An Open Love Letter to White Unitarian Universalists Struggling With Their Commitment to Black Lives Matter
Our commitment to living the values of our faith is being tested. We are standing in the storm of reaction against the Black Lives Matter movement. Now is the time when we must ask ourselves, “do we become even more out and proud for racial justice or do we shrink down in retreat?”
With FOX news leading a media frenzy denouncing the Black Lives Matter movement as a hate group, as terrorists, as anti-white, some of us are retreating from wearing Black Lives Matter buttons and some of us are questioning whether or not to take down the Black Lives Matter banners from our churches.
It would be easy for me to say all of the white UUs who are faltering are just falling back into their white privilege, are sinking back into their liberal white racism. It would be easy for me to distance myself and feel superior. It is much harder for me to say, that I too, as a white Unitarian Universalist, have been scared. After months of wearing my Black Lives Matter button, I found myself second-guessing whether to wear it. What if I am challenged at the grocery store or walking in the park with my son. It was much easier to wear my button after the latest police murder of an unarmed Black person. Filled with anger and a desire to “do something”, I wore my button with defiance to racism and a commitment to racial justice.
I held my button in my hand, and I knew that all of this is much bigger than buttons and banners. This is about breaking a centuries old code of white silence and white consent for anti-Black racist violence and institutional white supremacy and its legal and cultural dispersal of white privilege and white entitlement. Entitlement to safety and comfort, at the expense of people of color having the same. Entitlement to our children not needing to think about the color of their skin or wondering if the color of their skin puts them at risk of socially- and state-sanctioned violence. This is about choosing what side of justice we put our bodies on. And like other white UUs, I don’t want to be part of this racist society. I want to stand in the tradition of Unitarian Universalist abolitionists and Civil Rights workers, knowing that even within our faith tradition it has not always been easy. I want to stand on the side of love, like we did on Marriage Equality, even when it was illegal in every state and scary for many of us to be publicly out for LGBT rights.
The Black Lives Matter movement is the leading struggle for racial justice of our times. It is a movement led by Black people who are women, queer, youth, working class, including Black UUs around the country. It is a movement to end institutional racism and to respect the inherent worth and dignity of all people. It is a movement for collective liberation. And it is a movement that puts a challenge to every white person who believes themselves a proponent of racial equality, every white person inspired by the Civil Rights movement, every white person who believes they would be on the right side of history if an injustice of great magnitude were taking place. It is the challenge to put our values into practice, not just when it is easy, but also when it is hard. It is the challenge to be honest with ourselves and admit that people who espouse All Lives Matter, even in our congregations, aren’t always confused, in fact, often they are quite clear. The All Lives Matter reaction, just like the white people who decried Civil Rights as “special rights” in the 1960s, is based in white resent and anger towards assertions of Black equality and Black humanity, particularly when those assertions disrupt the “normal (racially unequal) order”.
Chris Crass stands with L-R Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen, Rev. Osagyefo Sekou and Amanda Weatherspoon at UUA General Assembly 2015 Black Lives Matter Action. Photograph by Chris Walton
We are living in Black Lives Matter times. Times where a movement of everyday people with Black people in the lead is on-the-move, opposing injustices of a great magnitude. To help me have courage in these times, I have created a ritual out of putting on my Black Lives Matter button, and I invite you to create one for yourself, as well. I put on my Black Lives Matter button as a ritual of re-dedicating myself to daily action for racial justice.
I hold my button between my hands and pray. I pray for the movement to continuing growing more and more powerful. I pray that more and more white people awaken from the nightmare of white supremacy and join the fight for the dream of beloved community. I pray and call forward the names of ancestors from Harriet Tubman and William Lloyd Garrison to Ella Baker and Anne Braden. I pray for the leadership of Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, Elandria Williams, Carla Wallace, Tufara Muhammad, Meredith Martin-Moates, Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, Rev. Ashley Horan, Leslie Mac, Ash-Lee Henderson, and the many others who are building this deeply life-affirming movement, everyday. I pray that the racist nightmare against communities of color ends. I reflect on the moments I’m scared wearing this button, recognize how minuscule it is, and mediate on the daily devastation of anti-Black racism on the lives of Black people in my life and in society. And then I pray for my four year old son, River, and his little one-month old brother, August. I remember how when I grew up, the most vocal people in the white community speaking about race, were racists. I pray that my sons grow up with courageous, passionate, visionary, white anti-racists leaders in every part of this society. I pray that white UUs, in the hundreds of thousands act in the tradition of white UU Civil Rights martyrs Viola Liuzzo and James Reeb, and not join in the All Lives Matter reaction and act from the tradition of white racism that killed them.
I re-dedicate myself to actively support UU congregations and members around the country who are standing on the side of Black Lives Matter through banners, weekly vigils, fundraising for Black-led racial justice organizing in their community, inviting Black Lives Matter leaders to preach at their pulpit, writing op-eds for the local newspaper, holding press conferences when their banners are vandalized, and bringing their spiritual and religious leadership into the streets for marches and civil disobedience.
I spoke with a UU minister of a majority white congregation who has had their Black Lives Matter banner vandalized multiple times and who have been in the national press as a result. Tears filled my eyes as I listened to her talk about how the congregation is struggling through fear of feeling under attack, confronting their white privilege, and despite the racist backlash, staying true to their values. We talked about this being the moment for her congregation, and white UUs throughout our denomination, to either open their hearts more fully and act with courage, or move back into white silence, white consent and white privilege. These are the times that our church was intended for, to help us act with courage in the face of fear and hate. These are the times for us to use our spiritual traditions and rituals and act as a faith, to join the leading movement for racial justice of our time and weather the storm together. We must weather the storm, so we can experience the rainbow of collective liberation. And around our faith today, there are tens of thousands of UUs – Black UUs, UUs of color, white UUs – who are on-the-move for Black Lives Matter. Our church is in the streets and our faith calls us into prophetic action. This is our mission in practice.
Want to read more? Click here to read and download ten tips for White UUs taking action in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Chris Crass is a longtime organizer working to build powerful working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation. Chris has worked extensively with Unitarian Universalists and in the process, found his spiritual home. He has since delivered sermons and lead workshops on spiritual leadership at UU churches and divinity schools around the country. His book Towards Collective Liberation: anti-racist organizing, feminist praxis, and movement building strategy draws lessons from his organizing over the past 25 years, as well as lessons from case studies of historic and contemporary anti-racist organizing. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his partner and their son River. For more about his work: www.chriscrass.org.