Intersections of Identity

Before I can change the heart of anyone else, I need to know myself. Before I could ask another to change, I had to learn to change myself.

As a white, middle-class, academic, fat lesbian I grew up in a largely white environment. I attended nearly all-white churches.  I shopped at stores where most of the people looked like me.  I went to schools largely devoid of students, faculty, or staff of color. I have had extensive education, and as a child I never had to worry about where my lunch, clothes, or piano lessons were coming from.

I also experience fat-shaming on a near daily basis. For most of my 12-year committed relationship, I could not be civilly, legally married. The sexism embedded in our culture affects me as it does people of every gender.


In the woods off of Skyline Drive in Virginia

This identity of mine, with all its complexity, exists at the intersection of many experiences and characteristics. Everyone’s does. I am not only white, I am also a woman. I am not only lesbian, I am also well-educated. I am not only oppressed in this culture; I am also privileged.  This culture rewards me for characteristics I have not chosen, or earned in any way.

We have intersecting identities. And most UU’s are on the privileged side of the line, as it were, especially in terms of class, race, and education. Not all of us, by any means. There are many people of color, for example, doing amazing work in our communities, taking risks to work in largely white communities and be in covenant. Still, I would be disingenuous if I did not point out how much privilege and power many Unitarian Universalists have.

So how do we work towards this Beloved Community so many of us long for? How do we become communities of love, welcome and faith in human possibility?

Beloved Community comes from love. Not just niceness or statements of conscience, but love.  Love that is willing to be wrong, love that is willing to share conflict and work for transformation, love that takes risks over and over again.

It comes out of a true confrontation with our own histories and the way those histories intersect with other people’s. It comes through long, hard looks at the race and class divisions in our culture and how UU culture plays into that. It also comes from sharing our lives, fears, and accomplishments with people different from ourselves.

I attended Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC in part because of the race, class, and theological diversity there. My best friend from seminary is an African-American Baptist who isn’t quite sure where she stands on same-sex marriage. Another friend is a Korean Methodist who may change to the Presbyterian Church because of issues of sexuality and justice. Another is a white Presbyterian, another an African-American Pentecostal, another a mujerista Methodist working for gender equality in the church. All these, as well as UU’s of various backgrounds and identities. Over and over and over again, I have found that real relationship is what most changes our hearts.

Let us be in solidarity with one another and build the world we dream about. As many believe, and Rev. Jack Mendelsohn said, if the arc of the universe is going to turn towards justice, then it is human hands–our hands–that must do the turning.

So let us visit with our neighbors. Let us participate in the workshops that help us learn how to interrupt oppressive speech, actions, and institutional structures. Let us learn about the ways we carry privilege. Whatever our “place on the ladder” of oppression and privilege, let us practice articulating our experience and ask for help in doing so. Let us learn about micro-aggressions–especially if we’re not experiencing them daily as many of us do!–and do our part to eradicate these daily injustices. Let us listen to the voices of oppressed people; let those of us with privilege never assume we know better.

Let us be brave, let us risk being wrong, let us ask for and enter into relationship, and we will change our world.