April 2017: Non-Racist or Anti-Racist?
The historic call from Black Lives of UU for a UU White Supremacy Teach-In has awoken many of us to the reality that white supremacy is not just the overt acts of bigotry that we decry, but is embedded in the “assumptions and practices, often operating unconsciously, that tend to benefit white people and exclude people of color” in our own congregations and institutions. It’s not just the stuff we see happening “out there,” but is rather part of the very air we breathe in and breathe out.
This struck me as I walked onto a plane a couple weeks ago. It somehow hit me that I and all the other white people on the plane could be perfectly oblivious to the racial context in which we operate: Who has the assumed power in this situation? Whose rules are we operating under? Who brings generations of privilege and capital (financial and otherwise) with them? The answer to each of these questions is: me and people who look like me. Each of our congregations and institutions is like that plane.
This call to engage with white supremacy in our own movement reminds me of what Gandhi and King and others have talked about it terms of the ongoing need for renewal of our commitment to the long haul and doing “the hard inner work necessary to center ourselves in love and wisdom” as we build the movement for justice.
This internal work of being transformed is inextricable from our work to transform the world around us. As the UUA Social Justice Empowerment Handbook puts it, "Our ability to create social transformation is linked with our willingness to go through personal transformation in the process. How can we expect the world to change if we’re not willing to ourselves?”
In the spirit of other reflections by the UUA Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries and the Growing Unitarian Universalism blog, and as a cis-gender straight white male serving as the sole staff of UUANI, I need to publicly acknowledge the absence of people of color in UUANI leadership, and that the consequence of not naming or even being aware of my assumptions is that they continue to operate, in ways that can be oppressive to others and myself by leaving me both in charge and on my own. I commit to being more forthcoming in naming these realities, and to being held accountable for my power.
A Latina organizer recent held me to account for the way in which I hold back and keep quiet in situations calling for a response. It’s dangerous, she made clear to me, because all it takes for evil to flourish is for people like me to stay silent.
As this video by Jamaican writer Marlon James points out, it’s not just a matter of being non-racist, but of being anti-racist. I commit to being anti. How about you?