When You Hear The Term: White Supremacy Culture

Tema Okun, along with Kenneth Jones, are two individuals who have paved the way for us to understand the term “White Supremacy Culture” as it is presently used. This is also the name of a book by Okun. It’s a term that often leads to defensiveness among individuals of European heritage, i.e. “I’m not a white supremacist!” But it’s one that we, whatever the hue of our skin color, could learn much from, even if we bristle at it.

No – we are not Neo-Nazis; however, most of us grew up in a culture predominantly influenced by white people in power. It’s just a fact. These systems that were created with patterns and processes common in white culture also benefited the people who created those systems…white people. You are not a white supremacist just because you grew up in that culture. But if you are white, you have benefited from the system, because that is how it was designed—to make “us” comfortable.

Corporations, non-profit boards, schools and churches have all been influenced by white supremacy culture. The way we run meetings, the things we value in group work, the focus of the work—all are influenced by our experiences and training in white culture, whatever the ratio of melanin in our skin. Not all of that is bad, but when we don’t look at the pieces of that culture that can marginalize BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) individuals and shut down their voices, we are continuing the negative pieces of the pattern. 

So, what does white supremacy culture look like in an organization? Those, like Okun and Jones, who have studied this topic, have a list of traits that are common. Let me name a few that I have perpetrated, thinking I was just being a good leader: Urgency, Perfectionism, Either/Or thinking, Patronizing, Individualism valued over Group, and Avoidance of Discord.

  1. Urgency—Ask my husband, I have an issue with time. I want a meeting to start on time, everyone to BE there on time, everyone to have their limited time to speak, and all the points I’ve written in the agenda to be covered. Heck – I’m a ONE on the Enneagram! I value time management. But how often do I leave out good discussion and ideas because I’m rushing to get through the agenda? Who do I silence by moving ahead before someone else has really been able to form their thoughts or get the gumption to speak up? Do I listen less to the person who was late, because they were late? Do I give more time to the person whose ideas most closely reflect my own? Conversely, when I’m not in charge, how often have I felt I wasn’t given a chance to speak? Have I ever sensed that a leader of a group just wants to hear from certain people, like my opinion doesn’t matter? Chalk one up for Urgency, which cuts off voices and limits ideas. 
  2. Also chalk one up for Perfectionism. MY agenda, My meeting, completing MY tasks… check, check, check. Recognizing this doesn’t mean meetings shouldn’t have a time limit. It just asks us to be aware of the voices we are leaving out through our rigidity.
  3. I often go into a meeting thinking I might have an answer to an issue on the agenda. That in itself isn’t negative. There was a time in my life, however, when I was very proud to say that I had a knack for “constructive manipulation.” Because, of course, I had the BEST idea and I wanted others to SEE it was the best idea. This is a pretty common phenomenon for people in charge who grew up within white systems. It’s not that we shouldn’t bring our ideas, but it’s the investment in our ideas at the cost of other ideas that creates a problem. There’s an Either/Or way of thinking that blocks us from hearing other points of view. White supremacy culture tends to value ideas from white culture over BIPOC voices. I need to think more in terms of Both/And about new ideas instead of Either/Or
  4. I used to create health curriculum with a team. Some of that had to do with abusive relationships, dealing with violence, and various mental health perspectives. We made good curriculum that was mostly well received, and we always tried to get perspectives, ideas and feedback from people affected by these issues prior to launching. But even good curriculum can fall flat if we provide it to persons with cultural experiences we did not take into account. Talking about depression with a group of 14 and 15-year-olds who have witnessed unbelievable violence and know a level of sadness I can only imagine means switching gears entirely. Not including those affected by a situation as you try to remedy or address it, is Patronizing. Missionary history is rife with such stories.
  5. It should be abundantly clear in this age of COVID-19 that this country suffers from, what I term, “the wild west syndrome” or individualism over what’s best for the group. Our inability to control this virus is in part due to an irrational need to put personal desires over societal needs. This is also a white supremacy culture issue.
  6. A good issue for Mennonites is Avoidance of Discord. The past few years we’ve been forced to accept some discord in our congregation, but I will own that I have rushed through a discussion, or glossed over a topic, while praying no one brings up anything difficult. To make myself feel justified, I might say those folks are being divisive, and I’m just keeping the peace. Being unable to hear the pain or the anger of others minimizes what those persons feel. It then allows for those in charge to make the same mistakes over and over. 

These are just some of the ways I have participated in white supremacy culture. They support each other. For instance, I can’t hear your pain or your thought because the meeting is nearly over. Or if I truly consider your idea, it might derail my idea that is the BEST… etc. Sometimes the culture is very subtle, sometimes it’s overt. 

In the past four years I’ve taken a closer look at myself and at my patterns. I’ve tried to adjust how I lead or participate with an awareness of these and other aspects of my white culture. I become defensive, feel shamed, self chastise, then consider, ponder and try again. I make constant mistakes. Unlearning is a lot harder than learning. Unlearning doesn’t mean throwing out all my learned behaviors, but it does demand that I consider carefully whether what I’m valuing in my actions has genuine merit.

Our country is at yet another crossroads in understanding its history. This one is big. Many of you are on a deeper journey into recognition and ownership of the privilege that has been given to some over others during the creation of this country, and the effects that continue today. Some of you are reading like never before; others are joining SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) groups; some are marching in support of Black Lives Matter. Some of you have joined Alicia Amazan online to tackle difficult subjects in regards to racism. Some of you are educating your children more earnestly about privilege and history.

It’s a big undertaking, and we are ALL late to the table. Until we understand how we participate in perpetuating racism, it’s hard to take needed action to change things. It’s difficult work, and it really has no end, but the results have the potential to enrich all of us.

Artwork by Maggie Girard

Resources

SURJ developed a learning curriculum which has involved a number of FMC individuals. The goal is to help white people develop an understanding of what we’ve perhaps missed in our formal education regarding race in the US, and also the things that hold us back from understanding what BIPOC persons deal with on a daily basis.  Another FMC group is being planned for the fall. Here is a link for the SURJ national website.

A short piece by Tema Okun with a concise explanation and examples of White Supremacy Culture:

An article on racism in white church bodies.

Alicia Amazan: Upon seeing people interested in learning and talking about racial injustice, my friend Chelsea and I sent out a call to have people join us on the journey. We wanted to provide a space to hold each other accountable, to keep learning when the media coverage loses momentum and we can slip back into the privilege of not seeing the injustices. We are passionate about learning and listening to Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and are intentional about pointing others to these voices that are speaking out and doing incredible work to create a more anti-racist society. We also acknowledge that as white people we need to teach each other and not rely on BIPOC to teach us, as that is not their job. Chelsea and I are providing space for people to relearn history, identify and learn about whiteness and systemic racism and work toward being anti-racist. We have over 100 people joining us from across the country in a variety of ways. Below are ways people can be involved. 

What is offered at Continue to Learn and Listen?

  • Bimonthly Newsletter: On the 5th and 20th of each month, we email a newsletter full of resources related to a specific topic. We hope that you can find a few resources to meet you where you are and challenge you to continue to grow!
  • Monthly Virtual Gathering: Once a month we will gather on Zoom to dig deeper into the same topic covered in the bimonthly newsletter. We will present information, have discussions, and continue learning together!
  • Me & White Supremacy Book Club: An online group that works through the book Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad over the course of four meetings.

Join us by subscribing at http://eepurl.com/g59Bvn or emailing us at email hidden; JavaScript is required.

Black Lives Matter by Bethany Habegger

Previous article | Contents | Next article

MennoExpressions Volume 33, No. 3 | Summer 2020

Articles in this Issue

Blended Pieces—A Patchwork for Today by Carol Mullet

“I’ve Got This!”—Or So I Thought by Beth Goering

Doing Church in a Pandemic by Martha Yoder Maust

Young Voices by Carla Schmid

A Laboratorian’s View, Narrow as it May Be by Robin Helmuth

My Struggle with COVID-19 by Del Culp 

Another Viewpoint by Lu Culp

When You Hear the Term: White Supremacy Culture by Mary Liechty

Yes, We’re the Church Together! by Emily Fox Ludden

Remembering Steven McLay by Gaynel Bryan


Art Contributors in this Issue

Maggie Girard spends her time with her preschool aged kids, and as a part-time art therapist with IU Health. She attends FMC, and grew up in Indianapolis, but has enjoyed living in Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Washington DC and Holland, MI before moving back to Indy.

 

Bethany Habegger is a senior at IU Bloomington and will be receiving her BFA in painting in the spring. She is currently selling prints in support of Black Lives Matter. If you are interested in supporting the cause, check out her Etsy here: etsy.com/shop/bethanyhabeggerart


MennoExpressions 2020

MennoExpressions is published four times a year in February, May, August, and November by First Mennonite Church, Indianapolis, IN, with a special graduation insert in May.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent from an editorial team member.

Editorial Team: Carl Rhine, Kenda Friend, Rachel Friesen Krall, Elizabeth Goering, Robin Helmuth, Mary Liechty, Carla Schmid, Lisa Habegger, Erwin Boschmann.

Associate Editor: Carol Mullet

Production: Elizabeth Marie Cooney, Jason Schmucker, Gaynel Bryan.

Long Term Past Editors: Erwin Boschmann (Founding Editor), Shari Wagner, Alison Schumacher.

All correspondence should be sent to First Mennonite Church at 4601 Knollton Rd. Indianapolis, IN 46228. Email: email hidden; JavaScript is required.

Young Voices

Checking in with Our Youth

What was the coolest thing you did this summer?

The coolest thing was going down the water-slide in Michigan. I was scared, but did it anyways and had a good time.

Theo, Age 7

My favorite thing was going to Lake Tippecanoe in our camper and taking a friend.

Lyra, Age 9

This summer I liked going to Michigan—I was able to watch TV which was cool since we don’t have TV at home.

Simon, Age 10

I took a trip to Cataract Falls with my friend.

Klaine, Age 18

This fall, I’m looking forward to…

Christmas, and going down the slide into the leaf pile in our backyard.

Theo, Age 7

Getting a dishwasher.

Lyra, Age 9

Apple cider.

Simon, Age 10

Going to an apple orchard.

Klaine, Age 18

Describe how you’re feeling about school right now.

Angry about going back because I don’t like school, but looking forward to friends and gym.

Theo, Age 7

Annoyed and disappointed about not going back to school in person, but looking forward to seeing friends.

Simon, Age 10

Name 3 adjectives that describe how you’re feeling about school right now.

Good. Bad. Happy.Lyra, Age 9

Apprehensive. Confused. Bored.

Klaine, Age 18

Previous article | Contents | Next article

Blended Pieces—Patchwork for Today

Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

I Thess. 5:11

Beauty can be enhanced by variety and diversity.

Some of our mothers and grandmothers collected remnants of fabric and combined them to create a useful blanket, a work of art, a gift for a new baby, or a donation for someone in need of warmth. Wade’s mother designed a beautiful quilt for us, sewn from colorful leftover scraps that she and my mother had saved. Even now the cherished piece sparks memories of a favorite dress or one of Wade’s childhood shirts. (Yes, we grew up in an era when our mothers sewed most of our clothes.)

And then there are pies… so many pies! More blended bits. We combine tart rhubarb and sweet strawberries, or milk and eggs for smooth custard. Lemon or lime fillings are topped with bland yet beautiful meringue. A fall vegetable becomes a fragrant, spicy, pumpkin dessert. 

In another context, consider the way a stained-glass window is comprised of many fragile shapes, held together to complete a design we can’t imagine until it is framed and illuminated.

All of these varied and unexpected pairings create something unique and valued.

But how does this relate to MennoExpressions?

Back in June, the caring members of our First Mennonite and Shalom team chatted online, trying to forge consensus as we explored topics for this issue. No coffee, tea or Long’s donuts were available to sweeten the process, unless we each indulged alone. We vacillated…

The pandemic, so overarching in our lives, seemed impossible to ignore, but we would prefer something lighter to bring balm to our weariness. 

Perhaps a general discussion of illness and its impact would be less focused, but surely still difficult for writers asked to share.

We also felt a need to show our concern for justice, recognition, and support for people of color around us.

And we wanted art which could inspire or illustrate.

How would we decide?

A reminder that MennoExpressions historically explored and reflected current issues, even when they were fraught with emotion, brought the suggestion that we could encourage contributions relating to any of these topics, or a different focus, and then combine them into a blended issue, a patchwork of reactions and ideas for our days of disarray!

As the mélange of completed pieces and artwork appeared in our email folders, we have been inspired, and gratefully share the hope and encouragement with you, our readers.

O God…Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 63:7


Contents | Next article

Remembering Steven McLay

Who was Steven McLay? He was a member of the HSLC (Holy Spirit Led Church) which meets in our building several times a week. Steven cleaned our FMC building for several years. While he worked part-time as custodian, he took two buses to come clean and two buses to return home. He took great pride in his work. We grieve the loss of Steven, who passed away on June 11, 2020, after suffering a stroke. Below are reflections from some FMC members.

By Allen Mast
Whenever I was at FMC and Steven came in, he would always say hi and ask if there was anything he could do for me. One time I had a trash bag going to the dumpster, and he almost demanded that I leave it, insisting he would take it with the other bags later.

By Emilie Walson
I found it very interesting to get to know Steven McLay during his tenure as custodian at FMC. Steven was excited to get the job and did a good job for the church. I enjoyed getting to hear stories about his special feline pets–they were his pride and joy. We nicknamed him Flash because he moved and talked so fast. There were several occasions when Steven joined our staff lunches. This was a time for getting to know Steven better, and I am glad we had those opportunities. We were sorry to see Steven step down and leave FMC.

By Robin Helmuth 
Steven had a broad smile, the widest kind, even though he had few teeth. I never saw Steven when he wasn’t smiling. He always, always, always asked how I was doing and how my family was doing. He was afflicted physically by gastritis and later lymphoma. Steven always put his arm over my shoulder or on my upper back, his way of letting me know he cared about me. I made it a point to thank him for his custodial services at FMC, and he was quick to respond he really liked being part of the staff. There were occasions I regretted not taking more time to learn about Steven and understand his life story more. Steven would nearly always look for me when he saw my Mazda in the parking lot. Yes, Steven’s witness as a loving, smiling, caring child of God will be missed.

By Gaynel Bryan
Steven seemed to be a self-sufficient man. Often very happy, he was totally focused on doing a good job. On the personal side, the loves of his life were his cats. To the end, he would cheerfully share photos of them. I would often share my lunch with him because he would always come through the offices around lunch time and say, “Are you eating again?” It was a joke between us. One of the things I kept trying to impress on him was to slow down when he talked. He would speak a mile-a-minute, and I just couldn’t understand a word he was saying. I’d have to ask him to repeat what he just said, but slower, please. He would laugh and try his best to speak slower. It was a sad day for me when he stopped working here. I will miss his blaring speaker playing hymns while he cleaned, and his coming through the office to pick up trash right at lunch time, and his visits to show and tell me about his little fur babies. I will miss him.

Artwork by Maggie Girard

Previous article | Contents

Yes, We’re the Church Together!

“I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together. All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes, we’re the church together!”

I remember singing these words in my childhood Sunday school class. This little song also included lyrics about how the church is not a building. The church is made up of people. At the time, I don’t think that made much sense to me. What did the song mean that “The church is not a building”? Didn’t we get up every Sunday and go to church? And what did it mean that the church is made of people? Even a little kid knows that you can’t build things out of people!

I’ve been thinking about that song a lot lately as we’ve been unable to meet in our church buildings. Can we still have church if we can’t go to church? I believe that the answer is yes. Yes, we’re the church together!

One of my favorite parts of church is the sense of belonging to a community. As members of the community we grieve together, we celebrate together, we help each other. When my faith is weak and I feel far from God, it can be so healing and refreshing to gather with other believers who can help strengthen my faith and remind me of God’s love. 

Over the past several months, many of us have had to change the ways that we gather and connect with our communities. Right now, for me, going to church means sitting down in my living room and opening my laptop. It’s better than nothing, but it sure isn’t the same as going to a building, greeting others with hugs or handshakes, singing together, and being physically near each other as we worship and pray and learn from God’s Word. 

But just because going to church looks different right now, that doesn’t mean that being the church has to look different. We can still grieve together, celebrate together, and help each other. Surely the Creator who knitted our very bodies together can knit together the Body of Christ even while we are physically apart! Although we cannot gather in the same room, we have not abandoned each other, and God has not abandoned us. Perhaps now, more than ever, we can practice being the church for each other. We may have to be creative, but there are still so many ways for us to show God’s love to each other and the whole world. All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes, we’re the church together!

Fear Not by Maggie Machledt Girard
Artwork by Maggie Girard

Previous article | Contents | Next article

Statements of Solidarity and Support for Racial Justice

A reflection

In these last few months, as we have struggled with COVID19, people across the world have experienced what it feels like to be constantly vigilant to threats. We have seen other people approaching and feeling ourselves worried that they could endanger us. We have been restricted in what we can do, where we can go, and who we can see. We have worried for the lives of our families and friends. We have felt economic hardship. We have felt the accumulated stress in our bodies, in our dreams, in our moods, and in our relationships.

Yet, this feeling of constant vigilance is only new for some of us. Many people of color have felt the stress of constant vigilance throughout their lives… Wondering if today they will have to withstand more dismissive, belittling, or degrading remarks. Wondering if their simple presence in a neighborhood will lead to a call to the police. Wondering if they will be stopped while doing something perfectly normal. Wondering if their interaction with law enforcement will leave them dead.

It all-too-often leads to death. Even when it does not, this vigilance takes a toll on the body, mind, and soul. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.

– Todd Grotenhuis


A confession

We have been complicit in the continuation of racial divide. We have contributed to the pain of our Black and Brown sisters and brothers. We listen but we don’t hear. We name the need for change, but we don’t do the work. We contribute to the pain of generations by our assumptions, our trite words, our fragility and our privilege.

– Mary Liechty


An example

I have lived most of my life in a white bubble. Learning about racial injustices always got me fired up in a cerebral way growing up, but I never felt it in the marrow of my bones on a daily basis. I never asked my friends of color how I could walk beside them or what their experiences might be like. I never sought out resources or educated myself on racial injustice in immediate, tangible ways. That time is over. I now strive to live my life and raise my family in an ANTI-RACIST fashion. This means using my voice, my resources, my social connections, my job, and my white privilege to NAME white supremacy and actively work to dismantle it. It is uncomfortable, overwhelming at times, and there is ALWAYS more to know. I am learning to embrace this discomfort, lick my privileged wounds, and move forward. Doing nothing, or just feeling sad, is no longer palatable. 

– Carla Schmid


A call to action

If we at First Mennonite Church Indianapolis want to be Christ…ians, we need to teach what Jesus taught and model our lives after how Jesus lived his life. White supremacy and racism maintains that people of color are inferior to white people and don’t deserve to have equal roles, resources or opportunities in American society. This is the polar opposite of what Jesus taught when he was on earth. Jesus didn’t spend his time and energy trying to accumulate power and wealth; neither did he attempt to exert his will or control over others. Jesus taught that the last- the oppressed, the weak and the poor- shall be first, and the first- the powerful and the rich- shall be last. This suggests that not only did Jesus favor justice and equality for people of color, but that he favored positions of power for them. To walk in the path of Jesus, white Christians must be in the forefront of helping to create a societal structure in America that provides for an equal sharing of power, resources and opportunities with people of color. This is a challenge for white American Christians, as it is never easy to let go of power and resources you already have in your possession. Yet, this giving away, this giving up for the benefit of others, is the way of Christ, the way of the cross.

– Paul Hartman


A prayer

May we learn to listen and be present with those who are speaking their stories, recognizing the complexity of each individual. 

May we fully receive the anger, frustration and sadness that we must hear. 

May we respond in ways that both amplify Black and Brown voices and challenge white voices when they excuse or deflect the daily violence perpetrated on people of color. 

May we reject leaders who incite hatred through the language of violence. 

May we recognize the trajectory of racial inequity in this country and beyond. 

May we insist on systemic change.

May we own and name the bias in ourselves and speak it, every day. 

In Jesus name.

– Mary Liechty

First Mennonite Church Seeks a Full-Time Pastor

FIRST MENNONITE CHURCH Indianapolis, IN is seeking a full-time pastor with strong preaching skills, experience and maturity to work as part of a pastoral team. We follow MCUSA salary and benefit guidelines and are located in a large, thriving city. Full job description is available here or at MCUSA pastoral positions.

Contact Robin Helmuth, search committee chair at email hidden; JavaScript is required

What If…

For some 500 years Mennonites have differentiated themselves by adhering to some fundamental beliefs. No one belief by itself makes Mennonites different, but taken as a whole they certainly can claim a unique status. Among these basic principles are the priesthood of all believers, separation of church and state, simplicity of life-styles, not swearing an oath, belief that community is both vertical and horizontal, that the Bible is central, adherence to believer’s baptism, and abstaining from military service. While these principles do not mention it specifically, Mennonites have attempted to live out those principles with practical service.

It appears that during the Coronavirus epidemic people are even more willing to serve by offering to help, checking in on neighbors, or planning to help once out from under the restrictions.

So what is the What if…? Service is innate to most Mennonites. What if rather than responding to government-offered alternatives to the draft, what if Mennonites would volunteer for such service – even when no draft is existence. What if Mennonites of drafting age would show up at conscription centers and announce that they are here to help in any way needed, as long as they were not asked to carry weapons? Without weapons these volunteers might even choose to put on the military uniform if a peace emblem prominently displayed. What a wonderful opportunity this would be to pass out tracts about the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7), to participate in evening discussions, and, in case of war, volunteering for go to the dangerous front lines aiding wounded soldiers!

The military might understandably be doubtful, shocked, even suspicious, but eventually might slowly adopt a new mode of thinking, and, in some cases, even become converts. What if we were bold enough to try this new way of evangelizing? I believe the world might take notice.


Previous article | Contents | Next article

We Will Overcome

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.

Hebrews 6:19

Help each other bear your burdens! In this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2
By Dorothea Lange – Public domain

We resonate with the image of this depression-era young mother who was looking for hope. She was destitute; she was looking for work, how could she feed her many children, and what will tomorrow bring?

In this COVID-19 time we too are looking for hope. We are looking for hope that our friends and family will be well. We are looking for hope that those most needy will be comforted. We are grateful for all the good deeds performed by our friends and neighbors; kindness is indeed contagious; and we are looking for a solution for this mysterious virus sweeping the world; we are looking for hope that the future will be bright.

It is curious that this challenge comes as we celebrate 100 years of MCC, whose slogan is to serve “In the name of Christ.” There has been a rather extensive discussion among the MennoExpressions board and writers how to structure this edition: some said to postpone it, some said it did not matter to them, some said to publish a special issue, and some said it would be best to have an opening statement, then proceed as planned.

And it was pointed out that during this self-imposed quarantine it will be good to have some celebratory reading. We will overcome!

Before continuing to read, do take a moment, go to YouTube, and listen to Yo-Yo Ma playing a J. S. Bach suite, and/or a version of your choice of “We Shall Overcome.”

Do share with us your hopes and fears.


Contents | Next article