Sunday, January 31, 2016

Some Things UU's Have Learned.

Unitarian Universalists have been in school about race and racism for quite a while, now. As we have confronted what seems like the unbearable whiteness of our being, we have learned some things that I think are useful to apply to the Clinton/Sanders divide. We have direct experience with the questions and controversies at the heart of the most vexing issue in the 2016 Democratic nomination fight: how to unite people of color, especially African Americans who are the most loyal Democratic voters, with white liberals and progressives, both female and male, into a winning electoral coalition.

1. Marching with Martin Luther King, Jr. is not a verification of one's anti-racism. Unitarian Universalism could not believe that after Selma and the death of James Reeb, that anyone would not immediately see our steadfast commitment to racial equity, or would experience racism in our churches and congregations.

2. Racism is not a secondary issue which will get solved along the way of dealing with other issues. Racism in UULand was not going to go away because we energized our music programs, or started saying "amen" when we liked what the preacher said. Racism does not go away in congregations that have more working class white people in them. Racism must be confronted directly.

3. You confront racism in part by amplifying the voices of people of color. You respect what they say in that you listen carefully and openly. You build relationships. You building new circles of leadership. White people do not know best how to fight racism.

4. It doesn't matter what the preacher says if the people in the pews enact the same hierarchies in their social interactions. The number one way that white people assert dominance in social interaction is by assuming that they already know what people of color want, and why they want it.

5. When people of color avoid a white-led organization, the problem is with the white-led organization, not with the people of color. How long did white UU's explain away the whiteness of our congregations by saying that African Americans were "too emotional" for our kind of worship?


5 comments:

Duane Townsend said...

Thank you!

John Mott said...

This is such an important issue. I feel like the movement is paralyzed by the issue because the institutional response consists of a limited deck of options; the institution can't really change anything, and yet we look to the institution for leadership.

I see the following cycle from the institutional perspective. We acknowledge the problem, its taken seriously, the topic gets energy, we collect resources, speakers, training sessions and meetings, we form task forces, reports and recommendations are written which say the same thing, everyone agrees that its important, a climax is hit where its clear that there are next steps to be taken, there some ideas but maybe we don't have all the details yet, and things pause until the cycle begins anew.

Its probably that 'pause' point where the real barrier is, where no specific next step is taken because its not clear who is supposed to do what next, and our internal barriers of discomfort get hit. The institution can only go so far. How do we name that chasm that occurs when the latest set of recommendations are approved and nothing happens after that?

I truly don't know what to do. I've been in church leadership for some time and I'm just as lost as everyone else. You see it, you taste it, you feel it, but you can't touch it.

John



Anonymous said...

You should have some Nashville black churches about. Next time you do a minister search, let one of them host the secret minister candidate sermon. Return the favor as possible.

Vaughn Keller said...

It is the silence of UU churches that is appalling and always has been. The hand wringing is absurd. We now have a new "excuse" for inaction -- we must be allies, we must follow the lead of those who we don't interact with. You don't need to "interact" to recognize the impact of the criminal justice on people of color. If justice is made central in all areas, there is no absence of issues ripe for action, even unilateral action.

Angie Swanger said...

So often we sit in silence due to the fear of not knowing what to do. We need to take the uncomfortable step, for some of us, of putting ourselves in the position of meeting and interacting with people of color. And since we rarely can find such opportunities within the walls of most UU congregations, we must seek them outside. And be intentional. Being an anti-racist is so different then being a non racist. It requires action not just conversation.