I felt extremely conflicted about going to Ferguson this weekend. I was concerned about the space I and other white out-of -towners would take up. I was concerned about showing my white privilege. I was concerned about what it would mean to risk arrest as a mentally ill queer woman. I was concerned that despite the national call for Unitarian Universalists to come to Ferguson, people would not want us there.
I’m going to start this post with some words by two UUs of color about why the Black Lives Matter movement and Unitarian Universalism are important to each other. These words helped me decide to go.
From A Unitarian Universalist Black Lives Matter Theology by Kenny Wiley:
To fight for black lives now is to participate in radical hope. It is to battle for salvation on this Earth. It is to fight for life, for love, for justice. It is to demand more out of the first principle. It is to demand a more perfect faith.
Most of us in the faith are here because we felt welcome—at last–here. Some of us were too agnostic somewhere else. Some of us weren’t vindictive enough somewhere else. We were too working-class somewhere else. We were too lesbian somewhere else. We were too nerdy somewhere else, too introverted somewhere else, too gay-married somewhere else.
Many of us are here because this faith and the people in it affirmed: you may not be perfect, but your life matters just the same.
That’s what’s on the line now. Through racism and posthumous victim-blaming, through silence and bullets and indifference and vilification, black people are being told that our lives do not matter—or that they matter only conditionally. Black lives matter if. If we are educated. If we are respectful. If.
And sometimes, not even then do our lives matter.
Right now we as Unitarian Universalists are being called to act. We are being called by our ancestors–those who insisted, whodemanded that we help end slavery, that we fight for suffrage, that we join the struggle to end Jim Crow, that we listen to and honor Black Power. Lydia Maria Child and William Lloyd Garrison are calling us. Lucy Stone is calling us. Fannie B. Williams and Frances Ellen Harper are calling us. James Reeb is calling us. Viola Liuzzo is calling us.
Guided by that principle—that enduring, unfulfilled promise of the belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person–ours is a faith that has said, or worked to say to those who have been marginalized:
You are a woman, and your life matters just the same.
You are gay or lesbian, and your life matters just the same.
You are transgender, and your life matters just the same.
You are bisexual, and your life matters just the same.
You have a disability, and your life matters just the same.
You were not loved as a child, and your life matters just the same.
You struggle with depression, and your life matters just the same.
Right now we are being called—by our ancestors, by our principles, by young black activists across the country—to promote and affirm:
You are young and black, and your life matters just the same.
You stole something, and your life matters just the same.
I have been taught to fear you, and your life matters just the same.
The police are releasing your criminal record, and your life matters just the same.
They are calling you a thug, and your life matters just the same.
From Loving the Arc by Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen, a UU minister and social justice mentor of mine:
God who is with us in the courtrooms, at the border, in the streets, in the struggle,
We do not know if this arc bends toward justice. The great test of our Unitarian Universalist faith is not whether we believe we can bend the arc, but how we are when the bending looks oh so differently from what we expected:
When we’re met with swear words when we expected songs.
When we’re met with a group of white people talking about white identity when we expected multiracial community.
When we’re met with a people of color space when we expected multiracial community.
May we know the sacredness of people of color space, the holiness of white people supporting each other and the power of cursing at injustice.
When our efforts feel frustrating and hopeless, when we expected to see outcomes.
When our people’s bodies are dying in the streets and we have no idea how to be alright.
When our people’s spirits are dying from the grinding violence of white supremacy.
When the era of Ferguson becomes the era of Baltimore becomes the era of Charleston and we don’t know what is next.
When we’ve been in this work for 6 years or 6 decades and we look around at our congregation, our local police, our schools, our prisons and we have no idea what justice could look like.
Our faith teaches us two truths: That we are always enough; that the great circle of love casts no one out. And that we are responsible for bending our small piece of the arc, for finding our own racial justice front lines. When we find our front lines, we find not only our hope, but we also find our most effective action.
UU writer and theologian Kenny Wiley says in his Unitarian Universalist Black Lives Matter theology:
“Right now we are
being called—by our ancestors, by our principles, by young black activists across the country—to promote and affirm:
You are young and
black, and your life matters just the same.
You stole something,
and your life matters just the same.
I have been taught
to fear you, and your life matters just the same.
The police are releasing
your criminal record, and your life matters just the same.
They are calling
you a thug, and your life matters just the same.”
There are no exceptions. Black lives matter is universalism in practice. May it be so.
I am immensely grateful to UUs local to St. Louis who have been building relationships within the Black Lives Matter movement that allowed us to be there mindfully and respectfully. I am planning on moving to St. Louis in January, and am feeling rejuvenated and excited about getting to work and spend time with UUs I met this weekend when I do.
I left St. Louis before the weekend was over and am feeling, still, really conflicted about having done so. I believe so strongly in direct action and civil disobedience as some of the best tools for social change, and yet in my discomfort and fear I left before the day of action. I am feeling relieved that I left before another shooting took place and before mass arrests. I am feeling guilty at that relief, and like maybe I should not have gone at all. Having participated in vigils and marches feels like so much and also like not enough.
I wasn’t feeling well and needed to take care of myself, and have heard so many times over the airplane analogy about self care and activism (when the cabin de-pressurizes you put on your oxygen mask before you help the person next to you, because you’re of no help to them if you pass out first.) My mom is really happy I came home early. I was glad to sleep in my own bed last night. But alleviating my own discomfort feels like a bad priority in this movement.
It’s easy to talk about parts of this weekend. I stood on a corner in a shopping center holding a sign; some people honked at our group of 80 and yelled thanks. Others gave us the finger. One man yelled that the South will rise again. I marched down Grand Ave. I observed many moments of silence. I ate Thai food. I got my lip pierced. I went to Ferguson, to the Canfield Apartments, and saw Mike Brown’s memorial for the first time. I saw Cornel West and Bree Newsome.
There are parts that are harder, too. Trying not to be the crying white woman at an event about racial justice. Actually getting to and being in Ferguson for the first time. Being one of less than ten under-30s in the UU contingent. Being a fat person, having to tap out of a march in the middle and go get water and sit in my car.
This weekend was one of learning to accept and sit in my discomfort, and not let it keep me from acting. It was also one of mistakes and confusion. I am grateful for it and still processing it and sad about it. I wish I had been able to stay longer.
And finally, two resources I learned about this weekend that I hadn’t known about before.
- The Are UU Awake facebook group – created by Leslie Mac, a UU and also the creator of the Ferguson Response tumblr, this is a page for UUs doing work around the Black Lives Matter movement.
- Showing Up For Racial Justice – a national umbrella organization of groups of white allies for racial justice, which sadly does not have a branch where I live.
I am questioning even posting this. Does it mean anything, or is it just more white feelings? Will it help or hurt anyone?
I am about to fall asleep, in awe of those activists out there flying the kite over the arch, shutting down the federal courthouse, and blocking I70 today, in awe of those people taking care of each other on the streets, in their churches and homes, in awe of everyone who came out this weekend.
Time to hit send.