The 2018 Ware Lecture with Brittany Packnett A Commission on Institutional Change Discuss Guide

Ware lecturer Brittany Packnett visits with members of the Youth Caucus

The 2018 Ware Lecture with Brittany Packnett

One of the highlights of the 2018 General Assembly was the Ware Lecture by Brittany Packnett. This was a passionate and straight-talking talk about the place where we find ourselves and where we must find ourselves as individuals and as a faith community. This talk offers much for us to reflect upon as we examine the impacts of racism and white supremacy culture within our faith. We urge you to watch this and then consider having a conversation in your congregation.

We offer the questions below as conversation starters:

  • In Unitarian Universalism, we privilege certain kinds of knowledge, particularly those based on tradition, and identities. Packnett is clear she is speaking from “my knowledge is 33 years of being a black woman in America” that in American society, her lived-knowledge may be dismissed. How do you respond to this?
  • Packnett talks about the gap between what white America expects and the spirit of expectancy of marginalized people who have come to realize they cannot have expectations for a just society that takes their lives seriously. What emotions do you experience when you consider this?
  • She takes issue with the following statement, “This is not who we are.” She asks us not to give in into the sentiment of that statement and instead, points us to analyze the ways in which the kinds of hate-based policies we are seeing are, in fact, part of the fabric of what this nation has been offering throughout history. What can we learn from this and how does this impact our shared faith?
  • What does this conversation suggest about how we can better work for justice?
  • For Packnett, the messages of hatred and exclusion are coming not just from the people in power to shape our political and economic lives. They also come from us. In our personal lives, we also exclude marginalized people. How can we move to change our own exclusionary practices?
  • Packnett says even the progressive movements are affected by bias, how do you see that reflected or not in your experience?
  • Packnett makes the point that progressives and white moderates want to change in “short, digestible bursts.” That is to say, the type of incremental change that does not upend the status quo. These “short, digestible bursts,” do not consider the cost to those whose lives are shaped by injustice. Furthermore, they are more of a threat to freedom than hate groups. What truth do you take from that statement?
  • If you start with her statement, “Supremacy is so normative that you may not even be conscious that you are perpetuating it.” What does it reveal about the ways in which you move through the world?
  • Packnett asks us to consider the expectation of our neighbors, what does that suggest for us as a congregation?
  • Packnett makes a distinction between allies and accomplices. In her words, an “ally tends to be self-congratulating” and unreliable while accomplices “stick around and are in it for the long-term” and do not try to empower those who are already powerful. What practices could adapt to make the move from allies to accomplices? How does resistance, or discomfort, to such moves reveals our investment, whether conscious or not, in Supremacy?
  • “What do you expect of me and how do I meet your expectations?” is the question Packnett suggests that we should ask. Whose expectations do we prioritize? What does such prioritization reveal about our commitment to justice, equity, and compassion in our relations?
  • A perfectionist culture does not like to have any areas in which growth and improvement are needed. Packnett talks about “calling people in” rather than “calling people out.” Discuss what is the potential this distinction can play in our community-building practices.
  • “We are called to make the world better, each and every one of us….and your privilege? Your privilege increases your duty whether you accept it or not. Your power is waiting on you to pick it up, inform it with love and expectancy, and WORK,” Packnett says. In what ways can we make the Privilege we wield as a faith community to work?
  • “It is not enough just to not be a racist. We must expect ourselves and one another to be actively anti-racist. It is not enough just to not be sexist, we must expect ourselves to be intentionally and consistently interruptive of gender discrimination. It is not enough to not be a transphobe, we must expect ourselves to be as obsessed with justice for trans folks across the globe as we are with our own.” What actions does this suggest?
  • Though Packnett says there is no one task to dismantle white supremacy and other oppressions, what is one new way you will approach this challenge?
  • “The tearing down is sexy but the freedom comes in the building.” What will you commit to building up?