General Assembly: GA Presentations: Presenter views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UUA.

3055 Oppression Through the Lenses of Ableism and Racism

Sponsor: Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Staff

Presenters: The Rev. Sofia Craethnenn and the Rev. Dr. Devorah Greenstein

Reported for by KokHeong McNaughton, Reporter; Jone Johnson Lewis, Editor.

This workshop, which deals with issues of oppressions from more than one angle, was jointly presented by the Rev. Sofia Craethnenn, Program Coordinator for Racial and Ethnic Concerns, and the Rev. Dr. Devorah Greenstein, Accessibilities Program Associate. Both Craethnenn and Greenstein work for the office of IDBM (Identity-Based Ministries) of the UUA.

Through engaging workshop participants in discussion and dialogue, the presenters drew upon their collective experiences of what makes them feel whole. These include acceptance, understanding, being heard and listened to, not being put into categories and boxes, being included, not being marginalized, not having to leave a part of the self behind, and being in situations that foster authenticity.

On the other hands, workshop participants also shared experiences of what made them feel broken (less than whole), which included having to suppress an important part of themselves in order to be accepted, being misunderstood, being judged or misjudged, not being validated, not being listened to, being marginalized and being narrowly defined by others.

As an example of the complexity a “whole” person can be, Greenstein asked participants to name whatever comes to their minds when they think of the name “Helen Keller.” Typical answers include “strength, courage, deaf and blind.” In truth, the real Helen Keller enjoyed more than 80 years of a very active life as a reformer, a Socialist, a revolutionary, one of the founders of the American Civil Liberty Union, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and much, much, more.

Categorizing people and putting them into boxes, said Craethnenn, is about power. When we are put into boxes by others, we lose parts of ourselves. And when we put ourselves into boxes, we lose some of our power. Oppression is not just about biases, but is prejudice plus power. Anti-oppression educator Paul Kivel's power chart (see “Resources” below) neatly divides people into “the oppressors” and “the oppressed,” those with “more power” and those with “less power,” respectively. In truth, says Craethnenn, power is a gradient and because it is multi-dimensional, multi-layered and multi-faceted, it is more accurately represented as a web. We can be at different points on the web depending on the situations. And we can move around on the web at different times throughout our life. Drawing upon her many identities as a person of color, female, minister, bi-sexual, UUA staff member, Craethnenn explored this multi-dimensional web of power through each of those lenses.

When a person's disability is ignored, it can feel like a rejection as well as an empowerment at the same time. This presents a dichotomy similar to that of being welcoming towards people of color versus exoticism. In both cases, we strive to achieve a balance, knowing that we all make mistakes and not being afraid to try anyway.