Recently I came across a video message by Jamaican writer Marlon James where he talks about the difference between being non-racist and anti-racist. It’s magnificent and worth hearing in its entirety. But it’s also pointed and might bring up some difficult feelings. Please allow those feelings to be, and as far as possible, just stay with this message, stay with me during this sermon step by step and to the very end.

Several months ago [he writes] in response to Ferguson, Baltimore, the killings of Freddie Gray and Tamir Rice, my friend Caitlyn put up a Facebook post breaking down the difference between non-racism and anti-racism. Most of us are non-racist. Because racism is looked upon as some moral lapse, we feel quite self-assured by simply not being racist. ‘I’m not a bigot. I don’t sing that ’N’ word when my favorite rap jam comes on. I didn’t vote for that guy. I’m not burning any crosses. I’m not a skinhead.’

‘I don’t. I won’t. I’m not. I’ve never. I can’t.’

What you end up with is an entire moral stance, an entire code for living your life and dealing with all the injustice in the world by not doing a damn thing. That’s the great thing about “non-”: you can put it off by simply rolling over in your bed and going to sleep.

So why are you sitting at home and watching things unfold on TV instead of doing something about it? Because you’re a non-racist, not an anti-racist.

Now, do this for me: take the “c” out of racist and replace it with a “p”. ‘I’m not a rapist. I’m not friends with any rapist. I didn’t buy that rapist’s last album.’ All these things that you’re not doing.

Meanwhile, people are still getting raped, and black boys are being killed. It’s not enough that you don’t do these things. Your going to bed with a clear conscience is not going to stop college students from getting assaulted. You thinking climate change is terrible is not going to stop climate change. You being so assured that you’re not anti-Black, anti-Muslim, won’t stop the next hate crime. And it’s wonderful that you recognize how brave gay people are when they’re facing persecution. But they aren’t the ones who need to be brave. We need to get active. We need to hold people accountable. We need to accept that what hurts one of us hurts all of us. And we need to stop thinking that injustice going on in the world isn’t to an extent our fault.

We need to stop being “non-” and start being “anti-”.

This is what anti-racism, anti-oppression, multi-culturalism is all about. ARAOMC, for short. It’s not that UUCA is doing nothing. Far from that. But it’s one thing to be accidental and casual in our approach (where we waver between moments of non-racism and anti-racism) and another thing to be intentional and systematic and focused. Where the proposed Congregational Resolution says, “BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that UUCA specifically commits to…”—that’s where a more intentional and systematic approach is described, in detail.

We need to stop being “non-” and start being “anti-”.

white priviledge

And the need is a legitimate one. That’s the main thing I want to say today. The need is authentic. It grows out of our identity as a Beloved Community. It grows out of:

WE ARE

WE ARE MAJORITY WHITE

WE ARE MAJORITY WHITE UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISTS

WE ARE MAJORITY WHITE UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISTS WHO WANT TO BE BRIGHTER!

Each of those lines of WE ARE is a powerful reason for taking a stand.

WE ARE: by that I mean we are a religious organization. Now some people will stop me right there and say, Yes, that IS what we are, Mr. Senior Minister Man, therefore why are you bringing up such difficult and painful stuff in our midst? After all, life out there is brutal and what I need on Sunday morning is relief from all that, I need distraction, I need chicken soup for the soul. So don’t bring up politics! Don’t mention he who must not be named! Don’t bring the strife and struggle that’s out there in here! Don’t do it!

And absolutely, there are times when we need our congregations to comfort the afflicted and provide spaces where we can just feel safe. But to envision a congregation as responsible for doing just that and only that is simply untrue to the church’s grander purpose of equipping people for life. I like to see church as a place where we aspire to model the kinds of behaviors we want to see in our relationships, in our places of work, in our political processes, and elsewhere. We’re trying to be Beloved Community so we can take that love and increase it, extend it.

Congregations are not hermetically sealed-off from the larger world. Problems in the larger world are going to be problems here. Any and all of those problems, including problems of prejudice and white supremacy bias that’s of course unconscious but it doesn’t make it any less real. We congregants didn’t start that fire. But if, here, we can ourselves be transformed as we work in it, if we can increase awareness and learn solutions, it means that our church matters. It’s doing its job of changing lives.

WE ARE. One reason for taking a stand.

Another is: WE ARE MAJORITY WHITE.

Now once again, I could be stopped right there. If we’re majority white, why do we have to talk about race?

It’s a question that a colleague of mine in the United Church of Christ fielded recently. The United Church of Christ has a membership that is 87% white, close to where we are as a faith community. And as for the Rev. Dominique C. Atchison’s answer: I’ll bet you can guess. But listen to her reasons why.

First of all, unless white people affirm that whiteness is a race like any other—unless they talk about it, wonder about it, appreciate it, trouble it—then the tendency to see whiteness as standard or default stays entrenched. That’s the white supremacy problem we’re trying to fight. Comedian Louis C. K. hits the nail on the head: “I read something in the paper,” he says, “that really confused me the other day. It said that 80 percent of the people in New York are minorities… Shouldn’t you not call them minorities when they get to be 80 percent of the population? That’s a very white attitude, don’t you think? I mean, you could take a white guy to Africa and he’d be like ‘Look at all the minorities around here! I’m the only majority.’”

The second reason is this: how whites have a special role in dealing with other whites. Rev. Atchison writes, “some of the white supremacy that still plagues our culture can only be defeated by the work and commitment of progressive white people. We have been watching Donald Trump,” she says, “gain traction as a candidate for presidency by spewing racist, sexist and ableist rhetoric. His words seem to be appealing to a segment of mostly white Americans who feel offended and somehow suppressed by movements for justice and equality. While their mob-like presence is frightening to people of color, I believe it is also scary and disheartening for most white people. And there is only so much we can do as people of color when it comes to stopping this sort of hate speech and behavior. The hands-on work of dismantling this level of hatred falls upon white people who remember history, who see the danger and want to see an end.”

That’s the Rev. Atchison. So good. And let’s take a moment with her comment about white Americans feeling offended or suppressed by movements for justice and equality. Working with such feelings is central. I turned a small corner in my own mind the other day when someone questioned some language I was using, and at first I went to a place of feeling offended and inside I could hear myself shouting PC! PC! But then I realized how I HATE it when I introduce myself to another person as Anthony Makar and the person goes, “Nice to meet you, Tony.” But who gave them power to name me, against my very own wishes? If I wanted to be called Tony, I’d have introduced myself like that. How dare they presume to have that power? But what would happen, do you suppose, if I were to be bluntly honest with this presumptuous person and let him know how used I felt. What would he feel? I’ll bet offended. I am just asserting my right to name myself, but he thinks I’m taking things too far…. He thinks I’m being kind of PC.

Point is, significant work happens when white folks get inside the feeling of being offended and can see it for what it really is: what it feels like for others to be claiming their rightful power. Less privileged people simply catching up, the playing field leveled. This is not a bad thing. Therefore white folks must reframe the feeling. Don’t allow it to fester into resentment, or guilt. Instead, channel it into curiosity. Someone has come before you, and they are wholly themselves. See them with new eyes. See them as beings with the power to name themselves.

WE ARE MAJORITY WHITE in no way excuses us from facing the ARAOMAC challenge and becoming fully anti-racist. No. It’s just yet another compelling reason for taking a stand.

But perhaps the biggest is this one: WE ARE MAJORITY WHITE UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISTS. ARAOMAC flows out of our religious nature.

Part of it has to do with freedom. How we are a freedom people. 2000 years ago, our people didn’t believe that Jesus was God; they believed in a direct free connection without any intermediary. 1500 years ago, our people didn’t believe that church traditions were equivalent with God; they believed that the freedom way to the Source was the Bible alone. 200 years ago, our people didn’t believe that Christianity with its Bible was the only way to the Sacred; they believed that the freedom way to truth could be found in all the religions of the world. And now, right now, we are saying that white culture is not the only form of freedom through which to reach out and touch God; there are lots of other cultural ways to reach out and touch God, too.

I’ve spoken of this before, but now here is something else you need to know about Unitarian Universalism’s essence. That what it means to be religiously liberal—which is what we are—is to be in active engagement with the culture around us. As theologian Paul Rasor says, “Liberal theology starts with the premise that religion should be oriented toward the present, taking fully into account modern knowledge and experience. As a result,“ he continues, “Unitarian Universalists and other liberals are not likely to feel their faith threatened by new scientific discoveries, for example. Rather than resist new developments, liberals tend to embrace them and incorporate them into their religious worldviews. This is how religious liberals have sought to keep their religious commitments culturally relevant and intellectually credible.” It means that as America becomes more multicultural, so must we. It’s what a Unitarian Universalist would do. WWUUD. A pluralism not just of the head, but of the heart.

WE ARE

WE ARE MAJORITY WHITE

WE ARE MAJORITY WHITE UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISTS

And finally….

WE ARE MAJORITY WHITE UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISTS WHO WANT TO BE BRIGHTER!

This last reason is so cool. From researchers Sheen S. Levine and David Stark comes the finding that “Diversity improves the way people think. By disrupting conformity, racial and ethnic diversity prompts people to scrutinize facts, think more deeply and develop their own opinions.” Here’s the story, from The New York Times:

“To study the effects of ethnic and racial diversity,” say researchers Levine and Stark, “we conducted a series of experiments in which participants competed in groups to find accurate answers to problems. In a situation much like a classroom, we started by presenting each participant individually with information and a task: to calculate accurate prices for simulated stocks. First, we collected individual answers, and then (to see how committed participants were to their answers), we let them buy and sell those stocks to the others, using real money. Participants got to keep any profit they made.

“We assigned each participant to a group that was either homogeneous or diverse (meaning that it included at least one participant of another ethnicity or race). To ascertain that we were measuring the effects of diversity, not culture or history, we examined a variety of ethnic and racial groups. In Texas, we included the expected mix of whites, Latinos and African-Americans. In Singapore, we studied people who were Chinese, Indian and Malay. […]

“The findings were striking. When participants were in diverse company, their answers were 58 percent more accurate. The prices they chose were much closer to the true values of the stocks. As they spent time interacting in diverse groups, their performance improved.

“In homogeneous groups, whether in the United States or in Asia, the opposite happened. When surrounded by others of the same ethnicity or race, participants were more likely to copy others, in the wrong direction. Mistakes spread as participants seemingly put undue trust in others’ answers, mindlessly imitating them. In the diverse groups, across ethnicities and locales, participants were more likely to distinguish between wrong and accurate answers. Diversity brought cognitive friction that enhanced deliberation.

The researchers concluded: “When surrounded by people “like ourselves,” we are easily influenced, more likely to fall for wrong ideas. Diversity prompts better, critical thinking. It contributes to error detection. It keeps us from drifting toward miscalculation.”

What do you think about that?

Someone was telling me that he and a friend were just alike, which on the one hand is great. But on the other, in their alikeness it’s as if they’re both looking right, which means they won’t notice the bus that’s coming at them from the left.

Not everyone is comfortable with anti-based language. They want a more positive vision. Anti-racism and anti-oppression, yes, but tell me more about multiculturalism. Tell me more about that vision.

And we have one:

WE ARE MAJORITY WHITE UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISTS WHO WANT TO BE BRIGHTER!
MEANING: WE ARE GOING BEYOND A MAJORITY WHITE WE
TO A WE
THAT’S MULTICOLORED AND DIVERSE AND EXTRAORDINARY
AND NO MATTER WHO YOU ARE,
YOU GET TO BE A PART OF THAT WE,
AND THAT WE FEELS LIKE HOME.

So many good reasons for entering in to the Taking a Stand journey. Yes, risks as well. Everybody loves Dr. King now for taking a stand, but back when he actually did it? Not so much. We risk opening ourselves to that. We risk problems, misunderstandings, complications, snags.

But let the good reasons carry us forward. Let’s get into this thing. Let’s get carried away.

Let us listen to what needs to be said in a spirit of compassion,
let us dry the tears of those who are weeping.
Let us not be skeptical that renewal can come,
that we will see things in this space we have never seen before.
I charge us:
Let us not forget to be grateful.
Let us do our best to stir in each other hope, courage and faith.

**

Nancy and Candi, I’m wondering if you will come down and show us the banner right now.

This is our Black Lives Matter banner, which will accompany me and all who will march with me in tomorrow’s Dr. King parade. I will plainly say that it’s on me that we are marching with this banner. Under this banner, we march unofficially, because only the congregation through a democratic process can authorize statements made in its name.

But I hope for a time when posting a banner like this on our building, making it a 100% official statement of this institution, will be something we can just do, because we have taken an official congregational stand. Because we know who we are.

That’s just it. WHO WE ARE. That’s what the whole thing boils down to.

ARAOMC isn’t the name for some exotic food, or a word from a foreign tongue. ARAOMC is what happens when we are just more deeply who we are.

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