Staying the Course

Patti Jo Newell
This is a crucial time.
In one sense, our UU values and principles provide a beacon for how to respond to the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police and to the militaristic response to mostly peaceful protests throughout the country. In another sense, that’s really too easy. Big ideas enlighten, but the work that really matters is way down deep in the details. And for most white people, myself among them, this is where we stumble.
Generally speaking, it is human nature in a crisis to rise to the occasion. The moment demands it of us. Reactions to what we’ve witnessed unfolding since George Floyd was murdered have flowed effortlessly in our outrage. How could anyone not be horrified? It is harder to take in the devastating details of racism’s many faces and the microaggressions that Black people and people of color experience while going about the ordinary business of their day. White people have difficulty staying present to these realities, to maintain the necessary focus to interrupt the everyday pressure of white supremacy and racism.
I remember a time nearly two decades past, I was on a panel concerning the intersection of racism in the anti-violence against women movement. It had been an intense conference and this particular session was equally so. After our presentations and during the audience discussion a Black colleague sitting next to me startled the audience and panelists alike saying, “You can’t handle the truth. You don’t really want to know.” It was one of the rawest things I’ve ever heard. The moment cycles in my memory with some regularity, each time reminding me that I don’t see the whole picture, that a good portion of the time I don’t want to see it.
And therein lies the rub.
Our attention span for this difficult work is absurdly short. We retreat into the relative safety of our lives because we can. People of color have no such option. We can be heartened that the spotlight is finally on the systemic nature of racism. Mainstream news outlets are loud with the devastating details. Real change seems possible. But it is the nature of spotlights to fade. What about the silence sure to follow?
This is a crucial time. We at Albany UU have begun our anti-racism work. We’ve started to look internally at how white supremacy culture is rooted within our congregation, just as it is outside of it. We’ve begun to explore white privilege. We want to become better allies.
But it is only a beginning. And we have a long way to go. It is incumbent on us to stay the course, to maintain energy behind our commitment to interrupt racism and white supremacy, especially when it is flagging elsewhere. People of color know too well how good intentioned white people get riled up and embrace The Cause, only to see us lose energy, lose focus. There will be opportunities ahead to learn, to grow, to engage. We’re fortunate to have the Inclusivity Team to create and to connect us with these opportunities. Albany UU can do better, can be better.
This is a crucial time.