We let go of "Engagement" as our theme for May 2017 in order to advance our work around Racial Equity and Inclusion. We did this as our committed response to a request from Black Lives Unitarian Universalists (BLUU) to have services and a teach in about white supremacy systems, culture, and institutional behaviors.
With Hope for the Racially Equitable, Inclusive World We’re Dreaming Of May 2017
By now you’ve probably heard about enormous events at the UUA set into motion by a hiring decision that was challenged by a Latina woman. She had been told by HR that she was fully qualified for the position, yet was turned down because she “wasn’t the right fit.” This is within an institution that’s been intentionally working to be anti-racist and inclusive for more than 50 years. In the aftermath of her disclosure, and in support of continuing our important work, our President resigned three months before the end of his term. Two other senior leaders also resigned, and the UUA Board has appointed a three person team to the Office of the President until we elect a new President at our General Assembly in June.
Most significantly, leaders of Black Lives Unitarian Universalists have called on all UU congregations to use this disrupted moment as a critical opportunity to learn about the invisible ways that racism operates in our society and institutions, including our congregations. Almost 70% of our congregations, ERUUF included, have signed on to preach and teach during the month of May about the underlying, unconscious, invisible systems of power that make life work in favor of White people. When White people experience these benefits we call it “unearned White privilege.” When we talk about “dismantling racism” what we’re talking about is becoming conscious so we can dismantle systems that keep White people in power and People of Color out of power. These racist interlocking systems of power are what we’re referring to when we talk about “White Supremacy.” This is language used by anti-racism educators, and it’s the language that UU racial justice activists have asked us to use.
That language is difficult, yes? Yet, it’s an intentional choice, because language is a tool that we can use to effectively dismantle racism. Racism is dependent upon hidden systems of power that are like the 90% of an iceberg that’s underwater. What’s unseen is all the more dangerous because we can’t see it. The work is to get more conscious. Using language in specific, particular ways is one way to get conscious together.
When we hear “White supremacy” many people immediately think of the KKK, and that’s certainly real. But the KKK is only the tip of something like an “iceberg of white supremacy.” The KKK is just a part that shows. The reality is that there’s much more to racism than KKK members. It’s a whole system of laws, policies, and practices that shape our housing, education, health care, financial, religious systems, and more. Even more, racism isn’t only “out there” somewhere else—when we’re unconscious of it, we carry the system of racism within ourselves as a power that shapes and informs us about what it means to be a good person, a good religion, a good society. It’s the power that keeps all the other systems in place. So when we unconsciously go along with it, racism privileges some people and hurts others. This is what we mean when we talk about systems of White supremacy. (If you want to learn more about this, sign up for a Dismantling Racism workshop this fall at ERUUF.)
When you suddenly find out in person, or in an on-line conversation that things you’ve just assumed, said, and done all your life are not ok, are in fact harmful, it can be quite a shock and very hurtful. It has been for me. My immediate response at times has been to get defensive, even angry at the people who were suddenly saying such shocking things to me. I’ve long since learned that this is what it’s like for everyone. This is what it feels like as you wake up to the reality of the hidden parts of the iceberg. And this is point at which we have a critical choice. You can choose to get angry and defensive. Or you can acknowledge your hurt and choose to be curious and stay in the conversation, and engage in the work. Jacqueline Brett recently pointed out to a group of leaders that when we talk about “dismantling racism” we’re not talking about a weekend workshop that we check off our list. And Julia Tyler pointed out that this ongoing work of waking up and dismantling racism is our curriculum. When we stick around and have the conversation, it can be a way of practicing our faith, our UU religion.
During the last week of May (dates and leaders TBA) we’ll be offering some simple programs for adults and youth—starting with videos and discussions about UU history, eventually adding other experiences that will help us understand where we are, how we got here, and how we can create racial equity and inclusion at ERUUF and the UUA. In the coming months we’ll continue this work which we’ve been doing for the past several years. For instance, the board might review ERUUF’s hiring and employment policies, and make sure that ERUUF leaders, myself included, manage the power that’s entrusted to us in non-racist ways. They might change our Ends if they’re not as specifically as inclusive as they might be. We can continue to audit our worship materials and music, our RE curricula and discover as many hidden assumptions as we can and then make more equitable and inclusive choices. We can hold ourselves accountable to the spirt of love and justice as we discern it together, all voices, everyone’s experience included in the discernment process. This is our goal: to dismantle racism by becoming conscious of systemic power and our own roles and actions within those systems. And to build a world that’s more equitable and inclusive, more loving, more just. Make no mistake however. This is not just a little light dusting and rearranging. This is dismantling and reconstruction. There will be dust. There will be debris. There might be major changes. And at times we will freak out. What keeps us going is our belief that if we do this work, our community will be more beautiful, more fair, more inclusive for all.
I’m committed to continuing to dismantle racism first within myself, then at ERUUF, the UUA, and our larger society. But none of us got this way alone, and no one can do this work alone. We truly need each other to build the more equitable and inclusive world we’re all dreaming of. So, even if the thought of this work scares you, angers you, makes you want to run away, please bring your love, curiosity, commitment and hope back to the room, back to the table. We can begin again, as always, with love, and measure ourselves against what love is asking of us. We do this because a new world is urgently demanding to be born.