What Can Solidarity Look Like Among People of Color? (Part 2)
In this episode of the Be the Bridge podcast, Latasha speaks with Andrea Smith, author and co-founder of INCITE! about solidarity among people of color, the consequences of colonialism in limiting our connectedness, the intersections of violence in gender and race, and what it might look like to reimagine a world where all people groups can thrive.
“People of color are not a monolithic group. We are very different with different cultural expressions and different lived experiences.” –Latasha Morrison
“We’re doing things to hurt each other. And if we recognize that as a starting ground and we make a political commitment to do otherwise, we say ‘I’m going to learn how to be different with you, I’m going to start to learn history, I’m going to start to receive critique that I’m hurting you.'” –Andrea Smith
“We must always be critical of not settling for what seems to be the best we can get, and instead say, ‘What’s the best governance system where we can all live that’s not dependent on some peoples’ death?'” –Andrea Smith
Andrea Smith is the coordinator of Evangelicals 4 Justice and board member of the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies. She is the co-editor with Mae Cannon of Evangelical Theologies of Liberation and Justice (IVP), and author of Unreconciled: From Racial Reconciliation to Racial Justice in Christian Evangelicalism (Duke), Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide; and editor of The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Nonprofit Industrial Complex. She is the co-founder of Incite: Women of Color Against Violence and the Boarding School Healing Project.
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The full episode transcript is below.
You’re listening to the Be the Bridge podcast with Latasha Morrison!
Latasha Morrison 0:12
I am so excited about our next guest! We met a few years back at an event at North Park University, and I think last year we met again at a conference hosted by Brenda Salter McNeil. So I love her work, and I was just telling her that everybody that I’m talking to is referencing her work. She is a brilliant mind, a leader, and a gift to the body. And her name is Andrea Smith! And so we’re gonna call her (for the sake of this podcast) Andy, she likes Andy. And so she is the coordinator of Evangelicals 4 Justice and a board member of the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies. She is the co-editor with Mae Elise Cannon of “Evangelical Theologies of Liberation and Justice” and an author at IVP [Intervarsity Press], author of “Unreconciled: From Racial Reconciliation to Racial Justice in Christian Evangelicalism.” She has another book called “Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide,” and [she is] the editor of “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex.” She is the co-founder of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, and the Boarding School Healing Project. Let’s welcome Andy Smith!
Wow, you are doing some incredible work! Talk about justice right here—you are like the epitome of what we talk about, with all the work you’re doing. From the Boarding School Healing Project—that’s like a whole nother conversation that I would love to have with you maybe at a later time—and then Women of Color Against Violence. You know, I was just listening to some of the instances of domestic violence and child abuse that are up right now because of the shelter in place [orders]. And a lot of us think of that as a place of safety, but for so many people it’s not. And so yeah, there’s so many things that I would want to talk to you about! But today we are talking about solidarity, and what that can look like among people of color—is that possible? And some of you may be listening to this and thinking like, “Well, I thought, oh, y’all get along. You know…y’all get along…” You know, it’s not true! We’re not a monolithic group. We are very different with different cultural expressions and different lived experiences. And we intersect differently. So I wanted to bring some voices on to really talk about this. Because, like I said, I don’t feel like we can heal what we conceal. And so we have to talk about these things and get them out in the open in order to forge a path forward. And so, Andy, could you tell the audience just a little bit about yourself in the work that you’re doing?
Andrea Smith 3:21
Sure. Well, I can just maybe speak to how I ended up in this situation. Now. So in my Christian journey I became a born again Christian when I was 16—Southern Baptist—very fundamentalist, and I still am sort of Baptist, but for some reason I was brought to Christ by my sister who was not politically conservative. So I didn’t, I got conservative theology, but it didn’t come with conservative politics. And that kind of led me to leading a slightly divided life, where my politics divided…separately from my theology. So I go to church, here are things, you know, but then on the side I would be involved in a lot of more radical organizing politics, particularly that for Native peoples and people of color, generally speaking. And the issue I’ve worked primarily around is violence against Native women and women of color. So I tended to have to be quiet about being a Christian in some circles, and then be quiet about my politics in other circles. And it was maybe 10 years ago, when Evangelicals 4 Justice formed, I started to find a place where I could bring the two together—where I could, I mean, it was always together in my head. Does that make sense? Like when I was doing organizing, my theology was always shaping how to do the work, but it wasn’t something I could easily vocalize without people saying, “What’s wrong with you?” So I finally found a group of people that I could bring the two together and talk about how our theology and politics could come together. And then in terms of issues around solidarity, that came through just a lot of trial and error…with the emphasis on error! So one example would be, I was one of the women of color caucus representatives for the National Women’s Studies Association, and they fired their only woman of color staff person Ruby Sales (people might be familiar with her.) And so we organized to basically protest that, and so we developed this coalition. I didn’t know what I was doing, I was very young…I kind of got stuck in the center of it when I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. So I learned a lot of lessons from those mistakes, but to make a long story short, we worked together when we were protesting NWSA, but after that, we said well let’s start our own association. And that association lasted for like a week before we just ended in a total smackdown, when we realized the only thing we had in common was being mad at white women—but we didn’t have any common political visions, and we were almost literally getting into physical smackdown, so that’s been my experience. I’ve been in so many smackdowns, like the United Nations, there was a literal smackdown between Indigenous peoples and Black people over the issue of reparations. As I remember, a Black sister saying we should have reparations in the form of land in the Americas, and Indigenous people said, (or one person said in particular) “You can have the mule, but the 40 acres are ours.” We’ve had a lot of I mean, in inside commerce, we had a big smackdown between Native peoples and Chicana feminists. So after that smackdown that’s when I learned we had to kind of rethink our strategy for solidarity.
Latasha Morrison 6:31
Right, right. Because if we don’t know each other’s story, you know, sometimes we skip over that whole Indigenous story, not realizing the land that we stand on and who it belongs to. And so I think that’s important, but I think a lot of the conflict (and why I wanted to have this story) because I’ve seen some of that happen in conversations. And then as I’m learning history, I’m like, “Wow, I had no idea,” you know, because we don’t learn this in school, you know? And so I think it’s important. What do you think solidarity could look like in this space of racial justice between Black and Indigenous people of color? Like, what could this look like? We know we’ll get to identifying some of the things that divide us. But what could solidarity look like?
Andrea Smith 7:26
Well, what I found, where solidarity most likely can happen is when you don’t presume to begin with. And actually you presume that we’re enemies. So INCITE! is the first project where I felt like we were actually able to have some solidarity, and we have some solidarity by learning my lessons from the NWSA walkout, saying let’s just not presume we actually get along. Let’s presume we don’t know each other’s histories—that we’re actually complicit in each other’s oppressions even, because we don’t know that. We’re doing things to hurt each other. Let’s recognize that that is our starting ground. And then if we recognize that as a starting ground and we make a political commitment to do otherwise, we say “I’m going to learn how to be different with you, I’m going to start to learn history, I’m going to start to receive critique that I’m hurting you.” That makes it easier to get through together because we’re not disappointed. I think a lot of people of color solidarity things break down because people come in thinking somebody’s gonna have your back, and when they don’t, you storm off. But if you go in there thinking, “They’re not going to have my back, but I’m going to intentionally try to create that.” And I don’t have your back…like I go in thinking I have your back but I really don’t, right? But I’m going in there open to learning how I can have your back and talk to you about how you can have my back. And then if you did that, then you at least have the sheer political commitment to that process. But you then have more patience when things break down because you’re not surprised, because the system is set up to [make us] complicit in each other’s oppression. So we shouldn’t feel like we’re horrible people. We know that we’re just doing what we’ve been programmed to do—what we’ve been set up to do. But we’ll try to do something different.
Latasha Morrison 9:10
You just said something profound. You said, “The system has set us up to be complicit in each other’s oppression.” And I think a lot of times we don’t understand how we are oppressing another group, or you know, how our ideologies oppress others. What history contributes to this divide when you say that? Like, we’re complicit in that, in what ways? Let’s name it and name some ways so that we can help people. So that we can begin to do the work on ourselves. So that way we can do the work together.
Andrea Smith 9:47
There’s numerous ways that I could say from…so take Native people, for instance. If you look at a lot of the court decisions where Native peoples were trying to prove that they should not be enslaved, a lot of the ways “Native” gets defined is as proving you’re not Black. Right? So legally, Indigenous identity gets created to be anti-Black. Right? That those have to be mutually exclusive categories. So it’s not a surprise, is it, that we would have anti-Blackness in Native communities? And as you know, we had slavery of Black people in some Native communities. But that didn’t just happen, right? That was set up for Native peoples to invest in the colonial project. So how do—Native peoples are kind of at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder—so how do you get by in that situation? Well, as many poor people [did], you join the military. So Native peoples are the most represented per capita in the US military, where we are killing racialized peoples everywhere, which is a tribute to people needing to leave their countries to come here as immigrants, right? So we are complicit in that process, too. Is that just because we were born that way? No! But that was set up by colonial conditions, that the [indistinguishable] Native peoples of being able to assist themselves.
Non-native peoples, I mean, how do people think they survived here? They think we would like some land, right? Or we want to invest in U.S. democracy, but we don’t think about, well, U.S. democracy cannot exist without Indigenous genocide. So we essentially are conditioned to want Indigenous genocide. Does that make sense? Not explicitly, but implicitly, in what our kind of desires for freedom look like. I feel the issue that happens is that when we think of oppression, we tend to equate that with being good. That somebody who’s oppressed is better. And so then, therefore, if somebody calls us out, we’re like, “You’re saying I’m a bad person.” No, being oppressed doesn’t make you a better person. It just makes you oppressed. So if we don’t equate being oppressed with a higher moral ground, right? Then I think there would just be less drama about saying like, “Look, this is just how the system has been set up. These are the logics in play. If I’m complicit in it, I’m not worse than anyone else” right? But the question is, do I want something else? Do I imagine something else? Who can I work together [with] to imagine something else and try to put that into play?
Latasha Morrison 12:25
Okay, that’s good. And so when we think about that history, you know, that divides us, one of the systems that I want to talk about is white supremacy and [how] the entanglement of that has hindered interconnection. What is some of that entanglement? You named a couple things, like as it relates to being Native, the way to prove to be Native was to be anti-Black. That is one thing that has caused the enslavement of Black bodies through participating in that system. What are some other ways, when you start thinking about even today, how white supremacy has entangled itself and hindered interconnection?
Andrea Smith 13:15
Well, I think the way that happens is that white supremacy doesn’t operate to the same logic, it operates to multiple logics. And the way those logics play out can impact the different groups at different times. Right? So to give one example, if we look at the kind of theories around anti-Blackness, what they tell us is that under white supremacy, it’s not just that you’re trying to aspire to whiteness, but you’re always running away from blackness. So, often our politics are geared toward proving that we’re not Black. Does that make sense? Like we’re more worthy than people who are in the category of “Black.” And who could get put in the category of Black could change over time and place, right? For instance, Maile Arvin speaks about how people in the Pacific were treated, that they were divided between Polynesians and Melanesians. And Melanesians were seen as in the category of blackness, that couldn’t be saved. But Polynesians were put in the category of closer to whiteness, so they could possibly be saved. But in any case, there’s always a group, the very bottom that you’re trying to kind of avoid. So therefore, that doesn’t just impact a group that’s put at the bottom, but you tend to have that logic within your group. So an example could be, well: Native peoples obviously, people who are Black and Native are often put at the very bottom. In the immigrant rights movement, we see an example of that, where there’s a movement that often focuses on supporting Dreamers, right? People who are “good” immigrants. But the political path is to say that we will support deporting criminalized immigrants, those who have a criminal record—but criminalization is another code for blackness, right? It’s basically saying, we won’t accept the immigrants that resemble blackness, we want the immigrants that are closer to whiteness. And so that ends up obviously hurting Black people. But it also creates a divide within your own community of which part of your community you can dispose of, so that the other part of your community can be free.
So these are just numerous examples. But also, when you look at that logic, we can see how when people are put into the category of being closer to whiteness, that doesn’t always operate the same for each group of people. And I think we’re seeing that now with COVID with all the anti-Asian racism going on. And people get confused, “Aren’t Asians supposed to be a model minority?” Well of course, that category itself is a problem because I think that’s the group that has the largest wealth divide, right? So a lot of people are not in that category or they don’t benefit from that category. But second of all, even those who are deemed model minorities—what is that saying? It’s saying you’re closer to whiteness. That whiteness might make you more accessible in some cases, but that proximity to whiteness is also what makes you dangerous. Right? It makes you a big enough threat, that you can be a permanent foreign threat to the wellbeing of empire. And that’s why we must be at constant war with you. So that’s why it’s always a recurring thing, from Japanese concentration camps to now, that COVID-19 is almost seen as an Asian war against empire, right? So I think Sora Han put it this way, she said, “The United States was not at war, the United States is war.” So that’s an example where the racializing logic is operating differently for different communities. So if you put everything in the same box, you may not see how things are different. And then we end up with a strategy that might be good for one group, but may not be good for another group. So that’s why I think it’s always important to look at: What are the distinct things going on at a particular moment? And then, What’s the appropriate strategy that we can figure out together that makes these links about how things are operating differently in different places?
Latasha Morrison 17:13
Wow. Yeah, that’s good. Whew! It’s complex. It’s so complex when we start looking at this, but I think these are healthy conversations to have. Because we, you know, as we talk about solidarity, as we talk about deconstructing, as we talk about unity—unity is not sameness. We understand that but we have to have these conversations because even as the face of America changes and shifts, it doesn’t mean that the impact of a racialized society is really changing and shifting. So it’s important to have these conversations. What is the elephant in the room that we typically talk around? As we’re talking about these conversations, you hit a lot of them like already. But what are some other elephant-type you know, situations? Because one of the things with Be the Bridge, our mascot which has no name, is like an elephant. You know, it’s kind of like, you cannot ignore the elephant in the room! We have to talk about—and we consider the elephant in the room—historical context, you know. And so we cannot ignore that. What are some things we typically talk around that we need to bring more understanding around and have some honest conversations around related to this?
Andrea Smith 18:34
Well, there’s just so many things. I think I mentioned some of them. I think we have to address anti-Blackness in all communities of color, and how that also is a necessity to colorism. I think we have to talk about kind of our complicity in Indigenous genocide and our non-questioning of U.S. democracy as the end goal. Like I think from a Christian perspective, we should never be invested in one particular governance system. We’re invested in a heavenly kingdom, whatever word you might want to use. And that means we must always be critical of not settling for what seems to be the best we can get, and instead saying, “What’s the best governance system where we can all live that’s not dependent on some peoples’ death?”
I think also, we just need to also be mindful of intersections with other issues like gender. I see this a lot in evangelical circles. Like now, there’s occasional talk about gender, but it’s always white women representing gender. It’s always men representing race. And there’s a lot of things that happen to women of color, like different kinds of racism that are also gendered that we just don’t see. Like when we talk about domestic violence…domestic violence isn’t just about gender, it’s also a racial issue, because it is through gender violence that racism is successful. Right? If you look at the history of Native peoples, I mean, the problem with the colonial project was that many Native communities were not hierarchical and they weren’t patriarchal. So they had no reason to accept colonial domination. And that’s why colonists insisted on instilling patriarchy in Native communities: because they basically said, you know, until Native men treat Native women the way white men treat white women, they’re not going to accept these kind of hierarchies. So I think bringing patriarchy into communities of color is a way of naturalized domination, generally speaking. So I don’t think we can do a “solve one problem and solve the other problem” like you can’t end racism without ending sexism.
Another example I think, would be disability. We often don’t think about whether or not our events are accessible or not, but disability is even bigger than that. I mean, if you look at the kind of reasons to justify both racism and sexism, it’s usually disability. Right? “People of color are feeble minded. People of color are insane.” Does that make sense? But what we do is instead of saying, “Well, why would you treat somebody with the developmental disability as less than human?” Instead, we try to prove that we’re not developmentally disabled. Right? Instead of saying, “Well people who are not neurotypical should still be treated with respect!” We try to say, “No, we’re not crazy.” Right? So we basically throw people with disabilities under the bus to prove that our communities are okay, rather than accepting that there’s not one normative mind or body that should be treated with respect. But rather, we all [deserve] respect regardless of how our mind and body is. So these are just a few kind of examples of things I think we don’t address that we should. But I think the overall I say matrix, is that it’s less of like, do we cover this issue? It’s more I would say, let’s just accept that none of us got through 500 years of settler colonialist white supremacy shenanigans, without being extremely messed up. So let’s just know we’re messed up! And then what is the process by which we can easily get new information to change, when we’re messed up? And it will come from new areas that I can’t even imagine now. There’s something really ridiculous I’m doing now that I have no idea about, that I’m going to learn about…but how do I—what is the political practice I have in my organizations and in myself, such that when the information comes, I’ll be able to hear it quickly? And change as needed.
Latasha Morrison 22:22
Wow, that…you…well, that was a lot. That was a lot! That was the elephant in the room for real. I mean, but that just gives us so much to think about, even in a broader perspective. That’s so good. And so key, you know. In order to end this, we have to end gender violence too. Yes. Whew! I tell you. Now, when we think about—we just talked about you know, we do believe that solidarity is possible, and how we have to have…some of the steps that we can take. What are some steps that you’ve seen that have worked as it relates to moving us more toward an interconnected relationship? What are some things that you’re doing, personally with some of the organizations you’re working with? And what steps have you seen to be successful in this work?
Andrea Smith 23:20
What I found was successful, was it helps when we kind of collectivize this work rather than individualize it. So for instance, you often see a lot of things…I see it more and more popular in Christian circles about privilege. And everyone goes to confess their privilege, right? And I find it very annoying, because I find what it basically ends up doing is centering the person with privilege, because it’s all about their self-reflection. So let’s say it’s a white person talking about white privilege. They end up being the center of self-reflection, and people of color are the foil by which they self-reflect. So I find that this privilege stuff is supposed to be anti-racist but I think it actually ends up centering whatever else is being (whether it’s gender, whatever else) put at the center. So I find that also just creates a lot of people getting anxious all the time because they’re like, “Oh my god, I wish I didn’t have any privilege so I didn’t have to confess anything, and so I could go point my finger at everyone else who doesn’t have privilege.” Because we start to create a kind of moral authority, like whoever has less privilege has more moral authority. So it ends up I think, being counterproductive.
So what I found helpful is that we start to think of privilege collectively. So rather than everyone considering their individual privilege, we look in the group and we say like, “Okay, in this group who’s getting invited to speak? Is it only the people with a college education? Who are the peoples who are being associated? Whose name is always out there? Who can actually attend the meetings, like are we setting up meetings so that some people can never get there?” Right. So what are we doing collectively, that’s allowing some voices to have more of a role than others? And then, what can we collectively do to change that? Like so maybe if there’s one person who always gets invited to speak, maybe they always invite somebody else who’s lesser well known to speak with them, so that person becomes well known. And we always trade this off. Do we have a training program where people who maybe have public speaking skills are training everyone else? Everyone is comfortable public speaking, everyone can do it. So what practices are we putting in place to reverse this hierarchy of who is getting more in the group or having more power than others? I find that creates—that allows people to be less anxious because they’re feeling less like, “Oh, I’m bad because I have privilege,” and more, okay, let’s work together and change stuff, right? So if you feel more empowered, like you feel like “Hey, this is a cool thing. We’re going to build a stronger group because we’re going to change the structure and let everyone have a voice.” And it’s not going to be that I have less of a voice so that other people have a voice. It’s more, we’re all going to have a voice! We’re all going to work together and really kind of make this a thing where we can all shine. So I find that helpful. And then also I find it helpful when we institutionalize self-critique. Because I think what happens—I know for instance, Tasha, have you ever organized a conference and everybody hates you afterwards? You know, you do an event with your blood, sweat, and tears, you’re going to have a nervous breakdown and everybody’s yelling at you and you’re like “We’re never doing this again.”
Latasha Morrison 25:35
I feel you!
Andrea Smith 26:42
So the thing is, how can we get this thing so it doesn’t feel so crushing? And I feel because it feels crushing, then it’s harder to actually change. It’s hard to even just to…is it true or not? Maybe everything’s true and I suck and I’m the human being who can’t do anything good ever again. So it’s like, how do we create a structure that we can hear the critique well? So I find it helpful you institutionalize it. So like, in some groups I’ve been in we’ve had a situation where like, maybe two times a year or three times a year, we would look at, what’s an issue where we think we’re just not doing well? Like we’re getting feedback that we’re bad on this issue, and we need to do something differently. So we would like pick that issue, and then say, “Okay, what do we need? What do we know? For instance, where’s our collective knowledge? And what do we not know? Like, what are our questions? What, what is confusing to us?” And then once we have that, okay, well, “How can we get information? Like, who should we connect with? Who can we talk to? What books should we read? What should we check out?” Then we kind of come back and say, “What have we learned? What is the collective knowledge that we’ve gained? Based on that, well, what do we need to change? What will we change structurally to address the new information that we’ve learned?” And then that just makes it easier to address critique because it feels less personal and feels like, here’s a place where it could go, right? “Was this conference not accessible? Okay, we need to work on disability justice, we’re going to make this our project. We’re going to do better.” And then it feels less crushing, and more actually like opportunity, right? So it’s like now we have an opportunity to do something better in the future. So that’s kind of how I see it as an overall framework, how that becomes more—it becomes easier to learn from our mistakes and, you know, continue on.
Latasha Morrison 28:35
Yeah, and that’s exactly why Be the Bridge will not be sponsoring a conference! We’ll just go to everyone else’s conference, we’ll host conversations, but not a conference. Because I know how that can be, just trying to balance the tension of so many things, you know! When we think about restorative justice, what are some things that could be restorative in how we approach the healing process? Like as it relates to Black people, Native people, Asian American people, what are some things that can be restorative in how we approach this healing process?
Andrea Smith 29:19
Well, I operate from more of a transformative justice framework. So transformative justice kind of emerged, well emerged from many different strands, but part of it was a little bit of a tweak of restorative justice. The important things of restorative justice was that if there’s kind of a crime, it’s not just between two individuals, but there’s been a larger community breakdown that needs to be addressed. And the way to address harm is, you don’t kick somebody out of that community, right? That makes it less likely that person can be a good person in that community. So you want to keep them in the community, but you need to have the community involved in addressing the harm that’s created. But the transformative justice framework says that’s good and all, but that can assume a romanticized notion of community. And where it often breaks down is on gender violence, right? Like a community’s not going to hold somebody accountable if they don’t think what the person did was wrong. And in cases of domestic and sexual violence, communities often side with the perpetrator rather than the person who suffered the harm. And also, you just may not have a community to begin with. Right? So the transformative justice framework shows that we actually have to create communities of accountability.
And so to make a long story short, in the evolutionary thought of transformative justice, at least that’s how I see it. You start to also see though, that transformative justice is not just about a process, wanting to create communities. It’s not just a simple process to create communities, but to do that, you even have to create a different world. So a lot of times our work is based on what you do after the harm has happened. But what I’ve learned from other movements is, how you do you create a different governance system where you stop harming people in the first place? And that’s where things are more effective. And so I’ve learned that from my own organizing things, like I was in a situation where the place was completely dysfunctional, and nobody thought people could get along. And we were always addressing the conflicts afterwards. But then when we created just a different kind of governance system that was transparent, horizontal, etc. There’s many things that have to happen to make this work, right? It’s not a simple process. But to make a long story short, once we put those processes in place, the conflicts stopped. So they just didn’t—we didn’t have to resolve any conflicts, and they stopped happening in the first place. Because the structure did not allow the conflicts to breed in the same way they could in a more hierarchical situation. This is a problem, I would say we have with Christian organizations—[indistinguishable} and even progressive ones—because they tend to be very much based on a hierarchical charismatic person. And this is where you end up with total dysfunctionality. We don’t have the same kind of practice, which I think you can see in early churches where things are more egalitarian, where there’s more shared leadership, more shared accountability, that makes it less likely that abuse can happen. So to make a long story short, therefore, I think in terms of kind of addressing relationships between people of color, we need different structures that make us become different people. Right? We need structures that kind of require us to think about others. To think collectively, to not just think about our own individual interests. And we can’t just think those things through in our head! And I think that’s what we see in Christianity. Jesus had the call to be born again, because Jesus is telling us under 500 years of white supremacy shenanigans, “you are so messed up” like, if we were to end white supremacy right now, we wouldn’t recognize ourselves! Like, “Who are these people? What are they doing? They’re like space aliens!” Because we are so shaped by these forces of oppression. So we’re going to be born again into a new world we can’t even imagine right now, into new people we can’t imagine. But how do we do that? Well, we learn from the early church that you don’t just think your way there—you need to practice that helps you get there. Right? And so when we create these different kinds of collective practices, we start to become different people in the process.
Latasha Morrison 33:18
Wow, that’s good. You see, I told you guys that she was smart! And we even learned a new concept! And we will definitely put this in the notes. Really the distinction of understanding restorative justice, and then also transformative justice—what that is, and the difference between the two. Thank you for educating us on the differences of that! And I definitely want to learn more about the transformative model as you’re talking about, because that’s, I mean, that sounds like what we need moreso: transformative change, you know, so that’s good! Okay. Can you tell me a little bit for, you know, I read in the beginning, I’m a part of it—Evangelicals 4 Justice. Could you just talk to us about what is that? And what is it about? And what do we do?
Andrea Smith 34:18
Yes! Evangelicals 4 Justice started amongst not exclusively but primarily evangelicals of color and women who were like, “These shenanigans need to change a bit here,” but not just in terms of content, but also methodology. So I feel like sometimes you have some stuff going on, you know, with what was it, 84…89 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump and you’re like, what?! But, but there can be a way of replicating that same approach by saying, “That’s not the right way, this is the right way.” Right. So you hear conservatives say, “This is a biblical approach, if you challenge me you’re not biblical.” But progressives can do the same thing and say, “No, this is the right way!” Whereas there’s really like, you know, I mean, we need to have a spirit of humility, that only God really knows the right way. And how can we be in a process of, you know, a continual process to hear God’s word, especially where it may, we may hear it in ways we don’t expect? It may come from a person we would not expect. It may come from a place we wouldn’t expect. So how can we open our ears, or open our eyes or open our senses, or whatever—whatever way we can gather kind of new information? So that’s kind of what inspired Evangelicals 4 Justice…was to create a space to say, let’s be able to discuss these issues, let’s be able to debate, discuss, and create a space to just be able to disagree without our heads exploding, right? So that’s kind of it! So we care obviously about justice, but we don’t presume the right way to justice.
Latasha Morrison 36:03
That’s good. That’s good. Because there’s, you know, I tell people all the time in this work that we do with Be the Bridge, I always say that we’re just one way—we’re not the way, we’re not the only way. This is just one way that I feel that God has called me to lean in, but there’s some other great organizations out there! Great leaders that are doing some amazing work in the same justice space. But it doesn’t mean the way we’re doing it (or the way they’re doing it) is wrong or right, it’s just different, you know. And trying to explain that to people so that we see that those of us who have this pathway toward justice, that just because we’re doing things in different ways that we don’t become enemies, you know. But we are partners in this work, and we can point people who maybe have a better bent for one organization or another. We can share resources, we can support each other in the work, and so that’s the way I definitely see our role in Be the Bridge. We’re like an on-ramping when people recognize, you know, the sin and brokenness of what’s happening specifically with racism and racial disparities and all of that—like they know a lot of times they’re just so overwhelmed, they don’t know where to begin…we try to give those people that platform, that stepping stool, to help point them and start educating them. And then what happens is, once people start understanding “A, B, C, D” then they can understand “L, M, N, O, P” you know? They become a part of other organizations that, that you know, I would say they’re a level four or level five or level six in the work that they’re doing. But we’re still partnering together because we’re—there’s this cohesiveness in the midst of that, so that’s the beauty of, I think, the work that we do. And one of the reasons why I do like Evangelicals 4 Justice, because it keeps you from having tunnel vision, and in your work it helps you to be more inclusive and not exclusive. And just some of the things that you’re made aware of, and you can take part in, I think it’s a really good vision behind that. So I’m grateful to be a part of that…yeah, that email group.
Andrea Smith 38:41
So I think that with Be a Bridge, I think what you’re describing is so important, too. Because I think when we think about ending oppression, it’s not a knowledge issue always. Like I think we think if we had the right information…but it’s really a spiritual crisis. So when you start doing this work, you think you’ll feel better but it’s the opposite—you’ll feel worse because you’re moving from a place of certainty to uncertainty. And so if you’re embarking on a project of creating a world, you don’t even know you’re going yet! Like, you don’t even know what it’s gonna be like. You’re having to be comfortable with being perpetually uncomfortable. And I feel like we don’t have enough support for that. We don’t have enough support for how hard that is. We think if we give people enough stats on racial injustice, that’s it. It’s not! Because people want to go back to feeling good and comfortable, including myself! Like this, you never get to a point where you have arrived, right? Like, you’re always going to want to take a break from this feeling like, “I don’t know what I’m doing right now.” So this is where I think Christians should be able to play a particular role in saying, what’s the spiritual guidance necessary to live in that perpetual place of discomfort, right? To never be totally sure, to be willing to make that commitment to go to a world that we can’t quite imagine yet. So I feel like Be the Bridge is like bridges, be continual bridges. It keeps us there and with the community, right? So we’re not just doing this alone, we have people with us. I’m willing to stay on that journey with us no matter how uncomfortable and hard it is.
Latasha Morrison 40:18
Yeah, so good. So good. Now I like, you know, I’m trying to think of that great, like closing discussion, but I like to dream. And I always dream sometimes of like, “Okay, how, what could the world look like if this happened?” or “How could the world be if I had this…?” or “What could Be the Bridge be if this happened?” You know, I like to dream. And a lot of times we don’t dream big because we also are thinking about the barriers and obstacles that prevent us from dreaming. So I want you to just dream for a moment with me. If money wasn’t an option, okay, it wasn’t an option. And there were no physical barriers or obstacles. What would you do? What would you do? What would you change?
Andrea Smith 41:21
See, I think the work ahead of us doesn’t necessarily require money or these things to begin with. I think that may be changing our framework, right? So if you think about the current system we have, right, it’s a pyramid where 5% owns 95% of the population. But there’s a lot more of us than them. And ultimately even the top 5% is not going to do well if it destroys the earth. Right? So basically, the catch is really to me is less that we need the money and the guns—we need to get the 95% mobilized. And how do you do that? That’s like talking to your neighbors. Does that make sense? Like it’s not necessarily a glassy program that needs a foundation class. It’s like can everyone commit to talking to 20 of their neighbors having a conversation? It’s creating these connections. Because we see the biggest movements, they’re not from the U.S., they’re from poor countries! But they have like hundreds of thousands of people involved, creating different governance systems because they’ve dis-invested in thinking this current system has a solution, and they’ve invested in themselves as having the solution. So I think if we reorient that way, then we don’t necessarily need these things. So we can be more creative with the resources that we have.
Like I said, one example, a friend of mine was talking about the Argentina fasting movement. And she was talking about, there was a debate about—at that point the government was giving everybody kind of a welfare check, and people were debating should we accept this check? That’ll mean we’ve sold out, or should we not? We could use the money—and like that’s the debate you would have in the U.S.. But there what they did is they took the money and collectivized it. They put it all in one big pot, and then made sure everyone’s needs got met. Right? So what if we kind of thought more creatively and collectively? We might actually have the resources. And I think we’re seeing that now with COVID-19 with the Mutual Aid Networks. We’re starting to see we have more than we thought, right? But if we start to think of it less like, “I have to meet my individual household needs,” but “How can we collectively meet the neighborhood’s needs”? and vice versa? We start to say, wait…collectively, we have a lot more together, we just don’t even know each other. Right? So I personally think in the end, this is where I feel like from Indigenous systems, we see that it’s ultimately about relationality. We have a system that breaks us down into individuals, and when we start to make connections and relationships that wasn’t just in our group, but with the rest of the world, because we realized our group cannot do well if other groups are not doing well. We are indeed all related. When we start operating from that point of relatedness, we don’t need millions of dollars to do that. So we can actually do that now, you know. And then I think back to your thing on imagination, I think that we also recognize that what colonization does is it doesn’t just take your land and resources, but it does colonize your imagination. It makes things seem natural and inevitable such that you can’t imagine another world. So decolonization is about decolonizing the imagination, like one colleague he phrased it like this way: it’s kind of our job to think the unthinkable, imagine the unimaginable, and make the impossible a reality.
Latasha Morrison 44:37
Wow. Okay, you got to repeat that again. Because that’s a good one. Say that one more time for me, Andy.
Andrea Smith 44:44
Okay, I said our job is to think the unthinkable, imagine the unimaginable, and make the impossible a reality.
Latasha Morrison 44:52
I love it. That, first of all, that’s an excellent way to end our time together. Wow. That is incredible! And just what a way to just really acknowledge—to make the impossible possible. Do you know who said that?
Andrea Smith 45:15
Oh, Dylan Rodriguez. Dylan Rodriguez.
Latasha Morrison 45:17
Okay, I’m gonna definitely look that up. Well, I am so grateful. I love the fact that, you know, just in that challenge, and thinking like, we need relationships. We have the resources, we have what we need, we just have to think a different way. And I think when you start thinking about movements, you’re so correct. When I think about, you know, I think about Gandhi, if you think about Mother Teresa, I mean, so many different people in some of these movements and things that are happening now—it doesn’t take a lot of resources. It doesn’t take money. There is capital in relationships. People getting to know each other and I mean, I think we learned that when you were talking about how people just shared what they had—they thought more collectively and they shared what they had. And I mean, we see that in the early church! And what they endured and how they had to survive, you know, when the world was pitted against [them]. So, it’s the upside down kingdom of God, I tell you. And it’s just amazing. So I’m so grateful to be on this journey with you and to be able to navigate this justice space with so many incredible people and thought leaders like yourself. Thank you for the work that you do, thank you for your commitment to this work, thank you for using your platform to help educate other people. Thank you for creating spaces where other people can go to learn from one another and to really reimagine what the future could be like! So I’m grateful for you, I’m grateful for your leadership, and so grateful for your voice in this.
Thank you for listening! For more bridge building resources, visit our website at BeTheBridge.com.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai