my point of how it feels to always have one portion of myself emphasized and another shunned. It is nothing nice to feel like a metaphysical dilemma, and turns out it isn't easy to write out either.
Last week I shared a post with you about my metaphysical dilemma of rarely being what people expect when they meet me. While this has made for many an awkward moment, it is not the only time I feel like a metaphysical dilemma. There have been many posts written about this, but it has been weighing on my heart, so I have decided to add my two cents, even if its only worth exactly that.
Can I be really honest and tell you that as much as I love conferences, I enter them with a certain level of fear and trepidation? My fear is not that I will experience an overt act of racism. I have no fears that I will be stopped at the door or rejected. I have no fears that someone will say or do anything unkind. My fear is not at all physical. Rather I fear the number of ways I will feel devalued, unimportant, sidelined, monolithic, or invisible. I never fear that I will standout. I fear that I will never be seen at all.
It is really hard to walk into women conferences when I know there will be few (if any) women of color on stage. There are many things women experience in similar fashion. I truly enjoy talking about relationships and body image and calling and marriage and even kids (thought I don't have any). I enjoy the sense of camaraderie, the sense of knowing that can transpire within a room full of strangers. It is a profound experience, but it is also one that is too often limited. There are so many cultural nuances, even within these topics that never get spoken because there isn't anyone present to say, "the way you describe this experience is based on a cultural norm not experienced by everyone". While I realize it is impossible to cover every culture in existence, it would be so nice to see a diverse group of women represented from various socioeconomic backgrounds valued as speakers, contributors, experts whose stories and wisdom are valuable for everyone in the room. Conference planners clearly expect women of color will have something to gain from white women (and its true), but why is it not assumed women of color can also contribute greatly to the lives of white women?
Not only this, but I believe I have much to learn from other women of color. I love seeing black women represented on stage, but I have so much to learn from my Asian sisters, my Latino sisters, my First Nations sisters and so many others. I have much to learn from their history, their theology, their success and failures. I have much to learn from their languages and customs and celebrations. I have much to learn about things we absolutely have in common and things that will blow my mind. I want to hear from all woman. I don't want women of color to be a checkmark on a list. I want women of color to be pursued, chased, overtaken because we all must sit at their feet and learn. I want us to believe God can and will speak to our hearts through them.
While I appreciate the small steps women conferences are taking to make sure that the line-up isn't all white, it is not uncommon to feel like I need to leave my blackness in the hotel room. It is indeed a metaphysical dilemma. I am both black and woman- both- all the time. Hard as I try, I cannot separate the two. I am sure I will not be able to adequately explain this, but if I cannot be fully black in white spaces, somehow my womanhood is also not fully represented in that same space.
It is not just women conferences where I feel like a metaphysical dilemma. I often feel it at justice themed conferences, too. You may not have noticed, but these conferences have a tendency to be dominated by men. I have found that it is not at all uncommon to find justice conferences perfectly willing to proclaim the equality of potential, value, and role of every human soul before God when talking about color but use an asterisk as a provision to exempt women from that statement.
Justice conferences seem enamored with people of color, but sometimes only as products to be saved rather then experts to employ. The rhetoric of these conference has gotten so good at proclaiming the innate value of the marginalized, and yet seem to stumble through finding speakers from multiple walks of life.
Let me tell you, its also really demoralizing to see more faces that look like mine on posters of sponsored children than in the speaker line-up. I am grateful for the desire to see women and girls around the world receive a great education. I am grateful for the energy being given to end the trafficking of women and girls. I am grateful for all the efforts worldwide to make sure that women and girls reach their full potential. it would also be nice to be considered an invaluable and necessary resource, a leader, a must have expert, a needed voice on the stage. I realize that conferences only make their money by employing famous names, famous authors, and famous pastors. Really I do, but this reality of wealth does nothing to ease my dilemma of not being fully represented.
Its all very confusing folks. In one arena my womanhood is proof that I cam called by God to be a leader, but my color is not considered an important part of that calling. On the other, God wouldn't hesitate to use my color and culture to proclaim his Kingdom but my vagina is a definitive boundary of my leadership potential. Feeling like a metaphysical dilemma is wearying.
I want to give space to say that there are conferences at varying levels of getting this right, and believe me, the ones I trust, I attend faithfully. Yet these feel more like exceptions than the rule.
If it is at all inspiring to planners, please let me say that I want to be a full member of your conference. I want give my money to register. I want to meet lots of new people. I want to make purchases at your resource tables. I want to travel and experience the locations you choose. But I also want to bring my full self. The last place I should feel like a metaphysical dilemma is surround by my brothers and sisters in Christ in a space where we all are supposed to leave with notebooks full of revelations. Too often I find myself seeking friends and mentors who will offset the discomfort of not being fully known, fully valued as women of color. Too often we huddled in corners and hotel rooms and lunch counters dissecting, retranslating and making applications that will fit our full selves. How wonderful would it be to gain all this during the conference, rather than need therapy after?!