The Spiritual Practice of Untangling Perfectionism, Urgency, and Individualism

By Evin Carvill Ziemer

Image of Evin Carvill-Ziemer: white non-binary person with short dark hair and glasses leaning on a railing. Evin is wearing a black sweater over a blue collar shirt.

This is a story of two moments online and how some of the ways we white UU’s show up can cause harm. I want to tell this story now because in two moments there’s something in the pattern of how we show up together. Next week’s General Assembly (online and in person) is both a chance for these patterns to pop up and a chance for us to practice how we show up. (It’s also a chance for BIPOC UU’s to gather in numerous ways, look for a summary at the end of this blog.)

Back in 2018, the Central East Regional staff started a program called New Day Rising, gathering congregations working for racial justice. And we brought it online in 2021 and 2023. One of the parts of the program that is important to us is time for racial caucusing. When our Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPoC) siblings gather in space without those of us who are white and those of us who are white get to be in space with other white people to talk about our own racial journeys.

In the white online caucuses in both 2021 and 2023 we staff noticed a distinct vibe from (some, but significantly many) attendees: impatience when the tech wasn’t working, frustration when it took time to get people into break out rooms, even anger at the sound of a baby in the background. I understand it is frustrating when these things happen! When we can’t hear because of a baby and have to read the captions. Or we wonder why other people are in breakout rooms already, but somehow we aren’t. And maybe these things are even harder for those of us who are white when we’re feeling somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of caucusing.

But, still, it was striking to us that this happened in the white caucuses with white people. And didn’t happen in BIPOC spaces. It felt very much in my face, or on my screen. And I was reminded of the observations people of color have made about white dominated spaces, cultural characteristics described in Tema Okun’s “White Supremacy Culture” work you may have read. Among these are perfectionism, “one right way”, urgency, and individualism–a me focus. These characteristics don’t only create a culture where it’s harder for BIPoC people to thrive. Back in 2006 I attended the second Allies for Racial Equity conference, an organization created for white UU’s who want to be in accountable relationship with UU’s of color. And it wasn’t easy to enact anti-oppression being a group of all white people either! We had some significant challenges in that conference with ageism toward youth and young adults and bias against transgender people.

So, in just a week we’ll gather online and in person for General Assembly. And my experience is it’s even easier for these gremlins of urgency, perfectionism, and individualism to come out when we’re gathered in a large group. Perhaps you’ve learned to be patient with the tech foibles in your home congregation (I hope you have!). That might be an easier community to wait patiently when leadership has to confer and figure something out or to take a deep breath when you’re feeling like you’re the one being left out (probably unintentionally). It’s easier maybe to remember people are just human when they’re humans you know personally. Regardless of why, it’s my observation that we UU’s just have a harder time with things like this at General Assembly.

If you’re a white person reading this, I have three invitations especially for you to consider in how these observations could be actionable next week:

  • First, if you doubt the validity of my anecdotes, I invite you to simply observe. Gather your own data. Notice when we white UU’s are impatient, cranky, judgmental, filled with urgency, and giving incessant negative feedback and the impact on those trying to lead us and our BIPOC siblings in faith.
  • Or, second, you could let these observations come with you to General Assembly and be a reminder to you to try on welcoming imperfection, accepting there are many ways, and noticing when urgency arises. Explore more of the antidotes to white supremacy culture and try those on too.
  • Or third, try moving through General Assembly (and the world) with the awareness that the actions of other white people are impacting people around us. And noticing when we can at least soften those impacts. We can choose to be someone who speaks up even just to say reassuring things to those doing their best to manage the technology, or reminding others it’s a good time for a stretch break because we’re all human and these things take time.
  • Plus, connect with Allies for Racial Equity to find spaces to gather with other white UU’s to continue your personal and our collective work. Now is a great time to join their email list so you’ll get their updates about GA too.

If you’re of the global majority of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, please note the places and times specifically for you during General Assembly:

  • The Diverse & Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries is hosting BIPOC-only DRUUMM Village in room 408-410.
  • The GA Chaplains are available to you in room 333 and virtually.
  • There’s a BIPOC youth and young adult reception Thursday June 22 10am-12pm.
  • Black Lives of UU is hosting a worship service for Black UU’s at 4pm on Sunday June 18 (sign up).
  • You can connect with the national BIPOC Taproot community before GA by emailing Sana Saeed (ssaeed@uua.org).

I know that General Assembly has the painful reality of sometimes being one of the harder spaces for you in Unitarian Universalism, while simultaneously being a place where you can connect with far more BIPOC UU’s than you know locally. I hope that your GA is a blessing and that the community you find there nurtures your soul.

This is heart work. Soul work. We are all impacted in our own unique ways, shaped by internalizing white supremacy culture, impacting who we’ve become. Untangling takes time. And patience. And being patient with ourselves and each other. Such is the spiritual practice of living into the fullness of our covenantal faith with each other.

About the Author

Evin Carvill Ziemer

Evin serves as the Developmental Lead for the New England Region. Evin holds a Masters of Divinity from Earlham School of Religion and Bachelor of Arts from Carleton College.

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