The global peacebuilders are coming and I, Michelle Garred, am one of them. We are American peace practitioners and evaluators who built our careers in other countries. We are now re-focusing on the USA in response to the laying bare of the longstanding lack of peace in our own country. We have good intentions, useful tools, and cross-cultural savvy. We are also disproportionately white, shaped by an industry struggling to shed its neo-colonialist past. It is essential to do some inner homework when re-engaging here at home. I have been processing this for over five years, and I snapshot three learnings below.
Cultural competence is context-specific. I am good at cross-cultural relationships in international contexts, including the inevitable sensitivities. Yet re-adapting to the USA after a decade abroad was more difficult than I ever thought possible. Having honed the restraint of a supportive outsider in contexts where other people were the rightful protagonists, I had re-learn how to act as an insider responsible for co-creating the future. In addition to being hampered by my own whiteness, it proved challenging to catch up on the nuance of how US race relations had shifted during my absence. I grasped everything that was said to me about racial justice in the USA, but it took time to re-learn how to express myself in meaningful ways. My take-away: In a new context, re-assess your cultural competence, and commit to re-learning.
Subtle anti-racism doesn’t work. ‘Peacebuilding’ by global definition includes social justice and relational conciliation, so we peacebuilders believe that we do both. However, in the USA, when people hear white professionals promoting ‘peace’ with conciliatory methods, they do not necessarily perceive us as anti-racist. To make matters worse, as an introvert it is not in my nature to repeat myself. I have had to shift my style to make my anti-racist commitments explicit. I now talk less about ‘peacebuilding’ and more about ‘just peace,’ tapping into an ecumenical tradition that blends resistance with reconciliation. I externalize reflections via blogging and advocate social justice criteria in peace program evaluations. My take-away: Anti-racism must be demonstrated repeatedly and articulated clearly.
On arriving late to the party. The re-engagement of global peacebuilders in the USA is positive, but the work is already underway. Racial justice organizers have been cultivating peace in this country for a long time, yet we may not immediately recognize each other because our methods appear different. Our demographics are also disconnected, with Black and brown colleagues in the lead on racial justice. For global peacebuilders who are white, the best re-entry posture is to hold our tongues and listen for a while, making ourselves accountable to colleagues of color. After that, perhaps we can support mutual aims of racial justice and healing by combining our complementary skill sets within evaluation teams and communities of practice. My take-away: When you’re late to the party, enter with humility.
The re-entry of global peacebuilders is a unique trend, but it shines a spotlight on racial dynamics that are common in the USA. I am still re-learning as the journey continues.
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