Putting on Armor
“The fight is not just being able to keep breathing. The fight is actually to be able to walk down the street with your head held high—and feel like I belong here, or I deserve to be here, or I just have [a] right to have a level of dignity.”
—Alicia Garza, civil rights activist and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement
I love my congregation, but as a Black Woman, before I enter the doors of my church or a committee meeting, I often feel like I have to put on my armor. Chances are someone’s going to say something hurtful. They’re not going to mean it, but it's going to happen and I've got to gird myself up for the unintended pain that will come. I know my siblings in faith love me—and I love them, too—but it has happened time and time again.
I’m not alone in this; it’s a common experience for Black and other UUs of color. I identify with the findings of a 2018 survey that BLUU (Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism) conducted of Black UUs. Most Black UUs feel a deep sense of isolation and rely heavily on social media to connect with other Black UUs. Black people tend to become a part of UU congregations because of the theology, not because of the community. White dominant culture gets in the way of their communal experience and serves as an exclusionary force in church life. Simply put: Black people, when they show up in ways that are culturally divergent from white, middle- and upper-class culture, do not feel welcomed.
The impact of these experiences, regardless of intention, is clear: the lack of Black and Brown faces in our spaces speaks volumes.
In contrast, when I attend BLUU worship services, which are Black-only sacred spaces, I feel like I am home. I am comforted. I am nourished. I don’t have to explain myself, I don’t have to address microaggressions, I don’t have to say “I am sorry, but you really can’t say that, and here's why.” Instead of having to enter the space girded with armor for protection, I can enter the space with an open mind, heart, and soul.
My hope is that every member of each UU congregation pledges to do their individual anti-racism and anti-oppression work; that every member searches honestly within themselves, and analyzes their individual part in creating an atmosphere that has been historically unwelcoming to Black and Brown siblings of color.
In order to be a truly welcoming community, the systems of power and privilege that exist in our spaces need to be actively dismantled. Together, we can become radically welcoming—but only if we're willing, as individuals and as a movement, to do the hard work that comes along with it.
Spirit of life: may we dig deeply, examine closely, speak truthfully, and work diligently, tirelessly, honestly, lovingly, empathetically and continuously so all among us feel welcome and loved.