Friday, April 21, 2017

A Toxic Cesspool By Any Other Name ...

For my non-Unitarian Universalist friends (whom I still love anyway!), the faith tradition I serve is currently embroiled in what I'm calling a struggle for the soul of our faith.  I don't think that that's hyperbole.  I think at question is no less that whether we are truly the people we say we are (or, perhaps more accurately, whether we truly want to try to become the people we say we are trying to become). I've also said, elsewhere, that what is at stake is the question of whether the institution of the Unitarian Universalist Association is able to be the right "container" for the Unitarian Universalist faith.

As with all controversies, there are many layers to the one we're wrestling with.  They all stem from the charge by Unitarian Universalists of color (and some white UUs as well) to look closely at the ways our Association is part of, participates in, and even perpetuates (consciously or unconsciously) in the prevailing culture of White Supremacy in the US.  The use of the term "white supremacy" has become the focal point for part of this struggle.  (I could cynically say that it is so much easier to argue over what word to use rather than to look at the underlying condition the words are attempting to describe.)  Although there is for many, if not most, people who identify as white an immediate association of the term "white supremacy" with the ideology espoused by white supremacists, the term itself has for many years now been used by people doing anti-racism, anti-racism work to describe the dominant culture in our country which, I think unarguably, holds white lives, experience, perspectives, and norms as "supreme" (e.g., "highest quality, degree, character, importance, etc.).

There are those, though, who say that it is a mistake to describe the UUA as "a white supremacy institution" -- we're the good guys!  And to use that term for us will dilute its power when it's used (appropriately) to describe, for instance, the KKK.  It might also turn off people -- both inside and outside of UUism -- people who might otherwise join with us in the very real anti-racism, anti-oppression, multicultural work we are committed to.  Plus, it's insulting!  And there is a whole lot of injustice in the world out there, and for all of this brouhaha to come up now really distracts us from the real work.

I think all of these are really understandable reactions.  I admit to having them myself.  I also recognize, though, that one of the benefits of white privilege is that I, and people who look more or less like me, have gotten used to being able to frame the debate in ways that make sense to me, using language that "works" for me, and that don't cause too much discomfort for me and the kind of good-hearted, well-meaning folk I tend to hang around with.  But I've learned -- I've been taught -- that my insistence on these expectations of mine is, itself, a way of perpetuating the culture of white supremacy I denounce and claim to want to change. 

It's been said that no one can solve a problem with the perspective that created it.  I have been taught -- I am learning -- that when it comes to the task of truly dismantling the systems and structures of racism, I need to listen to the experiences and perspectives of people of color, who are, after all, far more intimately in touch with the problem and who will therefore see more clearly its needed remedy.  So, when people of color say that the term "white supremacy" is the most accurate term to use -- in part, no doubt, because it makes me and people who look more or less like me extremely uncomfortable -- then I know that I need to listen.  And I need to not listen to the voices of my expectations to be able to do and say what I want.

All of this I write as a preamble to something I wrote a little earlier today:

A Parable

There once was a man who considered himself in pretty good shape. He began to feel a little unwell, so he went to his doctor. 
"I'm sorry to tell you," she said. "You have cancer."

"Cancer? I can't have cancer! I eat healthy foods. I don't drink or smoke. I take more than the recommended 10,000 steps a day. I can't have cancer -- maybe indigestion, but not cancer!"
"That's all true," the doctor replied. "Even so, you have cancer."

"But if I go around saying that I have cancer, the people I've been trying to convince to live a healthier lifestyle will say, 'See? He got cancer. Why should we do anything different if Mr. Healthy over there got cancer?'."

"That might happen," the doctor agreed. "But think of much less influence you'd have if you ignored your own cancer and let it kill you."

"But cancer's such a scary diagnosis. I don't want to have cancer! Can't we just say I have indigestion?"

"Of course you can," the doctor said, "but if you refuse to acknowledge your cancer you won't be able to treat it effectively."

Nothing she said could change the man's mind, so he left his doctor's office in great anger, seeking someone who'd diagnosis him with indigestion.

Pax tecum,

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1 comment:

Nancy Lee Farrell said...

I'm learning...