by Linnea Nelson.
In August 2015, my heart was heavy. It had been a very long year since Ferguson, MO, held up a mirror to my white soul. So, this past summer, I immersed myself in reading to better understand institutional racism and my role in it. It has been sobering and heart-wrenching.
Here we are – more than 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, more than 100 years since African-Americans were “given” the right to vote (at least in name) and 50 years since Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., shared his dream that all children would grow up to “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Now, as then, I am called to be adamant and persistent, relentlessly opposed to “othering” – the idea that it is because of others that we are in this state of injustice and up to others to fix it – and willing to take action while partnering with others. This is our calling as UUs: To live out our principles while righting oppressive structures of history.
As a part of the planning team for UUCF’s “Thirty Days of Love: A Call to Action for Faith, Race and Justice,” which is modeled on the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Standing on the Side of Love campaign, I am drawing on much of the inner work that I have done over the past few years as your director of religious exploration. My first lesson was to actually see my own reflection clearly, which at times was quite a brutal assessment. My inability to see a reflection of how I was part of structural racism was my blind spot. Although I personally had multiple warm relationships – including extended family and in the African-American, Latino/Latina-American and Asian-American communities – and I felt that friendship and love were central to our relationships, I had not made the connection between structural racism and my role in it. I realize now that I could not have understood their perspective fully, and that our relationships always carried the burden of racism.
I have just now begun to see the intricacies of how the hundreds of years of invasions, conquests and educational and economic barriers have affected all of us. The violence families have witnessed, experienced and engaged in – often without a viable alternative – is mind-boggling. When I look inward, I see that I must do so much work (alongside other allies) to reflect, deepen my understanding and be able to stand with others in the name of faith, race and justice.
I pledge to continue to learn the deeper meaning of terms such as racism, elitism, white benefits, economic power, surplus power, bias, intersectionality, structural/institutional racism, microaggression, pluralism and privilege.
I pledge to take action, beginning with sharing stories with our children in Chapel and Together Time to help them understand the wounds of racism and role of allies. I will also lead a “Coming of Age” class about institutional racism and white privilege.
I am on this journey with all of you, and no matter how challenging, messy and mistake-filled our words and actions are, I hope that each of you will commit to this journey as well.