I had the privilege of interviewing five Unity Church members about how they identified their own personal passions, talents, and particular opportunities to promote racial justice and multiculturalism beyond the boundaries of Unity Church. They reflected on the tools Unity has provided, the spiritual grounding that propels them to create change, and the struggles that have opened them to learn and transform.
When asked to describe what she does to apply antiracism and multiculturalism in the larger community, Eileen Galvin asked, “Is it about the things I need to do, or is it a way of being that must be applied to all things?”
As a communications professional at Friends School of Minnesota, a Quaker K-8 program, Eileen is called to antiracism work every day because of a school-wide commitment to abolish white supremacy. She finds that Unity has helped her notice and reflect on what’s happening, leading to personal transformation.
When she heard Dr. Robin DiAngelo talk about white privilege at Unity, Eileen’s reaction was, “I did all those things associated with white privilege. I knew there was stuff I didn’t know, but I didn’t know how much.” Results from the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) at Unity gave her tools for charting her own development — tools for reflection.
“I was raised to know this is not a fair system. As a white person learning more about how white supremacy runs through all our systems, I can’t not do this work. I can’t be okay with an unjust system that systematically oppresses people.” It doesn’t jibe with “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”
Merrill Aldrich and Nate Solas both work in IT — a profession they say is dominated by white men. What Merrill calls the “dam-breaking moment” happened in his workplace when a Black employee talked about what was going on in his life and why this global conversation about George Floyd’s murder was important to him.
His speaking up opened the door to further conversation and to Merrill stepping up. He volunteered to lead internal discussion among the 65 employees. “The most important thing to focus on was to open the conversation so people don’t feel it’s taboo to talk about racism and multiculturalism. It was important to help people work through the awkwardness, shame, and fear so we could be open to learning. We must understand that sometimes good intentions have negative impacts on people.”
That’s a lesson Nate learned as well. A conversation with a new female hire was his “wow” moment. “Our best efforts to welcome her were good, but not good enough. She felt discounted so we needed to realize our efforts weren’t landing the way we intended. There is a tendency for people to treat everyone the same — but we need to recognize that life experiences are different. It’s not enough to make the hire and assume you’re done. We need to check in more and listen.”
Mary Baremore is acutely aware of difference as a sign language interpreter for people who are Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard-of-Hearing. Most interpreters are white, well-schooled women. “There is an elitism and supremacy that comes from being able to hear. It’s called ‘audism.’ We must look at how we benefit from being hearing and how we use it in various ways within the deaf community. Layer race on top of that and there is increased complexity.”
Unity “opened up the flood gate” for Mary to think about how she uses language. “I think all the time about the appropriateness of me interpreting for an African American man, for example, who has a different way of expressing himself. I must be aware of his culture and my culture and reflect on the language I’m using. I know I’ll never be fully adequate. Unity brings an invitation to be courageous; to know that we will fail every day and not give up; we will get back up and do better.”
Angela Wilcox recalls her discomfort. “Even though I had done a lot of antiracism work, I had been told it was wrong, uncomfortable and rude to talk about race.” When Janne and Rob Eller-Isaacs talked about race from the pulpit and their own discomfort, it “transformed how I thought about discomfort as a spiritual practice,” said Angela. “It gave me the courage to talk about it at work and that broke ground, so people opened up.”
As an educator in the Hopkins public schools, Angela has made a point of incorporating antiracism work into all her activities and continuously engaging her colleagues in the conversations and training. She has found the IDI and accompanying coaching helpful. “What clicked for me was that it’s important to meet people where they are and not where you think they should be. Antiracism training can make people defensive. We need to move into curiosity and not shame.”
Next Right Actions
In the Justice Database: Learning for Justice: Free resources for K-12 on dismantling white supremacy and advancing human rights.
Antiracism Literacy Partners: Wednesday, June 23, 7:00-9:00 p.m.