Statement from the Commission on Institutional Change: March 1st, 2019
We Lack a Common Vocabulary and Understanding about Race and Oppression Among Us

We lack a common vocabulary or a common understanding about race and oppression among us.  Staying engaged in often uncomfortable conversations is the first step to creating our common language of engagement.  We call on you to exercise your spiritual muscle and engage in this work for the present and future of our faith. Creating this common vocabulary will provide us with a dynamic language through which we communicate our deepest hopes for the future of our faith.

Our conversations over the past 18 months lead us to conclude that Unitarian Universalists have a spectrum of beliefs about the nature of racism, the need to address racism and how to address racism in ways that bear witness in the world to the highest aspiration of our common faith. We also differ as to whether we have a faith call to do so in the world. To some of us, the conversation about white supremacy culture, its reach, and impacts are a given that impacts our daily lives. For others, perhaps a significant majority, naming white supremacy culture or even the existence of racial bias is an affront, offensive, and may even, for them, seem to interrupt the justice work of our Association by questioning its goals and values. In our congregations, there are those who believe all racial bias has been eliminated within our communities and the wider culture. Others, particularly black, indigenous, people of color, and white allies hold the opposite belief based on their experience, racism is real and we are still striving towards justice. Not engaging these differences in perspectives with serious considerations as to how they impact members of our community and the world at large makes it harder and harder for us to be in a community committed to the responsible research of truth and meaning. This failure to engage brings about indifference towards the suffering brought about by racism, a lack of needed energy towards promoting the health of our interconnected web of existence, and lack of commitment towards our shared aspiration of peace, justice, and liberty for all. The opposite of love is not hate, as the truism goes, it is indifference. And the indifference of some denies the truth of people of color who already are part of our communities and who desire to share their beliefs and experiences.

This spectrum of beliefs among us has some basis in generational differences—we have some who were part of the struggle for change in the 1950s and 1960s. This generation saw improvements in race relations and a significant movement towards inclusion. Many in this generation thought the battles had been won. Others arrived during the 20 plus years when we did not talk about racial issues as a faith. They came into a complacent faith that took their whiteness as normative and grew comfortable in the assumption of being a “white denomination,” a statement which negates the many people of color among us, then as now.

On the other side of the spectrum are black, indigenous, people of color, and others, including poor, disabled and gender non-binary folx, whose day-to-day experiences bear witness that changing laws did not change hearts, that discriminatory practices mark our continued engagement, and that our congregations are not sites to this reality.

Is this generational too? We also lack a common understanding of the nature of the problem. Too many of us still view the problem as personal and focus on individual attitudes or engagements. A matter of how we treat each other in interpersonal relations with little or no bearing to the ways in which we do congregational governance, how we worship, or who we support in leadership roles. Others of us understand it to be systemic, that whole institutional cultures can consciously or unconsciously bias us against certain kinds of groups.

Not surprisingly, with such different worldviews, we often choose to disengage rather than discuss, to move out of community and conversation. And yet that is just what we must not do. Most people do not like conflict in their conversations in general, and conversations about race have started and stopped for just this reason—often ending just when the real engagement was happening. We are seeing signs that this could happen again—and yet it will be at our peril. When congregations ask our ministers to stop speaking on issues of race, racism, White Supremacy Culture or dismiss them for exercising their freedom of the pulpit it is as dangerous to us as any threats from our national leadership to the U.S. political system. The biggest danger is not that we will air the differences we already know exist among us—the biggest danger is that we will shut our difficult and dangerous conversation down.  We will be privileging comfort over growth and choosing the status quo rather than the transformation we so need.

If we shut it down, we will cease to be relevant to those who come into our doors emboldened by our embracing theology and believing for the first time they have found a place where they name their pain. And if we shut it down, we do not hear the pain of our elders who are looking at the national elections and other practices and wondering what has happened to the world for which they worked so hard for all their lives.

Faith is that act of moving even though you do not know the outcome. We do not know the path that will bring us where we need to be, but we know that continuing the conversation is essential to moving beyond this point. As we hear report after report of religious professionals of color and also those who would offer allyship who identify as white being told that they must stop talking about “political” issues, we wish to call attention to the fact that to stop this conversation here will result in permanent damage to our communities.

What would it mean to go deeper into the conversation? What would it mean to understand the individual work against oppression that is a deep spiritual practice? What would it mean to address the ways it is embedded in our very institutions and their culture?

We ask you to stay present in this conversation among us.

Deepening Spirituality

The Commission on Institutional Change calls us into an understanding of the language we use and who is impacted by it.

Reflect on the ways in which the language of “white supremacy culture” challenges deep sited assumption of the inherent goodness of individuals.

When we consider who is most impacted by our language, how do we determined who is most vulnerable and privilege their understanding of the world as a justice seeking community?

If you occupy a dominant position in society due to your race, gender, and class positions, analyze the attitudes, assumptions, and prior experiences that prevents you from truly hearing and being challenged by perspectives that question your status?

The Rev. Eric Law, of the Kaleidoscope Institute, talks about assumptions that we might make when we meet another person. Watch his video "Who Am I?"

Deeping Spiritually

The Commission on Institutional Change calls us into an understanding of the language we use and who is impacted by it.

Reflect on the ways in which the language of “white supremacy culture” challenges deep sited assumption of the inherent goodness of individuals.

When we consider who is most impacted by our language, how do we determined who is most vulnerable and privilege their understanding of the world as a justice seeking community?

If you occupy a dominant position in society due to your race, gender, and class positions, analyze the attitudes, assumptions, and prior experiences that prevents you from truly hearing and being challenged by perspectives that question your status?

 

About the Author

  • The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Commission on Institutional Change is charged with long-term cultural and institutional change that redeems the essential promise and ideals of Unitarian Universalism. Read more .

For more information contact administration@uua.org.

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