How’s the Water?

Rev. Sinkford’s Blog …

David Foster Wallace began a commencement address at Kenyon College several years ago with this story:

“There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys, how’s the water?’ The two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the [heck] is water?’”

Last Sunday and this coming Sunday, over 650 Unitarian Universalist congregations will engage in some form of a “White Supremacy” Teach-In. So many UU congregations never do anything together…until now.

The language of white supremacy, introduced by our guest preacher last Sunday, is a shock for some of us, especially when applied to our liberal faith. We think of the KKK and Bull Connor who were indeed “white supremicists,” racist in thought and deed. But the term “”white supremacy” is used to describe not individual racist attitudes, but a culture and practice that works to keep whites on top, black and brown people on the margins. It is the cultural water in which we all swim.

White supremacy culture is what allowed good-hearted white leaders at the UUA to look at the hire of a fifth white regional lead on the UUA staff and see nothing wrong. White supremacy culture sees nothing wrong with an all white leadership group. This is the same white supremacy culture that criticized a Latina Supreme Court Justice for affirming that she would use her life experience on the bench.

The cultural waters in which we swim are hard to see. It takes a shock to disrupt our normal patterns.

Unitarian Universalism has received such a shock. My work at the UUA is to maximize the chances that we make this a time of opportunity rather than seeing our current dis-ease as just a set of problems. In addition to providing much needed pastoral support to a very beleaguered UUA staff, I have been developing new hiring policies and, with my two Interim Co-Presidents, planning for a Commission to analyze and continue deconstructing the operation of that white supremacy culture within our denomination.

I am looking forward to answering some of your questions about this and other issues here at our church this Sunday at 1 p.m. in Eliot Chapel. I hope to see many of you there.

This is the National Day of Prayer when our President decided to lower the barrier between church and state, and move toward a definition of religious freedom that encourages discrimination. That, too, is white supremacy culture at work because these oppressions are related. This is called “intersectionality,” but you don’t need a PhD or a dictionary to understand the operation of power and privilege.

My prayer is that we can have a better and more honest conversation about the cultural water in which we swim. A strong community, even ours, almost always re-enforces its preconceptions. But a great community seizes opportunities to inspect those preconceptions and swim toward justice.



PS: Click here to read the announcement of my accepting this short term interim role from First Unitarian Moderator Randy Russell and myself.