Institutional Change
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Why We Must Do This Work: Moving to an Analysis of the Experiences of Lay Members of Marginalized Identities

Commission on Institutional Change

One of the questions/comments we hear often is why do we have to do this work right now when the world is so hard? Why do we have to think about what we might change when what is happening in our nation is so much more venomous?

The answer is that these times are disturbing for all, they are unbearably hard for people in the areas being singled out by racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic and ableist policies. When the times bring these people into our midst, it is particularly heart-breaking for them to encounter bias and the aggressions it causes. Having thought they found a place of refuge, to encounter these damaging behaviors can be devastating. In a world in which many are struggling to figure out what they can do, the active act of becoming woke to the true nature of disparate treatment and endangerment for our neighbors and friends and members of color is one very real action. And acting in this way makes us all better actors on the public square and in our own relations.

We have been focusing on the needs of religious professionals of color in our first year—and now we turn our attention to the much larger issue which is our struggles to support people of color in our congregations and as leaders in the justice struggles of our time. The stories we have heard as the Commission have been of people who come because they share our values, because Unitarian Universalist principles and faith appeal to them—only to reject or be rejected by the cultural expressions of those values and religious truths in our congregations.

People of color experience disrespect and dismissal and erasure among us far too often. The visitor who is asked how long they have been in the country because their name is atypical for that visitors’ table. The African American visitor who has someone touch their hair because they “always have wanted to,” disregarding the social context of slavery and the fact that black bodies have long been treated as property. The Latinx activist who is told by the local UU Social Action Committee chair the “right way” to advocate for immigration rights. The comment from the pulpit by well-meaning leaders who talk about how we are an “all-white” congregation, erasing the presence of the one or two dedicated leaders of color present.

And we want to speak for a moment about the intersectional nature of oppressions. The Commission on Institutional Change has a specific charge around racism, and we also know we cannot address racism without recognizing the other oppressions with which it is intertwined. The death rate among black trans women shows this—and the statistics about trans deaths themselves also underline the difficulties of mere survival. The work for equity, diversity, and inclusion will allow us to truly welcome and support, respect and uplift the worth of all who would call themselves Unitarian Universalists or work alongside us.