Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

You and Me…let’s meet and listen!

Written by: on January 11, 2024

I want to share a story with you. It came to mind as I read the introduction of The Identity Trap. As I have shared in other blogs, I am a Consultant and I work with non- profit organizations, churches, and charitable foundations. During the pandemic, in July of 2020, I worked with a CEO that had previous experience working in the UN and had also held several positions with NGOs internationally. During a Zoom meeting, he used ta phrase as he was referring to my business partner (She is also African- American) and I that completely immobilized us. He said, “You people, you colored people could really benefit from our services in your community.” In case you do not know, the use of the terms “You people” and “Colored people” is very offensive to African Americans, particularly those of a certain age and experience. He could tell by our reaction that he had said something offensive. We explained the Jim Crow roots of the phrases and suggested that he should not use “You People” and perhaps he meant to say, “People of Color” instead of “Colored People.” He became defensive and doubled down. He vehemently rejected that his statement was offensive and proceeded to tell us why we should not be offended. He said, “I have friends, African friends that use “Colored People.” This is not offensive!” To bring some context to his perspective, he had worked with people of African descent outside of the United States and had worked closely with someone from South African. He is correct, the term “colored people” is used to describe someone of mixed race in South Africa. We were not disputing that; we were trying to explain how his choice of words directed towards two African American women had offended us. He was trying to tell us that we should not be offended. We made no progress. So, what is the point of this story? Why did I share it? If we operate in a way that we believe that we can tell people who they are, how they should identify, and where they belong; we will always have division. It is crucial to have the conversation, to listen. It is extremely difficult to hear someone if you already believe that you have the answer.

Earlier this week, we were challenged with knowing and naming the areas that we have difficulty, our blind spot(s). Yascha Mounk has written a very insightful book. It made me uncomfortable, I struggled with parts of it. It did not help that I read the reviews before cracking the spine of the book. I have a particular blind spot that Henry Louis Gates, Jr. addressed on the back cover. “The question of who speaks for the group is one that yields no easy answers. Social identities connect us in multiple and overlapping ways; they are not protected but betrayed when we turn them into silos with sentries.”(1) I have always had difficulty with one person representing an entire group. It is just not reasonable to expect to learn about an entire group of people from one person. No one person can account for an entire group’s individual lived experiences, background, and influences. When politics enter the conversation, it becomes almost impossible to find a common ground. Mounk explains is as, “the identity synthesis is a political trap, making it harder to sustain diverse societies whose citizens trust and respect each other.”(2)

Identity is important. It is what allows us to capture our ancestry and lived experiences. I do not believe that it always has to be divisive. There are some difficulties if identity is used to exclude and not to expand. Mounk states, “A society that encourages all of us to see the world through the ever-present prism of identity will make it especially hard for people who don’t neatly fit into one ethnic group or cultural group to develop a sense of belonging.”(3) I think that celebrating identity allows us to see a world that is beautifully complex. I believe it will usher in a conversation that can lead to a greater understanding. I believe that we have more shared commonalities than we have differences. know that the socio-political climate makes it difficult to hear one another. I acknowledge that this is not a typical blog and pretty sparse on academic sources. I decided that today, I would share one of my lived experiences in the hope that it might spark an interest in a greater conversation about me and about you. Let’s meet in the middle and listen to each other. I’ll bring the Gumbo!

1. YASCHA MOUNK, Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time (New York, NY: Penguin Press, 2024), Back Cover
2. Ibid., 14.
3. Ibid., 14

About the Author


Jonita Fair-Payton

16 responses to “You and Me…let’s meet and listen!”

  1. mm Pam Lau says:

    After I read your story, I wondered if the man you were working with understood how offensive he was to two women? Did he feel embarrassed? Ashamed? Did he say he was so sorry?
    You put into words what I have been thinking all week: One person cannot speak on identity for an entire group.
    From your lived experience, what would you want me to know about what Mounk is suggesting we do in moving foward? I genuinely want to talk about this. To be honest, when I think of the hurt and division we are experiencing because of perspectives like the story you told, I shed tears. My Jewish family was and still is impacted by anti-semitism. It’s extremely difficult to talk about because one national Jewish person does not represent us all.
    Thank you for your post.

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

      No, he did not apologize. He was too intent on telling us that we were wrong and that we should not feel the way that we did. He didn’t last long in his position, and we went on to help the organization find a CEO that was a better fit. I think that key to moving forward is committing to truly listening and understanding one another. I’m happy to talk more about this with you.

  2. Scott Dickie says:

    Thanks Jonita,

    I must confess that my immediate take on your story was surprise that a person with that sort of ‘global experience’ didn’t have the relational capacity to engage your team more skillfully.

    In my experience, most statements that begins with, “You (fill in the blank re: the group)” is going to be an overly-simplistic statement that (often) has some emotional impetus behind it. If we have to speak in generalities (which I think can still be appropriate at times), I think it’s helpful to acknowledge it: “In my experience, many…certainly not all, but a good number of millennials will…”

    In your particular example, it’s easy for me to see how that CEO’s response to your feedback was insufficient (in part because it was someone else and not me!). Where I struggle at times is my own self-management when people respond in ways that I perceive to be ‘unreasonable’. When a younger employee responds to the kindly-communicated expectation that they show up to work on time with, “You’re micro-managing me and I feel uncomfortable wth how you are using your power.” I can easily become the CEO…responding NOT with curiosity and a genuine desire to listen and understand…but with a quick statement back about the reality of work and why my request is right and their perspective is wrong.

    So while I can see the deficiencies of the CEO’s response in your story…I have a harder time responding appropriately (as I’d like) in other circumstances.

    I suspect we all have our own ‘gauge’ to measure whether someone’s response back to us is ‘reasonable’ or not….and I think some of our current societal challenges in our communication (or lack thereof) is related to the different perspectives we have as to the ‘reasonableness’ to the feedback people give. Thus the condescending title of ‘snowflakes’ to describe people who are too offended or hurt by everything (at least from someone’s perspective). This, in my view, is a tricky problem to resolve.

    Not sure if that totally makes sense….but it’s where my mind went after reading your story (which in my view was reasonable feedback with a poor response back by the CEO) in light of some of my own management experience of late (in my view: not as reasonable).

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

      Oh Scott… thank you for your comment. You wrote: “When a younger employee responds to the kindly-communicated expectation that they show up to work on time with, “You’re micro-managing me and I feel uncomfortable with how you are using your power.” I can easily become the CEO…responding NOT with curiosity and a genuine desire to listen and understand…but with a quick statement back about the reality of work and why my request is right and their perspective is wrong.” , I have been in this exact situation. It is difficult to navigate this multi-generational workplace. It’s a different environment. I find myself writing more emails and double and triple checking them before I hit send. I think with a commitment to get it right, to not do harm and to be open to evolving is the best way to move forward.

  3. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Jonita,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am sorry that you and your business partner were not heard. I love your invitation to have conversation. Community, especially around food, does break down some barriers.

    Years ago when I was PTA president at the international school my kids attended there were some racial/cultural issues and tensions we encountered that were rather tricky. I doubt we got all things resolved but we moved a lot closer by creating a regular event that opened the lines of communication, offering space for dialogue and questions. By introducing food, a more relaxed environment, and appreciation for one another’s cultures and experiences we were able to find a number of creative ways to support students, teachers, and parents in an environment that was new to everyone. A willingness to enter conversations with the addition of food is a lovely combination.

    I’m in! I’ll bring the Mie Goreng. Just writing that made me hungry!

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

      Now you know that I love Mie Goreng….we might just be able to solve all the world problems with that and gumbo. I agree with you, “A willingness to enter conversations with the addition of food is a lovely combination.”

      Missing Asia,

      Your Travel Buddy

  4. Esther Edwards says:

    Hi, Jonita,
    Thanks for sharing from your own experience and also speaking to the need for identity. I think of so many of our churches that operate in diverse contexts. It is our job as the church to celebrate who people are by hearing their stories and then encouraging them to continue to embrace their cultural context. In fact, some of our attendees come to our service (especially when they are trying to learn English and understand Americans to a greater degree) and then go to other churches that are specifically geared to their cultural traditions.
    And yes, food is so important! The more we have people bring their cultural food to events, the more valued they feel!

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

      Yes Esther, we all want to feel heard, seen, and valued. I love what you wrote, you say, “The more we have people bring their cultural food to events, the more valued they feel!” you are so right. I’m grateful for this space that we share and the opportunity to learn together.

  5. mm Tim Clark says:

    I LOVE this. Thank you for sharing it.

    My skin started to crawl when I read the opening story. “He vehemently rejected that his statement was offensive”… that’s so sad.

    I may not always know when I have offended someone but if they tell me I’ve been offensive my position is to believe them.

    So much to say here…but I’m with you. Identity is important and even beautiful. And knowing our unique areas of identity in certain things and celebrating those things with one another can lead to the recognition of common humanity in other things. Acting like points of identity don’t matter I think actually can exasperate the differences.

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

      Oh, my brother… I agree with you. This part, “Acting like points of identity don’t matter I think actually can exasperate the differences.” is especially true and important.

  6. Adam Harris says:

    Thank you for sharing those stories. That really puts legs on some of the theories we are talking about. That’s interesting that he “doubled down” after you both confronted him. I do wonder why it is so difficult to simply say, “I apologise, I meant no disrespect” or “Thanks for bringing that to my attention”.

    You said parts of the book made you a bit uncomfortable and you struggled with some of it which, of course, made me curious what parts!?!

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

      Saying that “I am sorry” seems to be so hard for people. I really don’t understand why being heard and being right is more important than being respectful and listening.

  7. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    I’ll meet you in the middle, I’ll even meet you where you are! you are a gift Jonita and I am so blessed you are part of this program for such a time as this. Why do we all want to double down on our way of thinking instead of stopping in our tracks and listen and maybe, just maybe believe we are wrong? Why is that so hard!

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

      Come on, Sis…meet me in the middle and bring yummy food. I don’t know why we are trained to double down…I don’t know why saying, “I was wrong!” or “I’m sorry!” is so difficult. I do know that I am grateful to have you in my circle.

  8. mm Dinka Utomo says:

    Hi Jonita! Thank you for sharing your story.
    While reading your article, I once again encountered a story rooted in real experience, revealing that inserting a word that does not align with another person’s context (even if it is not intentional) can be perceived as offensive and hurtful. I concur with your perspective that there is a need for collective dialogues and attentive listening to each other’s narratives. In your view, what constitutes the most significant obstacle during the process of conversation and mutual listening?
    And could you please further explain, what “the Gumbo” is? Thank you.

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:


      I believe that the most significant obstacle is failure to listen. So many of us enter conversations, particualarly difficult conversations, holding our own opinions as the correct one. When we stop talking and commit to listening, that’s when progress has a chance.

      Now gumbo is one of the most delicious dishes that your will ever have. It is made with a roux (flour, oil and spicy seasonings) that is thickened with the trinity (onions, celery and bell peppers) and then thinned out with broth. With bay leaves, dried shrimp, cajun spices….it simmers to marry the flavors and then you add your protein. This usually consists of shrimp, sausage, crab and chicken. It is served typically over rice. It makes all things great in the world.

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