Black Lives of UU statement on UU & UUA power structures and hiring practices

The Black Lives of UU Organizing Collective supports Seattle-based religious educator Aisha Hauser, UUA Board member Christina Rivera, and all others directing Unitarian Universalists to look within our walls and organizations — including the UUA itself — at hiring practices that harm UUs of color, at who holds positions of power, and more. We believe strongly that this is a moment of crisis for our faith, and that decisions made — or not made — in the coming months will have repercussions for decades.

At Finding Our Way Home, the annual gathering of UU religious professionals of color, Hauser asked a question of UUA president Peter Morales about every UUA regional lead (out of five) being a white person, and about diversity and hiring practices more broadly within the Association. Morales’s answer — in part, that we need more qualified candidates of color in the “pipeline” — struck many as deeply troubling, and also telling about the need for systemic change about who is seen as “qualified” in the current reality.

Hauser’s question and the subsequent conversation, both in person at the Baltimore gathering and then online, calls UUs to look harder at who is in power, regionally, locally, and nationally, and how hiring decisions are made. How many people of color work at a church, region, or association, and of those, how many are at or near the top of the power structure? What, exactly, makes someone a “good fit” or not for a position?

Those seen as “fully qualified” are usually white, usually ordained ministers, often cisgender, often male and able-bodied, often heterosexual, and otherwise fit into common notions of what leadership looks and sounds like. There are currently only two people of color on the UUA Leadership Council, and Morales’s term as president ends in June. The other ‘POC’ on the Council is tasked specifically with work around multicultural growth and witness.

The UUA itself released a joint ‘Declaration of Conscience’ in January in response to hateful, bigoted forces controlling our national government. It reads, in part:

At this extraordinary time in our nation’s history, we are called to affirm our profound commitment to the fundamental principles of justice, equity and compassion…
In the face of looming threats to immigrants, Muslims, people of color, and the LGBTQ community and the rise of hate speech, harassment and hate crimes, we affirm our belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

These are lofty, worthy aims. As a faith, however, we cannot effectively respond to “looming threats” of white supremacy beyond us until we tackle the white supremacy within us.

Some of the most effective leaders we know are young, black, queer women. Do most Unitarian Universalists take their leadership seriously? Does the UUA? How can the Association celebrate a 4% increase in the percentage of employees of color in the 2016 Ends Monitoring Report without fully acknowledging that a majority of black and brown staff are service workers and lower-level employees? Specific, drastic, and swift changes are needed.

From the April 2016 UUA End Monitoring Report

Often, people point fingers at those who are pointing out systemic injustices, and spend energy trying to silence the messenger(s) instead of working to remedy the problem. We see that at work here, in messages received and online posts made toward those persons of color most outspoken in recent days. For those who seem more concerned with “angry” or “unprofessional” social media postings than with tackling white supremacy in its myriad forms, we invite you to read the following paragraph from someone UUs love to quote, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who … constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”
Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

We know the good will of Unitarian Universalism, and of most white UUs. That makes “we’re on your side, but…” all the more frustrating and damaging. As Rivera writes, “As has been proven time and again, our UU good intentions are not good enough if they don’t examine impact and action.” Black (and other POC) lives and livelihoods are more important than white feelings or any notions of collegiality.

The Black Lives of UU Organizing Collective believes strongly in the promise of Unitarian Universalism. At our convening in New Orleans a few weeks ago, we witnessed — through intense worship, joyful celebration, organizing work, and hard conversations — seemingly limitless possibility of what this faith can be. Getting there will be uncomfortable, and messy, and impolite — just as work for justice has always been.

In order for us to be a powerful force against supremacy, everyone in our shared faith — from the smallest congregations to our national Association — must go beyond the bravery it takes to put up a ‘Black Lives Matter’ banner, and be courageous enough to look at the white supremacy within.

In faith,

The Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism Organizing Collective