For Members of the Global Majority,
known as People of Color in the U.S.
As a member of the global majority (or person of color), particularly if you identify as Unitarian Universalist, it is very likely that you have had many opportunities to be aware of race and ethnicity, including the ways these play out in our predominantly white denomination*. Dr. Mark A. Hicks has named the dynamic that many people of color experience in UU congregations as “spiritual malpractice.” This is the unintended process through which we prioritize and privilege the needs of white folks in our congregations, as the institutions themselves strive to maintain the status quo and the white supremacy embedded in them.
One example of this experience is when people of color are eagerly asked to serve on (or chair) committees, to bring their perspective and lived experience to the table, for the benefit of the well-intentioned white folks who are anxious to always learn more. Often as people of color, we are placed in the role of expert, asked to speak on behalf of entire cultures. This dynamic is especially prevalent with some white liberals, who believe they have completed their education on racial issues; because they themselves treat people of color as equals, they unintentionally assume that their learning needs can take priority. Indeed, their eagerness to learn more is a badge they wear proudly, a reflection of their progressive perspective. This reflects the enduring gap between (usually good) intentions and impact; the gap itself demonstrates that we have not yet achieved racial justice and right relationships in our congregations.
As is true for most organizations, our congregations use standard operating procedures that are often unexamined through an anti-racist/anti-oppressive lens. As historically white institutions, Unitarian Universalist congregations reflect the white liberal values of the majority of their members: inclusion, minimization of difference, superficially valuing diversity often coupled with an unwillingness to change “how we’ve always done things around here.”
Our congregational insistence on a mono-cultural framework leads People of Color, eager to internalize the theological good news of Unitarian Universalism, to set aside their own spiritual project of reconciling the role of race in their lives in order to have a place at the table of inclusion. The price of the ticket, thus, becomes the inability to engage with their own journey of racial healing. Without an intentional, faith formational focus of how their faith journey is shaped by race, People of Color are left to use whatever fleeting energy they have left to fend for their own project. This diversion is Spiritual Malpractice at its core.
[…]In large part, the faith-work for People of Color in Unitarian Universalism is two-fold. On the one hand, the task is the same as it is for any other human being who is called to live a life. Questions such as: “Who do I say I am?” “What am I called to do?” “Who are my people?” and “With whom should I travel the roads of life?” These questions are often called the “questions that clear a room” because they are so daunting that only the most courageous stay in order to engage; they are foundational for every evolving human being. Yet, on the other hand, for the person whose life is shaped by racial oppression, there is the constant reminder, in the words of African American theologian Howard Thurman “that always, under any and all circumstances, …life [is] utterly at the mercy of the white world.” Thus, the matter of coming to terms with one’s spiritual core is all the more daunting. In such a paradigm, one must answer the “big questions” and, in addition, consider the foundational questions of cross-culture relationality: “Who do I say I am in the context of racism?” “What am I called to do in a culture dedicated to keeping me in subordinate roles?” “How can I figure out who my people are in a context of mistrust and stereotypes?” and “With whom should I travel this walk of life, given that white colleagues have enough privilege to simply walk away from my colored self?”
~Dr. Mark A Hicks, “Spiritual Malpractice and the Struggle for Visibility in Multi-Racial Congregations.” This paper is currently under review for publication, but Dr. Hicks generously agreed to share it with us in a personal communication.
In preparation for this experience, we invite you to consider, journal on, and possibly discuss two or more of the following questions with another person of color. We encourage you to pick at least one that triggers your curiosity, and one that you feel defensive about.
- Why do I want to participate in this program? How can I leverage this experience for my own personal growth?
- Where am I in my own development of my racial/ethnic identity? How do my theology and my spiritual practices support my racial identity development? How do they inform my experiences in this journey?
- What self-care practices do I need to put into place in order to navigate the challenges I might experience around these issues?
- What are my cultural emotional triggers? How/when will I know that I am being, or have been triggered? What will I do, and what will I not do then?
- To what extent are my beliefs, attitudes and behaviors influenced by internalized racism, oppression and/or trauma, and how will that affect my experience in this journey?
- What will it be like to be an insider/outsider during this journey?
- I may have some lived experiences that might inspire in me a sense of kinship with the members of our partner organizations. What might happen if instead of recognizing our kinship, they highlight the differences between us? How will that make me feel? What might it be like to be seen as another “Ugly American” by people we visit abroad?
- My experiences with race/ethnicity in the US will be both similar to and* different from the race dynamics I will encounter during my travels. What do I need to do to keep an open mind? What will help me stay alert to the differences?
- I may encounter many opportunities to educate and support my fellow travelers. Is this an opportunity I want to engage? How much of this work is mine to do? How can I hand it back to folks when that is what I need? If I choose to engage, how will I pick the right times to lean into that work? How can I make that a more conscious choice, rather than an automatic response?
Deep gratitude and appreciation to Ms. Tania Marquez, Mr. Jean Luc Dessables, Rev. Manish Mishra-Marzetti, Rev. Jorge Espinel, and Rev. Dr. Jonipher Kwong for their insightful edits and suggestions for this piece. ~Julica Hermann de la Fuente
Take a Break
For a lighter take on the topic of identity, watch this video entitled “What Kind of Asian Are You?”
Produced for YouTube’s Comedy Week, this video provides a tongue-in-cheek look at cross- cultural learning. While some will see this as exaggerated, others may feel that this portrayal reflects actual, everyday occurrences.