Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations promote Seven Principles. Many Americans live by one or more of these principles but may not be aware of them. They are compatible with many faith traditions and the morals of many Americans.
1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person.
2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations.
3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.
4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.
6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.
7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
The UUs are considering an Eighth Principle: dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions. This is what I’m writing about today.
Twenty enslaved Africans were brought ashore in the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. Slavery began in what would become the United States. Our constitution implicitly acknowledged slavery (Three-Fifths Compromise). Arguably, the Civil War was fought over slavery. Lincoln formally ended slavery in 1863. Blacks continued to be treated unfairly. Free Black people were surrounded by many hostile whites and many atrocities were committed in the 1800s and 1900s. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Yet, many white people still don’t treat Blacks as equals.
For four hundred years white people in this country were indoctrinated with white privilege, white supremacy, and racism. These are invisible if you don’t understand it. However, many whites will acknowledge that racism still exists in our country. It will take a long time to unlearn what has unknowingly been instilled in us.
Recently I heard Rev. Sunshine Wolfe, a UU minister in Ohio, talk about the proposed Eighth Principle. They proposed an image of a target.
The yellow center would be Blacks. The red ring represents white allies, supporting Blacks and, perhaps, able to understand the injustices perpetrated, and have conversations with Blacks.
The blue circle would be well-meaning white people who aren’t aware of their white privilege, have no concept of what’s happening to Blacks, and don’t know how to engage in a conversation with Blacks. The black ring represents those who don’t know and don’t care. I extrapolate that the white ring represents the people who are overtly racist. Where are you?
We, specifically white people, need to learn how to dismantle racism. How? Make an effort to talk to Blacks. Join the NAACP. Read books:
- “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi
- “White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism” by Robin Diangelo
- “So You Want to Talk about Race” by Ijeoma Oluo
- “The ABCs of Diversity: Helping Kids (and Ourselves!) Embrace Our Differences” by Carolyn B. Helsel & Y. Joy Harris-Smith
Watch these Netflix films:
- “I Am Not Your Negro” is a 2016 documentary film and social critique based on James Baldwin's unfinished manuscript. The film explores the history of racism in the United States.
- “Passing” is a 2021 film based on the 1929 novel of the same name by Nella Larsen, and refers to Blacks who had skin color light enough to be perceived as white, referred to as "passing."
In Tuesday’s Des Moines Register, guest columnist Walter Suza wrote, “Racism can be ended only by a change of heart.” Please read it. We still have a long way to go to meet Dr. King’s dream,
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed — we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
In the film “I Am Not Your Negro”, James Baldwin says, “The story of the Negro in America is the story of America. It is not a pretty story…You cannot lynch me and keep me in the ghettos without becoming something monstrous yourself… Nothing can be changed until it is faced. We carry our history with us.”
I hope you will be allies to Blacks. When you witness oppression, say “This isn’t okay!” I will work to help ratify the 8th Principle in UU churches and live by the spirit of being anti-racist. Even if you’re not a UU, I hope you will work diligently to help dismantle racism.
[I intentionally capitalized Black but not white. Refer to “The Case for Capitalizing the B in Black”, by Kwame Anthony Appiah in The Atlantic; June 18, 2020.]
RON HEIDEMAN / Indianola