May 2017 – Rev. Diane Dowgiert
This is long. I hope you will read it anyway.
Right now, I am about as uncomfortable as I have ever been. Spiritually uncomfortable. This moment in Unitarian Universalist history – and make no mistake, the time we are in will be written about by future generations – this moment is, well, uncomfortable. Part of me wants to shout Hallelujah!
Our third Unitarian Universalist principle calls us to affirm and promote acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations. Spiritual growth is about becoming more conscious, more aware, and more awake. In my experience, spiritual growth is never comfortable. Hallelujah! to our uncomfortableness.
What can possibly be more uncomfortable than talking about white supremacy within our own UU movement? Which is what our siblings of color in the UU faith are asking us to do. Charged words, these. White supremacy conjures up images of white hoods and burning crosses. Terrifying images.
We know we are not White Supremacists. We reject their actions and their ideology. White supremacy is something different. It is about how American society is still structured around maintaining and protecting white privilege. This is what we are being asked to talk about. And, it is, well, uncomfortable.
I know where some of my discomfort – a mixture of fear and guilt and shame — comes from. My own family history is tied up with the perpetuation of white supremacy. It feels risky to write about it in this public way. Some members of my family see things differently than I do. Others see things the way I do, but would prefer I stay quiet. But, here goes.
My great- grandparents homesteaded on Lakota Sioux land. And, a close relative was a known leader of a White Supremacist group. There. I said it.
Of course the family story is told a slightly different way. We come from hardy, pioneer stock who worked hard and created a large and successful farm. Visiting the farm as a child, I remember being told to roll up the car windows before driving across the Indian Reservation because it wasn’t safe. As for that relative, he’s just quirky and has an odd assortment of friends.
The farm is no longer in the family. It belongs to someone else now, which does not change the fact that the Lakota people who lived on that land were either killed or displaced and forced onto reservations before my ancestors could occupy it. As far as my White Supremacist relative, I maintain a healthy distance even though he’s old now and has paid a huge price for his actions – which is his story to tell, not mine.
It has taken me years – a lifetime, really – of unpacking this family history that has impacted me for good and for ill. Bringing the full story to consciousness was, and continues to be, an uncomfortable process. In some ways, I wish I could go back to believing the old family story. It was so much more comfortable than the full truth.
I am part of the family legacy, one I did not create, but benefit from. It all came up for me again when all the talk of white supremacy starting swirling through the UU atmosphere. My family benefitted from genocide, forced displacement, and subjugation of indigenous people. Families with roots in the South are likely to include legacies of slave ownership. American culture is built on these legacies.
There is a story we tell about ourselves as Unitarian Universalists. We believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We stand on the side of love. We work to create justice. We value diversity. Our noble history is full of heroes and heroines who sacrificed for the abolition of slavery and who marched, and were even martyred for the civil rights of African Americans.
The fuller, more uncomfortable story is that UU culture is shaped by white, middle class values, a culture that unconsciously maintains and protects white privilege. Our history includes brokenness around matters of race within our movement. It includes broken promises to the people of color among us.
Did I mention that this is uncomfortable? Hallelujah! It means we are growing spiritually.
On May 7, we will be engaging a teach-in on white supremacy. More than half of our UU congregations will be doing the same. Details are below. Please come. We can be uncomfortable together.
Thank you for listening to my story. I look forward to hearing yours. Remember, this is a history-making moment in time.
Yours in faith,
Rev. Diane Dowgiert