AntiRacism Resource Spotlight: Developing Ease Across Difference

By Renee Ruchotzke

image of a table with a formal placesetting, two plates, napkin, silverware, several stem glasses

When I was growing up, my mother spent a lot of time talking to me about etiquette. My father was an immigrant, and my mother’s parents were working poor. My parents were chasing the American dream, and had bought a house in an affluent neighborhood. It was important that we make a good impression to “fit in.” Always the learner, I read through my mother’s copy of Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage by Emily Post. There was even a local “charm school” that some of my more affluent friends went to reinforce the social graces. These experiences set some deeply ingrained habits – especially when I set the dinner table!

This experience with etiquette also reinforced a cultural pattern of there being one right way of doing things along with an additional pattern of shame and ostracism when a mistake is made. These two patterns (“one right way” and “shame/ostracism”) permeated my early experiences of anti-racism trainings. There would seem to be a few white people who “got it” and would jump on other white people who made a mistake, especially mistakes using metaphors that had a racist history. How I longed for modern-day Emily Post who could give me a new set of anti-racist etiquette rules to follow.

What I know now that I didn’t know then was that those patterns themselves -- “one right way” and “shame/ostracism” -- were markers of white supremacy culture.

What I found – instead of a new etiquette book – was a framework called the Intercultural Developmental Continuum. Introduced by the UUMA as a program called “Who Are Our Neighbors?” and later to UUA staff, it claimed that there are different stages of intercultural awareness, and that there are specific things an individual can do to develop more complexity in their understanding of difference. It also shows how to communicate more effectively and gracefully across cultural difference. Those who are interested can take the IDI (Intercultural Development Inventory) to assess where they are on the continuum, and what work/experiences will help move them toward more complexity. You can learn about my experience with the IDI in this video I made for my home congregation (YouTube 5:10).

My colleague Jonipher Kwong and I found this framework so helpful, that we contracted with Beth Zemsky (who had trained both UUMA and UUA trainers) to create a special training just for you, leaders of congregations! It’s called Co-Creating Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity In Our Congregations, available for $15 on the UU Institute. It’s designed to be taken as a congregational team, either as an in-person 6 session course, a one-day training, or a hybrid online version.

About the Author

Renee Ruchotzke

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke (ruh-HUT-skee) is a Congregational Life Consultant and program manager for Leadership Development.

For more information contact .