I recently read this book that chronicles the experiences of five Latina immigrant mothers in Oakland, California as they become informed and engaged advocates for their children's education. It has generated a lot of thought and reflection, but one statement in particular has really stuck with me: "whites . . . have become so used to speaking for the 'Other' that they are not aware of how their speech silences those who most need to be heard. [There is] deep paternalism underlying many progressive change efforts initiated by whites, where people of color are spoken about, rather than invited to speak as experts of their own experience."
I know and believe in the value and importance of speaking "with" and not just "to" or "for" a community, but if I am really honest, I know this statement is true of me at times. Not all the time, but there are times when it is easier and more convenient to "speak on their behalf" rather than coordinating challenging work schedules and getting translators when I am involved in meetings and discussions about programs and activities we are doing, or want to do, in the community.
This was a potent reminder that avoiding inconvenience fosters the exact kind of oppression we are working to alleviate.