One of the most compelling statements I have ever heard in the context of anti-racism education was from a woman named Enid Lee. In 2003, I attended her workshop called “Putting Race on the Table” and she made the following statement, “It is time for the culture of power to allow other value systems to lead.”
At the time, there was little response to her statement. In my experience, prior conversations about race or equity had been about either fixing the pathology of the “other”, in particular, Black and brown people or historical stories about fighting for justice. Enid’s words were pretty provocative. I needed more.
Then, in an instant, the Universe obliged. Enid had assigned the group a reading, but she presented it in a jigsaw format. Each table was asked to focus on only one section of the reading and then all of the tables would share out to build a collective understanding of the text. As if acting on reflex, the only white man at my table immediately called into question her approach to the reading. He looked at all of us and decided that it would not work and instead insisted that as a table, we all read the entire text individually. There was very little protest. We all fell in line, yet I had a nagging discomfort at how quickly we dismissed the expertise and methodology of an educated, experienced Black woman who had been paid to stand at the front of the room.
Alas, when the time came for the groups to share out, our group was unprepared. The allotted amount of time did not allow for each individual to read the full text, which was Enid’s point from the start. Her understanding of efficiency and the text itself was completely overridden by one man’s subconscious perception of his innate “rightness.” I don’t believe he thought in his mind, “Well, I’m the white guy so I know better than anyone else.” But as our longstanding cultural values have validated his superiority, he lived it in the moment and we easily complied.
It was a fascinating, real-time illustration of Enid’s challenge. What would happen if the culture of power allowed for other value systems to lead? What is the cost when they don’t? To the environment? The economy? The mental and physical health of children?
This past September, I was invited to join an experience called Alps 2 Alaska. At its core, it was intended to do one fundamental thing, create a community or ‘tribe’ of support among the participants that would continue on well after the four glorious days spent in awe of Mont Blanc. By the end, we were each deeply invested in the personal and professional development of the others. There was nothing coldly transactional about our interactions. No one was seeking the spotlight or power. We even took time to honor the natural resources that existed around us.
The experience was a beautiful contrast to the political and social reality that has been swirling around us. A small act of protest against the status quo. An invitation to share and support one another’s highest aspirations without fear or threat. It was a commitment to collective action towards healing ourselves and our world.
Imagine if this was the value system that led our treatment of those seeking refuge in the US. Imagine asking a mother, worn from a long journey to safety, what are her greatest dreams and how can we help her reach them?
Imagine the world we could create.