Suki Sun, Beloved Community News Guest Writer, and Shelley Butler, Beloved Community News Team
Sometimes two but more often four to five people make a commitment to read, listen, or view a resource vetted by a small committee at Unity dedicated to expanding the understanding of racism for the purpose of dismantling it. The pairs or groups gather over two-three months and then come to a larger meeting to report what surprised them about what they learned, what questions arose, and what they are called to do next. This is the Unity Church Antiracism Literacy Partners (ALP) program, which arose out of Justice for George/Next Right Action discussions in the summer of 2020.
Suki Sun is a participant in the program with a story to tell. She was born in Shanghai, China, and lived in Manhattan for ten years before moving to Minnesota two years ago. She has been involved in two ALP groups this year, and in that short time has impressed us with her dedication to the program and her wisdom.
Being a person of color myself doesn’t automatically make me immune from racial bias — this is the biggest lesson I have learned since joining the Unity Antiracism Literacy Partners program.
I learned that the hard way during a conversation at Recovery Cafe Frogtown with a recovery coach and motivational speaker who is a middle-aged African American gentleman. I mentioned to him that since I got sober, I picked up the violin again after a 30-year pause and recently joined an orchestra in Saint Paul.
“Which orchestra?” I could see his interest twinkling in his eyes.
“East Metro Symphony Orchestra and it used to be called 3M Symphony Orchestra,” I replied.
“Oh! 3M Symphony!” Now his eyes were totally lit up, “I had been to many of their concerts before they changed the name. What a great orchestra you have joined! Congratulations!”
On top of the excitement whenever I meet someone who enjoys classical music, I also noticed that this time, it included a tone of uneasy surprise, or I could even call it a mind shock based on his race; he was the first African American I ever talked with about classical music. I was struggling with some racing thoughts. I wanted to tell him how unique it was for me to talk with an African American who supports live classical music concerts, which was a fact to me, but sounded wrong, so I didn’t say it. I also wanted to mention that I wish there were more African American musicians in our orchestra (we have zero), which was also a fact to me but also sounded wrong, so I didn’t say it. And the loudest question echoing in my mind at that moment was, “Why do you think we don’t see more African Americans in the classical music scene?“ And of course, I didn’t say that either.
My racial bias acted like an automatic yet dysfunctional machine, vacuuming the air from my mind, suffocating the natural flow of an otherwise delightful chat about classical music, one of my favorite topics. In the end, I didn’t have the mental capacity to extend and deepen our conversation about classical music by asking him, “Who are your favorite composers and conductors? What is your favorite piece? Do you play any instruments?”
In the end, I was the one hurt by my racial bias because I ruined the chance to connect with another person in a more profound and meaningful way. After all, in recovery connection is the opposite of addiction. I also lost the opportunity to hear more details of his story as an avid classical music supporter to uproot my bias. New wisdom always plants more healthy seeds when we learn from a powerful story instead of abstract statements.
But I didn’t value the personal stories from BIPOC as a tool to wither my racial bias until I was in the Unity Antiracism Literacy Partners (ALP) group this spring. In an intimate setting of five members, we listened to ten episodes of the podcast “The Sum of Us,” which included personal stories from Memphis to Orlando, from Kansas City to Manhattan Beach, California; and then met weekly to digest these stories. During our meetings, I find that as long as I keep my eyes and mind open, even just one person's story is powerful enough to change my years-long, or even decades-long wrong assumptions.
That’s why I am so grateful to be part of the Antiracism Literacy Partners. Small group, small steps, but big potential. Evolution always will feel charming.
Note: The League of American Orchestras, in “Racial/Ethnic and Gender Diversity in the Orchestra Field in 2023,” reports that while the U.S. Population of Blacks is 12.6%, the percentage of Black people in orchestra is only 2.4%. Read the report for their analysis and recommendations for correcting the inequities.
Anyone can join Unity's Antiracism Literacy Partners program. Questions? Contact Becky Gonzalez-Campoy at email@example.com.
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.