“But we have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals. As a result, those differences have been misnamed and misused in the service of separation and confusion.”
-Audrey Lorde in Sister Outsider
For the past nine years, I have the privilege of teaching Being the Word on the Street: Developing Intercultural Competency. The class is delivered in three movements: our past lineage, our present relations, and our future imagination.
Our Past Lineage: We begin our study by reading the works of three historians: Ron Takaki’s A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, Nell Painter’s The History of White People, and Ibram Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning: A Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Each of these authors exposes our shared history in the United States as it relates to race, illuminating how public policy, policing, education, and healthcare have been shaped by racist and racialized ideas. This is our lineage and it impacts how we live together, and how we see each other.
Our Present Relations: Jeff Chang’s We Goin’ Be Alright: Notes of Race and Desegregation and Ibram Kendi’s work are profoundly helpful in teaching us about the current state of race in the U.S. and our ability or inability to relate to each other. The second movement builds awareness of four different levels of at play in all human interactions. Our relating is far more complex than simply person to person. Human difference is informed by Systemic forces that influence our ways of knowing, Organizational culture (s) that develops unspoken meaning-making mechanism, Interpersonal communication dynamics and intrapsychic, deeply internal views of the self and the other. Students begin to connect how history we share and the varying levels of relating inform every human interaction.
Our Future Imagination: Finally, with the help of some wise guides from the community, we explore a theological and sociological imagination for relating across differences as equals. Eric Law’s The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb: Spiritual Leadership in a Multicultural Community explores the power dynamics across differing cultures and offers simple strategies to facilitate communication and understanding across those differences. With this is our text we begin to engage in conversation with leaders who have built bridges and are creating truly miraculous symbiotic multicultural discourse
At the end of each term, students are asked to create a presentation that explores the history of the United States as it relates to diversity, how this history has shaped our identity and impacted community, and how we as a community could imagine a new future with each other. I find myself often struck by the creativity of these projects and humbled by the deep listening each student has done to build the presentation. The following two projects are examples of the work of our students are doing as we explore what it means to work towards cultural credibility and strive to be a therapeutic presence in a world of difference.
The Impact of COVID-19 on the BIPOC and Unhoused Communities of Seattle
by Milli Haase, an MATC student
“This project was an opportunity for students to create a visual experience – to capture the ways racism was / is constructed and continues to impact communities, all while drawing on course resources. Ron’s invitation provided for a more visceral experience. Given the recent outbreak of COVID, I’m grateful that Ron allowed me the space to connect the outbreak to Seattle’s own racist systems, to show that this outbreak is really unveiling our own violent structures for what they really are. Yes, it is true that nobody is born hating another person because of the color of their skin. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love (Mandela), and also: racism is the very system we have been born into and benefit from. We are not born into a world in which we are not racist until taught to be. Rather, we are born into a world in which by systemic default we must actively engage to be anti-racist.”
A Journey Towards Cultural Credibility: Informing Anti-Racist Living
by Christina Bergevin, an MATC student
“This presentation was the culminating project for RLM520 – Being the Word On the Street: Developing Intercultural Competency; the second class on multicultural narratives and American racism that I have taken at The Seattle School. Thanks to Dr. Ron Ruthruff for introducing our class to challenging authors, dynamic community leaders, and sobering conversations that begin to shape and grow the theological, historic, and cultural understanding needed in the work of racial justice and anti-racist policy.”