My Kentucky Kitchen Table was hosted in Bowling Green on November 7th with attendees Kate, Tatum, Bailey, Olivia, Maggie, Elizabeth (myself) and Lauren. Kate is a sophomore, who is a religious studies major and political science minor. She is from Erlanger, a small city in northern Kentucky. Tatum is also a sophomore who is a biochemistry major, and she is from Todd County, from a very small rural town in southern Kentucky. Maggie is a high school student who is also from Erlanger in Northern Kentucky. Lauren is a sophomore from urban Lexington. Bailey, Olivia, and I hosted this dinner together. This group of women is diverse in their age, backgrounds, and hometowns, each bringing a unique perspective to the topic of citizenship because of these differences.
The first question we discussed was “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?”. Tatum voiced that activism is a large part of citizenship, specifically taking action in causes that are important to you rather than being stagnant or passive and merely reaping the benefits from society. She also discussed being a good person in general, embracing what it means to possess human decency. She also mentioned that while she personally values her faith, that even outside of religion, being a good citizen means treating each other with love and kindness despite our differences. Kate also mentioned the implications religion has on her view of citizenship, bringing up the point that she considers herself to have dual citizenship, being a citizen of Heaven but also on Earth of America. She discussed how her allegiance is first to God and furthering His will and then to her country and supporting its ideals. Maggie had an interesting take on this question because she is a minor and can’t yet vote. However, she still believes she can be an active citizen in other ways, such as being active in her school and community and using her voice to fight for those who can’t. Overall, their consensus on what citizenship means differed between them but held the common ideal of action. Whether that was through a letter-writing campaign at a high school or using religion to love fellow citizens and fight for their protection, each member seemed to value activism as an important aspect of citizenship.
We next posed the question “What social issue is closest to your heart and why?”. Kate had many issues she is passionate about, especially since she is studying political science. A few she mentioned were abortion, political polarization, and being an informed citizen who votes in local elections. Racial reconciliation sparked an interest with all members of the dinner, and we spent a substantial amount of time discussion this issue, which is discussed later. Maggie discussed how her experience of going on a mission trip to Guatemala gave her a passion for international poverty, and she wants to work towards aiding other countries in addressing the issues poverty causes. Lauren discussed her heart for homelessness, specifically the large issue this is in urban areas as she has witnessed growing up in Lexington. Each member had a different issue they were passionate about due to their upbringing or an experience that caused them to see the severity of a problem and be inspired to take action.
Another question members discussed is “Have you ever had a conversation with someone from a really different background than yourself?”. Tatum discussed that there are a lot of Amish where she is from and how she has had many interactions with them. She noted how interesting it is that they outwardly express their religion and interpret the commandment to be “in the world but not of it” as abstaining from modern technologies. Kate discussed her conversation with a CSF staff member named Conny who is the daughter of illegal immigrants who are trying to gain citizenship and how radically different Conny’s upbringing and perspective are due to this battle her family has been facing her whole life. Kate is also a member of a local church called Christ Fellowship, which has members from multiple other countries, and the church sings worship songs in Swahili. Lauren shared a similar experience through her church, Journey, which is an international church where she has many interactions with diverse people from other countries. Specifically, she interacts with many people from the Congo and their services have Bible verses in multiple languages on the screen so that members who can’t read English can follow along. These experiences gave each person a unique look into other people’s lives who may differ on aspects such as language, ethnicity, upbringing, etc.
We also discussed the question “Does your religious or spiritual identity relate to how you think we should treat other people? Does it relate to how you see yourself as a citizen?” which I mentioned earlier. The group in general said religion compels you to treat every citizen with love and kindness, as Christianity’s belief is that Jesus died for every person and followers should then love everyone as He did. We discussed how the church is often misrepresented and portrayed as vengeful or condemning; however, this is the opposite of Christianity’s true message which is to love and forgive everyone because we are all sinners. Since Jesus also fought for the oppressed and those who were being treated unfairly, as Tatum mentioned, activism is also an important aspect of religion for Christians.
Along with these specific questions, our kitchen table discussion also highlighted a theme. One popular topic was the social issue of racial reconciliation. Kate brought up the need for racial reconciliation specifically in the church, as she pointed out that “white” and “black” churches still exist. Olivia added to this point that true reconciliation would be all nations worshiping together. Another aspect to this theme was the discussion of interracial marriage. Kate discussed the prejudices still held in society that create a taboo around this, even discussing how she would feel nervous bringing a black person home. One of their friends named Bailey, who wasn’t a technical part of this dinner but did add points to our conversation, discussed the difficulties she faced when dating a black man. She spoke about the blatant public hatred when her and her boyfriend would go out in public, mainly in the form of judgmental looks and occasional comments, mostly given by white women. This is just one example of the broader issue of discrimination that overflows into many aspects of politics even today when this is technically “illegal.”
Through this project, I learned the importance of face-to-face communication and the inspiration that comes from collaborating with others. Personally, a large part of my life is consumed by either a busy schedule or technology. This dinner was an opportunity to put both of those things aside and have a real discussion with active community members. I also learned through the diverse perspectives about each topic how different individuals perceive citizenship. Yet even among the differing viewpoints, each member was respectful of others’ opinions and could peaceably disagree. Overall, the dinner taught me that no matter your political stance, personal background, or individual interests, you can still be an active citizen by engaging in your passions and treating others with human decency. Though each member of the dinner valued different things, we could all agree on certain aspects of citizenship and the activism that should be associated with it.
The concepts discussed during the dinner reinforced the ideas present in our class discussion that intelligent people can reasonably disagree. The conversation around the table mirrored in many ways the discussions we have in class. Similar to how each person in class comes into every discussion with a unique background and perspective, each member of the dinner approached the conversation with a specific viewpoint due to their life experiences. This also means, both in class and at our dinner, that people will inevitable disagree due to their differing perspectives. But disagreement is not inherently bad as we have discovered in class and deliberating on these differing opinions is actually healthy and necessary for social change. Our dinner discussions also relate to the reading “How We Talk Matters.” The article discusses the importance of and need for conversation, even casual conversation with our neighbors. It also reinforces my previous point regarding disagreement, stating “Disagreement lives at the heart of good decision-making and democracy because both processes depend on diversity”. The article explains why discussions like the one at our kitchen table, with everyday citizens coming together despite their differences and talking about issues happening today, are so important to democracy and public action. Our kitchen table discussion also highlighted the wicked problem of racial reconciliation. This problem could be considered wicked first because it is dynamic, policies and public perception regarding race have changed over time, is complicated, many people must change their minds to disregard the deeply rooted racism that affects many aspects of politics and everyday life, and is value-laden, with people who are both open and accepting as well as blatantly racist and discriminatory. Our kitchen table reinforced concepts discussed in class such as the importance of peaceable disagreement and the discussion of wicked problems.
Overall, my Kentucky Kitchen Table was an enriching learning experience that provided a unique opportunity to hear from community members about issues important to them. We discussed many topics including the meaning of citizenship, social issues members were passionate about, interacting with people different from you, the impact religion has on citizenship, and racial reconciliation. These ideas reinforced themes present in class as well as the reading “How We Talk Matters” by emphasizing the importance of civil communication and disagreement to progress democracy.