I read a quote from the advertisement for a Conference featuring Sean Callaghan, on Making Space for Other Voices that is troubling me.
Perhaps I’m missing something. Maybe you all can help me sort this out.
I appreciate how Callaghan believes all voices are necessary – as in “nothing about us, without us” when addressing concerns of social issues. I agree wholeheartedly that conversations pertaining to particular issues require the voices and input of the vulnerable to not only be seated at the table, but to be listened to and truly heard.
Some do this very well, as in a situation my severely, disabled sister faced. She began attending a church that was inaccessible to those requiring wheelchairs. Sunday after Sunday several men of this congregation met her at the entrance of the building to lift her — along with her immensely heavy electric-powered wheelchair — up more than a few steps into the sanctuary.
When the board decided to make the building wheelchair accessible they invited her to their meetings. It would have been easier to plan and study the subject without her input, but they included her.
Why? Her voice — as the one disabled — mattered and was needed to resolve the issue.
But I found myself deeply concerned with the quote that featured early in the video ad for the conference. It lingered long on the opening page which is why it caught my attention.
“Our role as white men is to use our power to create space for other voices.”
My primary concern is that this statement not only perpetuates, it even elevates the power system of the few, in this case, white men of power (WMOP). I don’t think the intention was to imply only white men (excluding others) have this role or even power, but it does that nonetheless.
It implies that …
a) Only WMOP have this role;
b) White women and people of color who hold powerful positions are subjected to WMOP;
c) Permission to speak must still be sought and granted by WMOP before speaking;
d) WMOP retain their prerogative to deny or grant permission to speak;
e) WMOP retain their position as WMOP;
f) Those not granted permission have nothing legitimate to add to the conversation.
g) Nothing changes! Voices are yet silenced and Power wins the day.
Those who speak up, do so not because they are granted permission by WMOP – who view others from a king-of-the-hill vantage point – but because they are aware of their innate right to speak up.
They have much to gain and little to lose. Those in power have much to lose.
The statement reveals, in my mind at least, a pervasive arrogance on the part of those who identify as white men in power. They apparently relish their powerful and prestigious positions. Such is the seductive nature of power. The simple answer to the problem would be for WMOP to change the rhetoric, relinguish positions of power, and adopt a position of service and humility.
Yet, you don’t have to be white to have this crush on power. Power possesses a strange allure — and it crosses all boundaries of gender, color, and income.
There has to be better way to say this – otherwise, in my mind, if we continue to seek permission from WMOP, we unwittingly perpetuate power systems over the weak.
Maybe we need to recraft the statement. Maybe we need to discard the statement all together!
Or maybe I’m just a bit too sensitive and tired of being told by someone other than God what I am permitted to do in society and in the church.
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