Laura Park, Beloved Community Staff Team
On November 30, Angela Wilcox and I presented the last of four programs on the Double Helix Model of Faith Formation and Antiracist Multiculturalism. This Wellspring Wednesday program focused on the characteristics of white dominant culture and the practice of the antidotes to those characteristics as a way of making the antiracist multicultural practices side of the Double Helix more concrete. We briefly described these four characteristics:
Angela noted that how you react to not understanding the double helix is a wonderful opportunity for practicing the antidotes to white supremacy culture. There was a collective moment of recognition when Angela said that the problem isn’t that you don’t understand, the problem is that you’re uncomfortable with not understanding. “So what will you do about your discomfort?” she asked.
Angela also shared the research about how learning to speak a second language requires developing a tolerance for ambiguity. She suggested that exploring and practicing the Double Helix is actually learning a new language.
We provided each table with a handout of the antidotes to the four characteristics as well as a list of possible spiritual practices. These spiritual practices included:
We asked each table group to pick one of the characteristics and discuss three questions:
Right to comfort was chosen by the most groups, but the one perfectionism group ended up being the largest. When the groups reported back on their discussion, the perfectionism group shared that they struggled with understanding perfectionism as problematic, rather than something to be proud of, until they could see how it limited them or affected their work/relationships.
Many people recognized the importance of repetition to build skill to counter these dominant culture characteristics. As an invitation to build those skills we invited people to complete this sentence, printed on a slip of paper:
“I commit to practicing the Double Helix by using _____________________ as my daily spiritual practice to live the antidote _________________. “
People chose a range of spiritual practices to help them live into the desired antidote, including using deep breathing to live the antidote of welcoming discomfort; journaling to develop a culture of appreciation; maintaining a gratitude journal to counter perfectionism; mindful walking to notice urgency; and worship and meditation to go beyond either/or thinking.
Hopefully, people left the series—even just one of the sessions in the series—with a deeper appreciation for how the two sides of the Double Helix talk to one another in a life of faith. And, people were in community with others who are also grappling to understand this metaphor and model, so they know they're not alone in trying to understand.
Lia Rivamonte, Beloved Community Communications Team
Recently, I found myself standing elbow to elbow in a local brewery teeming with Asian Americans grateful for the opportunity to be in community for a joyful cause — to drink beer and talk theater. Among them I recognized people whose ethnic and cultural roots were Hmong, Lao, Cambodian, Filipino, Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, and Indian. This only includes the people I actually know. “Asian American” serves as an umbrella term for a fast-growing 22 million people from more than 20 countries in East and Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. It was Theater Mu’s Open House at the BlackStack Brewery. We were all ages but mostly people in their 20s and 30s engaged in Twin Cities’ theater-making.
Also, there was a smattering of white people, funders and longtime advocates of local theater. But they weren’t the focus of the event. They were there to support the future of Mu and its 30-year legacy of art centering on the lives of Asian Americans. This Minnesota arts organization is now the second largest Asian American theater in the country.
I spotted Rick Shiomi, one of Mu’s founders, who after the first 20 years relinquished his role as artistic director to make room for new leadership and has moved on to form the Full Circle Theatre Company. We reminisced about those early days of Mu and the thrill of discovering a community of Asian American artists in the Twin Cities.
Rick and I joked about all the times we’ve been questioned about our origins, “No, but where are you from, really?” In fact, on a recent flight back from New York City, the woman sitting next to him queried him. “I’m from Minnesota,” he said. The woman kept drilling, uninterested in hearing where he was actually born and raised. It was only when he told her his grandfather was from Japan, that she could rest her case. She knew he was a foreigner!
Yes, many of us make light of it but we all recognize the deeper implications of being constantly regarded as alien in the country in which we were born and raised, and often where our parents were born and their parents before them. When we are continually asked where we come from, however innocent the question, we understand the answer may not satisfy the need to separate us from those who “belong” here. Our physical appearance alone is enough to spark suspicion, resentment, fear, and hatred. We need not even open our mouths to speak. Historically referred to as the “Yellow Peril” it is fear rooted in xenophobia and racism and the belief that the dark forces of the East will subsume the West. To extend that further, if we identify as Asian — regardless of citizenship —we cannot be trusted to hew to our American identity at the same time.
This and the long, sordid history of systemic racism and public violence against Asian Americans are the reasons why the recent spate of violence against us has unleashed in us such tremendous anger, fear, and sadness. The murder of a Chinese man in 1854 by a white person sparked the California Supreme Court ruling that people of Asian descent could not testify against a white person. Seventeen Chinese men and boys were lynched in Los Angeles in the Chinese Massacre of 1871. Racism was put into federal law by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. In the Rock Springs Massacre of 1885, 28 Chinese miners were killed, and 79 homes burned down. This is just the tip of a very, very large iceberg. Most are familiar with the Japanese Internment during WWII, and the barbaric acts that our military perpetrated against citizens during the Vietnam War.
In 1966, the stereotype, “model minority,” first appeared in a New York Times article. This myth perpetuated the idea that after WWII, despite internment and the wholesale destruction of their homes and businesses, Japanese Americans had quietly accepted their fate, and simply started over, refraining from asking for government aid. Instead, they worked hard, assimilated, and were “model citizens.” It was the “Why can’t you be like them?” attitude obviously directed at other nonwhites — specifically Black people that successfully pitted one group against another.
In 2020, a new epidemic of anti-Asian harassment and violent acts arose in tandem with the pandemic as the President and conservative media pinned the origin and spread of the virus on China. Over 2,500 incidents of harassment and/or violence were reported in that year alone, and anti-Asian racism continues. A few of the reported pandemic induced anti-Asian racist incidents were initiated by Black men, a stark example of how the “model minority” label has served the dominant culture, sowing mistrust and envy between nonwhite groups. These examples illustrate not just individual or interpersonal racist acts but stem from the direct result of historic institutional and structural anti-Asian racism.
There are more questions to answer and deep reflection is warranted, as we peel back the layers about what constitutes Asian-ess, and as we wonder how to break through the narratives imposed on us by others who want to de-humanize, demonize, and label us as “other” on one hand, and at the same time persuade us that we are somehow more “equal” or “like” the dominant culture in order to gain us as allies.
One antidote to anti-Asian racism is education. There is a long, complicated history of the Asian American experience — a large, diverse, ever-evolving story — that deserves our exploration. Thirty years ago, when Theater Mu was first begun, it was rare in Minnesota to hear Asian American stories told by Asian Americans. Fortunately, much has changed since the 1990’s — we are rich in these stories and in the people who can tell them. It’s time to seek them out.
Note: This is the first in a series exploring Asian American identity and anti-Asian racism.
For more information on Asian Americans, find these in the Anderson Library:
America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States by Erika Lee, 305.8 L
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong, 305.4 H
Ray Wiedmeyer, Beloved Community Communications Team
The third part of the series on four practices of the Double Helix Model of Faith Formation and Antiracism Multiculturalism took place at Wellspring Wednesday on November 17, 2022. While the previous two parts of the series were set up to help participants like myself better understand the use of the double helix model in our personal lives, this session moved beyond ourselves to the use of the metaphor in our work among and beyond us—the work we do with each other and in the world outside Unity. To do this, participants sat in a large circle around a smaller circle in the center called “the fishbowl” made up Unity members willing to share their perspective on the “State of the Church.”
Over the course of the evening, two groups occupied the center ring, and each took a turn sharing the ways they personally found connection to the church such as being involved in the choir, an outreach team, religious education, chalice circle participant, being a trustee, etc. In each case they were asked to reflect on the current state of the church, how things have changed or not changed over the past weeks, months, and years, and how we were doing as a congregation now in relation to their points of church connection. I found it fascinating and informative how many ways members found connection to the place we call Unity Church.
The reflections of each group were then followed by reflections by KP Hong, Unity’s Minister of Faith Formation, and Alfonso Wenker of Team Dynamics, the organization helping us in our work to become more multiculturally competent. Their goal was to share how the double helix metaphor can be used to explore the connection between our faith and the antiracist multicultural work we claim as our goal.
KP shared that our goal requires change and often change can be uncomfortable, even painful. Predictability is not necessarily what we should long for, and that if we forgo the same way of doing what we have always done, we may open the way for the positive change. What we know for sure is that real change does not come with some of the old ways of seeing and doing things. He also shared that this takes time. Unity can be the perfect place to do the work which often requires community, but not just any kind of community. It requires a covenantal community in which we do the work together thru hard times as well as, easy times; in which we stay in the room and do the work even when things get really difficult.
Alfonso shared that what he was hearing in the individual responses was a sense of ambiguity felt by the congregation, which is a positive sign of a congregation moving along the multicultural continuum. To move out of our place of minimization, of our white privilege, we must be open to change. Being in and getting comfortable with change, with ambiguity, is helpful in this work.
For me, this is where I began to see the value of the double helix metaphor. Our progressive, liberal faith holds the keys to becoming multiculturally competent if we embrace our ability to change. Our competency work and our work to see white privilege disappear is the work of creating Beloved Community that we often talk about in our Unitarian Universalist faith. If we are blind to the connection, we may end up shortchanging ourselves and the change we wish to see.
Beloved Community Resources
Unity Justice Database
Team Dynamics House of Intersectionality
Anti-Racism Resources in the Unity Libraries Collection
Creative Writers of Color in Unity Libraries
The History of Race Relations and Unity Church, 1850-2005
Beloved Community Staff Team
The Beloved Community Staff Team (BCST) strengthens and coordinates Unity’s antiracism and multicultural work, and provides opportunities for congregants and the church to grow into greater intercultural competency. We help the congregation ground itself in the understanding of antiracism and multiculturalism as a core part of faith formation. We support Unity’s efforts to expand our collective capacity to imagine and build the Beloved Community. Here, we share the stories of this journey — the struggles, the questions, and the collaborations — both at Unity and in the wider world.
The current members of the Beloved Community Staff Team include Rev. Kathleen Rolenz, Rev. KP Hong, Rev. Lara Cowtan, Barbara Hubbard, Drew Danielson, Laura Park, Lia Rivamonte and Angela Wilcox.