DLRE Blog: Removing the White Lens

I have something to admit. The first time I heard the phrase Black Lives Matter, my first thought was, “Well, yeah, but don’t all lives matter?” I scrolled through my Facebook feed slightly offended that no one seemed to point out that my life mattered. After scrolling offended for a while, I started to realize what my friends were saying when they said Black Lives Matter. Since then, I have worked to educate myself on racial injustice and how I can be a better ally to people of color fighting for equal rights.

When I look back at where I was a few years ago, I am proud of the progress I have made. Sometimes, I am so proud of the progress I have made that I forget to see how much further I have to go.

In mid-March, I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw a friend of mine, Aisha Hauser, Director of Religious Education at East Shore Unitarian Church in Bellevue, Washington, and a member of the UUA Nominating Committee, call out the UUA’s white supremacy in their hiring practices. Here I have to admit something again. My first reaction was disbelief. In my liberal faith, someone could find a form of racial injustice? I assumed because the white, cisgender, able-bodied, ordained person got the job over the person of color, the white person must have been truly more qualified.

Something I am still learning about myself is the white, cisgender, able-bodied lens I have when I approach new information, or even revisit old information. I grew up in a world that was mostly made for me. My culture was the dominant culture in society. I have to remind myself this is not everyone’s experience.

For example, if I heard someone wasn’t the “right fit” for a position, I would think that they had a different vision for the work than the organization. Christina Rivera, the religious professional of color who did not get the position given to a white man, decoded the language in the recent UU World article, “Critics decry ‘white supremacy’ in UUA hiring practices.” She explains, “When you’re a person of color and you hear the word ‘fit,’ that is like a huge red flag.” Instead of what I assumed when I hear the word “fit,” Rivera explains that this is coded language she learned that means unless you look like the person doing the hiring, “no matter how qualified you are you will not be selected for that position, whatever it is.”

While the UUA is “an organization with a stated commitment to racial equality and multiculturalism,” at the time this article was written, 11% of any rank of UUA employees were people of color. Former UUA President Peter Morales points out in the same UU World article that eight years ago, there were no people of color on the Congregational Life staff. I am proud that the UUA has gotten better about hiring a multicultural staff, but in the same way that I am proud of how far I have come, I am also aware of how far I and the UUA need to go.

Only 11% of any rank of UUA employees are people of color. This is something I hadn’t realized until I read the recent UU World article and saw my religious professional friends identify the problem of the lack of a multicultural staff. Once it was pointed out to me, it became very obvious. How had I not seen it before?

In response to the UU World article, Hauser recently wrote a blog titled “On the UUA and the Emerald City.” She deconstructs the Director of Congregational Life, Rev. Scott Tayler’s argument that even though an equally qualified person of color did not receive the job, “[the UUA’s] affirmative action procedures were followed and no fully qualified person of color was ‘passed over.” Hauser writes in her blog, “What part of the white, cis-gender, able bodied, ordained male demographic is lacking in representation? When the response to the criticism is “we followed procedure.” This is indicative of a system that is not seeing the white water they are swimming in.”

The last sentence rang true for me. As this issue emerged, I was swimming in my own pool of white water, in disbelief that my liberal faith had unjust hiring practices. I was swimming in white water when I first heard the phrase Black Lives Matter and got offended. Because I have my white lens, sometimes it’s harder for me to see racial injustice. This isn’t an excuse; this is a way I have learned I need to do better. Instead of waiting for a person of color to take off my rose colored glasses, white people need to learn how to see the other perspective. At the very least, when a person of color brings our attention to an issue, we need to believe them.

I am happy to say that the UUA has been working tirelessly to listen and respond to the voices of religious professionals and lay people alike who are pointing out this white supremacy. Since Hauser wrote her blog about a month ago, the UUA has been very transparent about its process as it actively examines its own practices for white supremacy. The three interim UUA co-presidents who will serve until a new president is elected in June at General Assembly, Rev. Sofía Betancourt, Rev. William G. Sinkford, and Leon Spencer, are all people of color. These are just a few examples of the next steps the UUA is taking in the right direction. Let us not lose our momentum. Let us dedicate ourselves to this work even after this spotlight dims.

If you would like to educate yourself more on this ever evolving issue, click here for resources from UU World.