July 2016: Time to Wake Up

This is a momentous time for racial justice in our country. The historic and systemic devaluing of Black lives is a long-standing reality we are collectively being forced to confront anew. As Ta-Nehisi Coates makes clear, it is time to wake up from our dream of a post-racial society and face the nightmare of violence, inequity, and dehumanization which affects us all—but kills some of us more than others.

Racism is reflected in the disproportionate impact on people of color of the budget crisis, the environmental crisis, economic inequality, inequities in the criminal justice system, political disenfranchisement…the list could go on and on. The point is not to say that there is only one issue, but to see the intersections between all the issues.

Many others (from UU World Senior Editor Kenny Wiley to Trinity UCC/Chicago to UUSC) have written about things we can all do to fight racial injustice, and this piece is deeply indebted to their work. At the risk of centering white people or my own perspective, I offer the following suggestions for ways white UUs in particular can join the struggle.

1. Wake Up – Do our own work – Get up to speed – Talk to other white people.

Whether we explore the Standing on the Side of Love website, or learn about local issues and campaigns, or read and discuss books like The New Jim Crow, Between the World and Me, Waking Up White or other resources, or participate in Beloved Conversations or other small group processes to raise our awareness of whiteness and white fragility, we cannot just pretend that the problem is “somewhere else.” As white antiracism activist Chris Crass says, “The question for us as Unitarian Universalists is not how many people of color we can get in our pews; it’s how much damage can we do to white supremacy.

2. Show Up – Reach out – Listen.

Chicago Chalice Connection leader Megan Selby pointed out on our recent UUANI Action/Reflection call on racial justice that we need to get beyond just having comfortable book discussions amongst ourselves. Find out what’s going on in your community and/or online (BYP100, Black Lives Matter, NAACP, and the YWCA are just a few organizations active in Illinois) and get involved. Show up, offer to volunteer, provide whatever support is needed. Black Lives of UU has specifically called on UU congregations to offer meeting and healing space for Black organizers.

Above all, we need to listen. As Kenny Wiley puts it, “UUs need to connect to and embrace the Black Lives Matter movement as it exists today.” It’s not up to white UUs to critique or offer suggestions, but to follow the lead of those with far more experience with racism and far more at stake in the struggle.

3. Speak Up – Engage the struggle – Use your power

Leslie Butler MacFayden and others have challenged white people to go beyond just waking ourselves up and being allies in support of Black leadership – we need to take actions of solidarity, aligned with Black leadership, for the collective liberation of us all. As Australian Aborginial activist Lilla Watson says, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is one organization dedicated to organizing white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice.

And whether it’s calling on our elected officials to address police accountability and other issues facing people of color, or registering and voting in upcoming elections, or organizing a local teach-in and action (as the Chicago Chalice Connection did recently), we each have power we can use to further racial justice.

4. Stay Woke for the long haul

“Staying woke” is refusing to succumb to the temptation to ignore the racial realities of our country, as Kenny Wiley puts it. As we listen and learn and engage and act, we need to find ways to remain engaged and not get distracted after the issues have faded from center stage. Connect with others who share your commitment, and commit to holding each other accountable to your values. Find ways to incorporate your commitment to justice into your own spiritual practice. Develop ways of engaging that feed you and others.

Racial justice is about inherent worth and dignity, and it’s about the interdependent web. It’s about justice, equity, and compassion, and it’s about truth, democracy, and world community. It’s about acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth, and it’s about Beloved Community. We of all people can’t sit this one out.