What Do You Mean?

What Do You Mean?

As someone whose professional work is usually not very technical, I experience many benefits of being married to someone who does do very technical work for a living. Perhaps the best perk is that IT support is almost always nearby and very responsive.

But also, because I value the quality of the marriage more than the tech support, and I am genuinely invested in being a supportive and interested spouse, I have had to learn to communicate about things that are unfamiliar, occasionally uninteresting, and often confusing for me. I have had to practice saying, “I don’t understand.” “I’ve never heard that word before.” “I don’t have adequate context.” “What do you mean?” In response, Graham patiently defines or explains or, when possible, rephrases. Over the years, I have learned more terminology, and our discussions about the technical work have become more robust and comfortable for both of us. 

And this evolution in our communication has required effort from both of us, a give and take, a willingness to learn and to speak up when we don’t understand. It would be unhelpful and inappropriate for me to insist that Graham use ministry-specific vocabulary to talk about his data work, just as it would be unhelpful and inappropriate for him to expect me to use the language of bits and bytes to describe the relational work of ministry. And as fast as technology changes, it would be entirely ineffective for me to insist that he use only the computer terminology that I already know, or only as I understand it from my formative years in the 1980s and 1990s.

These evolving marital conversations are not altogether different from some of the conversations we’re having right now in UUCC about racial justice, anti-racism work, dismantling White Supremacy Culture, etc. There’s been a lot of talk about terminology, and what words mean, and what language is most effective. Some have expressed a genuine desire to better understand why I and others insist on using the phrase “White Supremacy Culture” instead of other, less jarring, language.

“What do you mean?” they wonder.

In its conversation circles after the worship service this Sunday, August 25, your Board of Trustees plans to begin responding to that question by leading guided conversation about some terminology and some real examples of how White Supremacy Culture is experienced.

I hope we’ll all make an effort to practice genuine curiosity when we hear terminology that makes us feel uncomfortable or even offended, asking “What do you mean?” and then listening with open minds to the responses that come. 

If you plan to be in one of the circles on Sunday, you’re encouraged to read the definitions and examples ahead of time, so you’ll be more prepared for full participation in the conversation:

Thank you, UUCC, for the ways you keep showing up and demonstrating your commitment to building the Beloved Community.

With love,


  1. Doug Miller

    I think part of the reason people sometimes react badly to the language surrounding issues of race has less to do with the argument itself than with the fact that that language is foreign to them and they are unsure of what’s actually being said. This language often feels academic and therefore exclusive, even classist. Terms such as “intersectionality,” “dog whistles” and “gaslighting” can come off as code words, terminology employed by intellectuals to set their enlightened selves apart from the rest of us. Perhaps as the race conversation continues, this vocabulary will come into wider use and we’ll have a common understanding of what the words mean. But plain speaking — neither overly charged nor overly diplomatic — will serve us all better generally.

  2. Gail Thompson

    I will gladly study the definitions but will need to intuit the examples. My system is blocking the site.

    • Jen Hayashi

      Gail, I think I just sent you the pdf’s of both documents from the links above–please let me know if it didn’t work!

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