"When I was younger, I used to get the 'what are you?' question...I used to try to explain it and now I just stopped trying to describe myself. I am of a multiracial, multiethnic, multicultural, multinational family so I think that that just makes me a quintessential American in a lot of ways."
Our newest team member, J.P. Anderson, has always felt like an outsider, never quite fitting into any group as a multiracial person, which has led to a lot of experiences with exclusion and discrimination in all areas of life. It's the thing that sparked his interest in political science, sociology, and law. He explains what drew him to this work,
"I was just really interested in trying to figure out the puzzle of belonging in the United States. There's an amazing diversity of heritages that combine to create, I think, authentic Americanness. That's a good thing. That's something that I like about the United States. But the price that many of us pay is that we feel like we're just never really fitting in and it becomes exhausting."
J.P. is a professor of political science at San Diego State University with extensive experience with diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in public policy and services as an instructor of DEIB curriculum for over 8 years. He is returning to his hometown of Seattle to join Cultures Connecting as a Racial Equity Consultant. His aim in political science was to try to "understand how the United States can build institutions that are doing inclusive work, that are bringing people together, that are bridging all of these divides that we have to navigate throughout our lives."
He believes that the burden of individuals having to constantly negotiate belonging is exhausting, keeps us from being our best selves, and ultimately holds us back as a country. The U.S. has a lot of potential, he explains, but has struggled to create "institutions, workplaces, and social spaces that value diversity, that are authentically inclusive, not just performatively" and that we are a society that "wounds itself over and over again, especially around the issue of race. And it figures out ways to tear open its wounds and things don't get resolved."
As a political scientist, he wanted to "envision public institutions that did some of the work of healing these longstanding racial wounds" so he focused on the criminal justice system through which racial hierarchies are "reinforced, instigated, reignited." J.P. argues that restorative and transformative justice are more effective ways to create accountability, rather than just punishment. He pointed to efforts by organizations like Common Justice as examples, which he explains are "doing incredible work with violent offenders, rather than having those violent offenders just simply be incarcerated. They are helping violent offenders actually directly address the harm that they caused." He sees this as true accountability because offenders are "profoundly changed and are able to actually take action on behalf of their remorse, which is something they're not able to do when they're incarcerated."
While J.P. found his work as a professor purposeful, his desire to make an immediate and consequential impact on the lives of everyday people and organizations, as well as returning to his hometown of Seattle, drew him to racial equity work at Cultures Connecting. He is looking forward to facilitating honest conversations and wants to be in a place where everyone can take off their mask and be themselves, where everyone can stop performing and be honest with each other in order to create authentic and meaningful connections. He explains,
"It would be amazing to be part of the process of liberating a community from [racial] assumptions and bias because it feels great to live without those things...We just need a little help because bias is so ingrained and knee-jerk and automatic and people don't realize it's happening. A biased individual is not a happy person and someone that experiences bias is definitely not a happy person. So on both sides of that relationship, they're suffering...We don't just have to resign ourselves to that suffering. I'm looking forward to really feeling like I can make a small contribution towards easing suffering."
Having a fulfilling professional life is important to J.P., but so is feeling purposeful in his personal life, which he finds in two ways. First is in his family, which consists of his spouse and two children, a teenage daughter and an elementary-aged son. Second is in music which he writes, plays guitar, drums, plays keyboard, etc., and produces with his spouse. They've been dedicated to their music project for the past 20 years and have played shows around the country. He explains, "Both of those take up a lot of time so I don't have a lot of other hobbies. I wouldn't call music a hobby. It's been a career for me and I feel thankful for that, but it's also something I just deeply enjoy."
We look forward to J.P.'s presence in future our workshops, with Equity Leaders in February being the first one. We're excited about the outstanding work we know he'll do with clients and all he offers to our Cultures Connecting team. We feel fortunate to have his unique perspective and look forward to his contribution to our racial equity work.