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Othering & Belonging Institute Director john a. powell opens up OBI's first O&B Conference in Berlin with an introduction to the Institute's framework.


Christiana Bukalo:
Hello. Hi everyone. Good morning and welcome. As you might be able to see, I'm very, very excited, but I'm also truly honored to introduce our first speaker to the state. And while I'm trying to get a sense of this room and the energy in this space, a space filled with fellow leaders and activists and advocates and community members and philanthropists, I am also getting a sense that I'm right now introducing an incredibly great person, which is john powell, to a group of incredibly great people, and those are you, and that makes me very, very excited for what's to come during this conference. My name is Christiana, Christiana Bukalo. I am the initiator and co-founder of an organization that is called Statefree. We are a human rights organization that works to empower stateless people in Germany, Europe, and across the globe. Stateless people are people who are not recognized as a citizen by any nation and don't have a citizenship, and that also means that stateless people don't belong.

That's at least what the system is trying to make them believe. The system makes stateless people believe that they don't belong by highly restricting their access to basic human rights. So depending on the country they live in, they might not be able to go to school, open a bank account, go to work or vote. And it is currently estimated that there is a number of 15 million people worldwide who are stateless. And these people experience isolation, neglect, and trauma through the way that the system is constantly othering them. As an organization, we address this topic by creating community, awareness, and equal rights, and our vision is that one day every stateless person has regained pride in their identity and is able to experience a true sense of belonging.

Before john walks up on the stage and wins over all of your hearts the way that he has won over my heart, I just want to briefly share with you what inspires me about john. John is an internationally recognized racial and social justice icon and scholar. He has lived and worked in the US, Europe, India, Africa, and other places. He's also the director of the Othering and Belonging Institute. And in this role and beyond, has dedicated his life's work to address very critical issues such as civil rights, civil liberties, housing, poverty, and also our democracy. All of that is remarkable, but it's not exclusively what inspires me about john. And I was lucky enough to meet john about a year ago and during an event of Democracy & Belonging Forum. And what stood out to me about john was not only his expertise and his breadth of experience, but also the way that he, and I can tell you he's a true storyteller, makes me feel while listening to him.

John's words and wisdom have the power to create an authentic sense of peace. He creates a vision of a just future that gives hope without neglecting the painful reality that we are currently living in. Listening to john has given me the strength to recognize that while this journey towards a more just future can be very challenging, painful, and tiring, in this journey, there are moments of flight and joy and those are the moments that we need to keep very, very close to our heart. John's work is about radical belonging without othering and about bridging across differences. His message of an inclusive, sustainable, and just society and future in which we all are able to see each other and also embrace ourselves is a message that resonates very, very deeply in these challenging times. That being said, please join me in welcoming john powell to the stage with a warm round of applause.

john a. powell:
Good morning. So it's great to be here coming from California by way of Louisville. And the lights, I can not see the ones in the back again. I want to thank Sarah, the Othering and Belonging Institute, BMW for helping to sponsor it, and many, many others. Mainly I want to thank you not just for being here, that too, but for what you're going to do when you leave because you're going to do something. My new friend, Ece, we met yesterday and she was saying understanding without action is sentimentality.

So we're not here just to understand something. We are here for action. We're actually are in a process of making a world where everyone belongs and no one is other. That's your job. That's our job. That's our life. Again, to quote my friend, Ece, just one more time, and I'll have a chance to be in conversation with her in a minute, she said, "That weak pronoun I can't do very much. That weak pronoun I can't accomplish very much, but we can do a tremendous amount." And again, the we without the other, that's who we are. We're the we without the other. So people talk about us and them, we're going to be talking about us and us. So I'm going to show you some slides. I have my phone, I don't want to keep looking back, so I have the slides on my phone so I don't have to... Oh, there it is. Thank you. I can put it down.

So othering, and I'm going to do a little level setting. Many of you have heard parts of this before and I want to acknowledge that we're representing different continents, different countries, different languages. Our host here in Germany, thank you for hosting us, Germany and Berlin, Europe, India, Africa, the Americas. One of the things I want to suggest is in your imagination, we think about who is not there? Who's not in your imagination? That's where the work has to be done. Because when we are doing our work, really there is no other, it's an illusion, but it's a dangerous illusion. It's a dehumanizing illusion that we have to eradicate. So why do I say othering is the problem of the 21st century? So many of you here at the conference probably already heard this, but many people outside the conference have not. So when I say othering, I used to get a response like, "Huh, what? What did you say?"

If I say xenophobia, I don't get that response. If I say racism, I don't get that response. If I say Islamophobia, I don't get that response. If I say antisemitism, I don't get that response. If I say sexism, I don't get that. If I say transphobia, I don't get the response. All of those are expressions of othering. And so othering is basically saying look at all the different ways in which we set boundaries which exclude life, which exclude people. And it's not a US problem, a German problem, a Tanzanian problem, and it's not even a Middle Eastern problem, it's a global problem. It's happening everywhere and it's accelerating. It has its different expressions.

It has its different histories. It has its different set of possibilities. The others designated differently in different places. But everywhere around the world, we see a resurgence, a weaponizing of othering not between just individuals, but we're governments, states, institutions, structures engaged in the process of othering. And so part of what I want us to do is to better understand that, but again, not so we can just understand it. So it informs our work so we know what we have to do. And of course, many of you'll recognize this is a knockoff of W.E.B. Du Bois, his statement at the beginning of the 20th century.

So some people when they hear othering, they immediately think, well, if we just all were the same, we're not just all the same. I'm writing something with the help of my friend, Rochelle, and I'm playing a little bit with Public Enemy number one, Fight the Power. And there's a line in there and they say, "Are we the same? No, we're not the same. Of course we're the same and different at the same time." But one way we try to deal with othering is to just collapse everybody's identity.

And so oftentimes you also hear, not that there's not some validity to it, but a wrap on identity politics. Why can't we just all be humans? That's a big tent. Why can't we just all be humans? Right? I want to be clear from my perspective, when we talk about belonging, when we talk about othering, we're talking about all the different expressions of our humanity, but not just our humanity. We have brothers and sisters that walk on four legs. We have relatives that plant themselves in the ground and grow high into the sky. Humans come from the word humus, which means of the earth. So when we talk about belonging, we're not just extending it to the two-legged friends, but to all of us, to the earth itself.

Again, not to reduce us to the same. We have expressions in our diversity, and that's not a bad thing. So belonging is the response to othering, not saming, not reducing everybody, not forgetting, not wiping away. So why is this process growing and accelerating as I suggest it? And it will continue to accelerate. There's something happening, this causing, this acceleration. And virtually every part of the world, we see the rise of authoritarianism, we see democratic expressions even in this weaker forms being retrenched. So what's going on that's causing this to happening all over the world at the same time?

And there are many things, neoliberalism, the failure of actually incorporating and making a real inclusive democracy but also change itself. We can only process so much change in a short period of time without experiencing anxiety. And the change is accelerating across multiple areas, climate change, technology, the economy, globalization, and then the ringer is demographics. As we watch the world become more mobile, in a funny way, not as mobile as you should be, I won't go off into this too much, but one of the expressions of neoliberalism, we made capital more mobile than people.

Speaker 3:
Say that again.

john a. powell:
All right, I will because you asked. One of the expressions of neoliberalism was to make capital more mobile than people, which people put people at a structural disadvantage in relationship to capital. But people are mobile. We've been mobile for a long time. We've been mobile ever since. We decided some of us to leave Africa. So welcome home everyone. Your home is the Earth, not Germany, not the Middle East, not Africa. Your home is the Earth. You are of the Earth.

But for a lot of people, this change in diversity is the most threatening part of that change, most threatening part. Yeah, we may be afraid of AI, but you haven't seen any demonstrations in the world against AI. You've seen demonstrations against people, against immigrants, against Blacks, against Jews, against whites, but not against AI. The most frightening thing for us is each other. And as we look into the future, those demographic changes are going to continue to roil the world. It doesn't mean those other changes are going to go away. We're still going to have pandemics. We're not done with COVID, and COVID is not done with us. And some medical providers say we shouldn't be worried about the next virus. We should be worried about the next fungus.

I said, "What does that mean?" I'm not going to worry about it right now, but change is happening fast and it creates anxiety. It creates stress on our system, not just us, but all mammals. Darwin talked about that when he talked about the survival of the fittest. He was saying those who fit within the environment are those who survive. And when the environment change, it caused upon us to change. And we can only do so much change in a short period of time without being severely stressed.

So when we go to small towns and the people there are worried that they're losing their society, they're talking about the same thing. They don't use these words, but it's like, "I'm losing my society. The young people are leaving and new people are coming who don't speak my language, who don't look like me." And what they're really saying is that, "In this change, I'm not sure I'll fit in. I'm not sure that the future holds the place where I will belong. I belonged in this village for hundreds of years and now there's some change." And for many of us who live in the urban areas, like these are provincial people who are not with it.

I was talking to a friend in Berkeley recently who had been traveling around the world, really not just the United States, is doing research on small towns, and she was saying, "The people there are rooted and so different, they're so afraid of change, their identity is wrapped up in terms of where they are." And I said, "We're here in Berkeley. What's our identity?" She said, "Well, we're Berkeley." She said, "Our identity is innovation." And I don't know how many of you saw the movie Oppenheimer. Somebody said they did. With the notion, I said, "Berkeley holds the identity of innovation of change itself."

But change without rooted in values is just as dangerous as no change at all. So what we need to do is realize that all of us are on a spectrum and can only process so much change in a short period of time without being stressed out, without being destroyed. If the earth was to heat up by five or six degrees Celsius over a thousand years, we would hardly notice. Over a hundred years, we would probably not survive. So the speed of the change matters. Now, this change creates this anxiety, But anxiety, as you know, is a disquiet, a discomfort.

It's hard to put your finger on what's causing the anxiety, and then there's fear. So how do we get from anxiety to fear? We do that through stories, we do that through structures, we do that through rituals. So there's some people who come along and say, "Yes, you're feeling uncomfortable today? Well, let me tell you why. That guy next to you, that's why you're feeling uncomfortable. That man who has on a dress, that's why you're feeling uncomfortable. Those people who are speaking a different language, that's why you're feeling uncomfortable."

You are feeling uncomfortable. I'm here to explain to you why. So we have stories. We are meaning making animals. We don't just have reality. Something happens and we have to make meaning of it. And the role of leaders is to help us make meaning. And I don't mean leaders just in terms of presidents and prime ministers. Cultural leaders help us make meaning of things, and the meaning that's being made of this change can fall along two major axis. One of them is called breaking, and one of them is called bridging. And breaking is where you say the change and disquiet that you're experiencing is because of the other.

What other? I can invent another if I have to. Those who don't have the same number of cows, those who speak with an accent, those who wear headdress, the other in that sense to the purpose of the story is made up. But once the other's there, it becomes a sense of reality and they become the object of our hate and our fear. So that's one story, the story of other, the story of breaking, the story of saying we are not part of the same human family, that we're not part of the earth and we need to protect ourselves from that dangerous other who take away our language and take away our very sense of being.

So that's the breaking story. And that story is prominent in being used all around the world. The story does not have to have any relationship to the truth. It can be completely made up, but it's felt as real. I'll come back to that in a little bit. That's important because sometimes we think when people tell lies, the simple response is to tell the truth. That is a simple response, but it doesn't work always and the reasons for that. The other major story is one of yes, we are growing, we are becoming more diverse, we're becoming more mobile. We're about to catch up with capital as we move around the world.

And it's amazing. We're expressing each other, we're pulling stuff out of each other. We're helping each other to actually discover different parts of ourselves. Years ago, as a young man, when I used to go to London, I used to dread eating. The food was so bland. Now when I go to London, it's like I can get any food from any part of the world. So we are becoming more diverse. Is that good or bad? What's your story? It's happening.

So if you tell a story where it is good, where we can actually live together, where we can actually learn from each other, where we actually can reinvent together, where we can co-create, that's a bridging story. Where I'm willing to listen, where I'm willing to be curious about you, not suspicious of you, but curious, that's a bridging story. So those are the two main stories, the breaking story and the bridging story. And there will be change. And this change will challenge us. One change I want to just mention, if you care about the future, then you should be thinking about Africa. Now, why am I saying that? By 2030, which is not the future, that's tomorrow.

2030, 42% of people 20 years and under will live in Africa. 42%. Now, that's especially interesting when you think there are some countries that are getting old really fast. China, all of Europe, the United States, Japan, Korea, all these countries are basically saying, "We don't have enough young people." And Africa is saying, "We got a bunch of them."

"Well, any place else? Anybody else got young people other than Africa? Because we're not sure those people would fit in." Japan, one of the oldest countries in the world, was having problems taking care of who's going to take care of old people? The nurses, the doctors, the handy people who come fix their house. So Japan experienced this problem earlier than many of us. And so Japan said, "Okay, you know what? There are a lot of young people of Japanese descent." And years ago, many of them went to Brazil. And so they said, "If you're Brazilian Japanese, you can return to Japan." And millions of them did.

So these Brazilian Japanese, people of Japanese descent who had never lived in Japan, returned to Japan. They got there and the Japanese who had never left Japan said, "You don't walk like we do. You're kind of loud, you're kind of colorful. You know what? You are a really Afro-Brazilian. Can you leave?" Literally, it's like, "We made a mistake. We thought you were going to be like us." And so of these young Brazilians who had come to Japan was encouraged to leave Japan. As we travel, as we grow, as we adapt, we do change and we change at different rates. So how we actually organize the movement of people will be one of our big challenges. The stories we tell about that.

And as I said, the other is not given. There's no natural other, there's no natural self is constructed through stories, through practices. And so we can do it along all these lines. And in any given place, any given country, we will emphasize one over the other. The United States has been race. Race has been a formative way of doing the other. And formative means it not only defines "the other", but defines those who consider themselves the dominant group. It defines the structures, it defines the system, it defines the culture. And so in India, it may be caste, another place, it might be immigration, another place, it might be language. That depends on what we do. This is a video that's really online. I'm not going to show it to you now for the sake of time, but I'm going to make the PowerPoint available so you can look at it later. So if people are telling lies about us, lies about the world, why can't we correct it with truth?

So this is a picture of the brain. And the brain in some ways is like India, at least my rendition of India. I lived off almost two years in India. And the thing I found amazing about India is that India keeps changing, adding new layers, but the old layers stay. It doesn't tear down all the buildings. And so in some places you go to India, you feel like this is how it was 3,000 years ago. Then you turn the corner and you see a computer hub. That doesn't happen in the United States. If it's older than 1950, it's old. We tear it down. So the brain is like India. It keeps adding new layers, but those old layers are still there. And one of the first layers is what's called the reptilian brain or the amygdala. That's the early part of the brain. That's the brain we share literally with reptiles.

And different parts of our being is largely located in different parts of the brain. So fear comes from the reptilian brain. Why is that important? Well, reptiles, as far as we know, don't have a sophisticated language. They don't write novels, they don't do movies. They don't do research with citations, but they have fear. So fear is grounded in our pre-language part of ourselves. It's very basic. Some people say it is the first emotion, fear, and it's before language. So when language tries to dislodge fear, it's like it doesn't make sense. So those who are trading on fear don't have to make logical sense. It's very always very big and it's easy to activate because it's always there.

And so what's happening is that this anxiety happens, we feel it in our body, and then someone says, "Be afraid." Oh yeah, I got that. I got down. It was necessary for our survival. We learn to react with fear before we learn language. And so part of the thing that we have to deal with this change is inducing an environment where fear is very prominent and that's one reason it's happening so fast and we keep trying these logical interventions and they don't make sense. They don't compute. We say, "How could people..."

When Obama was running for president, the right wing went after his minister, Jeremiah Wright, and they said Obama was the other. He's Black, he wasn't born in the United States, he's born in Hawaii. His minister was a fiery Christian minister. And Obama followed this minister because Obama was a Muslim. I said, "Most Muslims don't have Christian ministers, but okay." And we look at the absurdity of this statement that actually propel Donald Trump, Donald Trump was at the head of that movement.

The logic of that statement simply doesn't make any sense, but it didn't matter because people were dealing with fear. And you need a different way of engaging people around this. So if you look at demagogues all over the country, all over the world, they have something in common. They trade in fear. And one of the big fearful places, one of the big fearful things is the future. The future where all those young Africans will be living in Berlin and Seattle and Portland and Asia. Don't even mention Japan. So a lot of fear, right? The future, when I look at the future and I see these changing demographics, you heard a poem saying, "Two thirds of the world doesn't fit within our paradigm of whiteness."

Some say three quarters. Is that a scary thing? Not to me, not to Bayo, but to some people it's super scary. And so what are we going to do about a future where all these young people become adults? Well, what many of these people do? They say, "Let's not have a future. Let's go back to the past." I say, "How far back do you want to go?" "Well, let's go back when India was great." And if you listen to Modi, he talks about there was a time that India not only was great, but it traveled the universe. There were spaceships, Indians were colonizing the universe.

Probably not true. Doesn't matter. What he's saying is that, "I'm going to put a break on the future because the future is so scary." Are you afraid of the future? What do you think about AI? It's kind of scary. Okay, let's put a break on it. So let's go back to this mythical past instead of inevitable future, because the inevitable future is problematic. And when you look at what we do in our cultural expression of the future, it's largely negative. Zombies, robots, AI, Terminators, almost all the films that tell us about the future is one that none of us would want to live. The humans don't belong. The future that our cultural leaders are pedaling is a future where humans don't belong. So nobody wants that future. Well, what's the different future? I don't know. And so that's something that all of these leaders try to sell. Let me give you the pass.

And these are just the next few slides. They're just examples of the surge in the rise of nationalism, the rise of ethnic nationalism. It's happening all around the world at the same time. The rise of xenophobia, all of these things are based on fear. Can we stop it? Now, I was told, many of you're Europeans, and so you know this better than I, that in Italy right now, there's a movement by some people to do mass deportation of non-European immigrants. And at the same time, there's a movement in Italy to get more young people because Italy is old.

So it's like we need some of these young people from Africa, but not from Africa. It's not logical, right? And part of it is that what does it mean? We have to decide. We have to tell that story. We're meaning making animals. All of us. Sometime we make meaning through religion, through rituals, but people need meaning. And the meaning that's being given, that's being shared, that's being proposed by the right wing. It's not a happy meaning for most of the world. They're building smaller and smaller and smaller wes. They're building wes based on purity.

So Putin can say, "Ukrainians are really Russians." The head of Turkey can say, "What's wrong with saying..." Or Hungary can say, "What's wrong with saying we want people who are of historical Hungarian heritage?" So it's smaller and smaller wes more and more breaking. And we use sacred symbols. So we're having to move in different domains, not just in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which it's the newest part of the brain. It's an interesting part of the brain. It's part of the brain I'm sort of using right now, but it's new.

It's the new kid on the block. And if it doesn't relate to the rest of the brain, it doesn't work. And so you had some exercise this morning trying to get you into your body. When Descartes said, "I think therefore I am," and he said, "Reason is the master of emotion." Separation. He was suggesting, "Let's just stay in the prefrontal cortex." And when he said that it had immediate implications, one of the reasons they justified taking land from Indigenous people is that they were using their whole brain. Literally they're saying, "They had earth, that they were not exploiting, that they're not extracting from what a waste. These people don't know how to use the earth. Let's take it from them and use it right."

They said women should not be allowed to vote because they're too much into their bodies. I mean, literally when Hillary Clinton was running for president, a guy said to me, "Can you imagine having a president that has a menstrual cycle?" Man, to him, that was scary. What happens to her prefrontal cortex when her menstrual cycle happens? So it's this separation not just from the brain and the rest of the body, but for prefrontal context and everything else, nothing else really counts. Nothing else really works.

And sacred symbols don't make sense because we can't process them rationally. Now, when we talk about the far right or the far left, we really are talking about something different that what's going on, now this journeying is not a left right paradigm anymore. There's something else. And what I'm also suggesting is that these changes, this thread of these changes will affect all of us, will affect us differently. Even us in Berkeley who think we are in a cutting edge change, at some point we will reach our capacity, our limits, or we can't go beyond that. So part of this is like how do we help people settle into a future? How do we help people imagine a future, not imagine a future just for the tech people in Silicon Valley, but a future for all of us, a future for those living in rural Europe, rural America, as well as for the urbanites.

And I've already suggested that part of this is around whether we tell bridging or breaking stories, whether we engage in bridging or breaking. And there are long bridges and there are short bridges. A short bridge is a bridge with someone you share a lot of common values. You may be the same family, maybe the same religion, you get the same jokes, you eat the same food. Ezra Klein wrote a book about polarization. I don't like the word polarization, it's broad use, but I'll use it. And he talks about the gap, the tension between vegetarians and vegans. See? Yeah, that's what most people do, it's like, "What?"

So that's a short bridge. You should think vegetarian and vegan, there's no difference really. So they should be able to get along. And long bridge would be between someone who's like a Bernie supporter and a Trump supporter in the US context where people don't have the same vision, they don't have the same history, they don't have the same religion, and it's going to be really hard to get these people to listen to each other.

Here's the rub, and we do have to pay attention to long bridge and short bridges, they're different, but when you have short bridges and a break within a people who are otherwise close, that break can be just as nasty as the long bridge. So even though your sister was brought up in the same religious community, eats the same food, likes the same music when you and her break, it can be so nasty. And in part because you know each other so well. So what looks like short bridges and what should be easy can be just as nasty. Usually we don't kill each other around short bridges, but sometimes we do. So once I say short bridges and long bridges, it doesn't mean that short bridges are easy. It means we have in a sense more resources to draw on potentially and power matters. So when we talk about bridging, one of the things that some people make a mistake they make is to assume that if we could all just talk to each other that everything would be fine.

It ignores the power differential between groups that make even talking, even bridging extremely difficult. So we have to pay attention to power. And so the right tends to, in terms of bridging coming together, ignore power. The left tends to exaggerate power. "I can't talk to that person, that white person because they have more power than me." So it's more complicated than that. It's more nuanced than that. I would dare to say people at this conference have power. People at this conference have privilege, certainly those who traveled across the waters. So even though I may be from a group, African Americans, that are known for being abused and not having power in the United States, I do have power even though I affiliate and identify with those who don't. So it's more complicated. So what I'm saying is we have to pay attention to power, but we can't make it such a heavy precondition that we won't talk to someone. I was talking to Sarah the other night at dinner and one of those it's easy to do now where you sort of lapse into, "Man, everything is screwed."

Have you ever had one of those conversations? It's like, "What are we going to do?" And so I like to remind people, this is a rendition of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, where he talks about the arc of justice. The arc of morality is long, but it bends toward justice saying this is a long struggle. We're not going to get this fixed in two days or two weeks. This is a long struggle. But if you go back 2,000, 3,000 years, we actually see that we're actually part of a long arc, our arc where we actually bring and acknowledge and celebrate human dignity. We didn't always do that.

You only have to go back a couple hundred years and people summarily were killed and dismissed. I'm not saying it doesn't happen now, but it's not summarily. So something's happening. And I like to think that the arc that we've been on is a long arc toward belonging. That this is not new. It really is already present in Greece, in Aristotle. Now, I know probably caught you by surprise. You weren't expecting that one, right? And I'm not saying Aristotle had it all right, but he had some things right. And the West in particular think they borrow from Aristotle, but there's a radical interpretation of Aristotle where he basically says equality, where he says, "Fairness and justice requires that you treat people who are situated the same the same."

But then he goes on to say, "Fairness and justice requires that you treat people who are situated differently differently." And that a healthy society has both the first kind of equality, which he calls arithmetic, and the second kind, which he calls geometric. Now I won't have time because Sarah told me I have five minutes, but that's actually a radical concept. He's saying context matters, situations matters. Our histories matter and fairness and justice requires that we deal with that when we dealing with each other. So this moves us toward belonging. People belong from where they are, not from where they should be. And why belonging? Why not inclusion? Belonging is different than inclusion. And some of you've heard me say inclusion is you're a guest. You're coming to my party and my party will have my food, my music, my friends, and I hope you have a good time. And my party will be a dancing party.

I actually literally gave a party a number of years ago and I said, "This is a dancing party, but for those who really don't like to dance, there will be some talking. Not a whole lot. The talkers aren't going to dominate." Well, you say, "Well, that sounds like a terrible party. That's not the kind of party I would like." What kind of party would you like? Well, what if it wasn't my party? What if it was our party? What if we had to co-create the party together?

That moves inclusion to belonging. Now, there are a lot of parts of the world where this is an issue right now. When you're at home, you get to arrange the furniture in a sense. Everybody wants to be at home, everyone wants to belong in as many places as possible. So what should we do for those people? No, no. Belonging is you do with those people, not for those people. You do with, not for. So think about the problems that we're facing in the world today.

If we approach them from the perspective of everyone belongs and have a right to co-create where they belong and what that means, it'd be a very different world. So we want to move toward belonging. And this is an example. So if we think about you joining something, the thing that you join keeps this shape you're joining. If there has to be some adaptation, it's on your part, not the structures part. Suggested that this is kind of scary, right? Because you're telling people that, okay, you have these Japanese Brazilians coming back to Japan, they're going to change Japan. And a certain extent they are, but it doesn't have to be scary.

And when we look at belonging and change is going on, it's not just between people, it's also in terms of structures. We live in structures and structures live in us. So how do we make structures that are reflective of our needs to belong? So if you think about an escalator, an escalator does some work. It takes people from one floor to the next, but if you're in a wheelchair, it doesn't work. Structures all have implicit values and implicit assumptions. So how do we make structures work for us not for structures to become neutral, but structures to become belonging structures?

And I only have about two minutes left. I know it's really one, but I'm going to take two. Think about an airplane. Many of you probably been on an airplane, and this is one of the examples I love to use. Overhead racks on an airplane. That's the value latent structure. Why is that? Well, because half the population on average is shorter than the other half. Of course, I'm referring to women. So women on average are shorter than men. Women on average have less upper body strength than men. And my friend, Sadiqa, heard me say this before, women on average, the somewhat controversial, have more luggage than men.

So here they come getting on the plane, these shorter people with less upper body strength and more stuff trying to lift it up over their head and they're struggling. And so being smart humans, women decide, "Okay, I'm not going to carry my luggage on the plane. I'm going to check it." But now that means you got to get to the airport an hour early and it means you got to leave an hour later waiting for your luggage. And more often than you care to remember your luggage didn't make it on the flight. What that suggests is that individual personal interventions into structural problems are almost always wonky and impose attacks on the individual.

They're not adequate. I want to make two more points then I'll stop. This is written by someone from the Middle East. It's a short book. It's a good book. It's called In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong. What does that mean? What the author is saying is that one of the reasons that othering is so vicious is that we use belonging. If you want to belong, you have to other those people that othering oftentimes is bound up with belonging. You want to be a good whatever, you can't be associated with those people.

And so othering itself is tied up with belonging. So there's a belonging that's pernicious. There's a belonging that's small, there's a belonging that's exclusive. That's not the kind of belonging we're talking about. We're talking about belonging without othering, where you say everyone, but everyone belongs. I'm going to go to the end. Two last points. One, there are cracks in the container. The institutions culture, norms and things that we relied on no longer work. They're cracks. And when cracks happen, everyone feels like they're other. No one feels like they belong. Everyone feels out of sort. And this is a very dangerous space that we're in. There are cracks in the container, and most people don't have the job of trying to maintain the container. So we have to address this. And so this is my last slide for now.

So we have to tell better stories, we have to have better practices. But who's the protagonist in our story? Who's the villain? So I want you to think about that. When you tell a story, whether it's about Middle East, whether it's about United States, whether it's about you, who is the protagonist and who is the villain? Who's left out? Who's not in the story? And who is telling the story? And who's the audience? Start there. Let me just start there. Say, "I noticed you didn't talk about this group at all. I noticed this group doesn't have a voice." And if we do that, we'll expand the story. It'll be a different story. It won't be my story anymore. It will be our story when we come together and tell the story together.

And if we're doing that, we'll be on the road to imagining a different world and a different set of identities, and you will join us, what we call our moonshot, which is how do we help create a global norm where everyone belongs? And that's the charge we bring ourselves at the institute to try to accomplish in the next 15 years. Thank you.

Speaker 4:
Thank you, john. Thank you, john. All right, we have a space for a few questions if they're short and if they're questions. So we have roving microphones in the room. Just raise your hand and then we'll call you up. Yes, with the first one there. Yeah, microphone is coming, flying in this moment.

Speaker 5:
Thank you, john, for such an inspiring speech. I would like to know, I mean, in my understanding of belonging, to bridge, you need civic space. You need a space to create empathy, to have dialogue with the others. So my question is how to deal with authoritarian regimes that are actually breaking down all civic space, that are prosecuting civil society, that are even bombing each other, using political violence, how to deal with political violence?

john a. powell:
Thank you for the question. So yes, we need space in order to bridge and dialogue, but the space can be curated by anyone. If at some level, and at our conference in April, and you are all invited, one of the things I want us to deal with is just that question at the state level, at the institutional level, when the state is involved in breaking, when the state is involved in collapsing that space, what should we do? But most of us have interactions not at the state level. We have interactions at our daily level, at our schools, at our searches, at our mosques, our synagogues, and we come in at work. So how can you do this in your daily practice? One of the things I want to really push us on is not to postpone, not to wait for somebody else to do it. Many of you're part of organizations, the space itself is curated in part to have some dialogue, which you'll see more of tomorrow.

So you don't have to wait for the state or those who are holding a lot of formal power to actually curate, to give you permission. What do you write? Many of you are writers, some of you are cultural workers of a different sort. Is your practice one of bridging? Are you bringing people in or not? So we still have to act. We can't give up on the state, we can't ignore the state, but we can actually even put demands on the state. But if we do that from a bridging perspective, then it's more likely that the state will respond.

Speaker 4:
Another question.

john a. powell:
There's someone right here.

Speaker 4:
Yes, please. Can we get the microphone? Yeah. Second row. It's coming.

Speaker 6:
Thank you so much. I have a quick question. How did you come around to love the topic of belonging and to work on it? How did it spark and why did you decide it?

john a. powell:
So that's an interesting question. In some ways, a hard question because I don't think we really... I studied the mind, including the unconscious, and I don't think we really know ourselves that well. Just like with other people, we make up stories about ourselves. And it's not that we're lying, but we're not factual. So I'd like to think I started thinking of belonging when I was five years old and I was shooting marbles, and this idea of belonging just hit me. But I know that's a lie. And what we do most of the time is that we take where we are and then we impose that perspective on our past, right?

It's like I've always felt this way. I know that's not true, but I do care about people. I do care about life. I'm six of nine children. I love my family more than I can even say when I watch them being mistreated and then watch the others being mistreated. And one thing that happened, and I'm writing a book, and I talked a little bit about this in the book, I'm a vegetarian, and this is not unusual. A lot of kids when they're growing up, especially if they're growing up on a farm, many of them have this epiphany at some point. It's like, "This is really a chicken. I haven't seen..." Testing, testing. It's back on. "I haven't seen Sally the chicken lately." It's like, "She's on the table." It's like, "Oh no, I don't want to eat Sally." Our ability to have empathy, our ability to care for those who are considered other, including other species, for most of us happen at some point, but then we're socialized out of it, right? Eat the damn chicken. Sally's dead.

And I had that too. That happened to me. That happened to me when I was 11 years old. I don't know why, but I won't tell you the whole story for the sake of time. But I grew up in Detroit in a Black neighborhood, a poor neighborhood. We called it literally black bottom. In fact, when I was growing up, I thought it was a lie when they said the country was majority white because everywhere I look, I see Black people. Where are all these supposedly white people? But I started reading and what I read was that I started reading about Asia , in particular, China, and my father's a Christian minister. And the teaching of my father's church was that unless you were baptized in that church, not in another church, in that church, you're going to hell.

And one day at church, I asked the question, "So what's going to happen to those Chinese who've never heard of this church?" Lemay Church of God, Church of Christ in Detroit. Had you heard of that, Bayo? Or you had not. Maybe you have. So anyway, they couldn't answer it. They said, "Unless they accept Jesus and this church, they're going to hell." I left the church and created this incredible riff with my family that lasted for several years. And when I left the church, I thought, I'm going to hell too. But the point is that to me, in some ways, in my own rendition of my story of my life, which I don't really believe, that's when I got on the path of belonging and recognizing that everyone belongs. You don't have to be Christian, you don't have to be Black, you don't have to... I'd never even seen a Chinese, it was an abstraction in some ways to me, but it was like I couldn't eat that chicken once the chicken had a name.

Sadiqa Reynolds:
I'm Sadiqa Reynolds from Louisville, Kentucky Perception Institute in New York. Kim in the back. And I wonder what you think the connection between belonging and truth and justice is?

john a. powell:
Great question. Sadiqa was a friend and colleague. She runs the Perception Institute. I think it's a tricky question. So Hannah Arendt writes about totalitarianism and she writes that when you have total truth, you have the ground for total totalitarianism. I think, frankly, that some of the ways in which different religions come together, each claimant to have complete control of the truth is actually quite dangerous. And that's why I use the word meaning, again, not to lie, not to fabricate. There are facts and facts matter, but so does meaning matter.

And so I think that to some extent we have to actually engage with each other to make a meaning, a story, a world where everyone belong. I think if we simply think we can figure out the truth by ourselves from our perspective, and I'm not a relativist. I did study postmodernism. I'm not a relativist, but I do think the intersubjective nature of truth of meaning is actually important. The co-creation is really, really important. And it doesn't mean you abandon your truth, you bring your truth to the table, but you let someone else bring their truth to the table as well. And then at the end of the day for me, any truth, any practice that settles on the notion that Chinese have to go to hell is not acceptable.

I believe that when I was 11 years old, I believed it, but it still was not acceptable. And now I'm a little more brazen. I don't believe it anymore. I don't believe I'm going to hell. And I don't believe any kind of religion or creed or truth that would condemn billions of people as something less than as other is appropriate. I don't know. In somewhere in there, I think there's an answer to your question.

Speaker 4:
One last one. Yes, you. I saw you before. Thank you.

Speaker 8:
Thank you so much for sharing with us today. My question for you is, what would your advice be for othered people who other people, especially when thinking of this framework of fear, what would your advice be for people whose fear statistically speaking, is rooted in not the fear of change, but actually the fear of the right to life and all that that encompasses?

john a. powell:
Wonderful question. Thank you. So I'm not supposed to say this. So Cecily, who's our communication director may. Anyway, Steven and I just wrote a book and published by Stanford Press. It's coming out in April. So this is a plug. Buy the book. No, no. You could pre-order it now. In all seriousness, we deal with that question in there. We talk about people othering other people. That's a serious problem. Power is diffused. No one group has all the power. Power is uneven, but not one group has all, no one group is completely devoid of power. We can all hurt each other.

And oftentimes when we're hurt, our response is to latch out and hurt other people, including other marginal people. We'd like to have a framework where all marginal people came together in love and understanding of solidarity. It's just not reality. We have to keep working on that, but we have to extend it beyond that. We also have to acknowledge that people who are "part of" the majority is sometimes called dominance that that's the stratification right there. If Elon Musk walked in here, the average wealth of white people in this room would be probably certainly in the hundreds of millions, maybe in the billions. But your circumstances would not have changed at all, except you got to see Elon Musk. So we have to be careful.

The other thing, and I'll end on this, some of you know the story of Loretta Ross. Loretta Ross is a middle-aged Black woman. I don't know what middle age is anymore, so I may be lying again. But she's an older Black woman. She's not even middle-aged. She's closer to my age. I don't know if I'm middle-aged or beyond middle-aged. But anyway, beside the point, she's a Black woman. I do know that. She's a rape victim and she's a [inaudible 01:06:21] raped, traumatized her life. And at some point she started writing about it and she's written a book, several books now. And someone from prison called her, wrote her, and said, "I'm in prison for raping women. And now I'm in prison, I'm raping men. I don't like myself, I hate myself, but I'm addicted. I can't seem to stop. Can you help me? Can you come to the prison to help me?"

And Loretta Ross went to prison to meet with this person, and she spoke at one of our conferences and someone said, "Well, Ms. Ross, did you first have to resolve your own internal trauma before you could reach out to someone else?" And she said, "Absolutely not." That the engagement and the vulnerability... And let me be clear, I'm not saying everyone should bridge at all times. I think you have to come to that decision yourself. But I'm also not saying that you have to wait until you worked everything through, that you have power, that you're whatever, then you can bridge. I'm saying in many cases, the engagement, even if you're from a marginalized group, is one of the ways in which you heal and gain power that don't accept a story that's only about you being marginal. None of us are just marginal. None of us are just powerless. So we have to hold onto all of our humanity and not wait and not postpone. And I'm not saying skip over all the traumatic or difficult conditions, but anyway, I'll stop there.

So if I can take 30 seconds, I got a question up front. So how did she help him? She did go to the prison. She did help the person. Part of it was seeing his humanity, someone who actually cared, actually helped him a lot. And she also said she's not an idealist. They said, "How'd you do that?" She said, "I drugged myself up before I went to the prison." So she said, "I self-medicated. It wasn't easy." So again, most of us are probably not Loretta Ross, but she had this internal struggle of could she see this person's humanity even though this person had clearly been part of the story in terms of our own trauma.

Speaker 9:
Thank you.