Happy Belated Fall Equinox, Westside!
As much as I am disappointed by the briefness of summer, I do feel ready for fall. It’s my favorite season, and it does suit the Scorpionic and Halloween loving tendencies of many Seattleites well. Bring on the saffron colored leaves and ancestor honoring ceremonies and frightening front lawn decorations and comfy sweaters! Fall is also your Ministerial Search Team 2019’s busiest season thus far. As we begin to munch on the rich results of the Congregational Survey, we would like to take a moment to thank the many of you turned out to answer our questions. We had an excellent response rate this year! Our next task to be completed is the Congregational Record and Web Packet, which will be read directly by ministerial applicants.
The survey was one major part of how we could begin to characterize our congregation for ministerial hopefuls, and the cottage meetings are the glue which will hold it all together. There is really nothing better than talking face to face with folks! One meeting is down and we now have three to go: On September 30th, October 3rd, and October 7th. If you are a person of color, this means you have three more opportunities to meet and discuss our facilitated questions about the ideal minister and their relationship with Westside, and if you are a white person, you have two more opportunities! Why, you ask, and some of you literally have. Rather than answering these questions individually, although of course if you have more questions feel free to email all of us at email@example.com, I thought it best to address the question of caucusing in one of our monthly newsletters.
To my Westside Congregants of Color, I love you. It’s not that I do not love our white counterparts with whom we join together in fellowship, but as a fellow person of color, as an African American queer disabled person, I have a great deal of respect for folks who choose to love and make their own a space in which they are knowingly a minority, because that space, that community, that religion, that political affiliation, that covenant group, suits them in a deep and special way. I love Unitarian Universalism too. I am a lifelong UU, growing up in my Fellowship in New Jersey, and becoming very involved as a youth leader in my Metro New York District. Despite my love, despite my at home feeling, the only UU space in which I was able to discuss my experience as a Black teenager explicitly, was at Unitarian Universalist youth conferences. At cons, youth and adults alike would take part in an activity known as caucusing, in which people of color meet with one another in a temporary space exclusive of white folks, and discuss any issue we want. Sometimes it was the weather. Sometimes it was food. Or current events. Sometimes it was our childhood favorite games, and more often than not, it was about how our experience of race intersected with every aspect of our lives. Including our other identities!
As an adult who had spent eight years away from Unitarian Universalist congregations, I was curious if this open discussion of race/racism vs. avoidance of race as a topic dichotomy between youth conferences and intergenerational congregational spaces during services was something that I had imagined, or better yet, whether it was something that had changed by 2016 when I found a new UU home as an adult in Seattle. The answer is this: I did not imagine the difference. And yes, it has changed, and no, it hasn’t. There is a Black Lives Matter banner on the outside of our church. I love that. It’s presence impacts me positively every Sunday, and every time I come to Westside for choir rehearsal or meetings of our MST. I have observed various members of this congregation start up conversations about race and racism, and know that there are members of color working hard to educate those around them. I am one of them. There is also the difficulty I and others face when trying to bring the subtle and no less impactful (than explicit violence or discrimination) ways that racism manifests within Unitarian Universalism to the fore. Sometimes when a person of color brings up race or racism it is considered divisive, confusing, hurtful, or even irrelevant in comparison to other issues.
But the fact is this. Everyone has a relationality to race. Since its construction, everyone has a race. White people too! And finding out and getting to talk about how your life experience and perspectives has been impacted and partially defined by your race or your race’s socially ingrained sense of self and place, is critical to addressing racism and ending it. To white people, if you think that you can wake up one day racism-free, and that anyone, especially a person of color telling you you still have internal and reflective work to do is an attack on your sense of self and therefore an act of violence, you’re mistaken, and you have work to do. Anti-oppression work can never only be outside of ourselves. We are useless social justice warriors if we haven’t examined how our internal hang ups, trauma, entitlement, warped sense of reality might spring out and sabotage our mission or betray our cause when we least expect it.
Adults, in case you were wondering whether or not youth still caucus for a couple hours a day at youth conferences in groups particular to people of color and white people, they do! And they even let us adults attend. I have never felt more seen and heard than when at the last youth conference I chaperoned, I brought an experience I had of racism from a white youth at the con to my caucusing group of POC youth and adults. I didn’t know what to do. Should I pursue a right relations process? Should I let it go? Should I let someone else handle it? As an adult role model I felt a responsibility to this youth who had been racist, to aid his growth by helping him to understand what he had said and done. And as a human being who has experienced racism my whole life, I felt hurt, scared, re-traumatized, and helpless. The youth of color voted, and decided to encourage me to pursue the Right Relations Process. I am so so glad I did. Not only did it go better than could be expected, at the end of his Commencement Ceremony later that night, the youth who had harmed me came up to me and asked for a hug, while we were hugging he, “Thank you for teaching me.”
Teaching is a gift, and we are not always thanked for it. In fact, sometimes we are punished for it. The purpose of caucuses is not to segregate and divide, but rather to call attention to the fact that we as a congregation are not made up of people with identical experiences. One way that our experiences diverge is on the matter of race. When I am meeting in a mixed race group, I have experienced defensiveness from white people when I bring up my racial experience. This is because in a society which privileges whiteness, white people have the privilege of not experiencing their own race, they often take their race as a given, and therefore, not a race at all. As people of color, we are reminded of our race every day. In a caucus of people of color, there is one assumption on the table: That we are not white, and that this reality shapes our lives. From there, whether or not we choose to talk about racism and race is entirely up to us, but no one will be shocked in our caucus if someone brings up how say being Black affects how they interact or are interacted with socially, how they think about their own safety, or even what jokes make them laugh. Caucusing is a container for potentially less hindered growth. When we are not using up our energy explaining or justifying our experiences, marginalized people can speak more freely, and dig deeper. This is true of caucuses for white people as well (when the time spent there is addressing racism and privilege and complexity of experience), however Roseanne and I opted to create a space for people of color to caucus only. Given that people who are white are an overwhelming majority of our congregation, there are often unintentional white caucuses happening every time a group of Westside members meet.
There was an edit made to my last Westside News announcement which impacted its meaning. I wanted to make it completely clear that anyone has the option of attending any cottage meeting except for the meeting on October 7th, which is only for people of color. People of color who don’t want to be in a POC only setting, should sign up for a different cottage meeting! But Roseanne and I found it important to make this meeting an option, since I know that the safety, growth, and comfort of our congregants of color is a desire and priority of everyone at Westside!
You can sign up for a cottage meeting here: https://tinyurl.com/wsuucottagemeetings
And for the Beyond Categorical Thinking Workshop with Mr. Barb Greve: https://tinyurl.com/beyondcategoricalthinking
Thank you for your loving attention,
xoxo Neve and the MST19