One of the challenges I have worked with congregations in dismantling white supremacy culture has been to help them shift their perspective on what is defined in the congregation as “normal”. I remember working with a congregation several years ago in another region where many of the board members held years of experience in corporate America. The congregation had called a minister who brought with them a wealth of experience in activism and non-profits, and was also a person of color. When I was asked to come help them explore why the congregation’s board was having a difficult time building a partnership relationship with their new minister, it became clear that the expectations of many board members around “professionalism” which had been formed in their very corporate work experience were at odds with the minister’s understanding of “professionalism” that had been formed in activist and non-profit communities.
“Professionalism” is often a mask for unexamined norms, expectations, and patterns formed through a lens of white supremacy culture. Many of us have been trained to view these kinds of expectations around time management, communications, or workplace behavior and more as if there is a normal, neutral, valueless set of standards that everyone could/should share. The reality is that these assumptions are bound to assumptions of white supremacy culture and are utilized in place of the relationship building that is at the center of what it means to be Unitarian Universalist. Our faith calls us to do the work of understanding one another and adapting to create a set of assumptions about how we are together that includes us all.
During this year, your MidAmerica Regional Team has been exploring a program from The Adaway Group, titled “Whiteness at Work” as a way to explore and challenge our own assumptions about professionalism in the workplace in order to make those assumptions more inclusive of all. This month, we have been exploring this topic of professionalism, and two of the resources we have learned from have been an article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review titled “The Bias of ‘Professionalism’ Standards” and a worksheet titled “White Dominant Culture & Something Different” to help explore our own assumptions and expectations about professionalism.
We get to choose what norms and expectations will include us all to build the religious communities and relationships of our faith, and that takes intentional work to dismantle those expectations and assumptions that do not recognize all of who we are.