The Question of Courage

typewriter if not now

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”

– Audre Lorde

What keeps me from writing about racial justice? What stands in the way of articulating both the inequities in higher education and a vision for building structures of inclusion? While the fear of getting it wrong looms large, looking foolish worries me far less than doing harm. What I write could galvanize those who prefer white campuses and the insidious myths of individualism and meritocracy.

Back in November, an Admissions officer at the university where I work shared his reactions to the election on his personal Facebook page. His harsh post went viral, prompting conservatives across the blogosphere to point to his words as evidence of “liberal intolerance” propped up by the higher education system. This one employee’s private views became fodder for efforts across the country to gut inclusion initiatives. This is not hyperbole. Remember when the Tennessee legislature voted in April to cut all funds for the university’s diversity office?

At my Unitarian Universalist church, we’ve been grappling with a similar constellation of concerns. A polarized national climate has illuminated the deep and widening fractures in our communities. The choices we make matter. Each time we come together, we have a new opportunity to understand and undo the structures of white supremacy in our traditions and in our congregation.

Indeed, every setting in which we find ourselves offers up avenues for taking steps on racial justice.

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Sometimes The Owls Are Exactly What They Seem: The Banality of David Lynch

black lodge 2

I loved it. Identified with it. Bought the soundtrack and made copies for all my friends.

Even so, something about it turned me off.

Every few weeks, my fellow freaks and I gathered in a friend’s living room to marathon-watch taped episodes of Twin Peaks on Betamax. We buzzed over Laura Palmer’s diary and even tossed around the idea of dressing up as the show’s characters for Halloween.

When they tapped me to wrap myself in a plastic drop-cloth, I balked.

Because something about it turned me off.

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Beyond Belief: #UUWhiteSupremacyTeachIn

BlackLivesUU

We believe that hundreds of UU churches signaling to their own members and to the larger community that “our faith takes racism seriously, especially within our own walls” will push our faith toward the beloved community we all seek.

Black Lives of UU

On Sunday, my Unitarian Universalist congregation participated in the first #UUWhiteSupremacyTeachIn. This began as a call to action by Black Lives of UU for congregations around the country the dedicate one day of services to teaching about racism and white supremacy. Our worship team took the charge seriously, shifting not only the content of the service but the very structure of how we gather together. A new seating arrangement brought everyone face-to-face. Without the familiar printed order of service to guide us, we watched videos of anti-racist leaders like Tricia Rose, and worshiped in the company of art and music by people of color. Most notably, our pastors made unflinching use of the term “white supremacy.”

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Up to Here with Liberal White Women

Mauro Malang Santos

Racism is the single most critical barrier to building effective coalitions for social change.

The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond

Last night at an event focused on building support for immigrant communities, every single participant was a white person.

At a meet-and-greet at a local bar for Virginia Democratic Lieutenant Governor candidates, almost every participant a white woman.

At all the discussions of racial and social justice in my Unitarian Universalist congregation, the attendees are predominantly white people.

At an interfaith vigil that took place after the local JCC and UCC were vandalized with Nazi symbols and hate speech, all but a few attendees were white people.

At the university where I work, a place nationally recognized for the diversity of its student body, the faculty and staff meetings in my department are comprised almost entirely of white people.

At the local Huddle, every attendee is a white woman.

At the “Love Lives Here” family parade in response to Richard Spencer setting up shop in Alexandria, almost all protestors were white people.

At a dialogue hosted by the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution to bridge the post-election divide, all but two of the student organizers and one student participant were white people.

At the Kitchen Conversations at my house, eight of ten participants were white women.

Anyone see a pattern here?

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This Can Happen Here

chagall dreams

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

– Naomi Shihab Nye, “Gate A-4

Someone vandalizes a church and a Jewish community center in Northern Virginia. They paint swastikas on buildings and dark words over a sign supporting Muslims. This happens on the first night of Passover, at the start of the Christian holy week. The story is here.

Then the police track down a suspect. Dylan Mahone is a 20-year-old man who has found his way into white supremacist and neo-Nazi circles. A student at the community college. A neighbor who lives just blocks from the house my former partner shares with his two kids. A young man whose Facebook page drips with racism and hate and noxious fantasies of violence.

White. Christian. Educated. Male.

One of ours. One of us.

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Testimonial: Reimagining the Possible

unity papalini

The minister of my Unitarian congregation invited me to share the story of why I joined our church. The Sunday I’m scheduled to speak happens to coincide with a moment of extraordinary upheaval in the national Unitarian Universalist Association. A senior-level hiring decision unearthed patterns of white supremacy and bias that many people of my faith believed didn’t exist, not here, not among us. We see yet again that privileges, blinders, and oppressive structures exist everywhere — even within people of goodwill who speak of inclusion and equity. Even those of us whose deepest value is radical love.

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