Randy Woodley is calling for a boycott of Christian conferences where all of the speakers are white … or there is only a token representation of persons of color. I support his call.
As I view the advertisements in Christian periodicals I am disappointed at how many conferences are still dominated by whites in the 21st century. (Many of these conferences also have few or no women.) This is the century where the demographics in the United States move from a white majority to a cultural and racial plurality. According to US Census reports it is estimated that by 2042 whites will drop below 50% of the population. That is only 30 years from now. How can we acquire the required vision and skill to navigate these transition years using only a white male paradigm for valuing wisdom and expertise?
Even some of the conferences focused on urban ministry, diversity, reconciliation, and social justice are mostly white male speakers. I went to seminary at Howard University School of Divinity, which is a historically black university. I had considered several other seminaries with urban ministry programs. It was a gift to end up at Howard University because the divinity school lived and breathed urban ministry. Yet when I would go to urban ministry conferences most of the experts were white. I never could understand this contradiction. The overwhelming majority of folks living and doing ministry in urban contexts were persons of color. Yet the experts at Christian conferences were mostly white. That was 30 years ago and still we face the same dilemma.
Why do so many Christian conferences continue to have mostly white male speakers? One problem is that many of the sponsoring organizations are predominately white in staff, boards, networks, and worldview. Persons of color are often still on the margins or seen as the “other” in the worldviews of whites. Too many white Christians have limited experience in Christian contexts that are not dominated by whites and therefore lack cultural competence and any opportunity for being mentored by someone not white. Or could it be that the root of the problem is that white leaders do not fully trust persons of color to lead. One of the results of white dominance is the subtle discrediting of persons of color. So while we may not be consciously aware of it, perhaps the white Christian community simply does not trust persons of color to lead or offer valued wisdom and expertise. According to Paulo Freire, whites trusting persons who have experienced oppression or marginalization is the “indispensable precondition” for transformation.
While likely not the intention, all or mostly white-led conferences communicate to people of color that their concerns and contributions are not important. All white conferences render the lives and souls of persons of color invisible. So I join Randy Woodley in this boycott.