Happy Monday, friends! Continuing the series I started last week, today we look at the second principle of Unitarian Universalism: “Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.” While UUism is now a multicultural and multiethnic space, it was formed from two historically white denominations—the Unitarians and the Universalists—who developed differently and until the middle of the 20th century held different beliefs, but are most often associated with New England, the whitest part of the United States. This has led to ongoing and sometimes rightly painful reckonings for Unitarian Universalists.
I grew up in a majority white town in the low foothills of the Appalachian region in a culture that was at once both Southern and Midwestern. While I saw People of Color often enough to know they existed, I had no conception of the divide between us. I was curious as a child about why most of the Black people I saw seemed to live in one or two neighborhoods and attend only one of the public elementary schools—I would later learn about redlining and the racist assignment of students to schools in a way which kept segregation alive and well, even in the “North.”
Nothing in my education exposed me to the realities of white privilege, white supremacy, and racism in general beyond reminders to “treat everyone equally” and a truly cringe-worthy experience in sixth grade when we had to “pretend to be Black for a day” (if you’re wondering, it meant wearing a black construction paper dot while our teacher encouraged the rest of the class to make fun of us for the day and, no, our teacher was not Jane Elliott). I didn’t have a Black teacher until I was in college. I didn’t have Black friends until college either. The first time I remember connecting my whiteness with having privilege was at the end of my senior year of college when in a community coalition meeting—I was there as one of the LGBTQIA+ representatives—several Black women discussed how the closest place to buy any products for their hair was 25 minutes away and the closest reliable source was more than an hour away. That got me thinking. In my white, Queer, cisgender experience there was little I couldn’t access right on campus let alone in the surrounding rural area.
I attended graduate school in the second whitest state in the US—Vermont—but in a graduate program known for its commitment to social justice and the examination of racism in its courses. I spent most of my first semester messing up in every way imaginable. Finally, a good friend offered to give me a ride and held me captive as she laid out my issues and why I needed to fix them…quickly. That’s where my journey to understanding, combatting, and seeking avenues to help dismantle white supremacy started.
Regardless of our theological, religious, political, or personal experiences, all white people in the United States hold privilege which is both unearned and not based in our individual character. White privilege is also not based in how connected we are to the institution and practice of slavery and the oppression of Black people before and after abolition. White supremacy is not just the white-robed Klan burning crosses or white men parading through Charlottesville with tiki torches. White privilege infects all white people and white supremacy manifests in unnoticed and structural ways.
The principle and agreement of “justice, equity, and compassion in human relations” calls us to dismantle all systems and situations of white supremacy. Attempting to be a “good white person” or just calling ourselves allies is far from enough. We must be actively in the fight for justice. White people can and should use our privilege to effect change. We can access and we can speak in spaces where our Black and Brown siblings often cannot. We also need to listen to the BIPOC people leading justice movements. Slavery and white supremacy are the United States’ original sin. Dismantling the systems that grew out of both and have become deeply entrenched in the American landscape will not be easy, but it is a moral imperative that it happens.
How have you benefitted from white privilege and white supremacy? How have you been harmed by white privilege and white supremacy? When was the last time you thought about how your racial identity was showing up in a space?
Let us pray: Give us your Holy Spirit’s wind to call out racism in all its forms—inside our hearts, inside the church, and in your world. Give us the strength, the wisdom and, the will to root out white fragility and white supremacy, so that they would never again do harm, never again take away, never again kill. Help us to be anti-racist in all that we say, in all that we do, in all that we are. It is time. It is well past time. (From a prayer written by the Rt Revd Richard Bott for the United Church of Canada).
Blessings, friends, on your weeks. Let me know if there is anything I can do for you.