In my twenty-one yeas as an Episcopal priest there have been three key justice issues that have been a focus of my ministry: justice for LGBTQ people, justice for BiPOC people, and justice for women. I am acutely aware that any authentic work I do in these areas must include work on myself to recognize and begin to dismantle the ways that I am formed and informed by my privilege as a white cisgender hetero woman.
Learning to see how the systems of oppression are formed in me and how they inform what I think, see, say, and do requires deep work. This work is not just intellectual, it is soul searching interior work to recognize how I am enmeshed in the false narrative of white superiority and hetero-superiority, because they are the narrative I’ve been raised in.
Why would I do this deep work? And why would I then encourage the congregations I serve to do similar work on self and as a congregation? I believe that God loves diversity, created this vastly diverse world because diversity reveals the creative nature of God and what God values. I believe that I am called to love self and loves others as God loves. That means doing the hard work to participate in dismantling the human constructs that have created systems that privilege some people over others through systemic oppression and suppression.
A recent racism audit of the Episcopal Church uses the term “Dysconsciousness” which comes from the work of Dr. Joyce King. Dr. King defines dysconsciousness as “an uncritical habit of mind (including perceptions, attitudes, assumptions and beliefs) that justifies inequity and exploitation by accepting the given order of things as a given.” In other words, racist behavior goes unexamined because it is “just normal behavior or respectable.” It’s the “I don’t know what I don’t know” paradigm. But, as a woman of faith, I also know that I damn well better do the work to begin to know what I don’t know. This means learning to how to be uncomfortable while learning to hold myself accountable.
As a licensed clinical social worker and Episcopal priest, I think about dysconsciousness through a variety of perspectives that I work with daily. One of them is how dysconsciouosness relates to IDI developmental stages, and in particular to the stage of Minimization.
Understanding the IDI is more involved than I am going to cover in this little reflection. Briefly, the IDI is a tool that uses a series of questions that have been scientifically tested and researched using methodology by sociologist Milton Bennet and created by a team at IDI, LLC. It assesses individuals and groups in their capacity to shift cultural perspective and appropriately adapt behavior to cultural differences and commonalities. There are five stages of development from a monocultural worldview to an intercultural worldview.
The IDI defines two stages being in the monocultural world view, which they call “denial” and “polarization.” People in these stages only see through their own life experience, unable to see cultural similarities and differences. People at the last two stages are living from a multicultural world view and are growing in their ability to see and adapt to people from different cultures. There is a middle stage, a bridge stage between a monocultural worldview and multicultural world view called Minimization. 63% of people who take the IDI are in the Minimization stage of development. People in this stage want diversity but then they pressure those who are different from them to assimilate to them. Implicit bias and micro-aggressions are common. People in minimization want change without change self. Entire processes are organized around the norms of the dominant culture when those desiring them are minimizers. This behavior is unexamined, unrecognized, by people who believe that they are want diversity. People in this stage are usually stunned to learn that they are not as inter-culturally developed as they thought.
The IDI is one tool among many that one can use to overcome dysconsciousness and to learn about one’s self. Some of us assume that because we want to be open minded and inclusive, that we are. Some of us are shocked when we nonetheless discover that we are seeing through our whiteness, or heteronormative perspective or mansplaining. The dynamics of prejudice or intercultural competence are similar whether they involve racism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, or misogyny. Reading books and attending workshops will help. Living in diverse communities will help. Doing intentional reflective work will help. Creating conditions for equity will help. Developing processes for reparation are critical.
Clergy, church leaders, and congregation members, can benefit from recognizing that dysconsciousness is real, that it can be normative for whatever privileged status one holds. Likewise, the IDI is useful in breaking through the veneer of dysconsciousness by revealing the degree of competency one has acquired from doing deep interior work. This, in the language from the Episcopal Baptismal Covenant, is one way we strive to respect the dignity of every human being and build the beloved community.
The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski is an Episcopal priest serving a church in Dearborn, MI. She is also a clinical social worker with twenty years experience with Bowen Family Systems Theory, an Accredited Facilitator with the Kaleidoscope Institute, and a Qualified Administrator with IDI, LLC. She is a long time blogger (seekingauthenticvoice.blogspot.com) and member of the RevGalBlogPals since 2006.
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