The following is an excerpt from Rev. Sharon Wylie’s sermon “Imagining Liberation” offered on September 10, 2023. You can watch the full sermon on Chalice’s YouTube channel.
I have three quick notes for us as we begin this year of learning about the characteristics of white supremacy culture.
The first is to please take time to read at least the home page of the divorcing white supremacy culture website (www.whitesupremacyculture.info). Even if you’re not going to participate in one of our small groups. Dr. Okun’s original article was almost just a list of bullet points, and the revision she published in 2021 is much richer and more complex than the original article. For example, it’s not “individualism” that’s a characteristic of white supremacy culture, it’s the individualism that is “a toxic denial of our essential interdependence and the reality that we are all in this, literally, together.”
“Worship of the written word” means honoring ONLY what is written and ONLY what is written to a narrow standard, even when what is written is full of misinformation and lies. An erasure of the wide range of ways we communicate with each other and all living things.
So you hear that these ideas are more complex than can be summarized in a neat phrase. So that’s the first note.
The second note: one of the reasons that Dr. Okun chose to revise and update her work is that people were using the characteristics as a weapon, and she does NOT want that. She writes: “Many people are misusing this material; the misuse seems to most often take the form of pulling out a characteristic or using all of them as a kind of checklist to target people, to accuse people of colluding with white supremacy culture, to evaluate or assess people, or to avoid accountability and rigor in the workplace. For example, I’ve heard stories about people claiming that the characteristic of worship of the written word means they shouldn’t have to fill out work reports. This is an absurd misreading of the characteristic, which essentially asks us to honor knowledge and wisdom that comes to us in multiple ways.”
And the third note is to be mindful of how we hold this liberatory work in relationship with other social justice and liberation movements. Yes, dismantling white supremacy culture is about liberation for all of us. But it is not liberation that is commensurate with the liberation sought by, for example, Black people who fear being killed by the police during a routine traffic stop. There is a difference in degree. We want to also be careful that we don’t equate the liberation of white people from the very system that benefits us with the liberation of BIPOC people who are disadvantaged and harmed in almost every possible way by that same system.
So those are the three notes: 1) The material is complex, take some time to read and learn and discuss. 2) The material is complex, don’t try to weaponize it. 3) The liberation of white people from white supremacy culture is not on par with the liberation of BIPOC people from white supremacy.