Thursday, June 27, 2019

Speak Plainly

The lament of white progressives about Unitarian Universalism becoming 'too politically correct' is puzzling to me. Mind you, I'm no fan of call out culture or virtue signaling. I got plenty of that nonsense on Twitter, and have limited my use of that platform as a result. Seeing progressives either pick one another apart online for seeming to make a misstep in terminology or else pontificate with tweets that begin with 'be aware that' led to me repeat rather often the refrain 'progressives eat their own.' At the same time, while it's true that there is a certain toxicity of righteousness within contemporary progressivism that is not unlike the legalism and othering found in fundamentalist circles, I really don't understand complains about 'political correctness.' What, exactly, is the alternative?

Now, I expect this sort of griping from conservatives. White conservatives in particular are prone to expressing frustration over being expected to accept that lgbtq+, indigenous, immigrants, and people of color are human beings with the same rights and dignity as they claim for themselves. Even the ones with a 'live and let live' attitude become annoyed when marginalized people make noise about being discriminated against. Since whites don't experience bigotry, they assume that no one else does. And, when their white privilege is pointed out to them, they protest it as 'reverse racism.'

On the other hand, white progressives are supposed to be the good guys, right? They marched for civil rights, equal rights, positive immigration reform, and lgbtq inclusion. They've supported progressive causes financially and have campaigned for political candidates who call for a more just, inclusive world. The trouble is that, like their conservative counterparts, white progressives often don't realize the nature of the water we all are swimming in. White supremacy is built into Western civilization, from history to the arts and sciences, in government at all levels, and in organizations of every kind. It is so deeply a part of us that we are oblivious to it. As my mother often said when I was young, 'we cannot see ourselves.'

Going back to my question above, what is it that white progressives expect to have as an alternative to 'political correctness' within the Unitarian Universalist Association? Perhaps we should stop trying to ensure that every voice is heard. Maybe it's okay for us to have panels composed of only straight white men, unexamined hiring practices, no programs to educate congregations on being welcoming and affirming towards lgbtq+ folx, and zero accountability when a UU clergy or staff person makes a complaint about discrimination. We could glide happily through life feeling good about ourselves for theoretically and mentally considering other people fully human, content in our beliefs without concrete expression.

No, not really.

It's a genuine struggle for me to understand the alternative that some white UUs are seeking. They complain about marginalized people wanting safe spaces where they can be themselves without interference from straight white people. They don't understand that a room with 20 black people and one white person is fundamentally different from a room with 20 black people and no white people. Whites feel excluded when they are asked to give people who have to deal on a daily basis with racism, homophobia, or transphobia a little time among themselves. It makes me wonder if they really think they have something to contribute, or if they're just looking for another gold star for being a good white progressive and showing up. These particular white UUs don't seem to want people to have a break from the dominant culture in a zone free of speech that is harmful to them. If any such escape from both microaggressions and the constant pressure to conform with the dominant white culture is allowed, these white UUs opine, then surely people are being coddled.

When white progressives tell marginalized people to grow a thicker skin, what I think they are really saying is that they themselves are thin-skinned, feeling the condemnation of white supremacy as a personal attack on themselves as racists. They want everyone to embrace colorblindness, even if that's not what they would say outright. They like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's idea of  "all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics" joining hands and singing so much that they demand we go directly to that, without doing any of the hard work of dismantling racism, homophobia, and transphobia among us and within us.

What I would like is for white UUs who have trouble with 'political correctness' to speak plainly. Don't keep using jargon to hide what you really think. What some call 'political correctness' others of us think of it as respect for others. Describe to the world, for all to see and hear, how you envision Unitarian Universalism without respect for others as a fundamental concept. Don't give us more abstractions like 'safetyism,' 'identitarianism,' and 'political correctness.' Be proud of who you are, exercise your free speech, and please do tell us in concrete terms what you think of black, brown, indigenous, immigrant, and ltbtq+ people. What is it you want to say that you feel cannot be said now, specifically? You have already told us that such people have it too easy within Unitarian Universalism, so surely you won't worry about saying something that offends them. Hey, you won't even worry about providing a trigger warning for those snowflakes, will you, because they have to learn.

Please, do go on. Drop the vagaries and sophistries and tell us what you think of our covenantal siblings who aren't straight or white. I'm just so anxious to know, really.


Resources:

Even Acknowledging My Own Racism Is Controversial
Doug Muder - https://www.uuworld.org/articles/responding-white-defensiveness

Nothing We Do Will Be Perfect
Nancy Ladd - https://www.uuworld.org/articles/let-perfectionism-go

Dismantling White Supremacy
https://www.uua.org/justice/dismantle-white-supremacy

"I Have a Dream," Address Delivered At the March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom
https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/i-have-dream-address-delivered-march-washington-jobs-and-freedom

Essay 1: Debates To Dialogue
https://www.igneousquill.net/2019/06/debates-to-dialogue.html