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Widening the Circle of Concern: White Counter Narrative Audio Reading

  • John E. Pickett
  • cisgender man
  • heterosexual

Greetings, Commissioners,

I am writing in response to the call for testimony about member experiences with racism.

I am copying Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, as I have been in contact with her regarding my dismay at the direction our beloved Association is heading by adopting dangerous authoritarian ideas like critical race theory/critical race theology, rejecting logic, and promoting dangerous and disrespectful persons to leadership.

By way of introduction, I am a fourth-generation Unitarian, my family having begun in the faith at the church served by Rev. William Ellery Channing.

I am a retired county executive, councilman (during which time I passed an ordinance to rename a local road “Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard”), professor, former congregational president, and district leader. I have served in various other roles, including religious education chair and chair of the Social Action Committee.

During the sixties and seventies, I marched for racial justice and the student anti-war movement, risking jail time (as well as life and limb!) to speak up for my fellow Americans. I was a supporter of the Black Affairs Council and wrote a strong letter of disapproval to the moderator regarding the failure of leadership after the Black Empowerment Controversy.

I am proud to say that things have improved considerably, both in the world and within Unitarian Universalism. In my own life, I have seen many engineers, police officers, and elected officials who were not Caucasian males (a big change!), some of whom were even openly homosexual.

Currently, my primary physician, physical therapist, and home health aide are all Black. My daughter is a pilot, breaking out of traditional jobs for her gender. I have personally hired both men and women of color in various subordinate positions.

And I worked tirelessly to call our first openly gay director of religious education. Of course, more could be done. However, I believe it would be a great shame to destroy the excellent work so many have produced, as it seems your approach is insistent on doing.

Another troubling idea being pushed by the Commission is “cultural misappropriation.” Within our congregation, we’ve happily celebrated Day of the Dead and Juneteenth, and we regularly sing African-American Spirituals despite having no Black members in our choir (though I should add, we have two Black people in the congregation)! These should be seen as great strides toward learning and reconciliation, not demonized and barred by illiberal, fascist edicts from the UUA.

Am I not allowed to eat bagels because I have no Jewish ancestors? Can I not listen to Chopin if I am not Polish? Should we bar our African-Americans from attending our Fourth of July services?

The current direction of the UUA and groups like the Commission exacerbates divisions when we should be minimizing differences and focusing on unity. My minority friends and many who are black and gay want to be accepted as people, not seen as part of groups, or victims.

Reasonable people of color will not join a faith that stereotypes them with identity politics. Caucasians will not join a church where they are called “White Supremacists” like the KKK or Skinheads, and many will decide to leave. If that happens, the Association will collapse financially.

We must get our faith back in line with the principles of liberalism, democracy, and critical thought.