Scholars of color assess Unitarian Universalist history

At a General Assembly workshop titled “Looking Back, Looking Forward: Scholars of Color Assess Our History,” three UU scholars of color spoke about the contributions of people of color and Latino/a and Hispanic people to, and their participation in, Unitarian Universalism. Over a hundred people gathered to hear their remarks on Saturday afternoon.

People of color and religious education

The Rev. Dr. Mark Morrison-Reed, retired UU minister, independent scholar, and author of Black Pioneers in a White Denomination, spoke first. Morrison-Reed’s latest research interest is how UU religious education curriculum historically portrayed people of color.

Martin and Judy, featuring two white characters named Martin and Judy, was a UU curriculum for children aged 3-5 first published in 1939. “Yes, this was a religiously non-doctrinal curriculum of exploration,” said Morrison-Reed. “But the particularities of Martin and Judy’s lives are tied to a white middle class suburban life, with the father as breadwinner. This is the hidden curriculum in this curriculum.”

It was not until the revision of Martin and Judy in 1959, 20 years after it had first been published, that an African American character was added, Morrison-Reed said. However, that character appears only in the illustrations, not in the text of the story.

Morrison-Reed noted that during this time, Unitarians and Universalists both worked for racial justice. “There was a disconnect between our espoused values, and our values in practice,” he said.

“There is still a missing and hidden curriculum today,” Morrison-Reed said. “I’m pretty sure Latino, Latina, and Hispanic experience remains a UU blind spot. I’m pretty sure that [socio-economic] class remains a blind spot.”

Morrison-Reed pointed out two areas where more research is needed into UU history. “We simply do not have a comprehensive history of what our children and youth are being taught today” about race and racism, he said.

“Nor is there any history of African American religious educators,” he said, even though it appears that “the first way we were willing to settle African American professionals in our congregations was as religious educators.”

UU youth and young adults of color

The Rev. Dr. Monica L. Cummings, UUA program associate, Ministry to Youth and Young Adults of Color, spoke about the needs of UU youth and young adults of color. Cummings has been working to implement the Mosaic Project Report, a 2009 project of the UUA.

“The Mosaic Project challenge was to identify the ministry needs of youth and young adults of color,” she said. The Mosaic Project found that youth need to develop their identities as human beings in the areas of race, class, gender, etc. “The youth said, ‘Arm us with self knowledge, empower us, and teach us about who we are. Then when we go out into the world, we will be better prepared’,” Cummings said.

She added, “If adults of color have a difficult time in Unitarian Universalism, then you can only imagine the experiences of youth.” She pointed out that transracially adopted children have a different experience of Unitarian Universalism than their white parents.

Looking forward, she believes in approaching this work from a pastoral perspective. “There’s no question that many youth of color are wounded,” she said. “We tend to look at this work from a social justice perspective, but there is obviously a pastoral perspective as well.”

Latino/a and Hispanic people and Unitarian Universalism

The Rev. Patricia Jimenez, the first Mexican-American woman to be fellowshipped as a Unitarian Universalist minister, spoke next. “The history of the people who identify as Latino/Latina and hispanic is long, predates, and is complex,” she said. “Racially and culturally it is not a monolithic group.

“People ask me where I come from, and I say, New Mexico. But I know what they really know is this: What country did I come from? But my family didn’t move [from Mexico], the border moved,” she said. Some of her ancestors came to what is now New Mexico in 1598, and some of her ancestors were from the pueblos in New Mexico.

“One of the things we’ve been involved in,” Jimenez said, “is to deconstruct, and reconstruct, our ideas of color.” She gave an example of a UU youth who had an Anglo mother and a Latino father. This youth went to a UU event where youth of color were supposed to go one place, and white youth some place else. But this youth did not know which group she should choose. “What are we doing to our children, to make them choose like that, to choose just one thing out of their wholeness? ” Jimenez said. “How can we not see their wholeness? People can choose one identity, and for some people it makes more sense…. But it should not require you to split yourself down the middle.”

Jimenez is currently working with the Rev. José Ballester to uncover the historical relationships between Unitarian Universalism and Latino/a and Hispanic people over time. For example, they are looking at two different sanctuary movements in which some Unitarian Universalist congregations provided refuge to Latino/a and Hispanic people in the 1980s and 1990s

There are even earlier examples of Unitarian and Universalist awareness of Latino/a and Hispanic peoples. “When Thoreau went to jail, he was withholding his taxes because he objected to the Mexican-American War,” she said. “Shortly after that, he wrote his famous book on civil disobedience.”

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