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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