White Supremacy, Anti-Racism and Our UUA: What’s Going On?

The I Am UU community is diverse. You all, who make up our community, include leaders at all levels as well people who do not really identify as UU but like what we post. We have to guess that many of you are less knowledgeable than you would like to be, or ought to be, of the conversation happening with persons of color and the UUA, especially over staffing of the UUA.

I am a white man. I’m not a UUA staffer, and my ministry is not currently connected, in a covenanted or contractual way, to the UUA. My goal is to inform you, because I feel that this is an important conversation, but I am not the person to tell you how to take the information or what it all means. So, this post will be a list of links for those who want to understand the current discussion, maybe more about anti-racism work and dismantling white supremacy, and what the UUA is doing about it and what people think about those efforts so far.

A defaced BLM Banner at First Parish Unitarian Universalist church, Arlington MA.

Here is the barest background to get you started, though:
On Friday, March 17th, at a retreat for UU persons of color UUA President, Rev. Peter Morales was asked by Aisha Hauser about the fact that all of the region leads hired by the UUA are currently white.
Rev. Morales’ answer included saying that there was a lack of qualified applicants of color.
What was not public knowledge at the time was that a new lead for the Southern region had just been hired, another white man.
One of the people attending the retreat was Christina Rivera, a woman of color who had been a candidate for that position. She reports that she was told that her qualifications were not in question. Instead, she lost the position because the UUA was looking for “the right fit”.
Since “the right fit” was a white man, it leads to discussions about whether that is a symptom of a problem that needs to be addressed and how to go about addressing it.

I admit that my bias in this is to trust the people who have been marginalized and hurt when they tell us what it causing the hurt and try not to keep doing it. That said, as you may know (or have deduced) Rev. Morales is himself a person of color.

“If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values: they’re hobbies.”
~ Jon Stewart

First is this article published on the UU World website Monday: Critics decry ‘white supremacy’ in UUA hiring practices. It has good background info including an interview with Christina Rivera, and links, some of which I will be posting separately. It is worth remembering that UU World is a division of the UUA, staffed by the UUA. I find this link’s headline to be somewhat provocative, reducing leaders in Unitarian Universalism to “critics”.

Aisha Hauser posted this open letter to the UUA Board of Trustees a week after she had originally addressed her concerns to Rev. Morales.

On the morning of Monday, the 27th, Christina Rivera posted to her blog On being a good “fit” for the UUA.

Sometime after that, also on Monday, the Black Lives of UU organizing collective released their statement on UU & UUA power structures and hiring practices.

Rev. Morales sent an email later Monday to UUA staff about the situation, but that letter was not published in a way that I can link to directly. There will be several other links where people respond by quoting this letter in its entirety.

The letter has been answered by many who found several different problems with its presentation of facts or its wording, and it seems to have won over very few people, while upsetting some people who had not spoken on the issue up to that point-in-time.

Rev. Sean Parker Dennison responds to Rev. Morales’ letter in-line, meaning you can read the full text from Rev Morales here along with Rev Dennison’s reply to certain assertions and conclusions.

[UUA Trustee and Professional DRE Tim Atkins also had issues with Rev. Morales’ letter for reasons not related to race, but I feel that his reply should be included here because it shows that Rev. Morales raised brand new objections with his letter as well as failing to resolve the on-going tension, and because I believe religious education sometimes does not get the respect it deserves.]

The UUA Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries offers an honest and difficult self-assessment, admitting that the way they are  staffed and organized does reflect white supremacy, regardless of anyone’s intent, and offers some thoughts from the inside.

The YaYA office, as they are sometimes abbreviated, offered this post on Spiritual Practices for Privileged Fragility back in January. I include it for the sake of anyone having problems dealing with the idea that white supremacy is so insidious in our continental culture that it even seeps into the UUA.

Just last night, Wednesday the 29th, Gini Von Courter, former Moderator of the UUA, offers this post on the issue -the tone of which is established in the quote, “But Morales is not the first UUA President to preferentially hire white people. He’s only the most recent.”

Finally, if the links I have highlighted so far (and the links they include) have caught your attention and you want to see the broader conversation, Elizabeth Mount has been curating the various posts, replies, and observations in a large, crowd sourced document. It is still being updated with new links, because this is an ongoing conversation. There is a lot here, but this is an issue worthy of our study, consideration, and attention.

So what?

We are being told we have a problem. We are being told that the current policies are inadequate to resolve it. We are being warned that we cannot be the movement we aspire to be unless we commit to further changes. Are our aspirations important enough to confront our privilege, ego, and discomfort? Are we committed to the Beloved Community?

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6 Responses to White Supremacy, Anti-Racism and Our UUA: What’s Going On?

  1. Diamond Edge March 30, 2017 at 3:22 pm #

    So … yes, I think that the UUs in this community are absolutely committed to the Beloved Community. I hope that we can urge our ministers to put pressure on UUA leadership to begin making these changes, especially since all three presidential candidates have committed to do so. I’d also hope that our ministers wouldn’t need our urging!

    I’ve heard from UU friends in other states that the current government at the federal and many state levels seems to be a factor in rising attendance at UU services and events, and growing new membership. These new UUs seem to be not only young white families seeking a liberal sanctuary for their children, where they will experience a community of support for the humane values and respect for science and facts that they learn at home, but also persons of diverse color and gender identity.

    At this time (“the best of times … the worst of times” comes to mind), circumstances bring together both UU ethics and pragmatic aspects of organizational growth in a unique opportunity to do two important things: [1] Update our administrative and hiring policies and practices to manifest our values and philosophy much more accurately. [2] Meet the needs of the growing number of religiously unaffiliated liberal individuals and families in ways that demonstrate our practices of being “welcoming” and providing “radical hospitality.” Our membership, our church leadership, and our regional and national leadership need to LOOK LIKE we really do welcome everyone with radical hospitality.

    • jake3_14 March 30, 2017 at 9:06 pm #

      The nebulous “good fit” criterion is *always* code for “being similar to the interviewers.” At best, it’s implicit bias at work; at worst, it’s veiled racism/cultural prejudice. I was once hired precisely because I *wasn’t* like the rest of my team; the director wanted a mix of personalities in the dept. If the interview team wasn’t open to a contrasting personality, shame on them. Morales mishandled the situation, primarily because (a) it seems he hadn’t been talking to the interview team, and (b) the UUA leadership didn’t recognize that to change their racial and cultural makeup quickly, they were going to have to promote people with less management experience and give them extra support in their early days.

  2. MelS March 30, 2017 at 4:38 pm #

    The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. – Audre Lorde. It’s time to cede ground, white guys. Reconfiguring things so that the system can become more diverse is not leadership. People stepping down and creating vacancies to be filled with intentional representation and diversity BEFORE any new policies or procedures are developed is instrumental.

  3. Jon Cleland Host March 31, 2017 at 9:44 am #

    Thanks for the good post. Thanks especially for being open about this discussion. Privilege of any kind works by maintaining silence, and if that doesn’t work, then responding with privileged fragility. This post helps stop both.

  4. Deb Cruise April 8, 2017 at 6:04 pm #

    It appears to me that one of the major qualifications for the job of UUA Regional Lead is that you are an ordained UU minister. Is that true? I clearly know there is much more to the issues of institutional racism in the UUA, but it seems like this is a cornerstone issue that started the uprising. We want to be sure we understand all the issues as we discuss this in our congregation.

    • Thomas April 9, 2017 at 8:11 pm #

      We are not directed, administered, or funded by the UUA, and we cannot answer that question. Sorry.

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