Why Here? Why Now? Why Us? The Urgency for White Ally Activisim
General Assembly 2006 Event 2058
Sponsor: Moderator, Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA)
Presenters: The Allies for Racial Equity Steering Committee, including Gini Courter, Katherine Holt, Nancy Lawrence, Annette Marquis, Tim Murphy, Rev. Josh Pawalek, Rev. Wendy von Zirpolo
"I'm delighted to moderate this workshop," said Gini Courter to begin the workshop "Why Here? Why Now? Why Us?: The Urgency for White Ally Activism." Courter, who is also the moderator of the Unitarian Universalist Association, spoke to between 150 and 175 people, mostly white.
Courter explained why she in particular was helping to present this workshop. Speaking as a white person, she feels that much of anti-racism work needs to be done by white people. "It is easy for [white] allies to pick up the work," said Courter. "It will be done because there are white people who want to end racism." Courter thanked the white people present at the workshop for being present and "for getting ready to do the work."
Annette Marquis, a member of the Allies for Racial Equity Steering Committee, spoke about her organization. "We believe there is not one answer" to the problem of racism, said Marquis. "If there were one answer, we would have solved [racism] by now." She acknowledged that the organization represents one of many initiatives against racism within Unitarian Universalism.
The Rev. Josh Pawalek, parish minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society of East Manchester, Connecticut, also a member of the Steering Committee, gave a short historical overview of the past decade or so of anti-racism work within Unitarian Universalism. He mentioned the resolution passed at the 1997 General Assembly mandating work "towards an anti-racist institution." In recent years, Pawalek noted, the youth and young adult communities have done a good deal of organizing around anti-racism. In March, 2004, the leadership of Diverse and Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries (DRUUM) called for a white allies organization. But the real impetus for the current white allies organization grew out of the racist incidents at the 2005 General Assembly.
Each member of the Steering Committee then told his or her personal story and spoke about reasons for being a part of the organization. Pawalek noted that he has felt resistance to white allies' organizations within Unitarian Universalism, and that has motivated him to put effort into the current initiative.
The Rev. Wendy von Zirpolo, Interim Assistant Minister for Families and Children at Winchester Unitarian Society, in Massachusetts, also expressed her frustration at last year's incidents, and felt that she needed to "acknowledge her culpability at being a part of a community" that still allows that sort of racist incident.
Marquis talked about the importance of white allies in the aftermath of last year's incident, saying that when people of color met to discuss the incidents, white allies remained in a nearby room. When the people of color finally finished talking at 2 a.m., they were surprised and pleased to find white allies waiting for them. "One person said, 'We didn't think you'd stay'," said Marquis. Yet the presence of white allies obviously made a difference.
After members of the Steering Committee shared their personal stories, Courter asked the audience to share their own reasons for becoming a white ally. One man stood and said that he grew up in Nazi Germany. As a person "of Jewish heritage," he was declared to be inferior, and that experience eventually galvanized him "to learn about my own white privilege."
Courter asked the audience to break into small groups to talk more about their reasons for becoming white allies. After these small group discussions, Courter said, "What's the next step?"
Marquis explained how the white allies have organized to respond to potential racist incidents at this year's General Assembly. A handout offered many more possible opportunities for individual action, including visiting the group's website, becoming a member of Allies for Racial Equity, organizing discussion groups in local congregations, etc. Another possible opportunity for individual action will be attending a white Allies conference November 10-12, 2006, at a location to be announced on the Allies for Racial Equity website.
Reported by Dan Harper; edited by Jone Johnson Lewis.