A homily delivered By Myles Crowley at First Parish Dorchester, Sunday, August 25, 2019
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On January 27, 2019, First Parish installed a new Black Lives Matter banner, this time on the Meetinghouse rather than the fence, and the congregation committed “to grow in becoming an intentionally and pro-actively anti-racist faith community through reflection and action, listening and learning …” and other activities. Since January, several members have convened a social justice group and have planned circle discussions on social justice on the third Sunday of each month during fellowship time. Relatedly, a few members have been reading and discussing the book “How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide” by Crystal Marie Fleming. While the new search for the next settled minister will be the focus of much of the 2019-2020 year, the congregation will also be called to participate in an exciting discernment process on our collective social justice ministry.
This homily is about how Myles’s recent readings and a professional conference (IDEAL ’19 – Advancing Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility in Libraries and Archives, in Columbus, Ohio, Aug. 5-8, 2019 https://library.osu.edu/ideal-19) have informed, inspired and even fired him up about First Parish’s social justice ministry.
Please join me in acknowledging that the land we are meeting on today is the original homelands of the Mashpee Wampanoag, Aquinnah Wampanoag, Nipmuc, and Massachusett tribal nations. We pause to acknowledge the painful history of genocide and forced removal from this territory, and we honor and respect the many diverse Indigenous peoples still connected to this land on which we gather.
Good morning! I have been a member of this congregation since 2005 and I am always honored to lead a summer service at First Parish Dorchester. Welcome. Thank you for showing up! A big part of being in a congregation is just showing up.
Our Call to Worship describes how “our unity in love and our thirst for restorative justice” might “MELT the tethers that uphold whiteness.” This strikes me as a very Unitarian Universalist approach in that it is ambiguous enough to not offend anyone. Instead of melting the tethers that uphold whiteness, why don’t we just CUT them? [1.]
I mean, as the writer James Baldwin said, isn’t “whiteness” just a metaphor for power, for unearned racial privilege?
“Privilege can be blinding, and can cause people to ignore situations that should be simple matters of right and wrong.” [2.]
–I don’t want to melt white supremacy—I want it shamed!
–I don’t want to melt white nationalism—I want it squashed!
–I don’t want to melt white male privilege with its misogynist, homophobic and paternalistic violent words and behaviors—I want it stopped!
Many have given their lives in the fight against these oppressions. If our world, our country, our city, our faith tradition were more free of racism, we could truly build the Beloved Community.
“O God, Give Us Power!” 
In her book “How to be Less Stupid About Race”, Crystal Fleming writes:
“If you want to be an antiracist change agent, you’re going to have to think long and hard about your own racial socialization. Most of us were not taught to acknowledge that impact of racial ideas, scripts, and behavior on our upbringing and values, but that’s the kind of internal work that’s required for addressing racism. It’s easier to pretend that racism is someone else’s problem, but the truth is that none of us is immune. I like to joke that many whites, perhaps especially liberals, are prone to believing this myth: I am magically untouched by the racist society that socialized me.” But there are also minorities who pretend to be exempt from the dynamics of internalized oppression or the scourge of colorism and prejudice. We have all been in the sunken place, and it does us no good to claim otherwise.” [4. Fleming, pg. 187]
So like Fleming, my intent this morning is not to make anyone feel embarrassed or defensive. I don’t intend to hurt anyone. I hope to raise-up how important “our unity in love and our thirst for restorative justice” will be if we follow-through with our stated commitment to become an anti-racist faith community. [5.]
Because as the writer Toni Morrison said: the “very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps us from doing our work” or for First Parish Dorchester, it keeps us from our mission as a congregation.
Ready? Okay, “Come and Go with Me”… 
At the beginning of August, I attended a professional conference in Columbus, Ohio called IDEAL, that stands for – Advancing Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility in Libraries and Archives and this is where I heard the term “de-centering whiteness.” I may have read it before, but this time it stuck.
As a racial category and culture, Whiteness, like Blackness, is socially constructed and in our society whiteness is considered the norm and is privileged. Although I am a composite of many identities including class, ethnicity, family background, sexual orientation, my identity as white cis male gives me privilege. So “decentering whiteness” for me means not resting on my privilege, but using it to help those with less privilege and building a life that is fuller, more varied than that offered by the dominant white culture. For First Parish it means really living our mission of theological and cultural diversity by decentering the white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant culture of this congregation’s past.
Thus my homily is about change.
As many of you know, in 2009, I had an ‘Ah-ha’ moment when I realized I wanted to work in an archives. An archivist collects, preserves and provides access to records of enduring value and an archives is a place where the records are kept. The records are in every format imaginable. Many archivists care about history as I do. So I began a career change process from university administration and public relations to archival reference.
But in ten years, I don’t have the title of Archivist, I wanted it very much, and I may never have a job with that title. The archival profession, like others, is predominantly white, and there is a hierarchy; librarians more so. Both professions want to become more diverse. It’s also competitive. There aren’t a lot of jobs. And as they become largely female vocations, I think they are becoming devalued, like teachers. I’m in the support staff and so I might be labeled as para-professional. And since I earned a master’s degree and I’m relatively new to the field, I’m also considered an “early professional”. But I mean really? I’m 57 years old! –It’s also weird because I’ve been working since I was nine and I had over 10-years of so-called “professional” experience before I was hired in the archives.
One of the purposes of professional conferences is to collect business cards. Which means network to make contacts that might lead to job opportunities. So picture me at the Society of American Archivists annual convention neatly dressed with my blue blazer, sometimes a tie, my Vista Print business cards and my smile. I’d be having a good conversation with a young person until they realized I wasn’t in a position to hire them so they’d move on. Or I’d be talking with someone my age or slightly older and they’d turn away once they figured out we were not professional peers. I attended the conferences for five years and never traded many business cards. I wasn’t fitting in. The conference experience was not fulfilling and so I decided to skip it this year.
Then I heard about the IDEAL conference. Honestly, what first drew me to attend was the chance to see the city of Columbus. This conference had the same networking going on, but it was smaller, and I think this is important, the meeting is not annual, but is only held when there is enough interest and people to organize it.
I’m so glad that I went.
The attendees were more diverse than at the big conferences. There were other “white” men like me, but not a lot. IDEAL looked more like the South End neighborhood I grew up in and the Boston Public Schools that I attended. It looked a bit like Dorchester. Maybe these were my people!
On the first morning, I got to the main hall early, grabbed some of the continental breakfast and sat at one of the round tables near the front. As the other tables filled with people, I started to feel uncomfortably alone. So I approached an adjacent table taken by four black women and two white women and asked if I could join them. One of the women said, “Are you sure? Your seat has a better view of the podium.” I said, “I know, that’s the same place I sit in church, but this group looks like more fun.” So that’s how I worked the conference. I looked for friendly faces and asked if I might join-in.
The first speaker was Kimberlé Crenshaw, a Professor of Law at UCLA and Columbia Law School, who is a leading authority in the area of Civil Rights, Black feminist legal theory, and race, racism and the law.
The conference opened just after the shootings in El Paso and Dayton; a moment of silence was held; and the host committee informed us that extra security was added for our event. Then Crenshaw stepped to the podium and with a slight tremble in her voice, she named the emotion in the country and in the room: fear. Fear. Her presentation was amazing for its breadth and depth of information, ideas and inspiration.
She asked, “How did we come to think we are a ‘post-racial’ society?” And she stated that there is an anti-diversity and an anti-inclusion movement in the United States emboldened by white supremacy ideology and government complacency.
Crenshaw urged us to acknowledge that for many of our fellow Americans a little diversity is too much diversity. These people long for the “good old days” before political correctness, when we were “just Americans” and they didn’t have to worry about diversity. In other words, when simply being white put you in the center of everything.
The battle today is on many levels—material, ideological and narrative, Crenshaw said. And if you’ve read The Third Reconstruction by the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber, we are also facing a battle for the spirit or the soul of this nation. –A moral battle. 
And would you agree that our own Unitarian Universalist principles and values are under assault in this reactionary period? This decades-long period of “deconstruction”, as Barber might say, that preceded the election of the current occupant of the White House.
As I reflected on Crenshaw’s talk, I was reminded of our UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray’s words: “This is no time for a casual faith.” 
Who are the heroes who will fight for inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility? –for courtesy, compassion, fairness, respect and tolerance? Who will fight for our multi-cultural democracy?
Will you “Come and Go with Me”?
There’s no time to describe the presentations that I attended over the two days. I’ll just tell you the titles:
- Becoming Better Allies via the Communication Recovery Model
- Talk about it AND Be About It: Building a Self-Sustaining Network of Active Bystanders
- Calling In versus Calling Out: Conflict Resolution in Polarized Times
- Exploring Racial Equity: A systems frame for advancing organizational transformation
- We Are Not a Monolith: Outreach to Diverse Populations
- Mindful Marketing: A Social Justice Approach to Outreach and Promotion
- Decentering Whiteness in the Knowledge Production System
The closing talk was by Nikole Hannah-Jones who covers racial injustice for The New York Times Magazine, and has spent years chronicling the way official policy has created—and maintains—racial segregation in housing and schools. Hannah-Jones curated “The 1619 Project” a special issue and section published in Times paper on August 18 and I have a copy on the altar table. Her presentation was very similar to her article in the magazine. 
Hannah-Jones opened by saying she hates the word diversity because she thinks it’s a useless word. During the question and answer period, she said she was not hopeful about race because inequality in the US is structural and the people who benefit don’t want to give it up. However she stated several times that there has been amazing progress in her lifetime, essentially in one generation. 50 years as we noted in our Story for All Ages this morning.
Very clearly and powerfully, she said: Black Americans have served as the perfectors of democracy. Consider the black Civil rights movement and what it inspired. (As a gay man, I know my life benefited by their movement.) Even as they were not free and later second-class citizens, Blacks believed the words in our founding documents. Unlike immigrants, they knew no other form of government. They were Americans. –Maybe when you are denied something, you want it even more, and maybe enough to give your life to a cause greater than yourself.
It’s easy to dismiss, ignore or tune-out to other people’s struggles when your privileges are protected. So we need to understand “the architecture of white supremacy” and our history, Hannah Jones said. –That’s why the year 1619, when the first enslaved Africans where brought to Jamestown, Virginia, not 1776, is our origin, our defining moment as a nation.
Hannah-Jones reminded us that the many of our founders where slave-owners even as some believed slavery was immoral. And indeed the US was a slaveocracy, a country run by slave owners and those who profited from slavery. Including folks in the Northeast, places like Lawrence and Lowell, and universities. –And we—all of us—are the beneficiaries of the 250 years of uncompensated labor of those who were enslaved.
Many folks view the US these days as plutocracy –a society that is ruled or controlled by people of great wealth or income. Some even go so far to say we have a kleptocracy- a government with corrupt leaders more interested in their personal wealth and political powers.
Perhaps history shows that these are ever-present forces in our culture that run counter to our ideals and therefore must be pushed back, reformed, revolted against – or MELTED, if you will, by each generation. Many have passed who gave their lives to advance freedom and to make the US a more perfect union. This is our time. Friends, when fear and hate take the center, we must overcome with love and unity.
O Goddess, Give Us Power!
Hannah-Jones said we’d be wise to “trust black women who are the vanguards of this democracy.” Indeed, the women of color who spoke at the IDEAL conference spoke with authority, knowledge and grace.
–Dayo, can ‘I Come and Go with You’?
I’m so pleased that Dayo Hall agreed to be the worship associate this morning. I think she’s amazing. You give me hope, Dayo.
My dream for First Parish is that we become a multi-cultural congregation where people like Dayo [and Katherine!] are at the center. If people like me are still at the center of this congregation 10 years from now, then we will have failed in our mission and vision.
The life, work and words of Civil Rights leader Ella Baker inspired the group Sweet Honey in the Rock to write “Ella’s Song”. You probably know the chorus:
“We who believe in freedom, can not rest.”
Then there are these words–
“To me young people come first
They have the courage where we fail
And if I can but shed some light as they carry us through the gale
“The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on
Is when the reins are in the hands of the young, who dare to run against the storm 
Lucas Gonzalez Milliken, our director of religious education, reports that our youth have been ready for us to show some leadership in social justice. They talked about justice all last year. So“How do we move boldly toward our highest ideals?” This is the last part of my homily.
O Spirit, Give Us Power!
Fortunately, a social justice planning group has been meeting and made some decisions that set a path for the next year. We call you to take part in this process.
Help us gather and share information:
- about your personal justice activities and interests;
- about First Parish’s justice and injustice history;
- about our Dorchester neighbors and organization that are doing justice work.
Read and discuss the book: How to Be Less Stupid About Race.
Learn about white supremacy culture. If you identify as white, please stay in conversation even if it is difficult.
Read, view, listen and reflect on other materials. There is much on the UUA website.
Become a member of the coordinating group. “Many stones form an arch. Singly none.” 
Join a social justice circle conversation on the 3rd Sunday each month during fellowship time. The next one is Sunday, September 15.
Leave room for leadership from our minister and our children. Most of these children will not be our biological children. We can help teach them.
Expect to be uncomfortable at times including during Sunday services. If we want to grow, we have to make space for more diverse music, readings, formats, voices.
Practice justice in every part of our congregational life, including governance and staffing. Remember we have a Covenant of Right Relations to guide us.
Take part. Social justice isn’t something that some committee or one group does. This is congregation-wide. Justice is central to our faith. It’s different than service. Congregations with strong social justice missions attract members and grow. What can we stand for together and united?
And what say the people? Who’s ready to contribute to our social justice mission? Please consider this in the months ahead.
And my life? I was probably born an archivist; having the professional title is less and less important. The pursuit of the career is taking the life out of me. I’d rather be known as a helpful worker, one among the many. I want to learn America’s history not its mythology. I seek cultural and theological diversity in my life; and that requires de-centering my whiteness. There are some who “would rather live white and than live free” –-not me! I want to be free, serene and whole. I want to be an anti-racist; I hope I have the courage to continue this work for the rest of my life. 
My question for this congregation—and may we find our answer soon—is
What would First Parish Dorchester give its life for?
Thank you. Blessed be.
Those who have participated in the social justice discussions, if you feel so moved, please come forward to be acknowledged and to lead the congregation on the next hymn, which is “Come and Go with Me [to that land]” #1018 in the teal hymnal.
- Call to worship by Rev. Rebekah Savage: https://www.uua.org/worship/words/chalice-lighting/promise-and-practice-chalice-lighting-1
- Web source, likely a quote by someone, not documented.
- Lyric from song “Siph’ Amandla”, South African, Black Apartheid era.
- How to be Less Stupid about Race, By Crystal M. Fleming. (Beacon Press, Boston, MA, 2018) page 187.
- Lyric from song “Come and Go with Me”, African American, Slavery era.
- The Third Reconstruction, by The Reverend Dr. William J. Barber (Beacon Press, Boston, 2016).
- Lyric from “Step by Step the Longest March” a popular worker union song.
- Line “would rather live white and than live free” from Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Speigel & Grau, New York, 2015) page 143.