I returned from a week at Star Island both energized and exhausted. I have gone to Star Island every summer since I was a baby. I met my husband there when I was four; twelve members of my immediate family have worked on the island. The roots go deep. On Star I taught third and fourth graders for the week – tons of fun and tiring – and saw beloved friends that we look forward to connecting with annually. Now, back in my office at church, working on next year’s religious education programs and thinking about Follen’s priorities, my head turns again toward white supremacy, racism, and power as experienced in our country, our lives, our communities, and this church.
I’ll be diving further into these topics at the Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network conference in two weeks as I spend a day immersed with Rev. Natalie Fennimore, exploring UU history, theology, and race. I’ll look at multi-culturalism and cultural appropriation issues as expressed through our hymnody and music and worship with noted composer Brian Tate. I’ll sing a lot…and keep thinking about how power issues show up in our culture, and how power impacts the ways in which systems do, or do not, adapt to cultural norms.
I am told that – as uncomfortable as it makes me – the term “white supremacy” has been used by people of color to identify the system of behavior prevalent in our culture, for many years. I am trying to let go of the image of Klan members in white robes on horses when I hear the term, and it’s not easy to do so. But I want to respect the identification used by the people who are most impacted by this behavior. And I increasingly recognize the ways in which entrenched behavior that has existed over centuries impacts what we do, say, believe, and how we act, today.
Here is one tiny example. I am a member of a UU group called Allies for Racial Equity (ARE). I was asked by ARE leaders to volunteer some time at GA to stand at the door to a workshop session which had been flagged as a worship for those identifying as people of color. I was told that, unfortunately, people of color were finding that white folks were walking into workshops so identified, without regard to the request that attendance be restricted. And when asked to leave, some white people refused to do so. So I stood outside the doors, politely asking people if they identified as a person of color (since assumptions can be misleading). A few white people were clearly unhappy with my presence at the door; most respected the request and headed to another workshop.
What does it say about power issues that those in the perceived position of strength sometimes insist on exercising their influence and strength by entering where they have been asked not to go? What does it mean when we decide that we will take what we want, whether or not it’s ours? What’s the meaning of saying “We get to do as we choose, because we are who we are?” These are questions about race and class, and also about any social system in which we exist – including being part of the Follen Church community. It’s probably worth asking these questions as we make an effort to see the landscape in which we live with new eyes…exploring how we fit into the larger system of the church and of society as well.
As I said in my earlier column on related topics: this is hard work, painful some times, and it will take a long time to get where we want to go. But surely, it is worth the effort. It is work done both alone and together…and I pray that, over this summer and in the coming months, you will find ways to work in community to explore these and other questions of faith and our place in the great circle of things.
Interim Director of Religious Education