“She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom.”
― Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
As someone who aspires to be a good white ally, I’ve had mixed experiences with anti-racism, anti-oppression, multiculturalism (ARAOMC) trainings that I have taken over the years. Some trainings felt like we were just going through the motions. A few made me feel shame and guilt. Still others were transformational.
What the shaming and transformational trainings had in common was their relational nature. The people leading and participating in the training made all the difference.
The transformational trainings had an atmosphere of humility and curiosity. I felt an invitation to authentically engage with the work together, and a covenantal sense that provided permission to begin again whenever anyone made mistakes.
The trainings that made me feel shame and guilt had a judging atmosphere; sometimes through subtle non-verbal cues, sometimes through people (often other participants) calling one another on the carpet when someone made an unwitting statement or some other multicultural misstep. I wonder if there isn’t some old Puritan DNA in the UU culture, as if there is temptation to mark one another with a big letter “G” for guilt, much like Hester (in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter) was marked with an “A” for adultery.
Fortunately, we UUs are the keepers of the Living Tradition, so we have the agency to choose–to change our habits and customs. And I think those in leadership are learning how to do so.
I had the pleasure of taking a training on intercultural sensitivity with Beth Zemsky at a staff meeting earlier this month. It was a transformational experience. What I really like about her model is that it is developmental — it assesses the ways in which we experience and respond to difference (somewhat unconsciously) while it also accounts for our aspirations and encourages continued growth. (We are the Living Tradition!) For me, engaging with this Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) provided an ARAOMC experience where I was not burdened with the weight of guilt and shame.