This coming week is the UUA’s General Assembly. Perhaps now is a good time to circle back to racism within our denomination, specifically structural racism within the UUA.
As part of Widening the Circle of Concern, governance of the UUA has been examined and recommendations have been made. The details of those recommendations goes far beyond the time we have allotted for this “minute”. As with many power structures, the governance model of the UUA has evolved in a way to preserve existing power structures, and institutional racism is about power. At the same time, informal structures, by their nature, privilege those in power. The recommendations that have been made address the inequitable distribution of power and provide for accountability toward achieving equity, inclusion, and di)versity.
As we at First U move forward over the next several months we will be examining our own institution and making necessary changes. We should not be afraid of what we will see when we look in a mirror; we will need to embrace change. In the words of the Reverend Alice Blair Wesley;
“In truth, the simple, transparent, potent idea of the free church has had to be, time and time and time again, reconceived, reconstructed in human imagination, from memories of the tradition so obscured, or twisted and bent out of shape over time, as to be—sometimes—almost gone from the world.”
Next Saturday is Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the end of legal slavery. The date chosen for the holiday is June 19th. On that day in 1865 the Emancipation Proclamation was read in Galveston, Texas, almost three years after it had been issued and a month after the Civil War ended.
It is important to mark significant events with holidays, whether somber commemorative events or celebrations, such as this one.
Join a Juneteenth event near you, such as the one in Scotch Plains. Join the celebration and revel in the moment. But also join in to acknowledge the importance of the ongoing struggle. While the Emancipation Proclamation declared slaves in the rebel states free, slavery continued in the Union until the passage of the 13th Amendment in December of 1865 and legal challenges persisted in Texas until 1874. The legacy of slavery continues today. Celebrate Juneteenth as a way of telling those who would drag us backward that we will continue moving forward toward justice, equity, and equality for all.
People are often set in their ways, institutions, almost by definition, are even more resistant to change. When faced with removing a tradition because of racist origins people often resort to convoluted logic or simply rewrite history to create a different reason for the practice, but that does not cause its victims to lose their memory.
Nevada just passed a law banning racially discriminatory school mascots and place names, and banning town sirens marking sundown.
Nevada no longer allows sirens to mark sundown; a practice that indicates it’s time for non-whites to leave a “sundown town” for the night. This measure is specifically aimed at the town of Minden, which still blasts a siren at 6 pm. The town had a law requiring that members of the Washoe tribe leave town by 6:30. Miden is saying the law doesn’t apply to them since they removed the ordinance from their books in 1974 and the siren now honors firefighters. They may even believe what they say; it is easier to convince yourself what you do is good than to admit you are doing it to harm someone else.
There are members of the Washoe tribe alive today who know exactly what that siren means. No amount of gaslighting by the residents of Minden will cause them to forget.
As we examine our own practices we must be honest about their origins; we must be willing to accept that we do some things we should not even attempt to defend and we must be willing to change those things.
What must be done to dismantle racism? How long will it take?
It will take the rest of our lives.
Racism is White Supremacy Culture; it is integral to the predominant culture of the United States and, through socialization, has been internalized by almost all of us.
Dismantling racism will require changing basic elements of our culture. It will be like learning a new language as an adult. Even those who succeed at learning a new language to the point of thinking and dreaming in that language will have an accent.
Our congregation will learn that language together. We will practice speaking it together so that when we make a mistake, we are with other learners who are stumbling as well.
We will hold up each other’s successes and help each other see missteps as we make them. With time, we will not only learn how to speak this new language, but also learn how to suppress our accent.
Our goal for future generations is to not know the old language of white supremacy culture or even unknowingly have an accent.
Shall we adopt as our 8th principle “journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions”? That is the question that will be put before us later today.
This question is one of immediacy. “Justice delayed is justice denied” is a legal construct that is foundational in our legal system. Many people know that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. referenced it in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, but it’s a bit older. How much older? It appears in Exodus 18:22, making it more than 2600 years old. The idea is that if there is a way to provide an equitable response and it does not occur in a timely manner, then it is as if no response is provided even if one is offered at a later date.
We, as a country, as a religion, as a community, as individuals, stand in the court of public opinion. Let us act today and begin this journey as a congregation.
The concept of “white privilege” has become central to the conversation about system racism. So, what is white privilege? Let’s refer to how Dr. Akilah Cadet breaks it down:
Privilege is characteristically invisible to people who have it. People in dominant groups often believe that they have earned their privilege and anyone who worked hard could have privilege also. But when it comes to privilege, there are two forms: unearned and earned privilege.
Unearned Privilege is privilege that is granted to people in dominant groups whether they want those privileges or not, and regardless of their stated intent. Examples include: Born in the US, educated, wealthy, English speaking, white, young adult/adult, Catholic/Protestant/Christian, male, non-disabled, middle/upper class, and leader. Unearned privilege is synonymous with white privilege, but keep in mind BIPOC people have unearned privilege too.
Earned Privilege is a person’s ability to acquire access to a privileged space like a company, special degree, title, license, or learned language. For example, an architect can practice without a license as long as they work under a licensed architect. Once an architect passes their licensing exams they no longer need to work under someone and can approve their own work, an earned privilege. A person who immigrates to America and either speaks or learns English has earned privilege.
White Privilege is an Unearned Privilege.
As a congregation, we have been aware of and discussing “cultural appropriation” for many years. We do strive to do it right; to not borrow practices without attribution and to not use borrowed elements out of context. We do strive to do it right, but we should not assume we get it right every time.
It’s always a good idea to step back on occasion and check our knowledge. So what is Cultural Appropriation? The idea of borrowing, sharing, or being inspired by another culture. People often use cultural appropriation & cultural misappropriation interchangeably now. Cultural misappropriation is when a dominant group (usually white people, communities, or brands) profits, dresses, acts, and/or adopts cultural practices, behaviors, and beliefs of a BIPOC community. And it’s the cultural misappropriation that is most problematic.
Once we pass the resolution adopting the 8th principle, we need to begin examining our own institution and its practices. One area for introspection is determining if we have processes in place to guard against cultural misappropriation. While it will be necessary to determine whether or not we have been doing the right thing in the past, perhaps it’s more important to construct systemic controls to make sure we do the right thing in the future.
The 8th principle states that we shall “accountably dismantle racism.’ What does it mean to be accountable?
From the 8th Principleuu.org website: White UUs hold themselves accountable to communities of color, to make sure whites do what they say they will do. In practice, that can mean having a People of Color Caucus within congregations, [regions], etc., to discern and express needs and concerns to the rest of the community. Black UUs hold each other accountable and help each other see and dismantle signs of internalized racism. We need an effective mechanism or structure to ensure this. Similarly for other oppressions.
We must find ways to be held accountable that will work for a congregation of our size, composition, and location. Because of the small number of congregations who are ahead of us in this journey it’s probable that at some point in time we will be breaking new ground. Perhaps one of the most complex tasks before us will be to create this sort of oversight structure. We know that police cannot police themselves. The houses of Congress have shown that they cannot hold their own members accountable for ethics violations. Writers require editors because they know what they intended to write and will read the same paragraph over and over, continually reading what they intended to write rather than what their fingers actually keyed in on the computer. Even once we are open to seeing our mistakes, we may not be able to do so; it may require another set of eyes.
We, as a congregation, have before us a proposal to adopt an eighth principle; “journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.”
It is a journey, and its goal is spiritual wholeness.
When we, as a community, commit ourselves to the lofty goal of building a diverse, multicultural Beloved Community, we must acknowledge not just the distance already traveled, but, more importantly, the journey still ahead.
How else can we describe the as yet unrealized intent of dismantling racism than to acknowledge that we cannot be whole until we do so?
As with all social justice work, in fact, as with all worthwhile pursuits, the journey towards a Beloved Community is a long and difficult one. It’s easy to get tired along the way; it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the number of steps before us. Persistence requires self-care.
We sit at home watching the news about the trial of the murderer of George Floyd (I won’t pollute my mouth with the murderer’s name) and we see a breaking story about the killing of Daunte Wright by police. We’re drawn into coverage of the over-policing that led to his death and the resulting protests and we see a story about army lieutenant Caron Nazario, in uniform, harassed and assaulted by police in another traffic stop. We’re pulled out of that by the death of Adam Toledo at the hands of police. What fresh horror will divert us from that story?
First responders know that the most important rule when approaching a disaster scene is to make sure they are safe and do not become another victim requiring help. Take care of yourself so that you can complete this good work. Sometimes it is better to do a little less today if it allows you to continue tomorrow and the day after. Seek mutual aid from those working with you. Seek support from those who will help you heal. Engage in practices that allow you to breathe; attend worship services, meditate, exercise, take a break from social media, seek counseling, yell at the TV, play with animals. When that feeling of being overwhelmed threatens to rise up, focus on the one step in front of you, not all of those beyond that.