I have been doing “diversity” work for two decades, feeling a moral imperative to help create justice in our world. It wasn’t until I came to East Shore that I learned that this is spiritual work – deeply central to who we are as spiritual and human beings. I discovered that it is not only about creating equity for others, it is also about liberating white people, most of us, from a destructive illusion of who we are and from the barriers that block us from our own humanity and from our siblings of color.
I dove into racial justice work at East Shore, so grateful to have a place where my passion was welcome. I then encountered some new dimensions to this work that transformed my own journey. One was the discovery that most of what I thought about the history of racism and slavery had been “white-washed” in the history books and in my education. I learned – from books, films and classes – that racism was an intentional creation by white wealth to divide the working poor against each other and use the white poor to maintain control of the rest – motivated by scraps of advantage and the human desire to be above someone else. I learned that our federal and state governments both supported and instigated discrimination, segregation and oppression from the beginning, and found ways to suppress the truth and create stories that covered it for those least impacted, the white majority.
A second was the recognition that white supremacy culture has been socialized into us all, mostly without our awareness. We learned it by osmosis from the stories told about history and stories that continue to be told about race and power today. I discovered it inside of me, and in all the loving wonderful people in my life. It is not our fault, and we do have the power to overcome it if we work side by side to wake up to what is going on automatically inside of us and permeating the culture and institutions in our lives. I have begun to see how our automatic perceptions and actions come from our dominant, white-centered culture and perpetuate it in all parts of our environment.
Third, I’ve expanded and deepened my connections with Black and other people of color, through relationships and also through books, films and courses. I am growing my capacity to see things through their eyes, feel things a bit through their feelings (of course they are not all the same). I was jarred by the disparity between my own outrage at George Floyd’s murder and the gut-wrenching response of my Black friends. I did not feel that George could be my brother or son. I felt, but could not feel in my deepest gut, the complex fear, rage and weariness at yet one more Black life lost to white disdain, dismissal. Why? I am focusing on nurturing that capacity. I am learning to see a bit how it feels to be a person of color living in a white world that cannot recognize and empathize with their experiences. I heard the call of Black and Brown UUs to be seen, to have these disparities acknowledged, to be the faith that we promise to be, to embrace their belonging and spiritual needs in all we think and do. And I’ve recognized that decade after decade, we have disappointed them, concerned primarily with the spiritual comfort of our white colleagues.
The 8th Principle is a chance to open our hearts and minds to those of color who embrace our UU faith and values and embrace us as their siblings in spirit. It is a chance to work together with them to liberate us all from the inhumanity of a culture built on separation, white comfort and hierarchy. It hurts all of us, and we have a chance to build something full of humanity, love and deep connection.
by Louise Wilkinson