Mara Iverson is a young adult from the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, VT who recently participated in UUCSJ and the UUA’s GROW Racial Justice 2017 in New Orleans. Mara is a member of Central Vermont SURJ (Standing Up for Racial Justice) and is the co-chair of the diversity and inclusion working group on the university campus where she works.
“Yeah, but have you cried together? Because we have,” a Thrive participant stressed.
I, a Shift participant, responded, “Well, we teared up at one point. So, I guess we white-people-cried.”
I have spent the weeks since our time in New Orleans this June thinking hard about the importance of the question “but have you cried together.”
For context, Grow Racial Justice is a program intended to “equip UU young adults of color (Thrive) and white UU young adults (Shift) with the skills, spiritual grounding, and community to engage in racial justice work within and beyond our Unitarian Universalist faith.” In the Shift cohort we dove into understanding the culture of white supremacy that is part of us and that we contribute to.
We started by writing a covenant that was meant to guide us and also acknowledge that we would break our promises. And it was intended to give us the means to come back together in love when that happens. The covenant helped us as we considered hard realities about white supremacy culture. We recognized how we strive for perfection and fear mistakes. We thought about how white supremacy culture lets us make excuses.
I want to draw your attention to words I used: considered, recognized, thought. We spent most of our time together thinking. We dwelled in our heads trying to memorize and practice. That, friends, is so white. It is so white to try to memorize our way to perfect understanding. Sure, we have to have information, but injustice is not just about facts and figures. It is about deep feelings
During an activity from the Beloved Conversations curriculum we explored the values that drive us toward our justice-seeking goals and the values that stop us from reaching those goals. We ended up wading into what secretly terrifies and freezes us. Suddenly we realized our racism is bound up in our own weakest places. From that time on we were differently bonded and open. But we had still only scratched the surface.
There was a painful moment just before the program ended when we had to face that even with our best intentions we sometimes still do harm. So we started again. We read our covenant again and recommitted to it. We shared feelings. Some of us cried. Some of us held hands or leaned against each other. Then with hearts laid open we brought our broken voices together to sing Spirit of Life.
I cannot do the work of racial justice with my mind alone. I cannot just watch documentaries or even just call legislators. I have to grieve that I contain and must unlearn white supremacy. I have to show up with vulnerability. I have to let love crack me open so that when I cry it will not be to weaponize my guilt. It will be to create bonds that hold me accountable to people of color and other allies as I teach my spirit to shift.