Man, I read some PAINFUL SHIT yesterday. But this is what fell out.
Unitarians have no issue with working through privilege and fighting discrimination. That is one of the functions of religion, to identify bias in ways that open the heart and warm the soul and loosen the fists. It’s part of our congregational covenant.
▪ The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
- Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations;
Race is not specifically mentioned in our principles. I can understand why that is; my personal bias is that a specific mention of race when we’re all about the oneness of humanity is well, unseemly.
But… We haven’t had the internal conversation on race. I believe our ideas and words on the subject are hampered by fears of giving offense, by guilt, by ignorance, by denial and by a vast interlinked network of laws and customs, tv news and badly taught history which result in the elevation of white people over people of colour.
It’s time we got over that.
One of the things I’ve noted, and which yet again was pointed out to me by a young FN activist in November of 2013, is that it is not the responsibility of those discriminated against to plead their case as and when asked – or, indeed, ever. If you’re an ally, the thinking goes, you will put down the Chardonnay and google “Residential schools” or “Highway of Tears” or “Poll Tax” or “Komagata Maru”. You’ll educate yourself. And if you’ve got a boatload of guilt or want to interrupt at public meetings, please stay home, you’re tiresome and a continual reminder that many more white people want to have wings than earn them.
Having accepted after all this time that it is my responsibility to look at the problem and develop my own curriculum, this is how I see the process. We’re talking years, but there’s no reason we can’t start.
Step one. Sorting. Get over how we don’t know how racist we are. Staying home and reading about it on the internet is not helpful. We must share our painful, quirky, horrific, wrackingly tragic, bewildering, magical and intimately personal stories about race in the comforting bosom of our church siblings before we talk about it in public. It is by story that we will be set free. It is through story that we will find both the will and the vocabulary to accept our complicity and move on together, with grace and forgiveness stumbling forward with us.
Step two. Reconnecting with the flow of life. Develop a way of talking about race and racial discrimination which removes inflammatory language (by listening to what people of colour have to say on the subject and humbly paying heed), doesn’t play into old guilty habits (“well we’ve done talking about race now”), models the best possible behaviour church-wide for our children and visitors (so yes, special attention given to greeters and those people in the congregation who have the ability to talk to anyone and RE), and helps distinguish us from other liberal religious organizations. We’ve been a stagnant pond, it’s time to be a tranquil stream.
Step three. Clean up time. ACCEPT that we will likely never be racially reflective of the areas we live in, STOP being ashamed about it, WORK to eradicate discrimination the way humans everywhere always have. Build networks with people you personally like, who value life and freedom and beauty and nature and art as you do, to find whatever role to play against racial discrimination you have the strength to fulfill. They don’t have to be in the church, and in fact one of the marks of a healthy Unitarian congregation is how many different social justice sandboxes are being played in at once.
Step four. Sing the message. Encourage those UUs who can to self identify as people who have quit taking racial privilege and discriminatory bias as part of the natural order of things. Teach consistent and tested ways of knowing the why and when to speak up, what to say, and how to say it with humility and temperance. If we have a haven on Sunday where we can bring our stories of confronting structures of evil, it will be much easier for us to shift out of our guilty little comfort zones.
Step five. Carry the flame. Find ways to set congregational goals regarding eradicating racial bias, incorporate them into church life, celebrate milestones. Continue to hold workshops and write curriculum on racism and equality, make art and media about it, blog and write and link on facebook and other social media platforms, build links to faith communities not just for interfaith kumbayas but for true stories about institutional racism and how we can be of practical help. Put refresher courses on the church five year plan. Note to self: leave the presence of the word kumbayas but take it out of the final version because it refers to a spiritual song wrested from the Gullah folkways. Of course when I heard it in my childhood it was the Weavers singing it. And I have to go away and think about that for a while. Anyhoo…
In sum: Racial bias must be defined and that definition broadly accepted, its eradication valued, encouraged and honoured, and participation in self-reflection, liturgy and civil engagement to end racial bias must be considered a foundational aspect of UU life. Grace has no race.