Step in front, then step aside
In 2015 I had the pleasure to attend a Sunstone Education Foundation event, “Theology from the Margins Conference” where the keynote speech was given by Rev. Dr. Fatimah Salleh. Her sermon was one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life. She spoke about the Canaanite woman who sought out Jesus to receive a healing for her daughter (Mark 7:24-30). Christ’s disciples tried to turn her away because they found her cries annoying, yet she persisted. Even Jesus tells her that he didn’t come here to teach her and she replied, “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Christ declared her faith mighty and healed her daughter within the hour. Dr. Salleh asked the audience to reflect about those on the margins of our faith that we turn away from the Savior because they make us uncomfortable. Who are we denying access to the Savior because we think the Gospel isn’t for them? Dr. Salleh also spoke to the mostly white (heterosexual, able-bodied, middle class) audience about using our privilege to step to the front and then step aside to hand the spotlight over to a marginalized voice. A voice on the margins. I have thought about this sermon hundreds of times over the last few years. I even spoke about this sermon recently in one of my Masters classes while we discussed the Black Lives Matter movement about what we can do with our privilege to affect change.
To take Dr. Salleh’s wisdom and put it into action, I would like “step in front, then step aside” and use this space to highlight remarkable women putting their bodies and lives on the line to speak out about systemic and institutional racism.
Reverend Dr. Fatimah Salleh received her PhD in Mass Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill a Master’s Degree in Public Communications from Syracuse University, and a Master’s degree in Divinity from Duke University. She served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Campinas, Brazil. She is the founder of A Certain Work, an organization dedicated to educating on issues of faith, diversity, equity, and inclusion. She co-authored the book, The Book of Mormon for the Least of These, Volume 1, with Margaret Olsen Hemming, which was published in 2020. Her Twitter handle is @timasalleh
“I had to endure my own faith shattering. As I result, I have learned to hold my faith very tenderly; I allow it to fall apart, to grow, and to morph in ways that are unexpected because I have learned that I don’t want to hold it so tight that I can’t grow it with God.” —Rev. Dr. Fatimah Salleh, Dialogue, Vol. 53, No. 1
Austin Channing Brown is a bestselling author, public speaker, and producer whose work centers the Black experience in America. Brown holds space for racial justice and celebrates the dignity of Blackness. She is an inspired leader on racial justice and anti-racism work. She is the author of I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness and the executive producer of the web series, The Next Question. Brown’s interview on Brené Brown’s podcast is required listening for everyone attempting to engage in anti-racism work. Her Twitter handle is @austinchanning
“Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origins than we are worried about our comfort. It’s not a comfortable conversation for any of us. It is risky and messy. It is haunting work to recall the sins of our past. But is this not the work we have been called to anyway? Is this not the work of the Holy Spirit to illuminate truth and inspire transformation? It’s haunting. But it’s also holy.” —Austin Channing Brown on Unlocking Us podcast
Ijeoma Oluo is a New York Times bestselling author of So you want to talk about race, which the National Review of Books described as “much-needed and timely” when it was published in 2017. Oluo has written essays for The Establishment, The Guardian, TIME, Jezebel, The Stranger, and many more. Oluo was named of The Root‘s 100 Most Influential African Americans in 2017, named one of the most influential women in Seattle by Seattle Met, and is the 2018 winner of the Feminist Humanist Award by the American Humanist Society. Oluo’s work calls attention to race and identity and the intersections of that with feminism, mental and social justice. Her writing is blunt, sharp, intelligent, and stirs my soul. I’ve been following her public posts on Facebook for years and she describes herself as “a queer, fat, black woman with ADD and chronic anxiety” and an “internet yeller”. Her Twitter handle is @IjeomaOluo
“When somebody asks you to “check your privilege” they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing and may in fact be contributing to those struggles. It is a big ask, to check your privilege. It is hard and often painful, but it’s not nearly as painful as living with the pain caused by the unexamined privilege of others. You may right now be saying “but it’s not my privilege that is hurting someone, it’s their lack of privilege. Don’t blame me, blame the people telling them that what they have isn’t as good as what I have.” And in a way, that is true, but know this, a privilege has to come with somebody else’s disadvantage—otherwise, it’s not a privilege.”
― Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race
Layla F. Saad is an author and a teacher who teaches on topics of leadership, social change, identify, race, and personal transformation. Saad is the bestselling author of the book Me and White Supremacy published in 2020. Saad also hosts the Good Ancestor Podcast, and the found of the Good Ancestor Academy. Saad says that her desire to be a good ancestor drives her work to leave a legacy of healing and liberation for black girls and women. Saad’s work confronts all systems of oppression, including white supremacy and patriarchy. Saad was raised in the U.K, Tanzania, and Swindon and currently resides in Doha, Qatar.
“White silence is white violence.”
“Pain and shame are neither desirable nor sustainable as long-term strategies for transformational change. It is my hope that love is what initially brought you to this work. It is my conviction that love is what will keep you going.”
Ally Henny is a writer and speaker who focuses on issues on America’s race issues, racial healing, and racial conciliation from a faith-based perspective. Henny is currently pursuing her Masters in Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. She writes “The Armchair Commentary” blog about the intersection of race, culture, and faith. Henny hosts the “Combing the Roots” podcast, which can be found on iTunes, Spotify, and Google. On the podcast Henny uses her Christian worldview and perspective as a black woman to address contentious issues surrounding the history and culture of racism in America. Henny is a regular contributor for The Witness: A Black Christian Collective, where she writes about black motherhood. Her Twitter handle is @thearmchaircom
“Part of laying down your privilege is listening to oppressed people without arguing, interrogating, minimizing, or gaslighting them.” -Ally Henny via Facebook
Dr. Mica McGriggs earned a PhD in Counseling Psychology from Brigham Young University. She was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Columbia University in New York City. She is the Director of Diversity Equity & Inclusion at The Ethical Culture Fieldston School. Dr. McGriggs’ research focuses on multicultural sensitivity, intersectional feminism, and the somatic embodiment of racial trauma. Dr. McGriggs’ writing often calls attention to white fragility and white supremacy within Mormonism. Dr. McGriggs’ writing has been featured in The Huffington Post, Teen Vogue, The Sunstone Magazine, Salt Lake Tribune, and she is a regular speaker at many events addressing racial equality and Mormonism. She is currently teaching a course “Racial Equity & Social Impact Course with Dr. Mica McGriggs” online, the first session of which is sold out. You can register for the second session starting July 20th here. Her Twitter handle is @Mica_McGriggs
“The impact of the priesthood and temple ban is not just social; it is personal. Many hearts have been broken over it. Many still ache. Many more will break in the future. [The LDS church’s essay “Race and the Priesthood”] should offer a balm instead of an apologetic. It should open the way for repentance, forgiveness, and atonement rather than rationalizing the issue. It should show its trust that the hearts of its members are open, good, and convertible.” —Dr. Mica McGriggs, Sunstone Magazine, “The Continuing Effects of the Priesthood ban
There are thousands more Black activist women whose work, writing, and voices who could be included in the space. I would encourage white readers to engage in the work of women like Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” Tressie McMillan Cottom, author of “Thick: And Other Essays,” Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross, authors of “A Black Women’s History of The United States,” Claudia Rankine, author of “Citizen: An American Lyric,” Imbolo Mbue, the author of “Behold the Dreamers,” and every book in the literary canon of women like Toni Morison, Maya Angelou, Octavia Butler, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, Zora Neale Hurston, and more.
And if you’re not already, you need to be following Tamu Smith and Zandra Vranes at Sistas in Zion on Facebook, Twitter, and read their book Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons: Finding the Lord’s Lessons in Everyday Life.