Today’s a big day!
Today is the one year anniversary of Kathy Khang’s important book, Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How We Speak Up! To celebrate, below is an excerpt from her book. Go buy it. Give your money to women, especially women of color.
This excerpt is from her first chapter, “Seen and Not Heard”. How very true this is for women. I also wanted to share this particular excerpt because it highlights friends Amena Brown and Soul City Church, which is co-pastored by Jeanne Stevens.
Last year, I hosted Kathy on The Global Fringe podcast. In that episode, we talked about the biblical story of Esther in a way I’d never heard before but resonated with so deeply. Kathy’s attitude is empowering. She doesn’t shy away from addressing issues of justice and mercy and how we are created to use our voices for the betterment of another. And as a justice warrior, Kathy helps us identify necessary self-care as an act of political warfare.
She’s a force. Listen. Follow. Learn from her.
The Stories We Tell
I had the honor of watching my friend, author and artist Amena Brown, raise her voice at Soul City Church in Chicago. Amena told us a story about her grandmother and the care she put into packing food for family members who were traveling. Her grandmother would carefully wrap a slice of cake in waxed paper and put fried chicken in a paper towel and foil. These lovingly packed meals were important to African Americans in the time before the passage of the Civil Rights Act, when black travelers didn’t know if they would be able to find a restaurant that would serve them.
As I recall Amena’s performance, mannerisms, and imitation of her grandmother’s speech and cadence, I can see how the warm memories of food dovetailed into a story of racial injustice. Amena can tell this story because of who she is and who her people are. And while I can share her story here, I can’t pos- sibly embody the story because it’s not in my bones or blood.
But I can share the story of how my grandmother, who was a child in Korea during Japanese rule, was widowed before she turned forty while raising five children and how she never remarried. I can tell you how she refused to tell me her Japanese name, but did tell me about why she choose not to remarry—because she would have been forced to prioritize her role as wife over her role as mother, even though it was difficult to live as a single mother in her patriarchal culture.
Amena’s grandmother and my grandmother. Two different women, two different periods in history—but injustice didn’t silence them or stop them from acting on their own behalf and on behalf of their families. We need to give voice to these uniquely embodied stories. We need their complexity and beauty. And this is where I see my story, and the various stories of diverse communities, and the biblical stories of Esther, the bleeding woman, Moses, the women at the cross, and the resurrection colliding—in identity formation, in community, and in advocacy against racism and misogyny.
Most of the books I’ve read and speakers I’ve heard on the topic of voice and identity have been white men or women with little nuance and contextualization for individuals and communities that reside both on the margins and simultane- ously in the intersections. I believe we need to address voice and identity through the intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, and class, as well as in personal and public spheres of communication. The growing focus on racial reconciliation and the pursuit of justice only highlights the lack of nonwhite and nonblack voices, especially but not exclusively in evangelical circles. Women of color need to be part of the reconciling work of the gospel. We all need to understand that voice, identity, and agency are given by God but often underdeveloped or ignored in people on the margins. We need to be seen and heard.