Shifting a Culture of White Supremacy

Let me start by saying there are people who are much more knowledgeable than I am on the subject of dismantling white supremacy. I don’t have all the answers, just lots of curiosity and a theological and spiritual imperative to move myself in the right direction in our society – both our church and the wider world. I wanted to share some of what has helped me on this journey and offer some ideas from people who are doing this work or want to get started. It begins with learning what you don’t know.

First of all, white supremacy in this context is not about skinheads or outright hatred. Racism is the water we swim in; white supremacy culture is the norm that exists within our institutions and systems. Here’s a graphic that illustrates overt vs covert white supremacy.  

Second, I don’t think any of us white people are “woke.” That word gets thrown around as a catchphrase that somehow lets us off the hook for doing the work! This is a journey of learning and some of us are farther down the path than others. What is important is that we do the work of listening, learning and ACTING for change.

Third, it is not the responsibility of people of color to educate those of us who are white on their struggles and how we do the work, although many are generous enough to be in those conversations. When a person of color tells a story of their experience, don’t respond with “in my experience” or tell them how many friends you have that are black or brown, that you don’t see color, or “I believe we are just all human beings.” LISTEN! Recognize that they are giving you a gift that takes a huge toll on them emotionally and spiritually. Thank them. As my friend, Aisha Hauser, says, if good intentions were enough to fix this problem, it would be remedied. There are resources out there for learning and we can access them.

Okay, now that I’ve made those points, here are some resources and learnings that have informed my own journey:

Books to read about racism:

White Fragility by Robin D’Angelo

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Centering edited by Mitra Rahnema (specifically stories of POC in Unitarian Universalism)

**There are many more out there

Speaking of reading, add books by authors of color to your reading list. Look at the children’s books you are exposing your children or grandchildren to. Is the child or character of color portrayed only as a hero in some way? Only as a villain? Or are they a nuanced character who exists in the story in a genuine way? Follow ‘The Conscious Kid’ on Facebook — an education, research and policy organization dedicated to reducing bias and promoting positive identity development in youth. They recently highlighted a book about Harriet Tubman that was being used in a school setting and contained the following quote, “Even though she was a slave, Harriet Tubman was happy.” Make sure the stories depict reality and normalize the story of people of color in your choice of reading material.

Check your privilege: It isn’t always about your individual story. We are talking about a system of oppression. Even if you grew up at an economic disadvantage or female or have less education than others, being white has given you privileges in our society that are not shared by POC.

Six Ways Well-Intentioned People ‘Whitesplain’ Racism

I also follow Franchesca Ramsey on MTV Decoded (YouTube) for a frank and non-threatening explanation of many facets of racism and how we can revisit our role in the system.

Cultivate a culture of being together that is welcoming to all (see image in this article)

  • White Supremacy Culture upholds:
  • Individualism
  • Right to Comfort – your comfort is more important than addressing the issue at hand
  • Quantity over quality
  • Either/Or thinking
  • Authoritative processes in decision-making and governance

In our congregation, examine how your team or committee operates and whose voices are heard. Look at the actual physical space and if it is “white” in its decor. Are there images that depict the reality of your community and society? Where are these located? Welcome new people by asking what attracted them to Live Oak, not where they are from or where they went to school or work. That may come up in deeper conversations — not right when they walk in the door. And please, not the dreaded, “Oh, we are so glad to have more people of color/diverse people.” Remember that intention does not equal impact. If you make a mistake, admit it, make a sincere apology and learn from it.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and new materials and conversations are beginning daily. The information above is about learning. Take your cues from those who are in the oppressed group and let them lead your work in the community on issues of fair housing practices, school-to-prison pipeline, mass incarceration, and voter suppression, to name a few. We are in this journey together!

TL:DR – Listen to the stories of people of color, believe them, follow their lead in organizing, place yourself in proximity to these communities, do your own work, and realize that you will make mistakes. When you do, apologize and get back at it!

See you on Sunday!

Carrie Krause, DLFD