Why are we naming racism in particular out of all the forms of oppressions and ways to marginalize people?
In a word, color, or pigment. “Race” is a social construct used to interact with the artificially created caste system. Caste systems in a country are massive, made of webs of economic, legal, political and social structures, and created by white majority (claimed as ordained by the Creator), to assign hierarchical value to particular groups. The explicit and implicit goal is to claim power over, and therefore economic, legal, political and social use of another group. Those groups are assigned traits with arbitrary boundaries to keep the groups apart and in their assigned place.
According to Isabel Wilkerson in her brilliant best seller, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, “Caste is the bones, race the skin. Race is what we can see, the physical traits that have been given arbitrary meaning and become shorthand for who a person is. Caste is the powerful infrastructure that holds each group in its place. Caste is fixed and rigid. Race is fluid and superficial, subject to periodic redefinition to meet the needs of the dominant caste in what is now the United States.”
There are many other groups that get caught in the caste system of hierarchy and power, including but not limited to poor, religious groups such as Jews, ethnic, LGBTQ, and disabled. But race is the unique marker of a group given as an external and unchangeable trait, that are then systemically used as objects to a greater goal. Those with non-white skin tones cannot “pass” up the caste system to higher levels of ranking. While women have been systemically oppressed within the caste system, white women are given higher value than Black, Brown or Asian women. Dark toned Black and Brown women are at the bottom of the caste system. Disabled, dark toned Black and Brown women are even lower.
We saw the caste system in play during the evacuation of Ukraine when People of Color were not allowed to evacuate before the white people.
The United States was established on the murdered bodies of a race, Indigenous People, then built by the poor and indentured, followed by the Black enslaved bodies when the white poor people found a way up the caste hierarchy. For generations, our country has been publicly and privately coping with this horrific history mostly by perpetuating the systems set in place over 400 years. We’ve been processing, writing, talking, singing, praying, crying and dying as the caste system continues to use and simultaneously oppress a targeted group based on the color of their skin. The logic is: Can’t “use” someone who has value, and therefore must devalue and contain any resistance.
As Unitarian Universalists, a liberal, primarily white liberal association, we are not immune to the caste system’s power and its use of race as the primary determination of value. For example, our history is embedded with the belief in eugenics in the early to mid-20th century, with the culmination of the Supreme Court decision in 1927, “Buck vs. Bell.” Two Unitarian Supreme Court Justices, Oliver Wendell Holmes and William Howard Taft, both voted with the majority in support of the forced sterilization of a young Black girl because she was considered “shiftless, ignorant and worthless.”
In another sad piece of our history arrived while fighting for women’s right to vote in the late 19th century. When Black women asked the first generation of women leaders, including Unitarians, to include the right to vote for Black women, their pleas were dismissed as too divisive in their long fight.
My body shudders with the horrors of what our country has done, and how my faith has been complicit and sometimes overtly supported systematic and brutal harm to beautiful human beings based on the color of skin.
We as Unitarian Universalists are faced with another decision, in a long line of decisions, about prioritizing our faith as one of action and accountability in the pursuit of liberation for all. We have been talking about this for a very long time. I believe we are ready to truly build the Beloved Community where all are welcome and all are loved.
Thank you for staying engaged with love and respect.
With Love and Learning, Rev. Kate