For the last couple of years, I have been going around the Southern Region talking about culture. As I work with congregations which are doing mission and vision work or are in transition with their professional staff, I explain that before you can think about the future, it is important to know where you came from and have a keen understanding of the current congregational culture. You know the one about the fish who was asked, “So, how’s the water?” and the fish replies, “What’s water?”
Culture is kind of like the water we are swimming in---we often don’t even know it is there. Therefore, we must be intentional in our desire to learn about our culture if we want to bring about change.
For many of us, understanding that we have a unique culture becomes difficult if our own culture looks like the the dominant culture of our society. In the United States, this is true for those of us who identify as white. We often don’t have to think about our culture so we haven’t done so. Now more than ever, it is time to take a good hard look at white culture in America.
Not only do we need to think about our white culture, but we need to think about how white supremacy is part of that culture.
For centuries, white dominance has been bred into what it means to be America. Only by this acknowledgement can we free ourselves from the damage that is being done by white supremacy. If we don’t talk about this truth, we keep the power of oppression comfortably in place.
As Unitarian Universalists, we have become very comfortable talking about things like misogyny and homophobia. We must do the same for white supremacy and anti-blackness. It is difficult to see our own biases. We unconsciously replicate racism if we are not intentionally working against it.
Racial Equity is the systemic fair treatment of people of all races that results in equitable opportunities and outcomes. We must collectively look at what is blocking the outcomes in order to see the oppressive structures.
If we have these conversations in our congregations, we can practice how to listen deeply to those we do not understand. We can find ways to learn lovingly about differences in world views from genuine curiosity. When we create these safe circles of love and covenant, we can conjure the courage to go out and listen deeply in places that do not feel as safe. Only by using these racial justice muscles do they get stronger.
Now more than ever, we must lean in to our discomfort so that marginalized communities might get a relief from the pain that they have been feeling for far too long.
Let me pose a few questions for you to consider:
- How have I internalized white supremacy?
- How has white supremacy had an impact on my interpersonal relationships?
- What is an example of institutionalized racism that I can name?
- Where do I see structural racism in my community?
If you are not sure how to answer, that is OK. I would like to suggest that you have faith. I believe that you will have answers to these questions over time if you continue to reflect and stay open and curious.
Before we can dismantle racism in any kind of systematic way, we have to understand how white supremacy has been part of the culture that created these systems. In order to adapt to news ways of thinking, we have to have a deeper understanding of how our own culture has shaped the current structures. We need to go deeper into our own culture so that we can adapt. We need to be willing to listen to new ways of being in the world so that we can build a new world where there is true equity and justice for all.