One thing that is very evident when entering YAGM orientation is that its very white. And by white I mean that there are a lot of folks who hold a lot of racial privilege that are part of this organization. Anyone familiar with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America would probably not be surprised by this revelation. Being a biracial woman in this church, I feel that I am almost hyper aware of the ways that my racial identity stands out in Lutheran spaces. Therefore, when conversations about race, power, and privilege come up, I tend to tune out. Those spaces tend to focus on what white people need to do to come to terms with their place in society and their hand in the marginalization of others. The tuning out can be a kind of survival mode for me when my identities are on the table.
This conversation was different though. When set in an international context, it becomes important for me to tune back in. While I may occupy a lot of oppressed space here in the United States, internationally I hold a lot of privilege. I am a U.S. born citizen and a native English speaker, both of which afford me an unearned advantage. As I begin my preparations for my year of service, I have had to switch my internal narrative to reflect what I expect from allies to my communities. Expectations I have for myself include: approaching every new encounter with a sense of humility, setting aside my preconceived notions in favor of genuine relationship, and pushing myself to learn more about cultural expectations without the desire to change them. I strive to center the stories and the voices of the people I am in community with and not to tell their stories for them. I seek to challenge the rhetoric that U.S. Americans are exposed to when it comes to developing nations by being a good neighbor and humble witness.
My heart is in activism, but activism takes a lot of shapes. I thank God for the opportunity to see the world through a privileged lens so that I may be a better activist to my communities back home.