Race and Trauma, Part Three

This week, Dan, along with friends and colleagues — Susan Kim, Abby Wong-Heffter, and Wendell Moss — conclude their conversation around race and trauma. Susan, Abby, and Wendell take time to discuss the obstacles and the cost they have faced in stepping into honest conversation around race. The four together name the ways in which The Allender Center is only beginning to step into this conversation and their desires for the future.

Dan: We need to address the fact that you three bear a burden. What is the bind you experience in needing to talk on behalf of your own people.

Wendell: What comes to mind is the idea of “family business.” As I share, I have a sense of telling family business; am I being disloyal? There’s that tiny chill up my back. I love my folk, but how can I honor my folk by being honest? Still, I love what The Allender Center has to offer around trauma, and I long for it to address racial trauma and the collective trauma of the community.

Susan: I think a byproduct of white privilege is you don’t have to see or bring it up. The people of color then have to be the agitators and bear the hard brunt of having to be vulnerable. I don’t always want to do that but can’t not do that. I want others to take up for me, for us. I’m appreciative when we can have honest conversations.

Dan: I remember Jimmy McGee came in — an African American leader, a brilliant man. One of the first things we knew was that we need help from outside source. One of the first things he asked me was what reading I had done; he said that before we had a conversation, I would need to do some reading. It was the line in the sand: how interested are you in having your world disturbed? We’re just in the beginning of learning.

Abby: Given that The Allender Center focuses primarily on sexual trauma, we have to realize we’re also talking about race — even if it’s two white people. It is our skin, our body, that is being violated. I have felt that if we don’t make this shift soon, we’re missing something important. I also think back to the dream being cast, and we were given space to imagine what the space would become. We named that we wanted to look out at faces like our own. That can’t happen until we step into this conversation. It’s still difficult to see not many faces that look like mine at certificate programs. It breaks my heart that the majority of people accessing this great work and healing is only a portion of the body of Christ.

Dan: What is the cost of stepping into this?

Wendell: The cost has been to step into a profession in which there are not many like me. We dream, but there’s still that cost of being so honest. It feels so counter-cultural to many communities of color.

Abby: To be really honest, the cost is to feel crazy. Even in my interactions with these two, I have to question if I’m saying something wrong. The cost is that it has to be messy. We will hurt and be hurt, and to take that into a larger context is frightening.

Dan: We have been able to stay in this conversation, but we haven’t come that far. As a team, we haven’t even heard the tip of the iceberg, like the stories you shared in the last podcast. So when we bring these realities to listeners, we acknowledge that even we’re scared. No wonder people are looking for a conventional fix. I keep coming back to: don’t escape your own bigotry or fear. We’re bringing others to address how we have failed. Just like Jeremiah, there’s a fire in me. When I try to put it out, it doesn’t go away. When I look out to those we teach, my heart breaks because every community experiences trauma.

Susan: I appreciate the acknowledgement that there is a cost for you, and you’re willing to pay it. There is a cost for us no matter what. But it’s hopeful to see white folks say they will put skin in the game.

Wendell: All of us are affected by this issue, and I need my white brothers and sisters to be in this and put some skin in the game. Otherwise, its pseudo unity and pseudo reconciliation. If all folks aren’t willing, that’s not unity.

Dan: If someone has some willingness, what’s the next step?

Abby: It would feel premature — if this is a new issue for you — to take it up like a cause. The first step is to just ask. It would be incredible to have a friend ask, “What is it like to be a German/Irish/Chinese woman. What has that been like for you?”

Wendell: I don’t ask that you understand everything or come in and change everything. I just want to know if you will be curious, because if you are, then we can move.

Will your curiosity be both for me as a Korean-American as well as a curiosity about your own experience as a white person and your identity?

Susan: To add to that, will your curiosity be both for me as a Korean-American as well as a curiosity about your own experience as a white person and your identity? So then, when you approach a person of color, you can come with curiosity rather than needing your guilt assuaged or something confusing to be resolved.

Dan: There’s a lot of work we’re beginning to name. For me, I believe this is the heart of God. I want to engage it with as much integrity as we can, but to expect that some white friends will be upset when you are honest. As we begin to engage these realities, we’re going to need the Gospel, we’re going to need Jesus more than ever. I couldn’t be more thrilled that we are beginning to open this door, and we will continue to do so.