As we mourn the death of George Floyd and other Black people killed by police, and as we respond to COVID-19, which continues to disproportionately impact Black communities, the UUA denounces anti-Black racism and the inherent violence of policing. Police brutality is a symptom of white supremacy and anti-Black racism, and as people of faith and conscience dedicated to justice and liberation, we must name this truth.
This is an invitation for all UU individuals and congregations to pause and do some deep self-reflection on the ways in which we are called to confront and combat these forces.
George Floyd—we speak your name in remembrance of your life and in honor of every Black man who has been harassed and murdered by police.
Tony McDade—we speak your name in remembrance of your life and in honor of every Black trans person who has been killed by the police and misgendered in their death.
Breonna Taylor—we speak your name in remembrance of your life and in honor of every Black woman who is killed by police with little to no media attention.
We remember and honor every Black person—of all ages, nationalities, genders, sexual orientations, religions, and abilities—who has been killed by the police.
We acknowledge the unthinkable grief, terror, and rage these police killings cause in the Black community. The recurring trauma of violent death caused by the police is a burden that no person or community should have to carry. We are thinking of and praying for Black people and ready to put our thoughts and prayers into action.
We know calling the names of police brutality victims and saying their lives mattered is not enough.
As people of faith and conscience, we are called to practice active remembrance, a remembrance that requires the pursuit of liberation in response to systemic violence. It would be hypocritical to say Black Lives Matter but then refuse to acknowledge anti-Blackness in one’s self, family, communities, or even congregations.
We specifically ask our congregations and other places of worship to develop alternatives to calling the police as one way to stop contributing to the anti-Black system of policing.
Examine the Ways Anti-Blackness Shows Up
The UUA calls on Unitarian Universalists, and our siblings in faith and spirituality across other denominations and spiritual communities, to engage in truth-telling, repair, and resistance to challenge the pervasive patterns of anti-Blackness within the United States.
Although accountability and action will look different for individuals, communities, and congregations, we call on Unitarian Universalists and our congregations to examine anti-Blackness through:
Truth-telling: Name the Ways Anti-Blackness Shows Up In and Around Us
It is impossible to eradicate anti-Blackness without naming how individuals, congregations, and communities benefit from anti-Blackness.
Anti-Blackness is a specific component of white supremacy. The United States is insidiously anti-Black because it has benefited from the exploitation of Black labor and the destruction of Black people and communities since its founding.
Black people and collectives who have unapologetically pursued freedom for Black people are routinely tortured and or killed by the state. Black people are consistently rewarded for proximity to whiteness, or assimilation, while being punished for anything that honors their African or Black American heritage. This shows up in everything from schools punishing Black students for wearing their natural hair to Black folks being told they sound more educated if they don’t use African American vernacular.
Black people themselves and other non-Black people of color can also perpetuate anti-Blackness and be rewarded in predominantly white space for refusing to acknowledge it.
While most white people can easily conceive of slavery as being anti-Black, it can be more difficult for them to make assessments about how anti-Blackness shows up in modern contexts.
Historically, white folks have weaponized the presumption of Black guilt and white innocence in a way that results in grotesque violence against Black people through the criminal justice system. We don’t have to recall slavery or Emmett Till to witness this dynamic. As recently as this past Memorial Day weekend, Amy Cooper, a white woman, called the police to falsely accuse Christian Cooper of harm because he asked her to put her dog on a leash.
Black people have been a part of Unitarian Universalism since its founding, yet are still underrepresented in our congregations because the centering of white cultural norms suppresses the free and welcome expression of Black identity.
These are just some ways anti-Blackness shows up, and we must name it before we address it.
Have we examined the anti-Blackness in our lives?
Repair: Actively Build a Better Way
Predominately white, liberal congregations, such as Unitarian Universalist congregations, frequently suppress Black liberation by centering performative support for Black people instead of radical action for Black liberation.
Black Unitarian Universalists have been at the forefront of much of our racial justice work for generations, despite the emotional labor required to do racial justice work. In liberal and progressive communities, people who act in unapologetically pro-Black ways, especially if they are Black, can be treated as too radical, too angry, or too combative, while those who signal solidarity in what they say without disrupting the status quo with their actions are often praised. This means people can consider themselves activists and pro-Black in speech without evaluating how their behavior conveys otherwise.
This dynamic exists beyond our congregations and in the wider world of white progressivism. We can say we voted for a particular party and be deemed an activist or radical without having to examine our anti-Blackness.
It’s time for us to tell the truth about the ways we’ve contributed to anti-Blackness through our personal interactions, the decisions of our institutions, or even through the behavior of our ancestors. Once we tell that truth, we must do work to repair the harm we’ve caused.
For example, when a Unitarian Universalist congregation has a Black Lives Matter sign vandalized, do white members respond by calling the police? Has the congregation explored alternatives to reporting the vandalism to the police to document the incident? Are there community-based safety measures that would make Black members of the congregation feel safer or more welcome? If the police were called without the advice of Black members, has this been named to address harm it may have caused and ensure it does not happen again? Once congregations name the truth of policing being anti-Black and oppressive, they must work on alternatives to calling the police.
Once congregations name the truth of policing being anti-Black and oppressive, they must work on alternatives to calling the police.
What alternatives and systems can we create to repair the harm done to Black folks in our life, communities, and congregations?
Resistance: Follow the Lead of Black Organizers
If you don’t know how to resist anti-Blackness in your community, start by following the lead of Black leaders and organizers who have been doing this work. Support community organizations with a commitment to being pro-Black and a commitment to closing prisons and ending policing. Support Black leadership in your own congregation, which requires both putting Black people in leadership positions and supporting them in leading fully and authentically. Black Unitarian Universalist leaders in our congregations and our Association are often put in positions of tokenized leadership but not permitted to actually lead as unapologetically Black people.
Black leaders want to build power in their communities with as many people as possible, and they’ve been thinking about how to do so before we find their work. It’s important that we immerse ourselves in deep relationships with organizers so that we can learn community norms and agreements and support the spirit of the work they are trying to move.
The recent Minneapolis uprising and others around the country give an opportunity for us to get clear about valuing people more than property. When we denounce protester tactics and minimize the critique of the the anti-Black systems that led to a protest, we become part of the problem.
If you’re looking to get involved with community organizing, this is a great time to immerse ourselves in advocating for a pro-Black, pro-people COVID-19 response wherever you live. Many Black organizers are working to make sure that the enforcement of shelter-in-place restrictions don’t result in an increase of policing of Black and Brown folks. Black organizers are also making sure Black folks get the care and resources they need. Our anti-Black health care systems diminish the value of Black lives and convince people that Black folks are unworthy of care and deserving of suffering. This is why Black folks, who are likely to have less wealth and health benefits, are being blamed for the high cases of COVID-19 in Black communities.
How can we advocate for a pro-Black COVID-19 response? How can we support organizers who want short-term and long-term solutions that provide resourced schooling, health care, housing, and community-centered safety for Black people?
How will we advocate for a pro-Black, people first COVID-19 response in our communities?
Take Action In Support of Black Lives
Confronting and ending anti-Blackness will liberate us all. We can start with building alternatives to calling the police, but we don’t need to end there. We must commit to Black liberation fully.
If one group is required to suffer in order for any of us to experience freedom, that means none of us are truly free. We don’t have to settle for exchanging one group’s freedom for our own.
We all can be free. If we operate in this belief, fear can’t be leveraged as a tool to oppress anyone.
The Unitarian Universalist Association believes Black Lives Matter. And because of that commitment, we are ready to take action. Here’s how you and your congregation can join us:
- Support the uprising and commit to joining other UUs in working to combat the violence of militarism and the police state. Share this message widely with your networks. Speak about your convictions in support of Black liberation. Articulate your support of Black organizing, grounded in your faith and conscience. Have hard conversations with your family, your social networks, your neighbors. And sign up to be connected with a network of UUs committing to learning, reflecting, and acting together.
- Support the front line organizers providing leadership. Give your money, ask others to give, and take up a collection at your Sunday service in support of organizations like Black Visions Collective, Reclaim the Block, and Minnesota Freedom Fund.
- Remember, this work requires spiritual deepening and reorienting related to ideas about safety. If Black people, Indigenous people, other folks of color, and other historically marginalized people don’t feel safe in our congregations, then our congregations aren’t welcoming or inclusive. We must examine our assumptions about whose safety is protected by law enforcement. Engage spiritual practices for challenging moments, and start the work of building alternatives to policing.