2021-08-15 TRHT Circle

Truth Racial Healing and Transformation or TRHT is a national and community-based process to bring about transformational and sustainable change, and to address the historic and contemporary effects of racism. Throughout the year there are opportunities to participate in TRHT circles. A TRHT circle is an opportunity to take action by coming together with diverse groups of peoples and institutions, intentionally listening, and unearth conscious and unconscious biases.

Social Justice Matters, the local non-profit Anti-racism organization in Scotch Plains/Fanwood that we supported with our March “share the plate” is encouraging us to participate in at least one of the local TRHT circles over the next few months.   As the centerpiece of the TRHT Framework, the Circles are meant to ground the various elements of the TRHT methodology in a compassionate and expansive forum for sharing personal truth to help begin the process of transforming hearts and minds.

The next TRHT circle meeting will be this Wednesday Aug 18th (details are in the Thursday Email Blast). I encourage you all to participate.  Doing so will provide you with both an opportunity for personal growth and to help build a Beloved Community, fulfilling part of the commitment we made when we adopted the principle in May.

2021-08-08 – Voter Suppression as Racism

In seeing the widespread attacks on voting rights, it is easy to miss the blatant racism inherent in these acts because of the existential threat they pose to democracy. We must understand that democracy is under attack because of the threat it poses to white supremacy.

The history of civil rights, racism, and white supremacy since the end of the Civil War has been focused on the voting rights of BIPOC. By denying formerly enslaved people and their descendants the right to vote, the existing white supremacist power structure has been perpetuated. The power of the vote was kept out of the hands of those who would use it to challenge the racist class structure. As the ability to limit voting rights continues to be reduced by both social and technological changes, the conservative minority is turning its attacks to the power of the vote itself. These attacks do threaten democracy, but the goal remains to protect white supremacy.

In the end, these attacks on voting rights, while threatening to democracy, are also attacks on our UU principles. By denying the vote to some, the 1st, 2nd, and 5th principles are assaulted. Because these attacks are racist, our 8th principle is directly involved. By replacing democracy with an autocratic minority rule, all 8 principles may become unobtainable in our society. We must stand up to these attacks on our basic beliefs. 

2021-08-01 – Call to Prophetic Action – Undoing Systemic White Supremacy

This year at the 2021 UUA General Assembly there was a “Call of Prophetic Action” to all Unitarian Universalists, as individuals, for Undoing Systemic White Supremacy. This “call” is a means by which we, as UU’s are informed mechanism within our denomination that communicates that we are directed by our history social justice is spiritual work and is firmly grounded in our Unitarian Universalist heritage, theology, and values.

Here is an excerpt from this call:

“We call upon the Unitarian Universalist Association, Unitarian Universalist individuals, and congregations to actively engage in undoing systemic white supremacy in all of its manifestations. Systemic white supremacy refers to the embedded, institutional, and pervasive nature of racism, white privilege, and racial bias and oppression in our society. We acknowledge the impact of systemic white supremacy is intersectional, meaning it impacts people differently across race, income/class, gender, age, ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation, religion, disability, and more. As Unitarian Universalists, we decry the ways in which the intersectional impact of systemic white supremacy divides our human family by privileging some groups over others and thereby generating resistance to the common goal of universal equity and justice…. Most egregious, we are losing lives of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color all across this nation—from long-standing ills of police violence, to hate crimes, to emerging crises of the pandemic—due to the evil of systemic white supremacy. “

 Therefore, as Unitarian Universalists we must:

  •       Engage with the movement, in our communities and nation, to heal the evil of racism.
  •       Carry forward the recommended healing actions conveyed in “Widening the Circle of Concern
  •       Build relationships across boundaries of privilege and oppression.
  •       Fulfill our UU role as a spiritual anchor to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color UUs.

 While we at First U have already adopted the 8th Principle and, in doing so, committed ourselves to this path, seeing the UUA take this action further validates our commitment and should serve as additional motivation for us all.

2021-07-25 – Counteracting anti-CRT and anti-BLM Propaganda

We have all seen and heard conservative activists railing against Critical Race Theory and moving to ban it from being taught in public schools. Don’t be drawn into arguing against the lies. They argue Critical Race Theory is being taught is school with the intent of making White children feel bad about being White. While that is patently false, it’s also not relevant. The idea that Critical Race Theory is taught in public schools is an intentional lie. Critical Race Theory is a legal academic theory, not a subject taught in primary or secondary school. If you are being taught Critical Race Theory, you are most likely in law school. So, why are we having this argument and what can we do to counter it?

The reason Critical Race Theory is under attack is that doing so is easy. It is easy to demonize an idea, the more complex the idea, the easier it is to do so. If someone doesn’t understand a concept and they are told it will hurt them, they will argue against it without really understanding what the issue is. The same was done to the Black Lives Matter movement. Lies were told by people in power and they were accepted as facts.

This is McCarthyism: Unfounded allegations levied against an opponent and their supporters for the purpose of retaining political power. The tactic is to place the opposing side in the position of having to defend against an unreasoned attack in a way that prevents them from responding with substance

Perhaps it’s time to respond to these attacks by calling out the attacker, rather than responding to the attack itself. Those orchestrating the attacks on CRT and BLM truly have no sense of decency. Their weakness is that many of those listening to them will leave when they realize the depth of their moral rot. Call out their hypocrisy and their lies. Call out their unAmerican attacks on democracy and free speech. But don’t defend CRT and BLM, because they’re not really the subjects of their attack.

2021-07-11 – 5th Principle Project and Gadflys – UU Racism

There is a small but vocal group called the 5th Principle Project that is attempting to hide racism behind our 5th Principle; The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large. What they are doing is portraying themselves as victims rather than acknowledge that they are trying to protect the White Patriarchy. 

Similarly, there is a group called The Gadflies who claim martyrdom as a result of attacks on their right of free speech. What they speak about is their opposition to social justice. They are against the anti-racism and anti-oppression work that our denomination is doing. 

In both cases, they co-opt the language of inclusion to protect and maintain the hegemony of white cis males over the rest of society. Using words intended to equitably extend power to all UU, they intend to exclude those who they view as a threat to their power.

Understanding who they are and what they really want is the first step towards counter-acting an alt-right movement within Unitarian Universalism. More background information has been shared on our web platforms.

2021-07-04- Independence Day Reflection

Twelve score and five years ago thirteen colonies declared their independence from Great Britain. In doing so they clearly stated ideals that were omitted from the Constitution just thirteen years later. We find ourselves still struggling to see that equality is ensured for all. 

In 1852 Frederick Douglass asked “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” He followed by stating “The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me.” Here we are, in 2021, and this concern still remains paramount for marginalized communities.Two centuries of inequitable access to the benefits of society have resulted in a caste system that is based largely on race and gender. Heteronormative power systems still hold sway.

So how do we celebrate Independence Day, knowing that the greatness of our country is an unrealized promise for so many? In the view of David Oliver from USA Today, “it’s OK to not celebrate, but maybe there’s room to meet in… [the] middle.” We can celebrate the promise, if we commit to working for improvement. We can take the time to reflect on what we can do to ensure that all people are members of a single beloved community. We can celebrate family, community, and friends as a way to remain energized in our continuing fight for equity and compassion.

2021-06-20 – Racism in UU Governance

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.”

2021-06-13 – Juneteenth

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.

2021-06-06 – Intransigence

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.

2021-05-30 – White Supremacy is an Accent

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.