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Reflections on Antidotes to White Supremacy Culture

This reflection has been written by Amanda Vetsch who works as the Congregational Coordinator and Facilitator of the Riverside Innovation Hub and has recently completed her Master’s theses which focused on dismantling white supremacy, the church, and Lutheran theology [1,2]. 

Many of the staff in the Christensen Center for Vocation have used the list of White Supremacy Culture Characteristics by Tema Okun to examine, name and begin to dismantle the ways in which white supremacy shows up in the work we do as a Center [3]. See this previous blog or website to learn more about White Supremacy Culture Characteristics.

Why Antidotes?

It is important to hold a critical lens to white supremacy culture, it is also important to simultaneously name the antidotes to these characteristics, or better ways we can work, live, and be in community. Tema Okun offers examples of antidotes to each characteristic in list she created. I believe that many of our core values can also serve as antidotes to the characteristics of white supremacy, especially when we can live out those values in our daily lives. In the Lutheran theological tradition specifically, many of our claims about who God is and how God is are directly opposed to the characteristics of white supremacy culture. The bad news of White Supremacy Culture can be displaced by the good news that the antidotes provide. As the theologian Douglas John Hall writes, “It is good news because it engages, takes on and does battle with the bad news, offering another alternative, another vision of what could be, another way into the future.” [4] In this blog post, we’ll explore a few of the characteristics, along with practical examples of antidotes to those characteristics and theological antidotes from a Lutheran perspective.

Perfectionism neon signs that read "perfect perfect perfect"

One of the characteristics of White Supremacy is Perfectionism. A personal example of this characteristic is that as I continue to commit to antiracism and dismantling white supremacy, I sense myself striving to know and learn all the things, to have the perfect words, strategies, and beliefs. I often convince myself that I am not yet able to step up, disrupt, or dialogue in moments of racialized stress or when harm has occurred because I have to perfect the ways to do it. The desire to speak up, or act, is halted by the barrier of perfectionism, of needing to say or do the perfectly right thing. 

Another example of perfectionism in a congregational, or community, context is the tendency to keep doing the same program, over and over, with the belief that this is only one right way to do it. It could also look like an awareness that the ways of doing things together need to change, but being unable to start something new because the time and energy goes towards researching, creating, and discussing the unattainable perfect way to do things. 

Tema Okun shared some practical antidotes to perfectionism. Two of them include: “develop a learning community or organization, where the stated expectation is that everyone will make mistakes and those mistakes offer opportunities for learning” and “create a culture of inquiry about what constitutes the “right way” and what defines a “mistake”.” [5]

The White Supremacy characteristic of Perfectionism could be combated with the theological claim of “simul justus et peccator” or simultaneously saint and sinner.. To believe that we are simultaneously saint and sinner means that perfection is impossible. The desire to seek a perfect way of responding or acting can often lead us to do nothing at all. We will never attain a perfect way of doing or being antiracist. That knowledge that perfection is impossible can liberate us from the stronghold of perfectionism. 


Another characteristic of White Supremacy Culture is Urgency. Urgency, in this sense, can look like quick, top-down decisions, or moving into immediate action in situations when urgency is unnecessary. To be clear, the daily, lived realities of racial injustice and other inequities are real and the work for equity does require immediate and consistent attention. Urgency becomes harmful when the urgency seeps into the day to day aspects of our work and life together.

I recall experiencing this “sense of urgency” as I processed and responded to the Uprising following the murder of George Floyd. I made commitments to read more books, pay more micro-reparations, and do more antiracism work. All of these commitments are good things, and in this urgent desire to solve racism, I set myself up for unsustainable commitments that were not realistic or responsive to my actual neighbors. I didn’t take the time to listen to my neighbors but moved with an unhelpful urgency that prioritized my needs for fixing something that was uncomfortable to me rather then prioritizing the relationships and work informed by my neighbors. 

An example from a community level could look like making immediate public responses to tragedies without taking the time to listen and hear form those who are most impacted. It can also look like those with the most decision making power failing to involve more people in a decision making process.

Tema Okun shares one potential antidote to urgency, “an understanding that rushing decisions takes more time in the long run because inevitably people who didn’t get a chance to voice their thoughts and feelings will at best resent and at worst undermine a decision where they were left unheard”

This characteristic of Urgency can be combated with the theological claims of Sabbath and abundance. When we claim to believe that who God is, and how God acts includes a period of rest, we can remember that we too can make room to rest and trust that there is enough time, resources, etc. Additionally, the commitment to an interdependent community means that urgency is impossible because relationships and change move at the speed of trust. [6] Deep, lasting transformation will require a long, sustained effort that’s able to be adaptive and responsive, but not urgent.

neon sign in shape of questionmarkReflection Questions:

How do you experience or notice these characteristics of White Supremacy Culture?

What antidotes already exist in your personal and communal practices? What could you deepen or develop?


[1] Vetsch, Amanda, “Vocation of the ELCA: Dismantling White Supremacy” (2021). MA Capstone Papers. 2.

[2] Vetsch, Amanda, “Public Church Framework as Process for Antiracism: Integrating Racial Identity Development Models and Theological Commitments” (2021). MA Capstone Papers. 3.

[3] Okun, Tema. “White Supremacy Culture Characteristics.” Showing Up for Racial Justice – SURJ. Accessed March 12, 2021.

[4] Hall, Douglas John. “What Is Theology?,” CrossCurrents 53, no. 2 (2003): 171–84.

[5] White Supremacy Culture Website,

[6] The phrase “relationships move at the speed of trust” has become commonplace in our learning community, though I believe attribution goes to adrienne maree brown, author of Emergent Strategy.