I’m republishing things I have written elsewhere in the past to archive them here. I think of them as tales from the vault. This is one of them.
I recently observed something that suddenly made me understand something I have struggled to understand for years: That people who want more diversity to happen in their groups also want to dictate how the diverse people act, and would put limits on those people.
Who the hell do they think they are to do that? And then I realized that for older folks especially, that is how they have observed change, and then they assume all people in that group should act that way.
A thing I see *a lot* – especially in people and groups that have seen themselves as historically progressive, that fought early battles for inclusion of people previously excluded – is how they point to the non-combativeness of the first person from that group they included and then expect that will be the way all people from that group will behave.
Example: I have had a personal conversation with a famous minister who personally knew William Stringfellow. For you who do not know, Stringfellow was an Episcopal layman who was incredibly influential in the 1960’s, and was a major influence on Walter Wink. Stringfellow was also gay, and lived with his partner.
This famous minister held Stringfellow (who was not officially out, but it was known to his friends) as the model for how gay people should act. I.E. They should leave all of their sexual identity in the closet.
Because Stringfellow had to (and let’s be honest: chose to) act straight in order to get published and to have a lecture career, because he chose to diminish himself in order to overcome prejudice that would have otherwise silenced him, that is seen by people who knew him as the model for how Queer people should act.
Or the woman minister I know in my denomination, who was the first woman minister in her regional body, who is praised by her contemporaries as “knowing how to not be confrontational” and “knowing how to meet the group where they were”. They praise this as if it is the model for how a woman minister should be, rather than acknowledging that this woman had to diminish herself in order to be seen as non-threatening, OR recognizing that this particular woman had the choice, personality, and support structure that allowed her to do this.
Some people who are members of oppressed peoples have the desire, giftedness, support structure, and mental health to purposefully choose to diminish themselves in order to advance the group they represent. Bless those people. But that doesn’t mean it should be normative for us in the dominant culture to expect that, nor does it obligate them to perform in ways that do not threaten our dominance.