I attended a meeting this evening. There were six or seven of us, and we began by sharing why we were present. I said that I was invited, but that was not an adequate answer. I was expected to say something—to compose a statement about myself—to compose my voice.We were all speaking in English, so my voice was an English voice, with an American tone and a mood. The mood; how can I describe that? How do you get in the right mood, and what mood was I in? Since I had come late, the mood of the group was already there. The question was if I could join this mood. Could my voice chime in with the groups’ mood?
As I listened, the mood seemed to be a manager’s mood—a mood of making things better, as though if we improve “things” we will be OK. I don’t think we need to improve things; we need to change things. If something is not working, why make its not working better? We need to find something that works.
So I proposed that we need to change things. Did “I” really say this? Yes I did, but who was involved in the composition of my voice? Who really spoke when I said that we needed to change things? What does my voice voice?
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, when I grew up, I gave up my childish ways”New Testament: Corinthians 13:10
What does that mean? If you are no longer a child, how do you compose your voice? Who do you speak for? Who speaks with you? Whose speech do you respond to? What are the parts that compose your voice?
When I speak, I enter the English language; a diverse language that has given voice to domination and to freedom. I must select my terms carefully to ground myself in one of the other. In American English, there is no neutral place. As a white male, I can speak of freedom and deny the legacy of slavery, or I can speak as another human being; as one living with others, who has lived a life during the same time as others. I can speak as a citizen.
The composition of my voice, in other words, could come about through the inclusion of the misery and hopes of those who are hurting. They could influence the tone and mood of what I say. It would be better, of course, if those who had suffered from the structures of white male privilege were in the room, but in many meetings, they are not. If my voice does not include them, whose will?