I remember is so well because it burned in my heart. My blood pressure went up as my hackles rose on the back of my neck. I was accused, strongly, but not harshly, in front of other religious leaders of saying something that indicated I was clueless about the dominant white culture, and therefore, not aware of my impact on marginalized people of color. What I said had to do with UU liturgy, which is based on dominant white culture, and I was not aware or alert to the issues. I was embarrassed, I was humiliated and I was very defensive.
I later approached my accuser with a defensive argument about how she didn’t know my story, she didn’t know my credentials as someone raised in the heart of the civil rights movement, and who had experienced the fear of being a white leader. She listened, and then calmly said, true, she didn’t know my story, and I didn’t know her story. We sat and shared our stories. I calmed down after a while, but knew I something to learn.
I then committed to learning about the dominant white culture in our country and in our UU church’s. I learned a lot very quickly, including how easily we white people get defensive about our credentials as liberators of black people and how much work we’ve done to be anti-racist. I learned about how my perfectionism and tendency to criticize, is a mark of white culture, and my sense of urgency is another characteristic that undermines good and healthy process.
I learned how we in the white culture worship the written word and struggle to gain control over situations that may need nuance, spoken word, or we seek to gain a precision and exactness that leaves out deeper meanings of context and story. I’ve learned to embrace humility, and let go of knowing the right or the only way to truth. I’ve learned to listen hard, heart in hand, and believe my BIPOC siblings.
I’ve learned to track where the power is in systems and relationships, look for paternalism and sexism. I’ve learned to lean into conflict, trusting that I have something to learn. I have gained a greater capacity to hold anxiety. I’ve learned that I’m part of a vast interconnected network, not an isolated individual operating in a sea of loneliness. I’ve learned that progress and objectivity are frequently problematic, particularly when love and compassion are desperately needed.
All of these lessons have been both uncomfortable and transformational. I am not the same person that I was in that embarrassing moment, when my lack of awareness was exposed. The thing is, it wasn’t my first, and it wasn’t my last. I’m still a little embarrassed by each moment, but I’m so grateful to learn that when my defensive posture pops up, I probably have something to learn. We have no right to comfort, which is another lesson about white culture.
You can learn more about dominant white culture here: https://www.whitesupremacyculture.info/
Thank you for staying engaged in this important conversation with respect and love.
Cheers, Rev. Kate