Summary Notes About the “WSUU Equity Workshop: Strategies to Promote and Sustain a Culture of Inclusivity and Equity”
By Kerrie Schurr and Tony Ricardi, Board Liaison to the RJCT
Below are some observations the two of us put together, and therefore it is limited to two individual white people’s perspectives. For a more complete understanding of the workshop and the momentum of this work at Westside, we encourage more conversation and sharing with other participants of the workshop.
Richard Kim, our Cultures Connecting presenter, began the workshop with storytelling and a photo slideshow of his childhood, sharing from the heart about his experiences growing up in a Korean immigrant family in majority white communities in Minneapolis, MN, and Tampa, FL. As a child of immigrant parents, he often felt the disconnect between their Korean culture and the white-dominant one he found himself growing up in. In order to fit in with his white suburban classmates and neighbors, he learned he often needed to hide the Korean part of his identity. Richard observed that as a survival tool, many marginalized people have given up parts of themselves to appeal to the dominant culture; i.e., fulfilling “Who do you need me to be?” vs. “Who are you really?” As our society has no prescription for how to be vulnerable and open with each other, we often wrestle with our identities throughout life and do things to mask our authentic selves.
As an opening exercise he had us all silently reflect on what messages we first learned about race, and then share some of these responses at our small tables before coming back to the larger group. As we all internalize these early messages, we unsurprisingly saw stark contrasts between what white participants and participants of color remember first learning. The biggest trends we observed were that white people have learned to center ourselves as the baseline with many of us not needing to think about race until sometime later in our lives and we can choose to ignore or minimize issues of race and racism because white-dominant culture allows this. In our small groups we then shared our fears and hopes in conversations about race and with respect to racial equity in our congregation. Again we saw differences in fears based on racial identity; many white folks voiced being afraid of being judged for saying or doing the wrong thing, while many people of color voiced fears of having to use up energy educating white people and suffering the everyday realities of racism with far worse physical and emotional consequences than being judged on a regular basis. Many different participants were afraid that the congregation could split apart over differences in how to address racial issues. However, many of our hopes were aligned, such as making the congregation a truly welcoming place, building deeper connections, and living up to our UU values in taking action against all forms of oppression.
Richard suggested that we foster conversations about race by creating a brave space and being willing to follow these norms (originally from Glenn Singleton):
• Experience discomfort – create a brave space where the typical fight/flight (attack/avoid) dynamic is minimized.
• Take risks
• Stay engaged
• Listen for understanding – not predatory listening (preparing to respond while tuning out the speaker) or selectively hearing only what we want to hear.
• Speak your truth – do we value the myth of communication over the reality?
• Expect/accept non-closure – we all bring a lifetime of experiences to any conversation, and one conversation won’t be enough.
• No fixing – we can’t fix how others feel, and we need to let them work out their own problems. Plus not everything can be made nice, and fixes are never permanent.
He reminded us to laugh at (or grieve) our own foolishness when partaking in these conversations and missing the mark. He also suggested keeping the focus on mutuality (vs. self-focused). Awkward interaction with someone? Tell yourself, “That was weird/foolish/dumb. I need to go back and re-engage with that person.” We also need to avoid punishing ourselves and each other by saying that a single mistake means we can’t do justice work anymore.
If we want equity, then vulnerability about our reality and forming genuine human connections is critical. We can help each other bear our worries. And when we know “why” this work is important (from a heartfelt place), then our “what” (how we do things) has more purpose.
Thank you to all participants and we look forward to building continued capacity and our loving community.