This is my first newsletter column as your new Board president. I want to use this platform to share with you what is on my heart about the current state of our country.
As a kid, I learned the adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I never understood that. I was always hurt by words; maybe because I was never exposed to the “sticks and stones” part. But, even if I were, I think the “words” had more of an everlasting effect on me than bruises that would have faded in time. And if words hurt, how much worse are tasers, batons, guns, and even knees pressing on your neck? These hurt and kill – especially if it’s for no other reason except skin color.
As a pre-teen in 1957, the Southern Baptist church in Atlanta, Georgia, where my father served as its minister, voted to not admit “colored” people into our worship services. Like UUs, Southern Baptists observe congregational polity; the members of the congregation make decisions of this magnitude, not the minister. When I questioned my Dad how could “they” do that, knowing that God created all of us in his image and Jesus said to treat others as you wish to be treated. His response was, “Honey, I don’t agree with their decision, but it’s not a decision I can make.” Words hurt and I still don’t understand.
I saw signs in public places that said, “white people only”; and signs above drinking fountains that said, “no colored allowed”. Again, I was confused – why were “whites” so afraid of people of a different color? Words hurt and I still don’t understand.
When I moved to Ohio in 1967, during the nation’s Civil Rights era, and called an apartment manager to ask if they had any vacancy, I was told I had to come to their office to find out that information. So, I did, got the information, and as I was leaving, the manager says, “You know, when I talked with you on the phone, I thought you were colored so I didn’t want to give you the information.” I was shocked – and asked, “Why does that matter? You know if that does matter to you, I’m not interested in living here.” Words hurt and I still don’t understand.
When I moved to Memphis, Tennessee in the early 1970s and walked to the back of the public bus to sit, I was told by a white person that I shouldn’t sit there, it was for the “n…s”. I said something like, “That’s OK” and turned to a black woman next to me and offered my seat up front to her. She didn’t accept my invitation. Words hurt and I still don’t understand.
When a close relative of mine recently said the “N…” word in a conversation we were having, I diplomatically told him that if he respected me and his fellow man, he would refrain from using that word ever, and especially in front of me. He retorted that if I respected him, I wouldn’t tell him what to say. I told him that I didn’t respect or tolerate people who exhibit hate or disrespect for others. Words hurt and I still don’t understand.
I ask myself: As a privileged white woman, how can I help to dismantle our white supremacy culture and become truly anti-racist? There is a lot I don’t know, so where do I begin? Yes, I can – and I will -- become more informed by reading books, listening to the stories of those who are marginalized, volunteering for non-profit organizations who advocate for justice and equity, and maybe writing a blog or two. But, perhaps, one of the greatest impacts I can have is to speak up for injustice wherever I hear it, see it, experience it, or witness others experiencing it – to be the change I want to see in the world. This won’t be easy; but, that’s OK. I am not the one who is being subjected to racism; it’s even harder for those who are.
I urge each of you – and our congregation -- to fight racism. Better yet, commit to becoming anti-racist; recognize and confront our own racism as individuals and as a congregation. Let us step into the discomfort and take action, no matter how small the action might be. Remember, Margaret Mead’s advice: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
George Floyd and other black people who were killed because of the color of their skin have changed the world; they didn’t realize the impact their deaths would have. Don’t allow them to die in vain. I implore us to commit to making a difference – in our congregation and in our community – which will send ripples out into the world.
Many of our UU principles require that we speak out against words and actions that hurt:
We covenant and promote
· The inherent worth and dignity of every person
· Justice and equity in human relations
· Acceptance of one another
· The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all,
· Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part
These principles include every person – regardless of the color of one’s skin, sexual orientation, gender identity, and any other differences, whatever they may be.
Peace and blessings,
Gaye Webb, Board President