What is white supremacy?

By Tom Stites

What is white supremacy? Is it just extremists wearing hoods marching with torches? Or does it also infect every institution in our nation? How does it distort the lives of all of us, whether we are people of color or white? How does it manifest itself in an all-but-all-white place like Newburyport – and in an all-but-all-white church like the First Religious Society?

FRS has just formed a Racial Justice Task Force, and its first project will be to help the congregation come to grips with this angst-making topic, which has come loudly to the forefront not only in our nation’s politics but also in our denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association (more on this below).

Not only is white supremacy an ugly presence in U.S. culture and politics, it is a vexing religious and spiritual challenge, particularly for us Unitarian Universalists: We are part of a faith whose First Principle is “to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person” but we are living in a country where too many people – including some political and even religious leaders – do not. As individual religious people, and as a congregation, what might we do to help overcome this?

The new task force is planning three ways we can all engage, and learn:

A common read: Several UU congregations report great experiences when their members read Waking Up White, by Debbie Irving, then held discussion groups. Not only have other UUs valued this book as a common read, Amazon offers 310 customer reviews that average 4.5 out of 5 stars. But wait! Don’t rush to order – the Task Force has found a deal to buy the books in bulk and offer them at a price lower than even Amazon’s – chances are, they’ll be on sale after this Sunday’s service. Or, to save more money, you can buy the Kindle version. Book discussions will be held the evening of Wednesday, February 21, and after church on Sunday, February 25.

Workshops: Hundreds of UU congregations across the nation have conducted or are planning workshops, teach-ins and other group efforts to learn about white supremacy, and FRS will be joining in. The Task Force is searching for the ideal approach to meaningful workshops for us. Stay tuned for a further announcement.

A special service: On February 12, FRS will present a special service about this challenging religious topic, which will include some personal testimony by FRS members about how white supremacy has impacted their lives and lives of loved ones. And the service will draw from experiences of Young Church students, who will have just completed four Sundays of studying white supremacy.

The Task Force will offer more details as plans develop. Its members, to date, are Annie Maurer, Frances McLaughlin, Lea Pearson, Melissa Sills, Tom Stites, Sandra Thaxter and Jane Tuohy.

And, what’s this about white supremacy and the UUA? Because of a badly handled hire for a regional executive position, and other questions about hiring policies and antiracism efforts, the UUA President Peter Morales and other top executives resigned this spring, three months before Morales’s second term was to end. This has brought institutional white supremacy to the forefront of the Association’s business, and major changes are playing out. Here’s UU World’s report on Morales’s resignation and its aftermath, plus articles about later developments.