The Violence of Marginalization

“Marginalization is profoundly violent,” states Linda Royster in this week’s conversation with Dan Allender.

Linda is the Strategic Alliances Manager, Lead Instructor, and Co-Facilitator of the Story Workshop for Racial Trauma and Healing at The Allender Center.

From the very beginning, this conversation challenges the use of the term “marginalized.” As we engage topics such as race, gender, and cultural norms, this conversation sets the stage and reminds us to enter these spaces with the desire to listen – really listen – to voices that are often dismissed or diminished.

Linda reminds us that listening well “requires a willingness to mature, to go beyond being the center of your own world, and to actually take into consideration that there is value outside of yourself.”

Episode Transcript:

Dan: Well, it’s fall, it’s fall and we’re in it. And you know, there is a sense in which the fall is the opportunity for someone like me who is kind of an academic, you know, the new year doesn’t begin January 1st. It’s September. Rosh hashanah off and around the 14th of September, the Jewish new year. So, again, we just wanna welcome you to the fall and to what we’re going to be doing for a number of weeks and that’s engaging… Well, I’m gonna introduce my co-host first and then tell you a little bit about Linda Royster. Welcome again to the podcast. Linda, is a therapist in the lovely state of North Carolina, and she is also, a significant leader, at the Allender Center. And this is embarrassing Linda, but of course you’d figure that I wouldn’t know much like you have a new, beautiful title, and I couldn’t tell you what if a gun was to my head. So hi Linda.

Linda: Sure. Yes. Hi. Hi, it’s a privilege and so much, so much joy in joining you for the conversation today. My new title is Strategic Alliances Manager, but I’m also still lead teacher, have kind of stepped back from facilitation this year. So very excited about building relationships and alliances, over the course of the next year.

Dan: Yeah. So thank you for returning me to the title. But the bottom line is you are both a brilliant therapist and a brilliant teacher, but also a woman who loves to make connections between worlds between people and between communities. And that’s, in some sense, what we’re gonna begin today. So to orient us, what I ask you to consider with me is how utterly important it is, especially for a white audience to be open and listen well to communities that I use the word marginal, marginal communities, often minority communities, often significantly exploited communities. And I remember, in our, at least our initial conversation, you… I’m sad that nobody can see your lovely face, but let’s just say that the look on your face when I said that over zoom was one where I went, oh, this is going to be an interesting conversation. What’s the look on your face now?

Linda: Yeah, I, found the statement to be problematic, and it revealed, I think in the statement itself, it revealed the perspective, and the people that would be the center, of the conversation or that statement would be posed by someone, I think outside of a BIPOC community. And so I thought, oh, this feels problematic to me because the statement itself seems to be centering whiteness or white perspective from, you know, just the, the very statement itself. So, I thought we need to rework this or at least name that there are, there will be different perspectives in the audience that you and I hold, perhaps hold different perspectives as we come to this conversation. Because as I think of marginalized communities and how they have been put into a margin… so-called marginalized community, I thought, I don’t devalue the people in my community. I value the voices in my community. So to say, why it’s important to listen to the marginalized for me, it was kind of felt obvious, like their voices are valuable, and critical to the development, not only of my development, but the development of communities at large. So like, of course is important to listen. Of course, it’s important to listen.

Dan: And I had then, and still have like two defensive responses. One is, well, of course I think it’s important, but what you push back on is wait a minute, white dude, particularly white, old dude. You are the marginal. Say more.

Linda: Yes, yes. And so where the conversation went at that point was I was talk as I was talking about, the impact of racial trauma and what healing looks like for BIPOC communities. And I’ll say in this conversation for African-American communities, is that our healing can’t only be tied to what happens within the United States, but then we have to think about what the global community means for our own healing. Right. And so if we were to think globally, then we are the global majority. Yeah. And then people who identify as white are the global minority. And so that, that’s a shift of perspective and thinking, so for me, it matters to, when I think about my own healing and healing of my community is to move beyond the borders of United States to say, well, my healing is really tied to the healing of other BIPOC communities around the world. And certainly communities, where folk identify its white, our healing collectively is bound together, essentially.

Dan: And again, I agree, but what you were inviting me or exposing me to was another portion of my racial narcissism, that my own experience is at the center. And everybody else is peripheral marginal, which is in some sense what the word marginal implies. On the periphery and then further exposing my geographic regional narcissism. I mean, it happens all the time, especially you’re on the east coast time on the west coast. And you know, when I say it’s nine o’clock, we’re gonna start. It’s not, no, it’s not, it’s 12, o’clock your time, but nonetheless, that temporal regional geographic, and racial. You know, we, we think of ourselves at the center and when we’re de-centered, there is some degree of disruption. So I just wanna begin by saying that already prior to actually doing this podcast, it’s been a lovely, but not easy disruptive process. Again, one of the things we’ve talked about is how, how a white, older man who I represent and am, I can get it and I don’t get it. I get it. I get it. I don’t get it. Don’t get it. And that is so, just so very difficult, but nonetheless. As we step into this, I, I just want to hear how you approach this, this conversation.

Linda: Yeah. Just to add that, from my perspective, it’s been a difficult road to get to this moment where we’re actually doing this recording and all of the disruptions that have happened. But my own personal disruption in that this conversation is taking me back to the moments that I have felt marginalized. My voice is felt marginalized or silenced. And so it’s bringing up a lot of story for me, stories that I’ve wanted to kind of pack away and, and get past, but it’s bringing it to the forefront and where I’ve experienced it most as an African American woman, who’s a little bit younger than you, right? And so have… you’ve been a professor you’ve been a mentor of a sort. And so I’m remembering the context that we’ve been in together, where in academic environments, I felt my voices felt marginalized at times. And the other side of that, which we may get to is, is this odd experience of my voice having been, um, there’s been a hyper focus on my voice while at the same time being silenced or marginalized. And that is a terribly disruptive and disorienting experience.

Dan: Another word for that is crazy making to be hyperfocused. Like, what do you would teach us? Tell me, what am I missing? How can I be, not just non-racist, but anti-racist, and then when you speak, as you have many times, and as I said at the beginning where there’s something, and I’ll speak, I rather than we, but something I get, but doesn’t seem to translate into a deeper shift of perspective or not just perspective idea, but a perspective in terms of way of engaging and relating. So we’re, we’re in not just material where there has been harm, where I’ve done harm, where there has been heartache, but also at least underscore where you have known historically in other settings, some of the same war. So if I could put it this way, you, you know, there’s a huge risk in what you’re engaging.

Linda: Yeah. And I feel it, I feel it in my body. I, I feel it as we, as I have this conversation with you particularly, but also as I hold in mind the audience, who, who might be listening to this podcast, I feel that that disruption, the risk, in either direction of leaning, further leaning into this conversation…

Dan: That, at one level, not just different opinion, but a kind of dismissal, or maybe even worse, a kind of you you’ve been heard and it fades away without really bringing almost any effect whatsoever. You know, if a tree falls in the forest and no one’s there, does it have a sound that silly philosophical questions back to yeah. If you speak, will there be any effect and that having failed you and many others often, there’s no guarantee that I can bring, other than again, my deep, our deep, appreciation that you continue to engage.

Linda: Yeah. Because this notion of, why it’s important to listen, it’s not only, it’s not only hearing audibly, but it is the sense that you’re gonna give thoughtful attention to what’s being shared, right. That there will be a thoughtful consideration of the words. And it’s not only the words, but it’s the person in personhood that is, is being shared. Will there be a thoughtful engagement and consideration of what’s said, or will there be a dismissal? And so I think to some degree, we all know what it’s like to feel dismissed and to, feel like we’re not heard, but when we operate and live within systems, within communities where that’s an ongoing reality, it is, it starts to feel like a, an ongoing sustained trauma, of what it is to bring ourselves into a space and to be dismissed, or, kind of to feel the condescension.

Dan: Yeah. I just finished an article in a magazine called wired, where an African American woman who is a physicist describes what her experience was like going to the university of Chicago. And very few other, African American, Black physicist, females. And the sense of again, nothing, nothing at one level knew for me, reading because our conversations have opened my eyes, even in the therapeutic realm. What difference it makes when there are very, very few Black peers, Black professors who share not just face, but identity experience and perspective. So, when I was reading, I kept thinking about you, just kept thinking about, again, the kind of defiance that is required to, in some sense, not let the overwhelming sense of, well, this woman described how, when she changed hairstyle, like every, every time there was a change, there were comments being made, which at one level you could view as innocuous, but as she described, none of her other white peers, if they made changes ever got the same kind of response and and how often, people would touch her hair without any freaking regard of her own physical space and priority. So, I mean, uh, just again, those kinds of realities, we’re we’re right back to the question of we’ve we’ve addressed again, I’m not going to say we could ever do it adequately or enough, but we’ve addressed something of the reality of spiritual, physical, emotional, sexual harm that comes when people who are perceived to be different marginalized are then used violated, and with no sense again of, oh my God, what is happening here? You know, how could a Black, brilliant physicist in training be treated as she was not only by faculty, but by students, et cetera. On the other hand, there is something about the heartache, but also the wisdom that so-called marginalized communities, have the opportunity to evolve and develop. And I just, I want you to step into what is, what’s your sense of the wisdom? And I just want you eventually to begin talking about where we’re gonna go, we’re going to bring in a dear Asian brother, we’re gonna bring in, a dear Indigenous woman. And we’re gonna bring in a remarkable, African American man, eventually to talk about all this, but at least now what, what’s your sense of wisdom?

Linda: Hmm. Wisdom is available to us, but we have to choose to lean into it and live from a place of wisdom. So it’s available one and wisdom for us when it comes to listening to the so-called marginalized means that wisdom is that we actually have a posture of our heart that says that we’re gonna value the voice of the so-called othered, that we actually need the voices of others to become more of who God has in mind for us to become that we have to step outside of our siloed, very narrow or myopic way of being, and trust that other, the so-called other, other community or people that we’ve othered have something not only, that we need in our development to become who we’re meant to be. But it could actually be, God’s speaking through these so-called other communities to help us, to help us grow, to help us mature, help us become less selfish, less self-centered, and get a glimpse of what actually God actually has in mind as, as his creation that we’re not meant to be siloed. We’re not meant to be, only moved by what those in our circle, our narrow circle have to say, but what does it mean to risk listening to people that are outside our tribe?

Dan: Yeah, well, and a very small example, and I’m not on Facebook. I’ve admitted before that I occasionally that the technical term is lurking. I lurk through my wife’s account occasionally, you know, few times if a year, but obviously Facebook, is not there primarily to create a democratic society. It’s there for money. And what is found is the algorithm works that if you show interest in a right oriented approach to life, that’s what they’re gonna give you. You show interest in a left oriented, whatever that means to life, you’re gonna get that kind of stuff. So they want you on their platform. They’re going to give you what you want. And that sense myopia is a commitment to our version of capitalism. You don’t need to see anything that causes you discomfort, just take in what you already believe and let that actually be confirmed and grown. So we’ve got a vastly dark polarized world in part, because of the very thing that you just put words to, we’re not doing. And in that we, we come back to that issue of look, I went to a really good seminary, but in that context, again, this is like, I think I went to seminary about 130 years ago. But the idea is truth is truth. And it’s true for everyone. Period. Context does not matter. And yet it, it’s also the place where, I learned I’m gonna use an example, Psalm 68 verse 33. This is a Psalm that celebrates the redemption of God by looking at what, what, what Yahweh did at the red sea. And there’s this simple verse, “Sing to God, you kingdom of the earth, sing praise to the Lord,” and verse 33 “To him who rides across the highest heavens the ancient heavens who thunders with a mighty voice. Now you could read that. And it’s part of a larger Psalm of praise, and actually almost have no response to that whatsoever. Other than, God’s got a thundering voice. The dilemma is seminary. That’s telling me that all I need is the truth is also informing me that you really can’t understand verse 33, unless you understand that it’s a verse at one level using, but also mocking the Mesopotamian gods who were thunder gods we’re weather gods So the one who rides on the sky is Baal. And yet it, the biblical writers are borrowing from a culture, language familiar to that culture in order to do something, to make the truth even more spectacular. So often what it feels like is, especially in a white world, we appropriate, we take, we steal cultural images, language, dress, music, dance, but oftentimes without really having a sense of what is it to teach us. So again, I wanna bring that back and go, what do you do with all that?

Linda: The, the beauty, the beauty of how God will, will take something and mock, in the sense that he will, God will, mother God, fathering God, will take something and transform what was meant to keep us on the outside and use it to turn our worlds upside down or perhaps right side up. And where my mind goes with that really is in the, the kind of, not the New Testament version of that, but a story in John 4, of the woman at the well, the Samaritan woman, where it seems to be that God, again, takes something and turns it right side up, and goes against what we, what we believe to be norms. And so, you know, won’t, I won’t turn this into a Bible study, but I…

Dan: Oh no, you do that girl. I say you do that. I think it’s because I’ve heard you teach on this. I’m like, oh, I’m I already am excited. Yeah. Teach us

Linda: So it’s becoming, it’s becoming one of my favorite stories in the New Testament. The Samaritan woman who, encounters Jesus at the well, at Jacob’s Well and so some of, some of what we notice in the story right off the gate is, is the breaking of the norms, of what happens in that moment. And so Jesus comes to the well, and he sits down at the well, and it’s the sense that he’s exhausted from the journey. And he gets there at noon, assuming the sun is high in the sky, that the heat of the day is scorching. And then this woman, the Samaritan woman comes to the well around the same time. And they meet there, both having need, Jesus comes there because he’s exhausted and he wants a drink. He has need. She’s coming in the heat of the day in the scorching heat of the day, perhaps because she can’t go earlier in the day with the community of women, with the community and fellowship of what it is to go through your life and the rhythms of life in community, and in connection with others, she has to go in the heat of the day because she has been scorched by the contempt of her community, not only in the scorching heat of the sun, but scorched by the heat of her community, that she has looked at with kind of like a side eye or held with contempt, that she must have done something to have been divorced five times, or have had five husbands. And the one that she’s with is not her husband. And so there’s something about this encounter, where she brings her energy, right? He, Jesus brings his energy and he reads her, but she’s also engaging with him. And she’s not, she’s not shrinking away from his engagement, which to me says that this is a bold and courageous woman to not run away from what it is to be seen and listened to. And as I read this story in John 4, I see Jesus listening to this woman, but not only listening with his ears and listening audibly, but he’s hearing and hearing underneath the surface. And I wonder, what is Jesus reading of this woman as he sees her approaching the well, is it something about the way she carries herself? What’s what is he reading on her face? What is she communicating through her dress? That this woman is carrying something that might be betraying how she presents or, or it might be revealing what she’s been living through? What we do know is that women were second class citizens, right? If you wanna call it citizenship, that, that they were living within systems of oppression, living under Roman oppression, she’s living under a patriarchal oppression. And she’s living under the stigma of having had so many husbands who divorced her for whatever reason. And in that era, men could divorce their wives for the least of the least of the least so-called infraction.

Dan: Yeah. There’s an actual example, a burnt toast, literally as the basis of a divorce. Yeah.

Linda: Right. So how precarious and unstable the life of a woman would be in that era that any infraction could put her out of her house, and into essentially a homeless circumstance, if she didn’t have a father or home that she could go back to. Right. So precarious circumstances. So we really don’t know why she was divorced these many times. I find it ironic though, that they’re meeting at a well, which is a symbolic representation of life, of community, of flourishing. And she is coming in the midst of what I suspect might be her bareness, if not bareness of her physical body, bareness of her life, that she is coming in the heat scorched reality of her life. And she is aware, she is very much aware that it’s out of order and it’s out of the norm for a Jewish man to talk to a Samaritan woman. And so we could just spend the rest of the time just talking about that in and of itself, the norms that are being broken in that moment, that she is aware of the, of the non-normative experience.

Dan: Yeah. So this is a racial story. This is a engendered story. This is a story around customs norms, marriage, you got, you, you got a one brief passage, brilliant passage, so many complications.

Linda: So many, so many complications, but part of, part of the beauty of the text though, is that when we’re talking about why it matters to listen, and for me, we could end the statement there, but for the sake of this conversation, why, why it’s important to listen to the marginalized. We see something in the exchange between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, that they are revealing their need to each other. And so that’s something that we can hold in mind as we understand that we must step outside of our silos and recognize that we both come to the well with need. And it’s not that, you know, folks who identify as white will go to these so-called BIPOC communities to bring wisdom or knowledge or whatever the case may be. It’s like, no, we both come to the well with need and that I have something, and I’m not speaking generally right now, I’m speaking very particularly about my experience, and moving through the Wounded Heart book and going to a recovery week and going to graduate school and becoming a part of the Allender Center I realized, and I know for sure and beyond a shadow of a doubt in this season, that my presence, which is symbolically represented as my voice, was critical for the development for you for recovery weeks, for the Seattle School, for the Allender Center, that my presence was necessary in order for all of these entities to become more of who God had in mind. Right. And so it’s, it wasn’t happenstance, but it was critical to the development. And so it is true for all communities. So it’s true for Asian American, for the Latino/Latina community. So it is true for indigenous communities. We need each other, we need each other’s presence and voice to become more of who we were meant to be, and we will be underdeveloped or perhaps even deformed without the voice of another.

Dan: Yeah, I was underdeveloped is true, but I think in that sense of underdeveloped from what we were meant to be ultimately is a sense of some degree of deformation. And again, as you look at this passage, I think one of the things that I heard, early on, in my young Christian life was the assumption that this was, but an immoral woman and that in some sense, she was stigmatized because of her immorality. And I, the way you’ve brought and taught this in various of our training context, was truly, you know, how you hear something and you go, of course, and yet you didn’t think it. So how are you saying, of course at some level you knew there was something else. I think that’s one of the intriguing things about learning more often than not what we really learned that matters most, we had some intuitive sense of even before, yet, we weren’t able, at least in my case, I wasn’t able to teach it the way you were inviting us. So if I can take you back to that, how, how does your world, your perspective, how did it bring you to see this passage in a different light? Than merely, she’s an immoral woman.

Linda: Yeah. Yeah. It’s the particularity of being an African American woman. It’s the, it’s the particularity of living within my culture with my, within my ethnicity or race, if you will, and knowing what it’s been like both personally, but collectively to have been found to be, at fault to found to be wanting in some way, to have been found, to be immoral in some way, just automatically presumed to be guilty of something and whatever predicament we find ourselves in that we, as people of color, Black people, Black woman, you’ve done something to put yourself in that predicament. So therefore the, the hell the heat of the day that you feel is, is of your own doing it’s your fault. And so I bring myself as an African American woman to this context, not necessarily trying to read my life into the story, but looking at how this story is speaking to, speaking to my lives and my life and where I might see the parallels that would open my capacity to understand, and to see that there is something operating underneath the surface, because I know what it is as an African American woman to live in this dual reality, where one thing is happening on one level, but then I’m living a very different reality on another level. And so I just thought that that allowed me to have an openness or just a suspicion about this text, that what I’ve heard in the preaching all these years, isn’t the whole truth. Like there is, there is a deeper truth that’s being played out and even, and in one, one moment of that, that just kind of dawned on me recently is in that moment where Jesus tells her, you know, asks about her husband and she names that she’s had five and that the one she’s living with, is not her own. I think some people have read that is Jesus kind of indicting her in that moment that you’re living with someone that’s not your husband. But now how I read the text is it’s an indictment of the man that she’s now living with, that he’s not had the courage to husband her.

Dan: Okay, now we’re into gender. We’re into race. We’re into, it is a man’s cowardice to indeed in that patriarchal culture, she didn’t have the option to essentially survive without some degree of patriarchal authority. So as it is in many, many, many cultures, a woman without a man has literally nothing she can do, but to be a prostitute, a woman. So in this sense, what we’re addressing it is not merely so called immorality, but actually exposing cultural structures. Individual. Yes. Personal. Yes, but no less systemic. And in that, when she goes back to the people saying he knows all, again, it’s not, it’s not saying she hasn’t been immoral it, but it’s not saying that that’s primary, there are other realities to bear. So the personal always is set within structures or another word for that systems. And so this intersection, as you put it, so well, she’s under Rome. She isn’t just under Rome, she’s under Jerusalem. She’s not just under that. She’s under male patriarchy and all that. I mean, Jesus is both so respectful. And yet, so playful. And kind and inviting, and in a way that I think we have a hard time, and of course we have a hard time understanding what a radical, radical disruption, and you see that with the disciples when they come back shocked that he’s having a conversation, both with a racial and gendered, a Samaritan woman. So I think as we kind of lean into this ongoing conversation, one of the things that I will be asking both of us to engage is what happens when you end up personally or culturally de-centered like you have been involved, through the Allender Center and the Impact Movement, the development of, training, story work and training to deal with trauma, particularly from a racial standpoint. And that community has been made up of Asian, Latino, Latina, indigenous people. And we’re privileged to have some of those folks join us in conversations. So I think one of the things that I wanna at least begin asking is what have you learned, and in a generic sense from other cultures that have been, as you have used the, the phrase quite wisely, so called marginalized.

Linda: I think what’s, what’s beautiful about African American culture, but also, other BIPOC communities is the value of the collective, the value of embodiment, the value of wisdom and kind of that, resilient parts of the self to not give in or give over to the violence of being decentered or to the violence of being marginalized. And so I want us to take that in and just be very aware that marginalization isn’t some.. non… like it is profoundly violent. To think of it as, as being non impactful would be a lie or, a misunderstanding, but it is profoundly violent to be marginalized. And it’s not, again, it’s not just the voice, it’s not just the audible, but the marginalization is of the personhood. And that is counter, antithetical to the kingdom of God, antithetical to Shalom, antithetical to what God has called us to as human as human beings. Right? And so it’s violent, but what I’ve noticed about BIPOC communities is the resistance to give in to the violence of marginalization.

Dan: It’s not adequate, but let me just use, there is a holy defiance. One that bears, again, marks of deep, deep heartache, but also in the resilience, it’s not merely defiance. It’s a defiance with hope, a hope defiance, unfortunately like in German, you can combine words. Here, we just have to be sloppy and say, it’s not just defiant. It’s a hopeful defiance. It isn’t just hope. It is hope that is defiant. So, in that, somewhat complex synergy of words. It’s, I wanna end again on this category of listening, ’cause it’s so crucial to come back. We’re not just talking about let it come to your ears, but what does it mean to listen in a way in which you allow your own, especially as a white embodied person, listening always requires a willingness to be indicted again, not to be blamed, but to own that, in least our world, we are the center. We are and have been the center. And in that, often, unacknowledged it’s been presumed, assumed no big deal. It’s a melting pot and we’re all sort of an amalgamation of everyone who’s here. And to go that mythology works really well for those who really are at the center because everybody being melted down is being melted down to be like me. So. That’s where I’d like, before we end just a thought or two more is to, what does, what are you hoping for, for listening?

Linda: Yeah. Yeah. There, there are three things that I wanna highlight before we end our time. And that is, as we think about why it’s important to listen period, but also why it’s important to listen to the marginalized . And one is, and in order to listen, it requires a kind of humility and humility in saying that, that one, I don’t know it all and that I am not all sufficient. I am not all that. I need to be all that God’s required me to be in and of myself that I need the voice of people that I have othered. Right. In that, and one, I say that particularly to folks who identify as white, right? Especially, especially when you’ve lived in the trap of having to know it all and having to have the answer and to be the top of the hierarchy or the pyramid that it’s a very narrow lane that you have to live within. That is too much to bear. You. Weren’t meant to have to know it all. It’s impossible for you to know it all, or be self sufficient. You need other people. And the other is the acknowledgement of our own need and our neediness that it’s not a fault that we have need, we were divinely designed to have need. And that provision has been made that we can get our needs met through community, right? And there is something that’s beyond the boundary of your natural community that you have need of. And what does it mean to go beyond those natural boundaries of your so-called tribe, your community, your family, your church, what does it mean to go beyond those natural boundaries and know that there’s a large world out there that that can actually give you something to help you become more of who God created you to be. And then the third is, is listening well to others or to the marginalized requires a willingness to mature. It requires a willingness to mature to go beyond being the center of your own world and to actually take into consideration that there is value outside of yourself. Of course you come with value. Of course you bear the image of God. Of course. And you’re, you’re, you’re not the end all be all that. There are people, communities nations beyond, beyond that can actually add to us.

Dan: I say we got a lot to do a lot to think about over these conversations. I’m both aware of a kind of, oh my, and oh my, both, a certain degree of this is costly and, and for all of us, but particularly for people of color to engage this but also, oh, my this can lead to such goodness. Thank you, Linda.

Linda: Thank you.