The following is based on content presented as part of the “Staying the Course” workshop at the New Day Rising Conference in February 2021. The full workshop is available to conference registrants through Whova and to new participants who enroll in the UULI course.
To stay the course in our efforts to dismantle white supremacy, we need what is variously called “a vision” and “a dream” of our longed-for future. We need grounding in images of a more beautiful world.
If what we imagine is based only on what we currently experience, it’s easy to stay stuck in bad news and reactivity. Exercising our imaginations for possibility — even if that future is slow to come — gives us an internal power for keeping on.
For some, exercising our imaginations in this way is learned through the cultures we are born or adopted into. I have experienced this intermittently in feminist and queer spaces. I have observed it most consistently in African American culture which has cultural practices of keeping hope and dreams alive. How else have people of African descent in this country survived the blight of oppression as a people?
The dream Dr. King made famous in his speech at the March on Washington in 1963 came to him from Prathia Hall whom he heard pray at a mass meeting in 1962. Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia shares this story with Dr. Henry Louis Gates in an interview (YouTube) for the PBS documentary The Black Church. “Before it was Martin’s dream,” he says, “it was Prathia’s prayer.” And forty years before that, Langston Hughes’ wrote about the need for dreams in his poem “Dreams:”
Hold fast to dreams / For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird / That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams / For when dreams go
Life is a barren field / Frozen with snow.
From his ancestors to Langston to Prathia to Martin to Raphael. And here it is again in Walidah Imarisha’s words in Octavia’s Brood:
"Whenever we try to envision a world without war, without violence, without prisons, without capitalism, we are engaging in speculative fiction. All organizing is science fiction. Organizers and activists dedicate their lives to creating and envisioning another world, or many other worlds…"
There’s so much to fight against — but what inspires is something to fight for. Yet, keeping a life-giving dream alive in white supremacy culture is hard, hard work. Whatever visions we might have of a more just and loving world is often subject to mockery. White supremacy wants to keep us from imagining something different. It seeks to keep people racialized as white happy with things, with stuff, with comforts, with a misguided sense of power, and delusions about what it means to be a human being. It seeks to crush a sense of worth and dignity in people racialized as black and brown.
Exercising our imaginations for something glorious is a radical act in a social order set up to divert our imaginations away from love towards fear. In this video, as he begins to describe a vision he calls “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible,” Charles Eisenstein gets flustered:"...it’s a world…[long pause] I hesitate to go there because then people are going to think I’m a New Age airhead."
There are visionaries and dreamers within Unitarian Universalism. There is also pushback to such visioning within the movement. Influenced by the Enlightenment, many find it easier to trust mind, reason, science, the experience of our senses — whatever can be quantified and measured. For many, therefore, the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible seems as fictitious as Wakanda or Utopia or Heaven.
But this isn’t an either/or. We need reason and science and the experience of our senses. If visioning is under-represented in our lives and in our congregations, perhaps it’s time for collective visioning.
There are those within Unitarian Universalism who are already helping us. Consider, for example, this understanding of Beloved Community created by the 8th Principle Project:
"Beloved Community happens when people of diverse racial, ethnic, educational, class, gender, sexual orientation backgrounds/identities come together in an interdependent relationship of love, mutual respect, and care that seeks to realize justice within the community and in the broader world."
We are all invited to imagine what this looks like in lived reality — to tell stories about it, offer up poems, deliver sermons, discuss it at coffee hour and in covenant groups. I myself don’t imagine the community called beloved often enough. I don’t align my choices in order to bring it into existence. I need you and others to help me grow this dream alive, to believe in it as possible, to live into it as though it were already here. If we cannot dream it, we cannot make choices for it. And we can begin making choices for it right now.
That is what faith is about: believing in a world free from the tyranny of white supremacy. We can make that faith claim. We can listen for amazing stories in which love and justice are already happening. In particular, we can listen to how such a world is imagined by those with marginalized identities and listen to our own hearts paying attention to its longings for connection, belonging and liberation.
Audre Lorde, self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” wrote
"...we must...commit ourselves to some future that can include each other and to work toward that future with the particular strengths of our individual identities…"
That is the work of the poet within each one of us: to work with every fiber of who we are to make the reality and pursuit of those visions irresistible.
Imagine a world without white supremacy. Believe it. Let the poet within you find the words that invite the skeptics and the critics, the nay-sayers and unbelievers into a future we all find irresistible.
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