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.
An institution can be racist even if all members are engaged in anti-racism work. Let me say that again; an institution can be racist even if all members are actively anti-racist.
In order to deconstruct any racist aspects of our society, we must first identify them. That requires an open discussion, free of preconceived notions about what institutional racism is and how it might apply to First Unitarian. This cannot be taken as personal. When questions are asked, they are just questions requiring an honest answer.
We at First U do have a long history of anti-racist work that must be acknowledged, but in evaluating our current state as an institition, it is almost besides the point. We, as individuals, can all be doing everything that is possible in our personal lives to address racism, but our institutions might have a long way to go. Since they have not undergone the same critical examination that we have as individuals, we cannot know what growth is necessary, desirable, and possible. If we do not begin with a belief that growth is always possible, we negate that possibility and commit to stagnation.
It is also worth noting that, while the visible impacts of institutional racism are clear, the underlying structures that cause them are not always readily apparent. Moreover, we are part of a very large learning community. UU congregations that have adopted the 8th principle are all in the same boat; we are learning together how to change. This is new ground without very many concrete examples to follow. It can be expected that the path will not be straight and we can expect bumps along the way.
As we mark the close of Black History Month, let’s reflect on how our times might be viewed through the eyes of someone in the future.
Yesterday, February 26th, was the 10th anniversary of the murder of Trayvon Martin. The only reason not to call it a lynching is that the definition of lynching requires more than one person.
How far have we come in the past 10 years? Clearly not very far. Bridgewater police apparently haven’t learned that light skin is not a free pass and dark skin is not a crime.
Will history treat us well or see this time period for what it is? Racism is an illness that is killing our culture.
Truthfully, is equitable treatment too much to ask?
One Olympian takes a banned substance to help deal with her grief over the loss of her mother. Another Olympian takes a banned substance to improve her physical endurance. One is barred from competition although there is no possibility that the banned substance would have improved her performance. The other is allowed to compete despite the fact that the drug’s only purpose was to improve her performance.
Can it honestly be said that the only reason for leniency was the age of the skater? History tells us otherwise. Honesty demands that we, as individuals and as members of this institution, examine our modes of interaction and decision-making on an on-going basis to identify and address disparate treatment based on race.
February is Black History Month. The history of Black people in America is one of being on the receiving end of institutional violence and state-sanctioned murder.
It is not surprising that Black History Month this year began with the death of another young Black man at the hands of Minneapolis police executing a no-knock warrant.
There is very little in the mainstream press about this. Have they moved on? Are they tired of reporting the same thing? Isn’t that how we got here?
Say his name.
BIPOC oppression is not unique to the United States. While the American institutionalization of racism in the class system that grew out of the enslavement of African people is unique, the treatment of indigenous peoples in the US is actually more widespread. Three other countries, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, followed the same model of conquest, colonization, and genocide.
The horrors of “Indian Schools” in the US and Canada have been in the news for the last year, and many of us are aware of the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Let us shine a light on Australia for a moment.
January 26th is Australia Day, their national holiday. Unlike Canada Day and July 4th, rather than celebrate independence from Great Britain, Australia Day commemorates the invasion of Australia in 1788. It marks the beginning of the conquest of the Australian continent and the subsequent history of enslavement, violent siezure of land, and genocide, with state sanctioned massacres continuing well into the 20th century.
All forms of oppression are interconnected. There is no hierarchy of oppression. While Australia seems distant, how the two countries treat BIPOC is linked. If we in the US take action to acknowledge our history of oppression, it removes the ability of other countries to defend their inaction by pointing to our country.