I think we probably can all agree that most of us tend to view the world through our own personal lens, or window as Raimon Panikkar would call it. Today I want to explore what might change for us when we deeply attend to another person as they tell us what the world looks like through their own lens/window? I choose to use the word lens rather than window, because the lens metaphor reminds me that often I choose what I focus on, while the window metaphor feels a little too passive. At least for me, it is easy to forget, as Panikkar reminds us, that I am only seeing only one perspective, that one worldview I've focused on through my lens. After all, a lens sharpens the details of what I have chosen to focus on. But what can happen when I shift the direction of my lens a little to the right or left, up or down? I don't want to see the world just through just my own limited perspective, so what can I learn when I consciously shift my lens to widen the circle of my worldview: when I try to see the world through an antiracist lens.
Panikkar says that the only way we can really shift our perspective is by listening to another. What did you notice when you listened to the story of The Three Wise Women? How did this story impact you?
On January 16, 2016, I was sitting in Wentz Concert Hall on the campus of North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, Naperville. The audience of several hundred people was 80% white and 20% people of color, of which 5 % were black. We were all gathered to hear about a brand new movement, “Black Lives Matter”. Patrisse Cullors, one of the founders of the movement, spoke to us.
She started telling the story of how Black Lives Matter got started: “My friend, Alicia Garza, after the July 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman of murder in the death of Trayvon Martin, posted on Facebook ‘I continue to be surprised at how little Black lives matter... Our lives matter.’ Then I shared this with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. I was struck by the similarities of Trayvon Martin to my younger brother, Joey, feeling that it could have been him killed instead.” She went on to talk about how the organization Black Lives Matter was advanced by the ongoing killings of black people by police and racial disparities within the U.S. criminal legal system. She talked about often violent arrests by the police, mass incarceration, police militarization, and over-criminalization. She emphasized that it was important for her to tell us that this movement was truly inclusive, that all Black Lives Matter, trans, bi, gay, lesbian people were part of this movement.
I was moved, altered as I listened to Patrisse. My vision widened. I wanted to learn more. I wondered how I might more effectively work for an antiracist society.
What is the definition of Antiracism? Antiracism from Oxford English Dictionary: the policy or practice of opposing racism and promoting racial tolerance. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture offers this: To create an equal society, we must commit to making unbiased choices and being antiracist in all aspects of our lives. Marcelius Braxton, a diversity, equity, and inclusion administrator for the Bexley City School District in Ohio, presents this definition: "Being anti-racist means actively identifying and describing racism, evaluating the impact of our actions to make sure they are not harmful or creating biases, and taking proactive steps to dismantle racism." Ibram X. Kendi, who wrote the book How to be an Antiracist, wants the concept of antiracism to reenergize and reshape the conversation about racial justice in America--but even more fundamentally, he wants it to point toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other.
What do these different definitions of Antiracism hold in common? Racism is defined in the way in which we understand who we each are, what worth we have, what kind of life we deserve, and how people should be treated --based on the color of our skin. Racism is about maintaining the privilege and power of, in our country, the white race over every non-white person through the structures, laws, policies, cultural mores, and individual actions of people in this culture. Antiracism acknowledges this disproportionate power and privilege and seeks to dismantle it, so everyone, particularly people of color is treated equitably and fairly. Kendi asks us to think about what an antiracist society might look like, and how we can play an active role in building it.
Many Unitarian Universalists, including many UU Miami members and friends, have been imagining what an antiracist society might look like and how they might play a role in building it. That work continues; members and friends of this congregation have listened to presentations by Indigenous people, read books by authors who have imagined what an antiracist society might look like and books that present the worldview of people of color—right now we are finishing up A Black Women's History of the United States by Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross. And we have supported a DRUUM, Diverse Recolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries, chapter to support UUs of color in South Florida. And I and many UUs I know have donated to BLUU.
BLUU is Black Lives Unitarian Universalist. In July 2015, a group of Black Unitarian Universalists met during the Movement for Black Lives Convening in Cleveland, Ohio. The convening had hundreds of attendees, and the dozen or so Black UUs in attendance dreamed up a cohesive, national, vibrant community of Black Unitarian Universalists. Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) formed out of several conversations among Black UUs at that gathering. On the BLUU website it says: "Our hope is that this direct connection between our faith & the fight for Black liberation will make clear the URGENT need for all those who call themselves Unitarian Universalists to declare, without caveat or clarification, that Black Lives Matter." BLUU frames the connection between the Unitarian Universalist 7 Principles and the Movement for Black Lives with their own 7 Principles:
ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER
Queer Black lives, trans Black lives, formerly incarcerated Black lives, differently-abled Black lives, Black women’s lives, immigrant Black lives, Black elderly and children’s lives…We rise together.
The Movement for Black Lives calls on the Unitarian Universalist faith — a faith willing to make the bold proclamation that each person inherently matters — to live up to that claim by working toward a future in which Black lives are truly valued in our society. We call on UUs to actively resist notions that Black lives only matter if conformed to white, middle-class norms, and to challenge assumptions of worth centered around clothing, diction, education, or other status. Our value is not conditional.
Love and Self-Love is practiced in every element of all we do.
We seek justice for those we have lost to police violence, we seek equity in housing, education and healthcare, we seek compassion from our fellow UUs for the struggle we are called to be a part of.
Spiritual growth is directly tied to our ability to embrace our whole selves.
The spiritual growth of UUs of Color is directly tied to our ability to stand in the truth that Black Lives Matter, that our lives matter, both in the wider world and just as importantly in our UU congregations…
Experimentation and innovation must be built into our work.
The Movement for Black Lives works daily to… uncover the layer of white supremacy that exists in this society [and] to bring to light the Anti-Blackness that is present in our everyday lives. We call on all UUs to root out the Anti-Blackness that exists within our congregations and our faith.
Most Directly Affected people are experts at their own lives.
Black voices in our congregations, in our faith, and in the world must be valued.
Thriving instead of Surviving.
Our vision is based on the world we want, and not the world we are currently in…
Any work towards peace, liberty and justice must address racial injustice. Black UUs are calling our faith to join us as we work towards justice for ALL Black people and by extension for all people.
360 degree vision
We honor the past struggles and wisdom from our elders. …We consider our mark on future generations. Acknowledging the ways in which a Supremacist society diminishes us ALL is a critical part of the work of the Movement for Black Lives.
I hope most if not all of us could feel our antiracism lens opening a little as we listened to BLUU's Seven Principles. So, let's consider this: What happens when we, Unitarian Universalists explore the myths, mistruths, prejudices, oppression, and racism within our own denomination and within our congregation? Let's start with the 1969 General Assembly when Black Unitarian Universalists walked out of our denominational meeting because the Unitarian Universalist Association had misrepresented the funds available to fund antiracist efforts after the 1967 race riots. And a few years ago, because a person of color spoke truth to power, the Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees realized the vast majority of the people they hired were white, and that positions of Denominational and Regional leadership, even when our UUA presidents were people of color, were given to white male ministers. The Unitarian Universalist Association has not always lived into its call of antiracism. I will tell you that as a result, the hiring practices have changed dramatically over the past few years and money from the UUA budget, from individual Unitarian Universalists, and from UU congregations has gone to BLUU to support them in their community building and antiracist work, but we must not become complacent with our successes.
We must keep our antiracist lens focused. We will need to continue to ask ourselves questions like: What are our assumptions about each other? About people we consider different from us? How many of those assumptions are based on what we have been taught as children in this white supremacist culture? What have we done in this congregation to intentionally and consistently affirm and promote All Black Lives Matter, to practice love and self-love, to grow spiritually so that we can embrace our whole selves? How have we experimented and innovated? What are the ways we have treated those most directly affected by racism and oppression? Do we treat them like experts of their own lives? What steps have we taken to support thriving instead of surviving for all people and to see the world through a 360 degree vision—looking back to all our human ancestors and toward future generations? How specifically do we create relationships of connectedness and accountability with each other as we do this work? We display Black Live Matters signs in front of our church and here in the sanctuary. We have committed to affirming and promoting Black Lives Matter. How will we respond when that commitment is tested? How will you respond? What will that response look like?
One more area that I need to focus my own antiracist lens on is understanding and discussing what it means to be white in a white supremacy culture. When white supremacy culture is allowed to operate unnamed, it becomes shielded from public examination and public discussion. This renders us unable to have authentic personal discussions as well as a meaningful national discussion of race, racism, white privilege, and the creation of a society centered in multiracial values. Whiteness in our society continues to remain unexamined, and supreme. There are many cultural norms, policies and laws based on white privilege and whites being in power. I need to understand who I am a white cis-gendered heterosexual male in this culture, something I have taken for granted because the system has been built around me by others like me. This is not about guilt, this is about opening ourselves to discussing whiteness and changing this culture for the benefit of all people of every color, ethnicity and culture.
My default lens is white, and I need to be aware of that as I continue to do self-reflection. When I am pulled over by the police, I will observe how am I treated, and consider what I think about how I am treated. When I go into a bank and ask for a loan or credit card, how am I treated? What do I think about that? When I buy a house, how am I treated? What do I think about that? When I buy band aids knowing before I ever get to the store that they will be the color of my skin, what do I think about that? I need to remember that just because the system usually works for me doesn't mean it usually works for others.
I was in a workshop a couple weeks ago called Collaborative Leadership for Collective Liberation. Collective liberation is liberation for all, expanding our antiracist lens. Collaborative leadership is changing the white supremacy leadership model to one based on health, compassion, equity, and justice. In that workshop I learned that a person in conflict, even a person in leadership, deserves to be able to talk about it to someone outside of that conflict and should be able to name the pain and the problem that they are experiencing. When I first came into leadership, I was taught that leaders were supposed to hold it all in, deal with the pain, doubt, insecurity by themselves. I was surprised when the leaders of this workshop started referring to Triangulation, a term I leaned in Marriage and Family Therapy. Triangulation is when a person brings a third person into a two-person conflict to either deflect from the conflict or to feel empowered. The workshop leaders said Triangulation can be helpful and healthy. They even said that we need to stop calling out triangulation, because people need someone to witness their pain. The presenters said that collaborative leaders need to voice their weaknesses and get help. I was taught that if I had a weakness, I should just fake it until the weakness became a strength. A collaborative leader needs to be able to follow as well as lead. The people who taught me about leadership would consider that idea heresy. This workshop also taught me that I need to be an effective bridge for divergent points of view. What was I originally taught? That leaders were supposed to use their power to control divergent points of view. Collective liberation and antiracism requires a collaborative leader who is authentic, loving, and compassionate. What I first learned about leadership in this white supremacist culture was: exert power over others. What I now embrace is a leadership model with an antiracist lens: empower all for the benefit of all. That is part of building a new way.
Unitarian Universalist Christian Schmitt wrote:
Let us wake up to this world we live in: to its beauty and wonder, and also to its tragedy and pain.
We must wake up to this reality: that not all in our world have what we do, however much or little that is.
We must wake up to the idea that our wholeness, our lives, are only as complete as the lives of those around us, of those we are inextricably tied to in a great web of mutuality, of which all of us are part.
We must #staywoke, in the words of our friends and colleagues involved in Black Lives Matter, working every day for racial justice in our country.