Over the past year or so, I have started the process of waking up. The Circles of Trust leadership program that was introduced by Reverend Aaron, the anti-racism work at the church including the Live the Pledge workshop, Allyship training, the recent White Supremacy Teach-in, and the election of President Trump have been my teachers in recognizing the role that white men play in our society and my own role in the latent complicity with the status quo. I have also come to realize that our church is complicit, and operates de facto, in the shadow of white supremacy and patriarchy.
We hide behind our liberalism and moral righteousness that is the signature of the Baby Boomer liberal elite. The argument we make in our defense of our complicit encouragement of white supremacy and patriarchy is a tautological one: "How could we possibly be perpetuating white supremacy and patriarchy here at UUCA?" we ask. "After all, we are UU's, and UU's are the poster child of opposition to such injustices with our unrelenting activism."
In principle, yes we are, but not in practice. Yes, we do march, we do resist, we do sign petitions, we do advocate for the marginalized, but allow me to ask some wondering questions about ourselves:
- I wonder why we have so few people of color at our church and in the UU more generally?
- I wonder why our Senior Minister is a white man, and the interim before him, and the Senior minister before him, and the Senior Minister before him... back to 1948?
- I wonder why the board chair is a white man, and the two before have been white men?
- I wonder why men out number women 5 to 4 on a board that represents a congregation that is 67% female?
- I wonder why, in the first Live the Pledge workshop, out of the 23 people enrolled, there was 1 white man?
- I wonder why the finance committee, that has the highest visibility of our finances, is comprised of all white males?
- I wonder why the strategic planning committee and capital campaign were led by white men?
The list could go on, but you get the picture. What should we make of this duality between what we "believe" and what we practice? How do we change ourselves in order to get different outcomes?
Our common response is to put on our armor, separate the good guys from the bad guys, and fight for all we are worth. But before we take action and start a protest movement to make changes now (after all, we are people of action), I would offer this quotation from Thomas Merton:
"There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence... (and that is) activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence."
What Merton is describing is "fixing" everything with action so we can have a 'solution'. This approach has become the narrative of the entire western world where dominant white male culture writes the rulebook. This is the world we live in. Success, progress, capitalism, pushing, measurement, striving for more. Separating good and evil. It all happens right here in our church. Where is nurturing in this equation? Where is healing? Where is the empathy? Where is embracing ambiguity? Where is inner work and deep thought? As board chair, this job exhausts me, as I am sure it has exhausted board chairs before me. I think this is due in large part because of the form of violence that Merton describes.
We cannot "fix" this deeply rooted problem by employing the same tactics that got us here in the first place. So, if action in the traditional UU-way isn't the answer, then what is?
One of the valuable lessons I learned in the Circles of Trust work, and in Reverend Aaron's teachings is the difference between "doing" and "being". It was not until I did inner work and went deep within myself, in the most vulnerable way that I awoke to the indignities of my own privilege and my unfortunate contributions to the perpetuation of white male supremacy. This was a focus on my very own being and how I interact with the world. I was, and still am complicit to the problem. This is very personal work. And this is very humbling.
Being called out as part of the problem or receiving "hate" emails from congregants does not move me, and in fact, hardens my defenses to the point where I might never achieve an awoken state.
Where do we go from here? I am asking the men of this church to start a journey with me toward waking up to our privilege and exploring our role as an ally to marginalized groups. This will not happen overnight-- it has taken me years to get to this point, and I am humbled by how much more I need to go. In my journey, I did not get to my understanding of male supremacy until I did inner work on understanding my own privilege. Different people take different paths, but it is definitely white males that need to make the next move and save us from ourselves.
I am asking men to consider stepping back from their traditional leadership roles of the church, but not before we understand why that is important to do that, and empower women and people of color in this church to replace us.
Here are some immediate suggestions for men, particularly white men:
- Listen more and talk less. Time after time, I witness meetings at the church where men dominate the decision making process, even when they are outnumbered in the conversations.
- Make room for women to lead. Encourage and empower women and people of color, then play a supporting role. Set them up for success.
- Read Ta-Nehisi Coates Atlantic article The First White President
- Enroll in Live the Pledge or Allyship Workshops
- Build small circles of trust among your own
Allyship training, which has its roots in empathy and love of humanity, taught me that my responsibility as someone with privilege is to be an ally to those who are marginalized. After all, it is not the marginalized that are responsible for their oppression.
At this very moment in time, the world feels broken and sick. We are living in an American tragedy. It has always been there-- it is nothing new. But now it is seeping into the long-slumbering consciousness of the privileged. So, we now have a moment. As one privileged person speaking to others, it is not enough to work on changing the system. The first work is to change yourself.