Raise Your Voice, Kathy Khang. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.
Summary: Explores both why we stay silent and how we may learn to speak up about the things we most deeply care about, particularly in seeking a more just society for all.
Kathy Khang grew up as the child of Korean immigrant parents, writing in a journal given her by her father at an early age. She eventually became a journalist who learned to use her voice in interviews, in getting stories, and yet struggled with the tension of breaking with cultural norms that often rewarded one for silence, and gender norms that labelled outspoken women as “aggressive, arrogant or abrasive” or “a witch” or another term that rhymes with it. Raising one’s voice can be costly.
This book captures Kathy’s experience of both the forces that pressure us to silence our voices, and how we might learn to speak up, to raise our voices. She begins with silencing, in this case where a supervisor literally covered her mouth in a meeting with senior leadership when she was going to voice hard truths no one in the room was saying. Often, though, we silence ourselves, believing “the imposter syndrome” when, like Moses, God sees us, is with us, and sends us. Like Esther, we need to remember we are also Hadassah, the Jewish girl who will be identified with her people, and in remembering who she is, risks her life as an advocate. She explores the excuses we give for silence–we don’t understand (even though we sense there is something very wrong in what we witness), we say, ‘let God take care of it,’ or because our silence preserves a pretty good status quo for us.
She also considers how we may learn to speak up. It starts with who our IRL (in real life) audience is–from our “underwear family” to neighbors and church and workplace, and the kinds of issues we need to think about with each. She also considers our online lives, and the challenges to real conversation when so often these degenerate. She talks about working with friends in discerning how to engage an issue online–not just jumping out there on your own. Her “Learn from My Mistakes Page” is gold with a critical piece of advice being that what we post online stays forever, and we shouldn’t post anything we wouldn’t want those closest to us to see, or see in public media like the New York Times. I have nowhere near the social media presence Kathy does, but everything here rings true.
She concludes by talking about the different ways, according to different gifts, by which people speak up. Her book is such an encouragement that all of us have voices, and while we use them in different ways, they all are meant to be used and heard.
I had to laugh (because she nailed it) at her description of “Midwest nice” as “a superficial collegiality with a touch of passive aggressiveness,” or as Soong-Chan Rah, who she quotes says, Midwest nice is like “a dog that licks your face while peeing on your shoes.” I’m guilty as charged here, living in the Midwest, particularly in allowing my voice to be muted into placative efforts to achieve superficial peace that fails to come to terms with what radical gospel justice looks like. I’m often tempted to maintain a peaceful status quo.
As a white male, one of the most important lessons of this book is listening to what those who are women, or who are ethnic minorities wrestle with in finding their voices and using them. Khang’s narrative encourages me to stop man-spreading, and man-splaining, and listen to the chorus of our female and ethnic minority brothers and sisters. I sing in a choir and one of the first things we learn is that if you can’t hear other voices, or your section can’t hear other sections, you are singing too loud! White men have been singing too loud for too long in the American church, suppressing the voice of the rest of the “beloved community.” I need Kathy’s voice, as uncomfortable as it has sometimes made me feel, if I am ever to shake off “Midwest nice.” I’m glad she has used, and raised, the voice God has given her.