Academic journal article Social Justice

Moving beyond Critique: Creative Interventions and Reconstructions of Community Accountability

Academic journal article Social Justice

Moving beyond Critique: Creative Interventions and Reconstructions of Community Accountability

Article excerpt


IN THE SUMMER OF 2006, A DRUMMING TEACHER FROM SOUTH Korea WAS INVITED TO teach a weeklong intensive drumming workshop at a Korean cultural community center in Oakland, California. (1) He was a teacher within a well-respected tradition of drumming associated with village life and radical anti-state politics in Korea. Trusted ties with this Korean institution had been woven through Korean American pilgrimages to the Korean village home and invitations to teachers to visit various drum groups throughout the United States. After an evening of singing, storytelling, and drinking--the usual festivities accompanying a full day of intensive drumming instruction--several students stayed the night to rest and recover for the next day. For over two decades, the cultural center had developed a safe, multi-gender, and intergenerational space and haven for the teaching of Korean drumming and dance, community performance, and ongoing cultural and political exchange between the home country and the diaspora. That night, this safety was shattered when the drumming teacher sexually assaulted one of his students.

The violation was immediately communicated throughout the small building, and center leaders quickly pulled together a direct confrontation involving the members and their community-led board. The next day, members gathered at the center to denounce the violation and support the victim of violence. In this situation, the victim steadfastly refused to name herself as a "survivor," finding the former term a closer match to her experience of sexual violence.

Liz, the president of the Oakland cultural center at the time of the assault, recollects the next day's encounter:

   When we got there, the teacher got on his knees and knelt in front
   of us, which is the deepest sign of respect. And then he asked us,
   begged us, not to tell his organization back home. We said we
   couldn't do that. "We're not here for your apology. We're here to
   tell you what happened, what we're going to do, and that's it." He
   made a big sign of remorse, taking his drumming stick and breaking
   it. He put it on the ground like "I'll give up drumming for this."
   Most of us were disgusted.

What followed was a set of sexual assault awareness workshops for center members and members of other affiliated drumming groups. An immediate telephone call to the head of the Korean drumming institution elicited the leader's profound shock and unconditional apology. Then a letter with a list of demands was sent. The Oakland organization demanded that the Korean institution establish sexual assault awareness trainings for its entire membership, which ranged from college students to elder farmers in the village, and commit to sending at least one woman teacher in future exchanges to the United States. They requested that the teacher step down from his leadership position for an initial period of six months and attend feminist therapy sessions that directly addressed the assault. The traditional relationship of deference to esteemed teachers and the teaching institution shifted as the Oakland organization challenged the familiar practice of sexual harassment and violation.

The organization also contacted a sister progressive drumming group in Seoul. That group had dealt with sexual assault in a manner that reflected its deeply democratic values. Its one hundred members were collectively organized to address a sexual assault that had occurred among the membership. The person who had committed the violation went through an extensive process with the group's leaders and members. After leaving the organization, he posted a public apology on its website and retained relationships with drumming group members.

Inspired by this story of collective action and its concrete results, the Oakland organization implemented measures that reversed the usual silence and victim-blaming that accompany sexual assault. …

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