I am a white moderate.

I am a white moderate.

I am haunted by this paragraph from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail (16 April 1963):

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er 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 can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

I am a white moderate.

I was raised by white moderates in a conservative white suburb in the American South.

I now live in a predominantly-white neighborhood in a more progressive—but still predominantly-white—suburb in Maryland.

I serve as clergy in a religious tradition that has been shaped by the culture of the white moderate.

I serve a congregation that is largely white and moderate.

We have progressive ideas, for certain. But our bodies and our actions are still catching up to those ideas, those ideals. We are encultured and habituated to believe that incrementalism is best, that we need to take our time, that we should “wait until a ‘more convenient season’”.

Our bodies want to remain comfortable, secure, conflict-free—the “negative peace” of which Dr. King wrote.

Meanwhile, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade and Ahmaud Arbery are dead because of the blight of white supremacy and racism that infects our law enforcement systems and rewards brutality.

They are dead while we white moderates sit comfortably in our air-conditioned homes and reflect about what might be the best process to find common ground and unity.

They. Are. Dead.

And we—we, white moderates; we, UUCC—are being asked to step out of our comfortable spaces and follow leaders of color whose voices are finally, after centuries, being amplified in this recent uprising.

With many of you and thousands of our neighbors, I walked the streets of Columbia’s Town Center on Tuesday evening, shouting “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” “Racist cops have got to go!”

It was stunning and invigorating and inspiring and challenging. I was proud to be there.

And. It is not about me.

My comfortable marching in our suburban streets and my Black Lives Matter t-shirt and my social media hashtags have their place in raising the visibility of the outcry. And they are all meaningless if I’m doing it merely to ease my conscience.

It’s meaningless if I’m not also evaluating my own assumptions, especially when they’re challenged by persons of color; and educating myself about what it means to be anti-racist; and questioning the ill-informed assertions of members of my family, my friend group, or my faith community.

It’s meaningless if I’m not making informed choices about where I spend my money and who is getting my vote and whose voices I’m amplifying when I share articles on Facebook or choose readings and music for worship services.

And it’s meaningless for us to say we are a progressive religious community if we are going to continue to behave like white moderates.

At its annual meeting this Sunday, the predominantly-white membership of UUCC is being asked to affirm its commitment to aligning its actions with its progressive ideals.

We are being asked not to set a timetable for others’ freedom, but to join the revolution.

I endorse the resolution put forth by your Board of Trustees, and I hope it will get your vote on Sunday.

Yours in community and Love,
Paige

8 Comments

  1. Phyllis Jovich

    I think affirm and promote need definitions. I would suggest “affirm, promote, make a list of action items, and do one a week.” One reason I don’t come to the building anymore, though I’m still a pledging member, is that over the years my participation witnessed countless committees brainstorming one year, and then more brainstorming under different presidents the next few years. In my opinion UUs haven’t figured out how, as a group, to move from talking about it to doing it.

  2. Herb Hartnett

    I abhor the Nike Shoes slogan, Just Do It.

    But It is time, however, for us to Just Do It. Stand up, not endlessly talk.

  3. Bob Schurter

    It would seem to me that if we just passed a resolution to reaffirm our existing first principle or perhaps are first, second and third principles we would not only make the desired statement on ending racism and racial inequality but also call attention that as UU’s we have held these principles for a long time. For reference here are the existing 7 principles.

    Dr King’s states that his frustration with white moderates was that they were more concerned about order rather than justice. That descripitin not describe me nor any of the Causcasions that I know at UUCC

    Also note that the 4th Principle group at UUCC chose its name out of a feeling that the 4th principle was not being adhered to at UUCC.

    1st Principle: The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
    2nd Principle: Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
    3rd Principle: Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
    4th Principle: A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
    5th Principle: The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
    6th Principle: The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
    7th Principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

    • Laurie Coltri

      Bob – I agree that our 7 principles cover, in theory, the ground of the 8th Principle in theory. But if our practice of the 7 Principles had adequately addressed issues of racial oppression, an 8th Principle would not be needed.

      Theory without sufficient action is useless to people broken and dying. There are many good things that we progressive white folks have done over the years, and I honor the many contributions you and others like you have made to this cause. Others (and I include myself in this latter group) have, in the past, been too casual and passive about our activism. These actions have turned out not to be enough in the REAL lives of POC. Thinking we’re affirming and promoting the 7 Principles, while racism continues to rage and fester, spinning out massive suffering and death, makes it obvious that we need the 8th Principle.

      (Of course, we’re not even voting as a congregation on the 8th Principle – though the introductory text of the resolution says that it’s offered in support of the efforts to further the Principle at the denominational level. See for yourself at https://uucolumbia.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Resolution-for-Annual-Meeting-2020.pdf for the Resolution.)

  4. Bailey Whiteman

    Thank you, Paige. As a colleague, a white woman, and a UU, I am aware how my own actions, especially if unexamined, can be life threatening to black and brown people. The Unitarian Universalism I dream of and work towards building is not afraid to name truths about racism and white supremacy culture. And then we’re not afraid to change.

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