Monday, March 30, 2009

Demographic Diversity in UU Churches II

Kim's comment (here) sparks a couple of thoughts about this issue. Firstly, I think that Kim is correct, that, like almost all of the rest of American society, especially in persons under age 60, who grew up and have worked their whole lives with this consciousness, we have mostly gotten beyond the easy-to-spot, easy-to-agree-upon racism and xenophobia of, say, 50 years ago. No small achievement, either. Yeah, us!

There is a fair amount of lingering subtle white privilege, however, and it's important to stay aware of it. White privilege is that assumption that "our way is the only way and others are different, odd, and ought to change." There is no necessary problem in the kind of human diversity of which Kim close we stand, whether we interrupt, who looks whom in the eye, how much space is left between speakers, what time is "on time", and so on, the problems happen when some people (white people) don't realize that they need recognize those differences as legitimate and work around them when they are in mixed company.

Which brings us to church and what would motivate persons of color or other difference, to come to church and have to continue, even there, their dreary daily battle with the irritating obliviousness of white privilege, when they have every reason to prefer to go to church and relax with a community of people with whom they don't have to struggle. That is, what is the answer to the question, "Why don't UU churches, whose people think of themselves as open and welcoming, have more persons of color, and what would help us be more multi-cultural?

We have attacked this problem as a denomination from one direction; the direction of trying to educate white people to be less oblivious and irritating to persons of color. A lot of that education, unfortunately, has been ham handed, but we've done it. Has it helped? No doubt it has helped some, but not enough. And why? Because that kind of openness does not create satisfaction, it only relieves dissatisfaction.

This is a huge and important distinction in the "customer satisfaction" business, and it applies to many areas in church life, so let me digress.

There are factors in church life which create satisfaction; great sermons, exciting RE programs, warm community, opportunities for spiritual deepening. The more you have of these satisfaction factors, the greater satisfaction people will have, and they sky is the limit with how happy and enthusiastic they can be. But only if they are not dissatisfied.

Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction are two very different things, caused by completely different factors. A happy church-goer is both satisfied and not dissatisfied.

Dissatisfaction factors are basic things like enough parking, clean restrooms, safe children's programs and basic social comfort. (the sort a person of color might find in a diverse congregation not flaunting it's white privelege)

You gotta have enough parking, dirty restrooms a huge turn-off, and if parents think their kids are not safe, they're outta here. If a person of color encounters the assumptions of white privelege every time they turn around, they'll be dissatisfied. It is crucial to improve dissatisfaction factors,'s the improvement of dissatisfaction factors doesn't make people satisfied, it only makes it possible for people to be satisfied. One too few parking spaces? That's a problem. Twice as many as you need? Ho Hum. Dirty bathrooms? disgusting. Palatial, sparkling bathrooms? I'm happy for you...but it's no more likely that I'll return to your church. Social comfort? It's vital, but if that's all you've got here, I could stay home.

May I repeat? "Social comfort? It's vital, but if that's all you've got here, I could stay home."

Given the fact that people come to church for more than baseline satisfaction, all our anti-racism/white privelege trainings, even if they were excellent, would only bring us up to baseline. And about that, it can only be said, "I don't get no satisfaction."

What should we do to become multi-cultural UU congregations? More Tomorrow.

1 comment:

kim said...

Thank you for your kind words about my post, and for helping add to my thoughts about the issue.
I would like to take a class or something about that "white privilege" stuff, as I know I am pretty unconscious about it. I'm female and a couple of other minorities, but my skin is pretty pale pink.... (with freckles.)