Essential Elements:

What to address in your UU White Supremacy Teach-In  

What is white supremacy?

  • Why “white supremacy” as the term here? It conjures up images of hoods and mobs. Here, we mean: “White supremacy as a set of institutional assumptions and practices, often operating unconsciously, that tend to benefit white people and exclude people of color.” In 2017, actual “white supremacists” are not required in order to uphold white supremacist culture. Building a faith full of people who understand that key distinction is essential as we work toward a more just society in difficult political times.

What is the UU White Supremacy Teach-In and how did it originate?

 

Why is our congregation participating?

  • Only you can answer this in your congregation but we suggest "We changed our worship plan because we know that large shifts require work and can challenge our comfort levels. That’s precisely why we feel it’s important. We believe that hundreds of UU churches signaling to their own members and to the larger community that 'our faith takes racism seriously, especially within our own walls' will push our faith toward the beloved community we all seek."

 

How does white supremacy culture show up in our congregation?

  • The UUA Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries shared an example of courageous reflection and inventorying of where white supremacy lives in their organizational culture and practices. You might use this as a model to be emulate in your own congregation, whether done as a group and/or addressed in worship. Additionally, this resource outlines some of the invisible rules and assumptions of white supremacy culture.

 

What is the 8th Principle project and how does it connect to white supremacy in UU spaces?

  • WhiteSupremacyTeachIn and Black Lives of UU encourages all UU's to advocate for the formal adoption of an 8th principle.. read more!

 

Thoughts on Leading Conversations about White Supremacy

 

By consulting the Teach-In resources, you are taking an important step toward advancing the work of your congregation in dismantling systems of white supremacy.  We invite you to think about this work in three ways:

1) Content, what your congregation will discuss using Teach-In resources for the three tracks (worship, education, activism);

2) Process, how you will construct opportunities for engaging, learning and growing, as well as strategies for managing challenges that arise along the way; and

3) Self-Assessment, an opportunity to think about your own strengths and learning edges, as an individual leader and as a congregation.

 

The same program or content led in two congregations can take different paths because the people participating, their needs and anxiety, and the way they express needs and anxiety are different.  Those programs can also take different paths because of how they are facilitated.  Kraybill and Wright note that every time we gather, implicit, unspoken message go out about who counts and what really matters.  If only one group is invited or only the voices of certain people are heard, a clear message is conveyed about who counts.  “The tools we use to guide our interaction not only shape the way we interact, they send subtle messages about commitments and values.  Over time those messages shape who we become as well. . . . [W]ell-chosen tools make it easier for us to become that which we were created to be” (Kraybill and Wright, p. 5).   (Kraybill, Ron and Evelyn Wright. 2006. The Little Book of Cool Tools for Hot Topics. Good Books: Intercourse, PA)

 

Remember these potential pitfalls and remedies listed in the materials for the first Teach-In:

  • Avoiding the phrase “white supremacy” for fear of alienating white people in your congregation;

  • Failing to talk with POC (People of Color) in your congregation as you plan your White Supremacy Teach-In;

  • Preaching/teaching to white people in your congregation and making POC invisible;

  • Failing to provide alternative programming for POC rather than including them in spaces where white people are struggling to understand and confront white supremacy.
     

 

Preparing Yourself

 

Self-Assessment

  • The UCC Sacred Conversation on Race, Planning Your Sacred Conversation on Race, includes prompts for self assessment.

  • Teaching Tolerance offers, Difficult Conversations: A Self-Assessment, preparing leaders to explore your own fears of being vulnerable in discussions about white supremacy and ways those might limit your effectiveness, as well as strengths that might help you lead open and honest dialogue.

  • Teaching Tolerance, Let’s Talk! Guide, Prepare Yourself, pp. 4-6.  Includes assessing your comfort level, finding comfort in discomfort, being vulnerable, and addressing strong emotions.

 

Identity Mapping

  • Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Ten Essential Strategies to Grow a Multiracial, Multicultural Congregation, personal identity exercise, p.5.

  • Teaching Tolerance offers this Reflection Activity as a guide to engage in reflection about personal identity.

  • Racial Equity Tools offers instruments for racial identity assessment, lists various identity development models, and activities that can be led for groups.

 

Hidden Bias

 

Be Informed

  • Understand the history and context in which we are called to have these conversations as a faith community. Click here for information from the first Teach-In.  


 

Preparing Your Congregation or Discussion Groups

 

After engaging in self-assessment as a leader and participant, assess the readiness of your congregation for specific types of work and determine entry points as you continue conversations from the first Teach-In or embark on new learning and action for this Teach-In.

 

It can be helpful to proactively prepare for issues and dynamics that sometimes occur during deep work focused on white supremacy culture and institutionalized racism.

 

Lifting Up Voices of Color ≠ Marginalizing White Voices

Notice that the paragraph above from Kraybill and Wright addresses the implicit, unspoken messages about who counts and what really matters to us, which in turn point to whose voices and experiences are marginalized.  Central to the work of the Teach-Ins is the explicit intention to lift up the voices and experiences of people of color in our faith.  This may lead some white people to suggest that they are being marginalized, as white people are accustomed to their needs and experiences being implicitly centered.  Being asked to set aside one’s experiences and listen to the experiences of another group is not the same as being marginalized.  For many white people, this is an opportunity to listen deeply as the UU White Supremacy Teach-In explicitly centers the voices and experiences of people of color to shift the current narrative in our congregations that centers whiteness.  

 

Discomfort

These are conversations that will make some people uncomfortable.  People of color and white people may be uncomfortable for different reasons.

 

People of color in our faith may feel uncomfortable during these conversations because they are entering into a space where white experience and reaction may be prioritized rather than centering the experience and needs of people of color.  White dominated space is often not safe for people of color as cultural and structural oppression are often perpetuated while white people encounter their blind spots and identify their growing edges.  Even explicitly naming that the work will be to center experiences and voices of people of color, it is still possible that expressions of white fragility and discomfort will shift the focus back to centering whiteness.  For this reason, we must be ever mindful about the needs of people of color in our congregations.  We sometimes meet in cohorts or affinity groups so people of color can share support among those who identify with their experiences, and white people can work separately on their growing edges without asking people of color to constantly teach.

 

As suggested in the first Teach-In, remember to talk with POC (People of Color) in your congregation as you plan your White Supremacy Teach-In.  Avoid preaching/teaching to white people in your congregation and making POC invisible.  Remember to provide alternative programming for POC rather than including them in spaces where white people are struggling to understand and confront white supremacy.  

 

As white people identify and lean into their growing edges, they will often experience discomfort.  That place of discomfort is where white people will make a decision to either stretch and take the next step in learning or withdraw.  Discomfort is part of the process of learning and growing.  What white people do with discomfort is important in this context.  

 

White Fragility

Dr. Robin DiAngelo, describes white fragility this way: “White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.”  Read more here.  Fragility is one of the ways in which white people experience discomfort when talking about white supremacy.  

White Distancing and Intellectualizing

Facing systems of white supremacy within our faith institution is hard work and white people may sometimes be tempted to create emotional distance to alleviate the feelings it evokes.  White people engage in emotional distancing in many forms: focusing on definitions or terminology rather than getting down to the work they are being asked to do; insisting on talking about how they hurt, too, and experience oppression of their own; oversimplifying or looking for quick solutions; looking for people or other institutions to name as white supremacist rather than acknowledging that all white people benefit from the embedded culture and systems of white supremacy and it is woven throughout our own faith; identifying all the things preventing them from working for transformation right now; thinking they have done all the work they need to do and they are not part of the problem.

 

White supremacy systems cannot be undone at a distance.  The only way through is by sitting with discomfort, listening to what people of color are saying - not listening to then explain your own views but listening to understand, and listening with a clearer ear for what you are saying when you talk.  For more of a description of white distancing and specific ways it might manifest in discussions, click here and here.  

 

Misuse of Core Beliefs and Values

There are ways in which our own Unitarian Universalist beliefs are sometimes used to further marginalize people of color and sustain white supremacy culture.  For example, some might suggest that the use of caucus or affinity groups is divisive and non-UU.  As noted above, caucus or affinity groups provide important space for us to connect with people who share similar experiences, who have been where we are and can support us in taking our next step, or can offer moments of sanctuary when we need to rebuild our spiritual reserves.  

 

Using the 5th Principle to focus on majority vote as the preferred method for decision-making can lead to dismissing or suppressing numerical minority voices.  Even the process of dialogue can be corrupted when it is used to suggest that all views matter rather than listening to and prioritizing voices of oppression.

 

Often, the UU covenants we develop for classrooms, small group ministry and congregational life include a call to assume good intentions.  While this may come from a place of wanting to create a community in which we can learn openly and grow together, we cannot protect intent at the cost of impact.  Part of being a covenanted faith community means assuming responsibility for the ways in which our words and deed affect others, leaning into that learning and working to change.


 

Facilitation Strategies

 

Shared Faith

Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal faith, which recognizes that we are all at different points on our journeys and our paths may look different, yet we commit to remaining in relationship as we journey together.  

 

When challenges arise, we can choose to welcome each other back into covenant and find our way forward together.  

 

We are called to be more invested in the relationships we find in faith community than in our own personal sense of comfort.  

 

We encourage white people to understand discomfort as an invitation into deeper learning and deeper relationship, an invitation to lean into learning with humility and curiosity rather than succumbing to reactivity, and an invitation to imagine that the discomfort of being asked to examine white supremacy is but a glimpse into the deep pain people of color in our faith experience with the reality of white supremacy culture and systems.

 

We honor the request to transform the culture and systems of white supremacy as they manifest in our faith institution and practices, recognizing the tremendous risk inherent in just making this request, and we understand this request comes ultimately from a place of love for Unitarian Universalism and a belief in what we can become together.

 

Discomfort

We are all deeply socialized in a culture that has a dysfunctional relationship with race, racism and white supremacy.  Learning to talk openly and constructively takes time and practice.  While the dynamics and facilitation needs of each discussion are unique, it is worth attempting to articulate practices that not only help move individuals and a group forward, but also consciously support participants of color.  

 

Part of managing white discomfort is acknowledging at the start that they will make mistakes.  In a white cohort group, there is more space for exposing learning edges and for white people to have the support of others who have moved along those edges.  In combined groups, we must be aware of the effect white processing may have on people of color.

 

Recall the work you did in your self-assessment.  Knowing the congregation in which these conversations will happen, what strengths do you draw upon to help create a space in which participants can take the risks involved with feeling uncomfortable and stretching into learning?  What strengths do you draw upon to identify when a conversation may need to be redirected?  Spend some time imagining how the conversation might go in your congregation, naming your strengths which are tools you can use to prepare for the expected or unexpected turns it may take.  Make sure to leave time at the end to check in with participants so the group is emerging from this experience open to taking the next step.  

 

Emotions

Teaching Tolerance offers the Responding to Strong Emotions instrument, naming ways in which strong emotions might arise and strategies to create emotional safety in the conversation.

 

The Teaching Tolerance, Let’s Talk! Guide, Plan for Students, pp. 7-11 describes a four-step strategy (reiterate, contemplate, respire, communicate), fist-to-five strategy for checking-in, stoplight signals, talking circles.  They also offer K-5th grade adaptations of these strategies.

 

Same Discussion, Different Needs and Goals

Conversations become difficult when people believe they are talking about the same issue but are actually bringing different worldviews, needs and goals to the work.  There are many moving parts to discussions, especially those that evoke strong emotions, as depicted in this compilation of communication and conflict transformation models.  At times, participants may be talking about different aspects of the same issue.  Other times, they may be talking about two very different issues.  One of the ways to manage this is to name what is happening, identify the type of conversation each is attempting to have, and then exploring them in turn.

 

Additional Resources

  1. Understand your racial/cultural identity;

  2. Acknowledge and be open to admitting your racial biases;

  3. Validate and facilitate discussion of feelings;

  4. Control the process, not the content, of race talk;

  5. Validate, encourage and express admiration and appreciation to participants who speak when it feels [vulnerable] to do so.


 

Resources Consulted