Reflections on Gutiérrez and Lewis’ Education, participation, and capacity building in community organizing with women of color

Gutiérrez and Lewis (2006) discuss a topic close to my heart and one that will be an aspect of my participatory action research in the future, community organizing in communities of color, especially with women and girls of color since societally they are the most oppressed and taken for granted and forgotten by the larger society of the United States. What is key here is what I will be faced with when I begin my community psychology “to help others help themselves” that I have to confront myself with every day:  my level of involvement as a white appearing man in a community of people of color, especially women of color without interfering, stepping on, or silencing their voices while attempting to empower them collectively and individually.

While the authors cite the rich history of collective actions by women of color, especially Black American Women, they admit that very little literature has assessed methods for organizing women of color which comes as no surprise due to institutional racism and the mixed history of feminism until recent but limited progress (excepting intersectional feminism).  Given the wealth of action research and asset-based community development in the last twenty plus years, that seems such a missed opportunity for empowerment and evolutionary actions.  The reciprocal process of education, participation, and capacity building is key within organizers as well as participants.  In a communitarian involvement, there would be only participants and no leaders, and that is something to consider.  However, I disagree that organizing ideas should be necessarily exchanged between European American descendants and Black Americans.  The former generally tend to be more individualistic, though revealing their perspectives on the issues at hand are necessary.  The latter, from a rich cultural heritage in the United States and within the African continent as well, tend to be more community oriented.  The challenge is to penetrate the insidious institutional racism that has divided their culture and tap into the collective community activism of their past.

Additionally, the authors address the disparity in some outreach and activist actions that clearly represent a white majority in authority and women of color as the majority of recipients.  This illustrates a clear example of the historical reality made manifest in the present of affluent white women attempting to tell the lower income recipients of their efforts that they understand their plight better than they do.  Thankfully, people are much more aware of how appearance effect outcome and work to change those dynamics.  In the example provided, the organizers placed women of color in positions of responsibility and were able to reach more women of color in the community.  Another means of effecting change would involve utilizing the participants as co-researchers in the research project, in the community action, in the community development.  The key is for the organizer to place themselves into positions where have to at least empathize, if not completely understand the viewpoints and struggles of the women they are attempting to help.

 

References:

Gutiérrez, L. M., & Lewis, E. (2006). Education, participation, and capacity building in community organizing with women of color. In M. Minkler (Ed.), Community organizing and community building for health (3nd ed., pp. 215-228). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

 

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