As we work to dismantle racism in our institution, we are continuing our exploration of the attributes of White Supremacy Culture. Today we will look at individualism.
Individualism appears in the construct of individual responsibility; this is not that individuals are responsible for themselves, but rather that individuals have no responsibility to other members of society. It is, at its core, a denial of the Interdependent Web of All Existence. One would think that something so completely antithetical to UUs would not be part of our organizations, and yet individualism manifests itself in our practices. People often work in silos rather than seeking out teams, they believe that they alone are responsible for solving problems, they desire individual recognition and credit. Accountability, where it exists, goes up and down the hierarchy rather than flowing laterally to peers and those served, competition is valued over cooperation. Individual contributors who work in isolation are valued for their independence and the lack of cooperative efforts are not recognized as a core problem. Individuals believe that if something is to get done, they must be the one to do it and have little or no ability to delegate work to others.
Antidotes for this are rooted in valuing cooperation over competition:
- Evaluate people based on their ability to delegate to others and to work as a member of a team.
- Measure success by how a goal was achieved – whether a collaborative approach was taken.
- Honor process as much as product
- Recognition should go to teams, not individuals
- Develop and foster the ability to collaborate and delegate
- Create a culture in which people can bring problems to a group without fear of recrimination or loss of power or position
- Create a culture of collective, rather than individual accountability
This week we will set aside our ongoing exploration of the attributes of White Supremacy Culture and turn to the news. The leaked early draft of a Supreme Court ruling on Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s Health Organization makes it clear that Roe v. Wade is about to be overturned. Not only will this allow conservative states to illegalize abortions, it does so on a foundation that could be used to overturn Obergefell and even Loving, which legalized same sex marriage and interracial marriage, respectively.
This is White Supremacy Culture in action. Paternalism, Belief in One Right Way, Either/Or Thinking, and Individualism all come into play, with a group in power overriding the wishes of the vast majority of Americans, disregarding their beliefs and substituting the beliefs of the minority that holds power. Those people seeking abortions who have the finances to travel to a blue state will do so, but we all know the correlation between poverty and race. It’s easy to see the intersectionality through which this will affect women of color far more than white women.
We are called to stand for our beliefs, just as we are called to stand for those who have been marginalized by this action. Let your voice be heard, not just here at First U, not just in the voting booths in our districts, but in those states in which a small group of white men is making life-altering decisions for all women in the US. Yes, this is about a woman’s right to choose, and it’s about the fact that women of color will be disproportionately harmed, but it’s also a fundamental attack on our first amendment right to practice our beliefs as we see fit. If they can disregard our belief in this respect, they can do so in any other way they choose. Stand up. Fight back.
As we work to dismantle racism in our institution, we are continuing our exploration of the attributes of White Supremacy Culture. Today we will look at either/or thinking.
This simplistic approach positions issues as “either/or” – good or bad, right or wrong, with us or against us.
The idea that neither is valid, or both are equally valid and no choice needs to be made, does not seem to enter into the equation. This is closely linked to last week’s topic, perfectionism, because binary thinking makes it difficult to learn from mistakes. Either/or thinking is used as a means of driving an agenda without real debate or consensus building, and it has been used rather effectively to divide, by pitting different oppressed groups against each other.
Antidotes for this are available to us:
- When two, seemingly opposing positions are presented as the only options, intentionally step back, validate both and identify more alternatives.
- When binary thinking and a sense of urgency are coupled, stop. Make the time to restate the goal and really dig into the alternatives.
- Don’t make decisions under extreme pressure.
- Acknowledge the ways in which oppressions intersect, and reinforce each other, reject being forced to choose between oppressions or prioritize one over another.
As we work to dismantle racism in our institution, we are continuing our exploration of the attributes of White Supremacy Culture. Today we will look at Perfectionism.
While there is a tradition in UU circles to express appreciation for work that is done, those expressing that appreciation have often shared in the work effort, and credit is often shared based on the power of the recipient rather than relative contributions. It is more common to highlight inadequacies than to complement, and that is often done indirectly rather than engaging with the person. Mistakes are seen as personal failures rather than as an expected occurrence in any activity. Making a mistake is confused with being a mistake and doing wrong is confused with being wrong. Lessons are not learned; practices are not improved. Antidotes for this are related to cross-cultural, interpersonal relationship:
- Develop a culture of appreciation, both individual and organizational.
- Organizational culture should center learning so that mistakes are opportunities for growth.
- Foster an environment in which a mistake can still lead to a positive result.
- Evaluative culture must start and end feedback with what went well and discussions about mistakes should be interactive conversations about future improvement.
As we work to dismantle racism in our institution, we are continuing our exploration of the attributes of White Supremacy Culture. Today we will look at Belief in One Right Way.
We gather today as Unitarian Universalists on Easter Sunday, and Palm Sunday for the Orthodox Church, in the midst of Passover and Ramadan. We know that each of these worship paths, along with many others, are equally valid and just; there are many “right ways”, and yet our services and non-worship practices and policies follow a set, familiar pattern.
The “one right way” is the belief that there is a single correct approach to doing things and that once people are introduced to it they will “see the light” and embrace it. When people don’t align to that right way they are assumed to be wrong. It is unacceptable to see that there can be multiple valid paths, or worse, that the “one right way”is actually wrong.
Antidotes for this are rooted in our principles, especially the third one; acceptance of one another:
- Intentionally accept that there are many ways to get to a single goal
- Embrace group decisions that follow paths that differ from past norms
- Establish a practice of noticing when people do things differently and examining how those differences might improve the traditional approach
- Look for people and groups that push the “one right way” and name it
- When working with a group with a different culture be clear that there is some learning to be done from their way of doing things
- Never assume that you or your organization knows what is best
As we work to dismantle racism in our institution, we are continuing our exploration of the attributes of White Supremacy Culture. Today we will look at paternalism.
Paternalism is deeply ingrained in our society, with power concentrated in a small minority comprised largely of mature, white males. Even when progressive goals are set, organizational structures still concentrate power in the hands of the few. Efforts to do “the right thing” are frequently characterized by white-centering and white male savior narratives. In such an environment the decision-making process is transparent to those in power and opaque to those without power. People in power believe they are capable of making decisions for those without power and don’t see the necessity of gaining the perspective of those impacted by decisions.
Those with power are often unaware of power imbalances, while those without power are never free of that knowledge. With that said, we saw paternalistic White Supremacy in full display at the confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson. An overly qualified candidate’s credentials were questioned in a way that would not have happened with a male candidate. It was clear that those wielding their power were aware of the imbalance, and Judge Jackson was certainly aware of the patronizing attitude of those “questioning” her. In the end she was confirmed and we do need to celebrate that.
Antidotes for this are about transparency in decision making and inclusive decision making processes:
- Ensure that everyone knows who makes decisions in the organization and how they are made
- Ensure that decision-making processes are inclusive and consultative, requiring engagement with marginalized groups and granting those groups authority and agency.
- To overcome history and institutional inertia, grant power to BIPOC, women, and, especially, youth.
As we work to dismantle racism in our institution, we are continuing our exploration of the attributes of White Supremacy Culture. Today we will look at two related attributes, Quantity over Quality, and Progress is Bigger/More.
Progress is measured by White Supremacy Culture in narrow ways that often run contrary to actual improvement. As with the Sense of Urgency, which we discussed a couple of weeks ago, there is an overriding need to produce something, whether or not that something is good and necessary. Often the fact that some result is produced overshadows the fact that that result is not what is needed or that the process used in achieving the result was actually harmful. This drains institutional energy, which is a fixed quantity, and ultimately stands in the way of real improvement. Antidotes for this are related to planning and goal setting:
- Ensure that process design and quality assurance are part of planning and that criteria for success includes the process followed and the quality of the results, not just timeliness and quantity.
- Look ahead to see how present actions affect future generations
- Cost/benefit analysis needs to include non-financial costs, such as morale, credibility, and consumption of human resources.
As we work to dismantle racism in our institution, we are continuing our exploration of the attributes of White Supremacy Culture. Today we will look at the Right to Comfort.
Those with power often feel that they have a Right to Comfort; that they have a right to feel safe from emotional and psychological distress. This leads to scapegoating of those who are viewed as the source of discomfort. It is through this belief that people in power perpetuate and deepen the harm caused by racism because the belief in the Right to Comfort leads people with power to equate individual acts of unfairness against white people with the systemic racism that BIPOC individuals never fully escape.
Antidotes for this are about personal growth
- Understand that discomfort is at the root of all growth and learning; welcome it as much as you can;
- Deepen your political analysis of racism and oppression so you have a strong understanding of how your personal experience and feelings fit into a larger picture;
- Don’t take everything personally; when an oppressed person acts out of anger, fear, or frustration, make your response about what provoked them, not how you feel.
As we work to dismantle racism in our institution, we are continuing our exploration of the attributes of White Supremacy Culture. Today we will look at the Sense of Urgency.
A perpetual sense of urgency, the need to “do something” and “do it now” stands in the way of actually getting things done. It prevents us from taking the time to be intentionally inclusive, using a democratic and collaborative approach to decision-making, thinking about the long-term, and considering the consequences of our actions. This also results in making sacrifices in exchange for quick, highly visible results. These sacrifices often include the interests of communities of color, because already marginalized interests are simply not taken into account in the rush to finish. The Sense of Urgency can be self-reinforcing when funding, planning, and prioritization decisions unrealistically expect too much from too little time, effort and funding.
Antidotes for this are really about having realistic expectations:
- Set realistic work plans
- Leadership must understand that things take longer than expected
- Discuss and set specific goals for inclusivity and diversity, especially in terms of time
- Learn from past experience about how long things take
- Provide realistic funding
- Structure decision-making processes to produce good decisions in an atmosphere of urgency
As we work to dismantle racism in our institution, it’s important to be able to identify the characteristics of white supremacy culture.
- Sense of Urgency
- Quantity Over Quality
- Worship of the Written Word
- Either/Or Thinking
- Power Hoarding
- Progress is Bigger, More
- Right to Comfort
- Fear of Conflict
- Belief in One Right Way
In the coming weeks the 8th Principle Minute will focus on many of these items, but, perhaps, we need to start with Defensiveness, because this stands in the way of even accepting this list.
We have put a lot of effort into building our institutions in a way that supports the 7 principles and, as a result of that effort, we have a strong sense of ownership. A critical examination might be viewed as threatening and it’s natural to be defensive about our past good works.
We need to set aside the binary thinking that says we can’t have done well in the past and yet still have room for improvement. We must start by consciously assuming we have things to learn, that there is always an opportunity for growth. As we are asked to evaluate our communities let us start with the assumption that they are flawed and then we can be pleasantly surprised by the actual current state. We can then know that while we still might have a long way to go, we have already come far and are not starting from scratch.
Together we will continue this journey toward spiritual wholeness, build a beloved community, educate ourselves and discuss what it means to develop a culture of being accountably anti-racist. We will continue to look at our own practices, identity, and stories with a new lens to dismantle the racism in ourselves and our institutions.