Deepening the Anti-Racism Experience
My purpose as a Unitarian Universalist is to spread the seven principles in my daily life in the workplace, social arenas, and elsewhere. I try to live out my values regarding the inherent worth and dignity of all people through my work in deepening my understanding of my own racialized identity and my scholarship that connects past and present in the struggle to liberate all people from the shackles of socialization that compromise our potential as human beings. I first started doing this work with other allies at People’s Church (our former minister Jill McAllister, my wife Nadine Godin-Nassaney, and my WMU colleague Jim Croteau), when we started meeting to form the Anti-Racism Anti-Oppression Multicultural Committee more than 5 years ago. Since then I have participated regularly in the activities of this committee and extended my work into the Society for Historical Archaeology, my professional home and the world’s largest archaeological organization devoted to the study of the recent past. There I serve as the chair of the Anti-Racism sub-committee of their Gender and Minority Affairs Committee (GMAC). We sponsored an Anti-Racism (A-R) Training Workshop at its annual conference last January in Seattle and will host another one at our upcoming January (2016) meeting in Washington, DC.
Preparation for my A-R journey began when I first attended a 2.5-day A-R workshop in Kalamazoo, offered by Crossroads trainers, the same folks who have worked with us at People’s Church. I did not participate because I considered myself a racist. However, I had noticed ways in which I perpetuated the racial hierarchy into which I had been socialized. The workshop showed me that institutional racism was not of our making, but it still harms people of color, provides white people like me with unearned privileges, and generally dehumanizes us all.
I emerged from the workshop with a new resolve to try to change the small circles that I operate in beginning with my work environment and my associations, including my church. In all these circles I feel responsible to help expose the impacts of structural racism, specifically how they make People’s Church a less inclusive organization. I have come to believe that we can transform who we are as individuals and as a church by rethinking our values and our ideas about leadership, resources, policies, and practices that we employ in an unconscious manner on a daily basis to reproduce white privilege. Indeed, the immediacy of addressing these issues should be obvious, given the well known racially motivated incidents of violence in otherwise “peaceful” communities.
The workshops I attended and other work I have done to begin to examine my experiences of white privilege have opened my eyes to new ways of being in the world. In short, the work has been life affirming. Yet like many journeys, the work has only begun. Many use the metaphor of an onion to communicate the complexity of the problem. As we come to understand our place in the work and the ways we contribute to our racialized society—i.e., as we peel away a layer of the onion—greater complexity of racism’s insidiousness comes to light and we see another layer or veil between us and our authentic selves. Yet rather than being a frustrating process of revealing a never ending series of layers, I find great resolve in the work I am doing to interrupt—in some small ways—the forces that keep us apart, suspicious, and alienated.
By now you may have guessed that we are never finished; all the while new understandings emerge that ever so gradually break down barriers. For that reason and many others, I recently attended the 2.5-day workshop for a second time to deepen my understanding of systemic racism and how to develop strategies to challenge it. It reinvigorated me and prepared me to look deeper inside myself to understand how I have been formed by the supremacy of whiteness. Given what I know about the spirit and openness of so many People’s people, I am certain that should you avail yourself to the opportunity to attend the workshop, you will find it worthwhile, if not life changing. You will gain a powerful analysis of racial relations that will assist you as you navigate an increasingly diverse world. And towards this end, I’m sure that People’s Church will be at the forefront as it has led other social justice issues for more than a century.
Michael S. Nassaney