I met Kathy Khang face-to-face for the first time at the Wild Goose Festival in the Summer of 2014. I had no idea then, our paths would intersect again over a progressive Christian conference with an all-white lineup.
When we met that hot night in the beer tent of that progressive festival, I couldn’t have imagined that knowing Kathy as a social media neighbor (via Twitter and
Facebook) meant self-confrontation over my white privilege three years later.
Kathy and I aren’t close friends. But we are social media neighbors.
As virtual neighbors we would meet again in 2017 in our virtual neighborhood over the proposed Peace of the Gospel Conference.
Let me tell you how I arrived there.
In February of this year, I saw a link promoting a powerhouse lineup for the Conference. Richard Rohr, Brian McLaren, Diana Butler Bass, Richard Beck, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Mike Morrell, and others.
This is what happened. I took one look at those progressive heavy hitters and in a heartbeat, I was talking to my wife about going to the conference. I got my ticket and I was pumped.
Then as virtual neighbors, Kathy and I met over this in April.
I saw her expose progressive white privilege and power as she immediately exercised her Asian American agency by questioning the all-white lineup on her Facebook wall.
She got my attention.
I mean, I had noticed the lineup but then again, I hadn’t noticed.
There it was. My white privilege so glaringly out there with my ticket to go to the conference and my excitement about going.
In a New York second, Kathy had seized my attentiveness. Just like that. Suddenly, my full attentiveness to my Asian American female virtual neighbor was locked in. I messaged her over FB. What could I do?
She counseled me to go to the conference but contact the organizers/speakers about this glaring discrepancy.
The feedback I got back when I emailed one of the speakers was powerfully insightful. Especially after all that I know now six months later.
When you strip it all down to the bare essentials, it looks like this: the Peace of the Gospel Conference never materializes to be a scheduled event if 1) there is no collective affinity for Girardian ideas, and 2) there is not a strong affection among some of these progressives toward Michael Hardin, and 3) if there is no networking of white progressives with Hardin for white togetherness over number 1.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to paint all the progressive whites who love Girard with a broad paint brush. I know some progressives have been incredibly impacted by Girard and genuinely seek diversity. Brian McLaren, for example, who was scheduled to speak at this conference was one of the frontline peace protesters in Charlottesville, Va.
But where was the self-confrontation among these white speakers when Hardin was organizing this event? Where was the self-confrontation when there was this networking among these white speakers toward this all-white togetherness?
My self-confrontation didn’t begin when I registered for the conference and paid my money.
It began when I my virtual neighbor spoke up.
This is 2017. Where is the diversity? It got lost out on the periphery, the backburner when the cluster of those above three points merged in white togetherness.
Girard. Affection for Hardin. Informal white networking centering around 1 & 2.
It becomes a scheduled, publicized event with those three points with no self-confrontation about the white conference in 2017.
Can you believe what the outcome would have been had the organizers/speakers had the same affection for Kathy Khang as they did for Hardin?
For me, self-confrontation meant I intentionally became attentive to my neighbor. I wanted to learn from her with both ears open. I assumed since Kathy was a key, pivotal voice in exposing the whiteness of this conference that the organizers/speakers would turn to hear with the same self-confrontation that I began to exercise.
That would not happen.
One thing Michael Hardin and I agree on is that Kathy as a virtual neighbor was the first to point out the all-white lineup of the conference.
The “small world” of the social media cuts both ways.
I had white progressive friends promoting the conference via social media because online connection has this incredible social capital and proximity 24/7. I shared the link.
Kathy saw it. She was my online neighbor. In other words, the promotion of the conference was happening in her online neighborhood. Kathy calls out white privilege and power occurring in her neighborhood community. Small world. It cuts both ways.
As my neighbor, she got my attention. It was a lesson in self-confrontation.
For those of you who might not know my neighbor, as an Asian American female she feels the call of God to speak up when she notices racism and sexism. She feels uncomfortable doing that because of her background.
But I can assure you as her online neighbor the past four years, Kathy holds online clinics about exposing racism, exposing white privilege and power almost every day in her neighborhood. Oh, they are not formal clinics. If you are her online neighbor and you are paying attention, you are going to learn about white power and privilege in the details of everyday life.
About a month later, I contact Kathy. Any news, I asked? She reported no movement.
During the summer, I had a conversation with a progressive individual and when I shared with this individual, Kathy’s call out, this individual thought Kathy meant well, but was sabotaging a good thing.
Then last month, I got Hardin’s email about the cancellation.
I was stunned. Angry for my friend, Kathy. Angry that this guy was blaming Kathy.
And what about other speakers/organizers to this event?
No one in Kathy’s online neighborhood reached out in private with intentional attentiveness.
Progressive whites who write blogs and books (promoted through blogs and social media) assuming a small world never modeled self-confrontation/full attentiveness to their non-white neighbor who had called them out.
From April onward, I was compelled to process through her lens white men who write books and blogs about an inclusive Jesus who then network together for all-white conference on Gospel peace in her neighborhood. She was one phone call away. One email away to open up an attentive conversation.
I am heartbroken that the speakers or organizers from that scheduled conference did not make any effort to seek Kathy out with full attentiveness in the small world they inhabit. In 2017, we need to become attentive to our WOC neighbors. Learning to become peacemakers in our small world has to mean more than white togetherness over abstract, disembodied ideas. What would have happened had any of the organizers or speakers had deep affection for a non-white neighbor in such a way that they would have said from the very start, "Hey, if I am in on this, you got to have WOC or this POC."
This whole thing reinforces for me the power of dyadic interracial friendship.
As I mentioned at the beginning, Kathy and I aren’t close friends. But we are online neighbors. I have learned a ton about racism, white privilege and power, my whiteness through being Kathy’s neighbor.
We had this risk-taking, trust-building dyadic conversation after the Hardin email arrived. Then we had texted back and forth throughout the day she posted her blog Hardin's scapegoating and the lack of diversity. It showed me the power of how a dyadic cross-race friendship may be just as important for exposing systemic whiteness as conferences about diversity.