Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Multi Cultural UU: Removing Dissatisfaction

What might we do to make our UU Congregations more multi-cultural?

1. It is crucial to remove dissatisfaction factors as much as possible. I believe we have two major areas of dissatisfaction in the multi-cultural area. The first is the irritation to persons of color of clueless white privilege. That's an ongoing issue. The good news about it is that the school, corporate and governmental world has huge resources that are deployed here, and many of our folks get much better multi-cultural training at work and school than we will ever be able to provide.

2. Because of this, all attempts to be a multi-cultural congregation should be matched by attempts to be a younger congregation. With all due respect to the over 60 generation who got us started with integration in this nation, the future in this matter, as in so many, is with the young who have lived their lives in a multi-cultural world. My own experience in churches is that a concerted focus on bringing in young people will go a long way, all by itself, to bringing in persons of diverse ethnicity and race.

3. If there are incidents and issues, they need to be addressed, of course. People being people, there will always be issues and incidents. Discussion is necessary. Does the congregation want to put on "South Pacific?" Are there parts of that lovely show which are racist? Is there a difficult person whose conversation about social subjects like population or imigration boarders on racisit? How will we address that? Etc.

4. The second issue of baseline social comfort for those persons whose presence would signify multi-culturalism is that they need to see others like them. This is the critical mass problem, and it's a real catch 22. The only way for a church to be attractive to diverse persons is to already be a diverse congregation. But how to start? You start with signals. The UUA has done this part of multi-cultural development much better, in my opinion, than it has done the anti-racism training, but, oddly, it's never talked about. Still, go to the website of this denomination which sports a population of persons of color in the range of 5%, and you'll see a vastly disproportinate set of photos of persons of color. That's one way to help new persons of color feel legitimized and welcomed. The respectful, inclusive use of multi-cultural music and authors sends that same welcome message. Leadership of color is even more powerful. We have to give ourselves considerable credit here.

All of these strategies can be overdone, can even be a form of false advertising. But subtle use helps us to substitute for our critical mass of multi-culturalism, until we have it.

All that work, remember, only creates a baseline of lack of dissatisfaction. Now, on to Satisfaction. There enlies the transformative work.


Chalicechick said...

((((Is there a difficult person whose conversation about social subjects like population or imigration boarders on racisit?))))

In doing so, I think we need to be careful to make a distinction between people who are actually saying racist things and people who just have different views on immigration policy than our own.


Christine Robinson said...

Absolutely. And the people who are saying things which could be seen as racist can help out be being careful to explain why they are not being racist.

Chalicechick said...

Because the presumption is that they are?

Marzipan said...

Who are the diverse people the UU is trying to reach?
Is it simply a question of "Cultural, Racial, Identity, ..." diversity?
Is there a need to also share our values?
There seems to be alot of "talk" about needing to have diversity without any practical ideas of implementing or developing a strategy of doing so.

Christine Robinson said...

CC: Exactly. And, when you know that what you are going to say might be mis-percieved or hurtful, you are naturally very careful about how you say it.

Marzipan: Sure, there are lots of kinds of diversity. One kind that gives most religious bodies angst that we deal with nicely is family structure and sexual orientation diversity. Our angst is about racial/cultural/ethnic/color diversity. And in my post I offered the three most powerful strategies I know of to encourage this kind of diversity: (1)Get younger and (2) consider how to give your congregation the look of having a multi-cultural critical mass. (That is assuming that the congregation has its (3)white privlege in hand and is not reflexively dissatisfying to persons of color)

Robin Edgar said...

:And, when you know that what you are going to say might be mis-percieved or hurtful, you are naturally very careful about how you say it.

I know of rather too many "less than excellent" U*U clergy who don't seem to care a whit if what they say is even *correctly* perceived as being insulting and defamatory, or otherwise hurtful and abusive, and the hurtful and even damaging words of these verbally abusive U*U ministers have been condoned by their local congregations and/or the highest levels of the UUA administration in Boston.

If U*U congregations really want to become more ethnically diverse and genuinely multicultural they are going to have to try a lot harder to be genuinely welcoming towards God believing people from all kinds of different cultural and religious backgrounds. I have been telling U*Us for years that one of the reasons the U*U movement has so few "people of color" as members is the anti-religious intolerance of the hard-core atheist faction of "Humanist" U*Us that rears its ugly head in too many U*U "churches". It does not take that many such "obnoxious atheists"* to repel any number of potential U*Us either. A small but vocal minority of "obnoxious atheists" can make a large number of God believing people feel far from welcome in *their* U*U "church" if their anti-religious intolerance is ignored and/or effectively condoned by the proverbial "silent majority" of that unwelcoming congregation's members. Even non-theists who are none-the-less open-minded and tolerant people have been seriously put off U*Uism simply by witnessing the anti-religious intolerance of the "fundamentalist atheist" subset "Humanist" U*Us when visiting some U*U "churches". I have very reasonable grounds to believe that U*U tolerance and even tacit acceptance and approval of the anti-religious intolerance and bigotry of the minority of outspoken "fundamentalist atheists" is a major contributing factor to not only the lack of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity within the U*U religious community but also to the overall lack of interest of the American public in joining U*U "churches". What God believing person wants to go to "church" on Sunday only to have some obnoxious atheist express condescension, and even outright hostility and contempt, for their theistic religious beliefs?

* To quote former UUA president Rev. Dr. John A. Buehrens

Christine Robinson said...

Robin's got his finger on one of our major problems.

Marzipan said...

I’ve got to comment on the “white privilege” thing or even worse “white male privilege”. It makes my skin crawl every time I hear or read it. It is so elitist. If you self identify as “white”, are male and say “I as a white male ….” when describing something you actually did then fine. Otherwise, if you want to talk about entitlement and privilege then do so but don’t do it in a way that implies only “whites” or only “males” exercise entitled or privileged behavior. As a woman I can tell you from experience that we are not exempt from this type of negitive behavior. Find language to address the actual issues that does not reinforce sterotypes.

Robin Edgar said...

I have had my finger on that problem for over a decade Rev. Robinson. Unfortunately U*Us have preferred not to acknowledge that fact. If you are not the first U*U minister to "validate" my observation you are certainly amongst the few to have done so. Thank you for the acknowledgment.

Robin Edgar said...

So I guess the question that still needs to be asked, even though I have asked it numerous times in the past, very much parallels the question that you asked in your 'A Map of the Carnage' blog post. If I and other people were to create a similar Google map showing U*U "churches" where the anti-religious intolerance of "hard-core" atheists harmed the ability of these "churches" to become genuinely multicultural I expect that there would be quiet a number of markers scattered all over the U.S.A. from coast to coast and from border to border, indeed there would be at least one marker above the U.S./Canada border. How many markers on the map will it take, I wonder, before the UUA decides to do something about it?

For the record I can ask the same question with regards to the UUA's condoning of anti-conservative and anti-Republican intolerance but overwhelmingly political liberal U*U churches as well as the UUA's negligent response to various forms of clergy misconduct. Indeed there would be some overlap in those maps because AFAIAC *some* U*U clergy misconduct manifests itself in the form of anti-religious intolerance and bigotry on the part of U*U ministers or anti-conservative and/or anti-Republican intolerance and bigotry on the part of U*U ministers.