Living Our UU Values
My work with the Anti-Racism Anti-Oppression Multi-Cultural Committee is an important way for me to discover, develop, and disseminate ideas about our Unitarian Universalist values pertaining to the worth and inherent dignity of all people. This work takes place at the intersection of my various identities; central among these are my whiteness, maleness, and my profession as a historical archaeologist trained to uncover the hidden histories of marginalized people. It began and continues with discovery. How can I discover these hidden histories and bring them to light? Moreover, the ways in which these histories have been erased and silenced influences how I think about myself and my place in this world. I have discovered that whiteness, maleness, and other privileged identities have been elevated though the institutions we have built and consequently diminished the importance and social standing of those who are relegated to the margins.
Once these conditions came to my attention through workshops, readings, and engagement with other like-minded folk, the journey continued as I work to develop and deepen my understanding of these historical conditions that shaped institutions in harmful ways, including our church, UU religion, schools, medical systems, banks, and other organizations that we rely on to live in the world. The ultimate goal is to change our thinking and our actions so as to make structural changes that afford all people greater access and opportunity to essential resources.
Finally, my charge as a participant on this journey is to disseminate my new understandings and attitudes to disrupt the old patterns that perpetuate a system of white supremacy. I am fortunate to be able to discuss these inequities as an author and professor in an effort to reach various audiences with my UU A-R (anti-racism) message. For example, in lecturing about Native American cultures the other day, I was able to highlight some differences in values between the cultures of many Native American and dominant whites. Many of us who identify as white know well the latter: we extol the virtues of self-centered individualism, the accumulation of wealth, and a capitalist work ethic. Historically, the consequences have been: intense pressure on “acceptable” immigrants to give up their traditional practices and beliefs; punitive justice, often resulting in violence; and starvation for some in the midst of plenty. In contrast, Native American cultural values are often more consistent with those that many UUs try to live out: an emphasis on unity, relationships, and trust; decisions by consensus; and efforts to practice restorative justice to repair harm to the body politic. While I am not advocating that we appropriate Native values, their wisdom and my journey towards understanding the problems with racism both for people of color and white people assist me in realizing a better way of being in the world that follows me wherever I go.
Michael S. Nassaney