By Fernando Ospina
I’ve been a UU since 2006. Like many UUs, I did not grow up in this faith tradition. I found it and I stayed. I stayed because of the community; because of the principles of our tradition; and because of our continued history and dedication to social justice. Today, social justice is what keeps me most active in our community and I’m certain I’m not the only UU who feels that way. Social justice, particularly Antiracism, is the air that fills my lungs.
So, what does it mean, exactly, to be Antiracist? The obvious answer is that one is opposed to racism. The more nuanced answer is that it is much more than that. To be an Antiracist, in the language of the Antiracism movement, is to be aware of and to actively challenge the systems and structures that privilege to some and oppress others. Our common understanding of racism, for example, is that it’s rooted in individual attitudes and beliefs about other individuals or groups. While it is true that racial prejudice something that we must all work to overcome and challenge as individuals, racial prejudice is only part of the picture.
‘Racism’ as used in the Antiracism movement goes beyond individuals and into systems and structures. Because of our history, our systems, structures, and institutions continue to exist in a ways that prioritize the privileges (whiteness, maleness, able-bodiedness, gender conformity, etc.) of some over the livelihood and basic needs of others, yes, even at People’s Church. So, even if we try our hardest to overcome personal prejudices, systems and structures will continue to disadvantage some while privileging others, often in ways we don’t recognize. The important distinction is between seeing racism (and other oppressions) as individual attitudes and behaviors versus seeing racism as systemic in nature. This distinction has major implications on what it means to be an effective social justice change agent.
To be an effective Antiracist UU one must be willing to go beyond just looking at our social ills as merely a result of misguided or misinformed individual actions. One must develop a systemic analysis of oppression in order to dismantle the systems and structures that continue to disadvantage and harm people of color, the differently-abled, people of different gender expressions, women, children, the elderly, among other identities. So, how does one develop a systemic analysis of oppression?
Even after years of graduate school, I still did not have a deep understanding of systemic oppression. It wasn’t until was encouraged by another member of People’s Church to attended my first Antiracism training in Kalamazoo (with ERACCE) that it began to click. Training helped me realize how much I didn’t know about racism and systemic oppression. Training changed my life and worldview. Now I know what it means to be effective at social justice change. Now, because of People’s Church and ERACCE, Antiracism is the air I breathe. Please, breathe with me.