2011 GRACE Gathering
Renewing Our Commitment to Multicultural Ministries Summit
May 14, 2011
by Sarah Person
“You know it’s a calling when you curse your calling and do it anyway.” Amid groans and laughter, speaker Paula Cole Jones, Director for Racial and Social Justice in the Joseph Priestly district, opened the program “Renewing Our Commitment to Multicultural Ministries” for 84 lay leaders and clergy from 26 congregations.
Ask any one of those present what their calling might have been – what had brought them to this summit meeting – and their response might have sounded something like this: I am called to build a beloved community in which differences are valued, relationships are collaborative, and where we are present to one another in all our diverse, complex and beautiful humanity. If we are to make those changes happen in our congregations, then we must make those changes happen in ourselves.
“The beloved community must become the standard by which we measure ourselves,” says Cole Jones.
Cole Jones led participants in a moving and disciplined examination of the pervasive and insidious effects of dominant culture on Unitarian Universalism. Together, we discovered how racial identity emerges as a force in our lives, and what it means to be on the inside and outside of cultural and ethnic dominance. To pursue our dreams of beloved community, we will have to recognize, rethink and unlearn some of the most basic aspects of our identities. The responsibility rests on each and every one of us.
“Racial identity gives us an understanding of one’s place in society,” says Cole Jones. “There is no biological basis, it is a human creation. We are socialized into our identities.” The process of racial identity development is a lifelong process and one which we must come to terms with throughout. We live in a society where one culture is dominant and others are marginalized to our great detriment. The results are painful inequities in every aspect of our lives.
Children absorb society’s messages about race without question unless they have help from adults. In our society, white is “normal.” When children get older, they are more likely to encounter a person with racist views and experience events that clarify the impact of race in their lives. Children of color must begin to cope with what it means to be part of a marginalized group. Children with white identity become uncomfortably aware of racism. Even if such children decide to resist, the pressure to conform to societal norms may have consequences. Children with white identity who resist racism and suffer for it may end up blaming people of color. “Why do people of color need to suffer for us to learn?” Cole Jones asks. As they mature, some people with white identity begin to gain understanding of institutional and cultural discrimination. They may not know what to do about it, or how to be effective allies. They may not feel responsibility to do anything at all, since they “don’t do those things.”
But by gaining a deeper level of awareness and self-understanding, people of color and people of white identity may move to activism to rectify inequities, and to seek out multicultural communities. The hard work, the necessary work, is the task of gaining sufficient awareness of our own inherent racism and developing the commitment necessary to consistently and effectively challenge racism and racialized norms. Yet, self-understanding is only one step on the journey.
For the “I” to become “We” we must move from centering on the inherent worth and dignity of every individual to centering on the beloved community. “Our Unitarian Universalist principles will not move us”, says Cole Jones, “they do not get tested on race.”
As we become committed to the concept of beloved community, we start to say to ourselves: “I must be part of this.” Says Cole Jones: “My ability to be in congruence with the beloved community is paramount. That is my best self, most inclusive, most in right relationship, most accountable.” She continues, “When I am not, I must grow. As I do that work, I transform community; I hold community in a different way.”
We cannot undo all the years that our Unitarian Universalism has been in the paradigm of the dominant culture. But we can make a shift in that paradigm, to a different grounding, a different starting place, says Cole Jones. If we place the beloved community at the center, rather than the individual, then that sets the place for a multicultural paradigm that is safe, accountable and will encourage us to do the work of transforming ourselves and our world.
Engage with GRACE. We are a Clara Barton/Mass Bay partnership of religious leaders focusing on the work of anti-racism, anti-oppression and multiculturalism in our congregations. If you have questions about GRACE, or you would like to connect with a team member near your congregation, contact:
Program & Justice Ministries Coordinator
cbd-mbd-programs [at] uua [dot] org
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