Let’s be honest. I’m not a fan of the victim card. For those who know me well, I’m more of a “cry for 2 seconds, suck it up, band-aid your wounds, and charge forward with positive thinking” kind of person. I don’t like it when people feel bad for me. I mean…I’m a type 3, ENFJ if that helps to paint the picture.
One time when I was about 9 years old, my pet bird died. In efforts to hide my tears and the pain I felt after the loss, I hid behind a bush and tried to bury it myself, crying quietly because I didn’t want anyone to feel bad for me.
But I’d be lying if I told you that being a woman, a minority, and single — especially in the world of Western Christianity — doesn’t sometimes feels like a triple-whammy. I attend women’s conferences and see a panel full of white, middle-class ladies. I sit in race and ethnicity dialogues and see a panel full of colored men. But I pursue ministry anyways despite being a minority woman, and the one constant question I get following “What are you studying?” is “So do you want to marry a pastor?”
This isn’t to knock on the conferences I’ve attended or the people who are curious about my marital pursuits. I don’t think any of them had bad intentions. In fact, I actually think they all meant well and are taking proactive steps to initiating change for the kingdom of God, and I support them fully in their mission. I mean, we’ve got to start somewhere right? Change doesn’t happen over night. At least the good and lasting kind. I think they just didn’t know, and that’s not wrong…but I also think just because something isn’t wrong doesn’t mean it’s not an issue worth addressing.
Not too long ago, I sat in a workshop where a woman said, “Representation matters because you can become who you see.” I remember the moment she said that, a lump began to swell up in my throat and tears began to well-up in my eyes. At that moment, I didn’t know exactly why I felt emotional. I just knew it felt sort of like that day I was hiding behind the bush, trying to bury my pain as deep as I was burying my dead pet.
In hindsight, I now know that those were tears of years of unearthed pain. Pain I didn’t know I even had or felt. Pain I only began to realize was mine when someone articulated something I didn’t know I deeply longed for and lacked: the chance to see who I could become.
My whole life, I made up rationale reasons for why I oftentimes didn’t see someone like me doing the things that I loved. But in some weird and indirect way that day, it was almost as if the speaker was apologizing to women, to minorities, to single persons, and maybe even to someone who was all three. It was almost as if for the first time, I felt seen by someone acknowledging the fact that I am unseen, in both society and the world of Western Christianity.
Since that day, I haven’t stopped praying that more women who look like me would one day sit in places of leadership, share the same space on panel discussions, and have their voices heard on main stages. But also since that day, I realized that admitting that I am a woman, a minority, and single is not making myself a victim as much as it is acknowledging my reality and the pain that comes with it. And that is not something I have to apologize, hide, or feel shame for.
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love being a single Hmong woman and I gladly own this identity. I guess all I’m trying to say is that it’s not always easy. It’s not easy to preach and know some people are angry. It’s not easy to get opportunities knowing someone took the hit just so that I could. It’s not easy to navigate conversations, let alone a whole world, in which very few times in the room there is someone else who identifies with me fully.
If you’re thinking “so what?” Here’s my point to all of this:
If you are not a woman, a minority, or single, find people who are. Take the time to listen to them, create environments where their voice can be heard, and call out the potential that you see in them. Chances are they’re fighting social pressures everyday just to believe that they can bring something to the table. Your belief and commitment to them might be the affirmation they need to discover their destiny. As minorities, our greatest advocates will not be people who look and sound like us; it is those who fall in the exact opposite categories…those in the majority whose voice can instigate change.
If you are a woman, a minority, or single, let your lack be the fuel — not the barrier — for who you aim to become. My pastor once said to me, “Maila, if you don’t see it, become it for the people after you who will be looking for someone who looks like them to give them permission to dream.” As women, as minorities, and/or as singles, we have a responsibility to our tribe to climb to higher places than the generation before and to endure our way into new spaces. Because when we do, it’s not for ourselves. It’s for all the people we represent. Your temporary discomfort as you step into new territories is widening the path so that more people like you can have space to walk on it. Will you lead the way?