The Table Podcast

Learning from Difficult Conversations on Diversity

In this episode, Dr. Darrell L. Bock, Mikel Del Rosario, Kymberli Cook, and Amanda Stidham discuss learning from difficult conversations on diversity.

Difficult Conversations on Diversity
  1. Beginning Difficult Conversations
  2. Learning from Difficult Conversations on Diversity
Timecodes
00:15
Beginning Hendricks Center discussions on diversity
11:25
Del Rosario’s background and demographics of Orange County, CA
14:02
Cook’s background and demographics of McPherson, KS
14:55
Stidham background and demographics of Memphis, TN
16:33
Responses to a movie night featuring Hidden Figures
22:22
Staff insights from student focus groups
29:46
Developing a reading list on ethnic diversity
34:03
Learning from diverse perspectives
40:06
Beginning difficult conversations on diversity
45:53
The challenges of difficult conversations on diversity
52:00
Understanding diversity and identity
Transcript
Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table. We discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Darrell Bock, executive director for the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary, and I am surrounded by a significant part of my Hendricks Center team. We are in the middle of a series on difficult conversations and we have had one piece where we’ve talked about difficult conversations in general, but now we’re going to try and apply that conversation to a particularly problematic area not just in communities but in our society at large, and that has to do with issues tied to race and ethnicity, and we’ve been involved in a really three-year-plus process of trying to help our own community think through issues of diversity and that story has a beginning and a middle. It doesn’t have an ending yet.

We’re still working through it, and in fact, we’re actually in the process of transitioning from doing the ground work that we have done on this topic to actually beginning to do things specifically aimed at the community at large and producing reflection and discussion about it.

So I’ve brought our staff in at the Hendricks Center to discuss this, and so to my immediate left, it’s probably your right as you face the screen, is Kym Cook. Everything’s a matter of perspective, right, and then Amanda Stidham is on the end over there, and then Mikel Del Rosario, who you also might recognize as sometimes hosts this podcast, is on my right. The reason they’re here is because we as a staff have worked through how we went about this and how we wanted to help our community deal with it, so I’m gonna go back to the beginning and just kind of walk through the process of what it is that we’ve been doing, but to do that, you need a before, and a during, and as I said, there isn’t going to be an after ’cause we haven’t gotten there yet, but let’s start with where we started, and I think Kym and Mikel have been with us the longest, so Kym, let me start with you ’cause this is the South and ladies go first.

Kymberli Cook
That’s so sweet.
Darrell Bock
I know. So when you think about the way you might have thought about walking into a diversity discussion when you joined us on this staff, what was your take on things in terms of thinking about the issue?
Kymberli Cook
That’s a loaded question.
Darrell Bock
It is a loaded question.
Kymberli Cook
I would say I have always felt like I was very open to different cultures, and diversity, and different ethnicities, and when I was in high school and college, I did a lot of traveling, and did quite a bit of living in different countries, and felt like I was a pretty good person at the diverse conversation, and having sensitivities in that area, and I learned that although maybe I had a willingness, I had very little knowledge for what the particular issues we faced are.
Darrell Bock
Okay. All right, that’s a good overview, and Mikel, what was your take on this? Of course, you have cross-cultural experience that’s pretty significant. We probably should bring that out before I ask the question.
Mikel Del Rosario
Sure. Well, this is an area where I feel I could grow the most in terms of the things that we discuss at the Center because I was born in the United States but I grew up in the Philippines, so I’m Filipino American but grew up in the Philippines as a missionary kid. My parents were with Campus Crusade for a while, and really especially in the South, the conversation between the African American community and the Anglo community is something that I felt that, one, I didn’t really understand as much, and then secondly, I’m not entirely sure how I fit in to that conversation, and so is it something where I just help facilitate or do I stand back and watch? Is there something I can do to speak into that and help people with reconciliation or whatever?

So that was interesting for me to be part of that conversation with a little bit of an outside, but also now living here in Texas for a number of years, too.

Darrell Bock
Yeah, and I think it’s fair to say that in the conversation that we’ve had, that Mikel, because he had this hybrid position where he was working between his own background and the particular conversations that take place in the United States, was hovering over our discussion like a conscience and reminding us about the depth and the width of this discussion, so Mikel, we’re glad you’re with us.

Amanda, you came in in the middle of this, really. We had already started but hadn’t really done very many of our full public seminary events yet. So how did you walk into this conversation?

Amanda Stidham
Well, honestly, my answer is not the most positive. Full disclosure, I thought this conversation was something that had already been resolved, so I was very naïve. I thought this was a conversation for the 1960s. I thought that there wasn’t much to discuss. I was completely wrong, mind you, but that’s kind of how I came into it when we started talking about the readings we were gonna do and some of the things that we were gonna talk about, I was a little bit shocked and excited but also confused as to why we needed to, because again, I was naïve to the fact that we needed to have this discussion.
Darrell Bock
Now I’m gonna explain to everybody why we’re starting here. This podcast is about our internal corporate experience as we went through this, and so as a staff and as we were preparing to help other people go through the same space, and so this group is intentionally put together to talk about what we learned as we were going through this process because not only were we doing events for the campus but we also were in the process of developing a reading list for the campus that took much of one summer to prepare and then a whole ‘nother year to walk through. We’re going to be telling you that story as we move through, and so the makeup of the group is what it is because it’s the team that went through this process and that’s why we’re structured the way we are, and you’ll see how we attempted to adjust with the nature of the makeup of this group to have this conversation by some of the things that we do, so let me start where we started.

The first set of events that we did, we did two privilege walks. We did one of them in Lamb Auditorium, which when you put hundreds of people in a short space, put a line down the middle, and ask them to separate on the basis of questions, it was pretty crowded.

Kymberli Cook
It doesn’t really work.
Darrell Bock
It doesn’t really work, so some of what we’re going to be sharing is what we did that worked and what we did that didn’t. It sorta worked but then there were two things that happened with that event that are of interest. One was we posted the fact that we were having this event online and then we did a subsequent one outside in what is our quad where we had a lot more space and we had people stretched out. We even filmed that one and posted a little 90 second film of what was going on, and what was interesting was the difference of reaction inside our community versus the mere posting of the fact that we were having a privilege walk on the other.

Let me explain what a privilege walk is. A privilege walk is a walk in which you ask a series of questions that’s designed to chronicle the different kind of experiences that people have, and in some cases, the inherent advantage that they have depending on where they are in society, and so it’s a series of questions like how many of you grew up in a two-parent home? How many of you grew up in a certain part of the city? How many of you had a certain kind of experience like being pulled over for being in a neighborhood or something like that?

It’s a series of those kinds of questions and if the response is a positive response in terms of the question, you step forward, and if it’s a negative response in terms of the question, not yes or no but if it’s a negative experience, you step back. And so everyone lines up on the same line, and hopefully after you’ve asked about 15, 20 questions, you see this spread.

And so there were two things that happened when we did this. One was we recognized as we were asking the questions the first go around that because we were dealing with predominantly graduate students, we were already in a privileged conversation, to some degree. People who have the means to get a college education and go on to graduate school are already on a certain scale, so that skewed our results, I think would be fair to say. Then the second thing that we got was a very positive reaction internally to what it was we were doing and how people thought this was a very good exercise and they were glad we did it, that kind of thing.

But then there was the reaction and when we posted this on Facebook, which maybe the lesson is don’t post anything on Facebook.

Kymberli Cook
Always the lesson.
Darrell Bock
We started to get pushback, things like, “Well, it’s clear Dallas Seminary’s gone liberal because they’re having a privilege walk.” Of course what they didn’t know is that we had framed the entire discussion by having a little devotional before we did it on the parable of Good Samaritan, which is Jesus’ call to love your neighbor, and so I guess if that represents liberal ideology then maybe we’re guilty, but I think Jesus is showing us the way in terms of being sensitive to people that we’re talking about.
We also have the theological roots of the church is designed to be a place where reconciliation is evident, where you bring Jews and gentiles together, Ephesians 2
11-22 as a classic example, coming right off the classic text of, “Salvation is by grace, through faith, not of works, lest anyone should boast, and we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works.” And the first good work that’s listed in the latter part of that chapter is the work of reconciliation that takes place in the church, so I’m thinking this is pretty significant to pursue this.

So that’s the theological basis for what we did, but we got the reaction that we did and it produced a little bit of a stir. We also began to get a little bit of stirring, even though the response on campus was generally positive, a little bit of stirring on the campus, and as Amanda has already said, some of it was, “Haven’t we had this conversation?”

So my question for you, it’s a long setup, but my question for you all is when we initially started to pursue this as a discussion internally and to think about it, what was your reaction to the fact that we were going to step into this discussion and have it, and I’ll start with Mikel since I’ve already labeled him as the conscience. Go ahead, Mikel.

Mikel Del Rosario
Well, when we were going to move into this area, one, as I’ve mentioned already, this is one area where I feel like I could grow the most just because not having grown up in the United States, really when I went to college in Southern California was the first time that I know as an adult that I moved to the United States, and the conversation in Southern California is very different than what we have in the South here where there’s lots of Hispanics. There’s lots of Asians and it’s unless you’re in certain pockets, you don’t have a white majority in a lot of places.
Darrell Bock
Now you’re talking about in California?
Mikel Del Rosario
Yes, but here, I feel like there’s a regional discussion that happens and so that was interesting to me.
Darrell Bock
So are you saying that the black-white discussion in particular is a little more intense here because you don’t have quite the mix, or there’s the feeling that you don’t have quite the mix, or is it because of the history, or were you still trying to get your hands around all of that?
Mikel Del Rosario
Possibly because of the history and the region, the area. When we were doing ministry in Southern California with Vietnamese refugees and Hispanics, the Hispanic and Vietnamese Asian gang, those were the concerns, gang warfare between Asian gangs and Hispanic gangs, and so there wasn’t as much of a black-white conversation in Orange County, where we were at, at least the ministry that we were doing, and so walking into this for me was something kind of new.

Also, it was kind of like Amanda, to see how relevant it really is for so many people who don’t feel like the conversation has already been discussed, and settled, and there’s really still a lot of hurt. I was surprised to hear even Tony Evans said that in the ’80s even people were concerned about having him, as an African American, on the radio, and I was, “Wow, really?” And so that was really eye opening for me.

Darrell Bock
So we probably should go through and disclose the regions that we grew up in ’cause that might help people as well. So you’re in California, right, Southern California, or SoCal, as you call it. I didn’t hear that phrase until I heard it from your mouth, but I feel like an original now ’cause when I go down there, I hear all those people saying SoCal, so thank you for introducing me to how to do my lingo right when I’m in L.A.

And you grew up in?

Kymberli Cook
The Midwest. I grew up in Kansas.
Darrell Bock
McPherson, Kansas.
Kymberli Cook
McPherson, Kansas.
Darrell Bock
Population?
Kymberli Cook
I don’t know. I don’t want to embarrass McPherson. Maybe 30,000, but I actually grew up – this is a true Kansan. I grew up in a little unincorporated town outside of that.
Darrell Bock
You were in a suburb of McPherson.
Kymberli Cook
Yeah. It was 101 friendly people, is what the sign says.
Darrell Bock
Do they not count the unfriendlies?
Kymberli Cook
Well, I don’t think it actually is 101 people. I think that was really optimistic, from a little tiny town outside of a small town.
Darrell Bock
They tell you you can count church growth or something, right? That’s great, okay, so you’re Midwest.
Kymberli Cook
Midwest, very, very Anglo, very.
Darrell Bock
Okay, and Amanda?
Amanda Stidham
I grew up in a racially diverse area in Memphis, Tennessee. It’s about two million people in the metropolis but I think the majority is African American, around 65 percent.
Darrell Bock
And your school experience, was it racially mixed?
Amanda Stidham
It was. At the time, I didn’t understand what that meant. I went to a private school and we did have a lot of African Americans that attended the school. I didn’t understand that they were privileged more so than any other African American person. Now looking back, I can see that they did have privilege but I didn’t know how to call that or what to call that when I was that age.
Darrell Bock
Now it sounds like you may have had the most mixed experience growing up. I grew up in Texas but I went to a private school that was not very desegregated. I was in the ’60s conversation. That was all going on when I was growing up.

How mixed were the communities that functioned in your school or did people pretty much keep to themselves and to their own ethnicities?

Amanda Stidham
So I grew up in a suburb called Bartlett outside of Memphis and it was not very mixed at all. It was not very diverse, but again, at the time, since I was naïve to this conversation and the fact that we needed to have it, I didn’t know it wasn’t mixed. I just assumed the people I went to school with were the same as me. I didn’t really spend a lot of time in East Memphis or West Memphis, for that matter, where they did have poor communities or communities with a lot of racial ethnicities and things of that nature.
Darrell Bock
All right, so now let’s come to the next step of what we did, so we did the privilege walks and that got us started. Then our next grand idea was to do a movie night. Okay, you shook your head. You have to pay for that look.
Kymberli Cook
We were trying.
Darrell Bock
We were trying, okay, so we scheduled this movie called Hidden Figures and thinking doing a movie night and wanting to build a discussion around it, and our goal had been to introduce a film that, one, people could sit and watch and we had popcorn and stuff like that for it just to give a feel for the event and help everybody relax, and then have a discussion afterwards, and of course this was a film that was very popular in Anglo communities when it was released, and those of you who don’t know what Hidden Figures was, it was a film on three African American women who worked with NASA whose story had basically been unknown and talked about the social conditions and the way in which they were treated in the midst of their work with NASA, and showing really almost it was an attempt I think to show at least at one level some of the hidden prejudicial things that were going on in society at the time.

This is a movie obviously about the ’60s and so it was designed to do that and I think probably one of the most well-known parts of the film is how the bathroom situation was handled at NASA and there are scenes that are loaded with both humor but are trying to make a point about the way that worked for a black woman who was at NASA who had to walk all the way across the complex to use the restroom and it would cause them to be absent from their desk for a while, and there was a lot of play around that.

But we had chosen this movie as a discussion starter, for lack of a better description, and we’re going into it swimmingly, enjoying what had been planned, and all of a sudden, we got rumblings, and Kym, I’ll let you describe what those rumblings were and what we did about it. So the rumblings that we got from some of our own community, some of the African American community on campus, talk a little bit about that and then how we tried to deal with that?

Kymberli Cook
Well, generously and graciously, they took us aside and said, “This isn’t as –”
Darrell Bock
Positive.
Kymberli Cook
“– easy of a situation that you are thinking that it is. It’s not as positive of a movie as you’re thinking that it is. Here’s how it’s been received in the African American community and here are the concerns with it. Here are our concerns with it, and you’re getting ready to step into something that you probably don’t know what’s coming.”
Darrell Bock
“You don’t know what you’re gonna step into,” yeah.
Kymberli Cook
“We are, as your brothers and sisters in Christ, saying please be careful and you really need to think through this.” So from that, we took those brothers and sisters in Christ and said, “Thank you. Thank you so much for making us aware of this and aware of our own ignorance in this area,” and we formed basically some –
Darrell Bock
Focus group.
Kymberli Cook
A focus group, thank you. I couldn’t focus. We formed some focus groups with those individuals and some other diverse voices on the campus to help us because we are a predominantly Anglo staff, to help us think through some things where we could recognize that we might be ignorant to conversations that we should not be ignorant of if we’re trying to engage in this discussion.
Darrell Bock
Exactly, and so we put this together, and so we actually had pre-meetings that was actually a discussion about whether to show the film or not, whether it would be wise to do so, et cetera, but because we’re stubborn, we pressed ahead and decided to do it, but talked about how to set it up, and we learned something that’s very core about difficult conversations and I’m sure this is something that Dr. Barnes, and Dr. Woody, and I discuss in the first part, which is that all conversations have three levels. There’s the what you’re talking about. There’s the level of the filter that you take that through and then there is the way by which your identity is impacted by that conversation, and most people when they have their conversations are only thinking about the top layer.

They’re reacting on the basis of the other two but they’re only thinking about the top layer, and so actually when I speak about this nationally to audiences, the only thing I have to do to illustrate that second layer is to go, “Let me give you two phrases, CNN and Fox News,” and the moment I do that, people immediately get, yeah, there are filters through which this top layer is going through and so the result of what you get when you take stuff through the filters ends up looking very differently. In fact, my joke when I do this, I say, “And sometimes you wonder if they’re living on the same planet even though they’re looking at the same thing.”

So this is a very natural thing and we were trying to probe what produces those filters. Well, one of the things that produces those filters obviously is a different kind of experience. They’ve had a different kind of experience that has in some way shaped the way they see what’s going on and these focus groups allowed us I think to begin to probe why is it you can look at the same set of phenomena and see very different things. So I would say the focus groups were pretty helpful to us.

Amanda, again, you came in in the middle of this process rather than from the very beginning, but you sat in on some of these focus group discussions. Tell me what your experience was in working through those.

Amanda Stidham
So the first focus group I sat in on, again, I was coming into it was a naiveté of being unaware that this was a conversation that needed to be had, so once I got on board and started to trust that I was hearing that, yes, you do need to be engaged in this conversation, I started to feel a visceral reaction within myself of distaste for this conversation, as if I were feeling guilty for something, and this was new, so it was kind of like the third layer you were talking about, the identity. I was feeling like my identity was being questioned or my motives, whereas I didn’t even know I was being tested my whole life. I didn’t know that this was something I needed to be aware of, so I felt ignorant, behind, and just guilty, and so that was a fresh, new wave of feelings and emotions that I started to have to work through.
Darrell Bock
Did you feel frustrated that you were caught out by any of this?
Amanda Stidham
Yeah. I didn’t mean to be a white person. I didn’t mean to do anything wrong, and yet now I’m feeling like I’ve done something wrong without having meant to.
Darrell Bock
Okay, and Mikel, again, you’re in a little bit different kind of position. How are you responding to focus groups that we were having?
Mikel Del Rosario
Well, I think kind of like Amanda, I learned that for a lot of my white brothers and sisters that there’s this feeling of there’s almost a reverse ethnocentrism that happens if they get into the conversation in a certain place where they feel like, “Now I have to apologize for being white and what can I do?” So I learned that there’s a lot of the identity part, which is key, but also that a lot of the Anglo students want to do something. They want to do something but they don’t know what to do and it seems like it’s not entirely defined, and so everyone’s looking for how can I be part of the solution? How can I help facilitate this? It’s kind of ethereal sometimes to people.
Darrell Bock
So it’s a strange position to be in, because on the one hand, you’re trying to get located, okay, and, “Why is this all going on and why am I reacting to it the way that I am?” and yet there’s another part of a person that says, “Well, I’d really like to step into this positively but I’m just not quite sure where to step without getting into trouble.” So there’s an awkwardness to it.
Mikel Del Rosario
To go back to the privilege walk, another thing I learned is we have different perspectives on what privilege actually is.
Darrell Bock
That’s right.
Mikel Del Rosario
So for example, one of the questions said if you grew up in an urban environment, take a couple of steps back, and I thought, “I didn’t know I was not privileged ’cause I grew up in an urban environment ’cause I felt sad for people who had to grow up in the corn.” I had hotels, and malls, and all kinds of things.
Darrell Bock
You had more than 101 friendly people, yeah.
Kymberli Cook
I considered the country a privileged place.
Mikel Del Rosario
I thought, well, I didn’t feel like that was not being privileged. I thought I had a lot of privilege growing up in an urban environment where there were all kinds of resources, public transportation, all this stuff, and so even reevaluating what the definition of privilege is to certain groups of people was kind of new as well.
Darrell Bock
Well, and actually, that’s one of the things that sometimes people complain about about the privilege walk is that it makes certain assumptions about the positivity or negativity about certain kinds of experiences that may or may not be a reflection of the reality, because again, just bringing in the Philippines or most countries around the world, people are drawn to an urban environment because it potentially can provide so much and so our demographics globally are shifting because of what a city can provide. So yeah, there are interesting challenges in relationship to that as well.

We did the Hidden Figures. We had the conversation afterwards. I think it would be fair to say that the discussion that we ended up having, I actually think this is fascinating. I think this is one of the adjustments we made as a result of the focus groups was rather than going in and discussing the film per se and how people reacted to it, and part of that had to do with knowing the history of the film and how accurate it was versus what really happened, which we discovered as a result of the focus groups wasn’t quite a one-to-one match. The discussion that we ended up having was a discussion about why is it that some groups respond positively to this film and other groups respond negatively to this film, and we’re back to where we were. How can you be looking at the same thing and respond so differently?

That was a revealing conversation for a lot of people but it also was a troubling conversation because this was supposed to be a feel good movie and it didn’t make everybody feel good, and so that caused us to dig in a little more and say what’s causing that? Why is it that something that on the surface at least to one group looked so positive can be so problematic to another?

We also during this time launched into a series of doing specific podcasts that addressed this area, so one in particular that I remember, although we did at least a couple, was an interview I did with Tony Evans in which I opened with the question, “Tell me what I, as an Anglo, don’t get about being black in America.” And he spent, I don’t know, five, ten minutes. He just went through a sequence of experiences that he, as a black African American, goes through on a regular basis that I never even have to think about, just one after another.

There’s a well-known article by Peggy McIntosh called, “The Invisible Knapsack,” that does the same kind of thing, and what that’s designed to do is to indicate the difference between two kinds of experiences that is so great that it’s forming, and it also is reflective of what we might call the inherent structures in a society that advantage or disadvantage one group or another. That’s what privilege is, and deal with those kinds of issues. That was a very revealing I think five, ten-minute conversation that he and I had and the beauty of it is that he and I are very good friends and so it’s not an easy discussion but it’s a discussion that we can easily have with one another, and so we put that out on the table.

So we marched along and we decided to do two things. We decided to have another movie night and we decided to begin building a reading list, and I’m actually not entirely sure what the sequence was. They were both happening at the same time. The movie that we decided to take a look at, and I think I’ll go through the movie nights and then come back to the reading list, was the movie, Selma, which we saw as an educational exposure to what actually took place in the ’60s, a kind of way in to that conversation because, again, our student body is relatively young. I mean look at you all are relatively young. How old were you all in the 1960s?

And so we decided that would be a good movie, and again, we got our focus group said, “Now wait a minute. You don’t realize how difficult this discussion is for some people,” and what we got introduced to in that particular sequence was the idea that to in effect relive this trauma is a completely different experience for an African American than it is for an Anglo, and you can already see. We’ve been talking now for almost a half hour. You can already see how focused we were particularly on the black-white discussion and what it was that we were doing, which we’re gonna be coming back to in a second.

So we did this movie and it opened up all the difficult conversation that one has when one deals with race and it was such a success we’ve decided not to do another movie night [laughs].

Kymberli Cook
Just more strategic options, more strategic options.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, that’s right. Kym, walk us through what that reaction was and where that left us.
Kymberli Cook
I feel like the reaction from that particular event was – I’m trying to think. The community as a whole and a variety of different ethnicities and races said, “We understand what you’re trying to do but we think there are better ways for you to be doing it and this isn’t –”
Darrell Bock
“This isn’t taking us anywhere.”
Kymberli Cook
“Yeah, and this isn’t a helpful way to go about this conversation because there are more specific discussions that need to be had than can be surfaced by these kinds of movies at least in the context that we are functioning in.” And so we had to reevaluate how we were gonna go about having a conversation on campus, and really quite frankly, trying to address systemic things on our campus and in our communities rather than just discussing, and I think that was another part of the pushback from several of our efforts was there’s a lot of discussion but there’s not a lot of anything following it up.
Darrell Bock
What gets done, yeah.
Kymberli Cook
And the re-traumatization of just having to consistently talk about this, and hash through it, and it’s just not fair to have to keep doing this when there’s really no change happening.
Darrell Bock
So this put us in an odd position. As that was going on, at the same time we were doing so well, that we were going through a reading list. Now the reading list had originally been a black-white conversation mostly and so the assignment was, this was my responsibility, I said, “I’m gonna take the staff through our reading. I want them to be the test readers for what it is we’re gonna do for the campus.” And we got about three or four weeks in and every staff meeting was a challenge in these discussions, would be the way to say it, and we actually were going through the same sequence with the readings that we were experiencing with the movies, if I can say it that way.

I think that would be the way to summarize it, and so we realized we needed to recalibrate what we were doing because it wasn’t going very well. There was a lot of contention, all the feelings that Amanda described earlier, the frustration, the lack of understanding, the lack of connection, et cetera. That was all surfacing. It was surfacing across the board, and so we weren’t getting anywhere.

So we changed and we went back and we said, “Let’s try this a different way. Why don’t we broaden the discussion? After all, this is a discussion on diversity so we’re not looking at one particularly diverse relationship. Let’s look at a series of them.” And so we went back and we said, “Okay, let’s do some reading about the Hispanic situation. Let’s do some reading on the Asian situation. Let’s do some reading on the black situation. Let’s do some reading on the Native Indian situation. Let’s do some reading on the Caribbeans. Let’s do some reading on the Africans.”

I think we had an Eastern European section as well, so we broadened it, and I think my question here is so what happened? What did that accomplish that we were failing to accomplish in the earlier discussion?

Kymberli Cook
I’ll just speak for myself. It allowed me to see my privilege in a way that I had been confronted with in our first conversations as we read about white guilt, and white fragility, and all of that. I had been told what it was and I didn’t necessarily feel convinced of anything. I just felt very defensive, but seeing it with one people group, after another people group, after another people group, when you get through all of those people groups, you can’t help but look and see –
Darrell Bock
Something’s gotta be going on here, right?
Kymberli Cook
Man, there is, yeah, this is a reality and this is a world that has been going on around me that I had no idea was going on.
Darrell Bock
Amanda?
Amanda Stidham
Well, it kind of opened my eyes again to what Kym was saying, but also it wasn’t a conversation that was me and all my white brothers and sisters against the world. It was reframing it so we’re all on the same team. ‘Cause at first, it was black-white, it just felt like one team against the other, but it’s not like someone’s attacking me personally at all. It was more of we’re all in this together and we need to have a conversation and start to do things to make change together, not like you did something wrong and now you owe me per se. It was how can we all get on the same team. So it took the blame or guilt off my shoulders and helped me to be able to start seeing something from someone else’s perspective so I could understand where they’re coming from.

This is a conversation for any relationship, whether it’s a racial relationship, whether it’s a marriage, just seeing something from someone else’s perspective, and those readings started to open my eyes to that, like, “Amanda, get out of yourself and put yourself in someone else’s shoes.”

Darrell Bock
Yeah, I think the thing that’s interesting about it is it shows the corporate dimensions of what’s going on. In your explanation, you’re separating yourself from what you’re feeling personally from what’s going on around you and you can see there’s a corporate impact that’s going on. It’s going on across all these groups.

The thing that struck me about it was you’d read each group and each group would have the same core reaction to the majority cultural structures that they were operating in, and yet at the same time, they each had their own particular sensitivities that made up their culture, so you could see the similarities and differences, and as you watched it move across all these groups, it was so you’re gonna deny this is going on? Kind of hard to do.

Kymberli Cook
Well, and you saw the systemic oppression of anybody that does not look like us and that really for me was the turning point in the conversation and in my understanding was when I really began to understand and see the system and the systematic problems.
Darrell Bock
Okay, so again, Mikel, as the conscience, you were watching this and your reactions were almost multiple, weren’t they?
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah, well, if I can juxtapose the Selma movie and the readings, the Selma movie is actually something that not a lot of us noticed but there were a lot of international students who were there who, like me, were learning about this. In high school, I took AP US History. I passed the AP US History exam, but I did not have that kind of being able to walk into an experience like that to see really what was happening the way the movie portrayed it, so that was eye opening. That was learning on my part and also especially international students.
Darrell Bock
So it was plugging a hole that you had and helped you to understand why is this such a big deal.
Mikel Del Rosario
Well, it’s not just something you read about in a book. What a movie does is it helps you enter into something emotionally and so that was helpful for me. And then when it came to the readings, one, when we started branching out beyond simply the black-white conversation, not that it’s a simple conversation but exclusively focusing on that, one, I felt heard. I felt like less of a ghost. I felt even though I personally, in my experience growing up in the Philippines and then moving to the United States as an adult, I have not felt held back in any way whatsoever by the fact that I’m not white, but that’s not everybody’s experience, and so rather than me saying, “That’s not a problem. I don’t get denied entrance into this school or that school ’cause I’m not white,” well, but that’s not everyone’s experience, and so that was a learning thing for me as well.
Darrell Bock
Okay, so what we’ve done is we’ve put together this reading list which we haven’t released yet to the public. We’ve actually circulated it not just internally a little bit but we’ve sent the list to a couple of people on the outside to take a look at for us, but we put it together and it is structured around these different groups. Well, there’s a beginning part which is just an orientation to the discussion in general and to the issues of having these kinds of conversations, that they’re difficult, that they’re inevitably turbulent, they’re inevitably challenging people on all sides in a variety of different ways, and then how to think about them, doing some definitional work as well so that people who hear and read terms on a regular basis will understand what they do and don’t mean, which is important, and then we go through these various groups and then we get to the end of the list.

There’s two forms. There’s a short list and a longer list that gets into specific issues that come up where you can see these kinds of things going on. It’s a wide open list in terms of perspectives that are put forward because part of our commitment is to have a conversation in which you’re hearing the whole public square aspect of this conversation, which is important, and so we’re on the edges of releasing this list both to our community and then making it available to people in general.

Tell us about you experience in going through the reads. Now remember, what we did is we not only did the readings together but we had discussions about each piece as we went through it as part of our staff meetings. So let’s talk a little bit about what that experience was like, and even though, Amanda, you asked me not to ask you first on something, on this one, I’m going to ask you first, so tell me what your experience was as we went through the readings on this.

Amanda Stidham
Well, the reading list was very helpful that it started with, as you say, how to have a difficult conversation, so you wrote a piece about the three levels and that was very eye opening because if you’re not privy to it, then you assume that you understand and see things the same as everyone else when really you’re being influenced by your lens and your identity, so just having that piece as one of the preliminary pieces we read was very helpful.

We also read one that was called, I think, Difficult Conversations, where someone is actually writing out almost as a script, say it’s a play or something, whereas someone will say something, it was written out, and on the other side of the sheet it was what that person interpreted, and I’ll tell you, that helped me extremely just within marriage of knowing that 90 percent of what I say – I made that percentage up – but a lot of the percentage of what I say, it is my job to make sure that I am interpreted correctly, and so that opened my eyes to that, that maybe everything you say or everything that is said in society is not interpreted the same way as the way you take it, so that was helpful in the beginning.

As we went through the readings, at first I was still a little naïve and I hadn’t had my eyes fully opened, if you will, and I started to feel guilty but also frustrated and also feeling as if, “Well, this isn’t still a problem. Why are we even doing this? I already have a lot of reading for school. Why am I reading all this stuff? This isn’t still going on.” ‘Cause both the movies we watched were set in the 1960s, and so I’m like this is a conversation for all the people from the 1960s, not necessarily for my generation.

And as we went through, like Kym said, these repetitive problems that we read week after week, you cannot deny it, and so at first, I felt –

Darrell Bock
And these are more recent pieces, too.
Amanda Stidham
Exactly, that was the thing. They were from just a year ago or two years ago, and so I was just unable to deny that this is a problem that needs to be addressed and, “You need to have your eyes open to it, Amanda.” So it took honestly the Holy Spirit within me to humble me to, “Hey, Amanda. This is not something that someone is personally attacking you and this is a problem. You need to have a softened heart to see things from other people’s perspective.”
Darrell Bock
Kym?
Kymberli Cook
What it set out to me, besides, like I said, the systemic, and when I talk about that, I particularly began to identify as I saw some things that I have faced as a woman in maybe more conservative Christianity but even in our wider society, things that I’ve experienced, and that really was when the light turned on as to what systemic problems even look like and thinking, “Oh, my goodness.”
Amanda Stidham
That’s good.
Kymberli Cook
“I know how that feels. I know how it feels to have education, and training, and seniority, and I don’t have certain things open to me,” and so that, and particularly reading Martin Luther King, Jr. I had never read much of him, and so that experience was incredibly meaningful and reading what he wrote in the ’60s and seeing that it was still incredibly relevant today was really eye opening.
Darrell Bock
Mikel?
Mikel Del Rosario
I think for me, the Difficult Conversations piece at the beginning was so helpful to frame every single area of this discussion because it goes beyond even just talking about multiculturalism and diversity. It goes even when you’re talking about world religions, or defending the faith, or anything about what you believe is to not think, well, who’s right and who’s wrong in this situation right away but to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and be able to have that conversation in a way that isn’t combative, in a way that’s more coming alongside the other person and exploring together rather than having an us versus them thing.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, the key part of that conversation is to say that before you actually do an assessment, and figure out what’s right and wrong about it, or what needs to be fixed, or however you’re gonna pursue that conversation, you gotta be sure you’re understanding each other and where each of you are coming from. I sometimes call it getting a spiritual GPS on somebody, and that takes a good deal of listening and what I call muting your assessment meter. It isn’t that you turn it off but that you mute it, that you aren’t responding to someone by thinking about how am I going to respond, react, or rebut what’s being said but your first instinct is to say can I understand what this person is saying to me first and why they’re saying it and then working from that space out, so that’s an important part of the discussion.

Okay, now I’m gonna ask a couple of difficult questions. I’m hearing undulations of guilt, or distancing, or something going on initially. It’s clear you’ve worked through that to some degree in terms of processing it and understanding it. How did you work through it? The way these discussions work is you hit a barrier and usually it’s this reaction, and that becomes – I’m going to use an old evangelical phrase – the hour of decision. I’m using it in a new way. And so now you’ve gotta decide, “Am I gonna step back and withdraw? Am I simply gonna react or am I gonna push through?”

So talk a little bit about that process for each one of you. What was that like? And of course, Mikel, yours is kind of a mixture because you’ve got the understanding of a kind of minority experience on the one hand and yet you’re watching this go on on the other, so how did you process through that?

Mikel Del Rosario
I’m also married to a white woman, so I have my foot in that community as well where my family is white, and so I understand where some of the guilt comes from. I personally didn’t struggle with any guilt going through these but that’s just because I don’t think many authors had people like me in mind when they were writing.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, you were the ghost, as you like to say.
Mikel Del Rosario
But the idea of loving people well is what should make us trudge through what might be difficult, what might be uncomfortable, because in the end, I think we really need to see people as people and not whether it’s world religions, whether it’s a particular race, instead of seeing someone as a Muslim, or seeing someone as an Asian person, whatever, do you see that person as a person. And in the same way that we’re not going to stereotype what a Muslim believes, a particular Buddhist believes, we shouldn’t stereotype the experience of somebody else from a certain ethnicity but really to be that listening ear to understand where they’re coming from, what their experience is, and then to stay the course with them out of love because that’s what Christ has called us to do.
Darrell Bock
Okay, Kym?
Kymberli Cook
Well, my moment was in Dr. Bock’s office when I was upset and he was talking me through this, and you were highlighting you come to this point where it’s uncomfortable, and difficult, and you don’t really want to keep going, and it is a privilege for a white person to even have the option to turn back, whereas most other races and ethnicities don’t have that option because they live in a majority culture world.
Darrell Bock
They have to live in the midst of it. That’s right.
Kymberli Cook
So in and of itself, I’m standing in a privileged position where I can choose to engage and Dr. Bock challenged me that the Christ-like thing is to push through and to enter into discomfort on behalf of another person and on behalf of their well-being and loving them, and so from that, it really was, okay, well, that makes a lot of sense.
Darrell Bock
So you put your head down and went through the wall.
Kymberli Cook
I did my best. I’m still working on it. I feel like none of us are in a place where we feel, “Oh, we’ve got this. We totally understand.” That would be incredibly arrogant and wrong to be saying, but I think that was really one of the points where I thought, “Okay, I understand maybe even more of a theological reason why I’m doing this and how to go about it.” And the first step, at least for me, is pushing through the discomfort and being willing to engage something that I have the privilege to walk away from, sort of, but that other people don’t even have that opportunity and I need to do this for them, and loving them, and that’s how we all become one, anyway.
Darrell Bock
Amanda?
Amanda Stidham
I would say I looked at it through the lens of my giftedness and knowing that I never want to back down from a challenge, and so I did see it as a challenge but I knew that I couldn’t just walk away because it was something that had to be pushed through, like you said. But the turning point was I don’t remember which staff meeting but you repeated yourself a couple of times that, again, like I said earlier, this is not a conversation where someone is attacking you personally. This is a corporate discussion. That kind of took the load off of my shoulders personally and helped me to realize that, okay, you’re actually looking at this as a team and I’m a huge participator, extreme extrovert, so it became me with my team against this problem, not someone or a problem against me, so it kind of lifted the load, if you will.

And also, you’re leading by example of pushing through and not throwing in the towel when it did get uncomfortable. It helped me to open my eyes, well, if a person who did grow up in the ’60s or was alive in the ’60s can push through this, how much more can I do as well.

Darrell Bock
Okay, so one last question for all of you and that is how has this impacted your understanding of identity, both ethnic identity, your own ethnic identity, and human identity? Okay, so let me make that distinction and press through. I’ll go in the same order. Mikel, we’re still in the middle of the discussion. We haven’t landed. Now that’s all clear, but where do you see where we are now as we’re in the midst of this?
Mikel Del Rosario
In terms of identity for me, it solidified in my mind how strongly certain people hold to ethnicity as part of their identity. Now for me personally, that’s not something I hold very, very strongly. I’m cognizant that that’s a part of who I am but I hold much more strongly to other things about me, like being a Christian, for example, whereas for other people, it’s a lot higher on their values list than for me, so just an awareness of that. Also an awareness of whenever someone looks at you, before you even open your mouth about the gospel or anything else, they’ve already formed some kind of an idea about who you are, and what you believe, and especially if you’re from different ethnicities, there may be an unspoken communication thing that’s already going on there that you need to understand, a pre-understanding that you need to know where they’re coming from so that you can engage better.
Darrell Bock
Kym?
Kymberli Cook
It just opened my eyes to the sheltered Kansas world that I grew up in and was functioning from. It’s been interesting. Ever since we’ve gone through a lot of these discussions, my husband and I like to watch old shows from 2000 kind of thing.
Darrell Bock
Those are old.
Kymberli Cook
They’re not old. They’re not necessarily dealing with current issues kind of thing, and I’ve been shocked at how many movies, and shows, and episodes that I’ve seen dealing with racism and that kind of thing that I had never even seen and I never heard the message that they were trying to get across in the ’90s or in the 2000s, and it just showed how I just had my blinders on and I didn’t understand a large part of the world’s experience.
Darrell Bock
Amanda?
Amanda Stidham
I will say you’ve now trained me to fully listen when someone’s speaking so I’m not always thinking about my response per se when the mikes on me, but as I do think through it, I think like Mikel said, it has opened my eyes to my identity in Christ, first and foremost, and how I don’t necessarily think of myself as a white person, not to say that’s good or bad. It’s just what it is, but I do think of my identity as a believer more often now because that’s what connects me to people of a different race. Does that make sense?
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm. Well, I want to thank you all for coming in and helping us talk about this and walking through our ups and downs as a staff as we’ve thought about this. It’s not an easy conversation. It’s a conversation that we’re still learning from, and going through, and we have a terrific debt that we owe to the focus groups that had the willingness to come forward, step forward, speak to us, be honest, in some cases be challenging, and that group you’re gonna be hearing from next when we talk about difficult conversations.

We’ve put together a smaller version of those focus group people to come and share their end of this experience because this is really a three-dimensional conversation, in many ways, and so I think you’ll find that part of this difficult conversations sequence pretty significant. And what we’ve tried to do with the three parts is to walk you through the frame of what a difficult conversation consists of and how it works, what its dynamics can be, and hopefully the dynamics that cause it to move in a positive direction versus breaking down, and then secondly, illustrate one perspective of the difficult conversation where people are on the hard, learning edge of the curve, and then the third part will be the part that a person plays who takes the very difficult position of stepping in and challenging what’s going on and raises the need for a difficult conversation in a way that hopefully will benefit everybody.

So this is a sequence. It’s very different than anything we’ve done before on The Table in terms of how we’re tackling a topic, and our hope is that you’ll find this beneficial, and that you’ll come back for Part 3, and take a look at the whole sequence, and that the whole thing will have been helpful. So we thank you for joining us on The Table and we hope you’ll be back again with us soon.

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Amanda Stidham
Amanda Stidham is the Administrator for the Christian Leadership at the Hendricks Center. Although originally from Memphis, TN, she has lived in Searcy, AR, where she earned her BA from Harding University (double majoring in Bible and Religion and Spanish), Boston, MA where she worked at a staffing firm, and now in Dallas, TX. Amanda is a MBTS student at DTS.
Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than forty books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Kymberli Cook
Kymberli Cook is a doctoral student in Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and serves as the Senior Administrator at the Hendricks Center, overseeing Cultural Engagement events and efforts, pastoral relationships, and creative design. She holds a Master of Theology from DTS and resides in Dallas with her husband and daughter.
Mikel Del Rosario
Mikel Del Rosario is a PhD student in New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, Project Manager for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center, and Adjunct Professor of Apologetics and World Religion at William Jessup University. Mikel co-authors The Table Briefing articles in Bibliotheca Sacra with Darrell Bock, manages the Table Podcast, and helps Christians defend the faith with courage and compassion though his apologetics speaking ministry. He holds a Master of Theology (ThM) from DTS and an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University.
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