Unity’s work toward one of its shared Ends, to create a multicultural spiritual home built on authentic relationships, has been energized this autumn by the Equity + Justice series of workshops led by Team Dynamics (teamdynamicsmn.com). The seven-part series explores key concepts that will strengthen our work toward racial justice in our own lives, in our communities, and in our spiritual growth.
The first four workshops led us through deep discussions of identity and bias; intercultural conflict styles and strategies; understanding and utilizing power; and constructions of race and racism.
The first workshop “Identity + Bias” set up some basics for the series to come and explored common understandings of societal/cultural identity and personal bias. These included race, gender, and religion as fundamental identities in play in the United States, and the implied biases in our society toward white, male, and Christian that are so prevalent in those categories.
In terms of tools and techniques for grappling with bias, Team Dynamics led the group through a series of exercises intended to improve both self-awareness and situational awareness:
- Frankly see and name your own identities and influences, and practice telling your own stories of identity honestly. Practice listening openly to others’ stories of identity and observe the different impacts it has had in their lives.
- See the huge scope of how what we judge about behaviors is culturally conditioned based on the identities we hold.
- Observe how dominant and non-dominant (or “agent” and “target”) identities can deeply affect our relationships, interactions, and decisions. Tools to slow down and exercise care in observation, include the “D. I. E.” technique which explicitly separates “describe, interpret, and evaluate” phases of understanding a situation, in an effort to capture our biases before they become judgements.
In the second workshop “Intercultural Conflict Styles + Strategies,” we discussed how conflict arises when there is disagreement and when there is emotional reaction to that disagreement — in essence, when we care about the topic at hand. Conflict styles are embedded in our cultural contexts and learned while growing up in a particular culture. As one of the leaders of the session told us, “Every culture values respect, but the way we perform respect looks very different.” Because our conflict styles are freighted with cultural values (for instance, what we perceive as respectful or disrespectful, rude or polite), conflict with people who use styles other than our own may be especially challenging or confusing.
Some of us have indirect or direct conflict styles, and we may be either emotionally restrained or emotionally expressive during conflict. Questions for reflection include: How does conflict feel in our bodies? How have you felt when you have a different conflict style than someone you care about?
During the third session “Understanding + Utilizing Power,” workshop leaders refined our views of power by explaining that there are multiple types of power. For instance, “referent power” is based on a relationship in which one wishes to be like, or at one with, the source of power. “Expert power” is derived from having expertise, knowledge, or particular skills. “Legitimate power” happens as a result of one’s position in an institution or group or having a particular place in a hierarchy. “Coercive power” means having the ability to punish others when needs, demands or expectations aren’t fulfilled, while “reward power” is its opposite. Questions for reflection include: How have you felt when your identities have permitted you to wield power in relation to someone else? How has it felt to have power exercised upon you, based on your identities?
In the fourth workshop “Constructions of Race + Racism,” Team Dynamics leaders provided an overview of how race is understood in our culture, and how it functions with reference to identity. While race is a socially constructed idea, the way we behave and interact with racial identity has very real consequences. In a world that centers whiteness and holds whiteness as the norm, racism does material and social harm in multiple ways. Questions for reflection include: How did you first understand that you had a race? How did you first recognize that there were people of other races, and what messages about that fact did you receive from your family?
Subsequent workshops in the series will focus on how we build on our understanding of identity, race, power and conflict in social movements and organizing for change. The sessions are being recorded so if you missed this excellent series, it will be available to view online sometime in the near future.
Our Next Right Actions
November 4 • A Time to Gather
November 18 • A Time to Learn
See the Wellspring Wednesday page for details!