As I read Facebook posts related to our Unitarian Universalist White Supremacy Teach-In and related events going on in our congregations and in our wider UU circles, I’m struck by how much I don’t know that I don’t know about “White Supremacy Culture” and how it shows up in my words and actions. I am grateful for the people who are quick to let me know when it shows up … even though it takes a few minutes to move past the initial sting of making a mistake before I get to the warmth of gratitude.
I’m especially grateful to my colleague on the UU Allies for Racial Steering Committee, Lori Stone Sirtosky, for referring me to this publication: Kenneth Jones & Tema Okun: Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture. This article describes detailed characteristics of the ways in which white supremacy culture shows up inside our organizations, as well as antidotes for finding a new way of operating. I can identify how all of these characteristics show up in me, and in the congregations I’ve been affiliated with in various roles over the 26 years I’ve been an active adult in UU communities, and I also see some of the antidotes being implemented.
In today’s post, I want to lift up two of the characteristics that have been priorities in my own growth and development.
Perfectionism: Thanks to the work of Brené Brown in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are,” I’ve been examining my concepts of perfectionism for a few years. But there’s always more work to do. Jones and Okun recommend developing a culture of appreciation, taking time to make sure that people’s efforts are appreciated, and making it a point to actively learn from mistakes. This would encourage people to celebrate mistakes as a way to learn, though they do caution the importance of emphasizing what people do well before moving into those learning experiences. I think the art of appreciation and encouraging risks, mistakes, and learning are crucial to a volunteer organization. Setting people up to succeed is great; and, making the risk of “failure” a positive experience goes hand-in-hand as part of that success.
Closely related to perfectionism is the characteristic Only One Right Way. When I was a very young adult, I worked as an Accounts Receivable Clerk for a subsidiary of Western Union. When I was preparing to leave that position, I wrote out all the instructions for my successor. I think that manual ran about 32 pages. I included every teeny-tiny detailed aspect of my job, including how to open the envelopes. I had developed The Right Way to do this job and I wanted to make sure the next person who sat at that desk knew THE Right Way. I can only imagine how completely overwhelming and stifling that was for that person! I’ve long since learned that there are many ways to achieve a shared goal, and to not only embrace other possibilities, but to invite them. And, sometimes, probably more often that I realize, I forget. I have oodles of examples to remind me that when people work together, create together, explore and imagine together, the outcomes are far greater and more wonderful than what I would have created alone.
I invite the people I work with in my many roles to remind me when I’m stuck in a “perfectionist” or “only one right way” operating mode. Even if it stings for a moment, I do welcome the feedback!
My next post will explore some of the other Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture … the list goes on and on and on!