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Assistant Minister's Column

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Why Diversity? Why now?

 

 Mid-January I was invited to sit on a panel at a summit on LGBT issues in rural Louisiana. There should have been a preacher from a welcoming rural church on the panel, but, alas, in Louisiana those are few and far between. One of the other panelists mentioned that the Louisiana legislature still refuses to include sexual and gender identity on the list of non-discrimination criteria. And just as she mentioned it, something clicked in me. It occurred to me that Louisiana isn’t able to expand its welcoming because we haven’t fully atoned for the sins of slavery. Here is what I mean:

 If we as a culture admit that we shouldn’t be cruel to people just because of whom they love, then we have to start thinking about who else was a victim of our cruelty. It forces me to notice the times I have inadvertently (or, sadly, intentionally) acted out of my own prejudice. It forces me to look at the fact that I live in a neighborhood that gets a disproportionate amount of city and infrastructure services. For example, I have 4 grocery stores in walking distance of my house. Many of the poorest neighborhoods in Baton Rouge don’t have access to fresh food.

 If I’m forced to face the civic inequality, I must also start looking at why I was so lucky and other people were not. I have to look at the fact that my family had access to adequate education, employment, and healthcare for generations. My family had access to governance and police protection that others did not.

 And when I think of these things, I start to feel guilt – a guilt whose power comes from being implicated in a system that I didn’t ask to be a part of. I feel guilty because African Americans are so disproportionately incarcerated and underserved. And the further back I trace the threads of my privilege, the more it points to the sins of forcefully enslaving an entire population of people for generations.

  My guilt is quickly overrun by feelings of helplessness and defensiveness. I begin to feel unsafe pulling at the threads because I’m afraid of what it will reveal. And then, paradoxically, the fear, guilt and defensiveness allow me to perpetuate the same institutional and personal discriminations that I feel so powerless to fix.

 But I don’t feel hopeless. I have found a cure for these feelings and it comes in our church. The best solution I’ve found is to join together in community to explore my own privilege, luck, and oppressions. To say that another way, healing happens by having a safe environment to explore who I am, what unhealthy messages I’ve personalized, and how I can be more loving.

 And we have some great opportunities this spring to do that exploration. April 24th and 25th, our church will host a weekend workshop with Dr. Mark Hicks. He was my professor at Meadville Lombard Theological School and an outstanding educator. This event is open to members and friends of the church. It will allow us all the opportunity to explore ourselves, our own strengths, and our growing edges. It will allow us to begin the work Louisiana should have started decades ago.

 Also, you may want to mark your calendars for a joint conference of the Diverse Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM), a UU People of Color organization, and the Unitarian Universalist Allies for Racial Equity (ARE). This conference will be March 13-15 in New Orleans, and it would be great if a large contingent from our church could attend.