Many within our CUUPS community spend a considerable amount of time fighting for Social Justice issues. These efforts clearly reflect our principles as part of the greater UUA Community. What is not always as clear is how effective these efforts are. Matters of personal responsibility and culpability stir great passion and animated debate not to mention defensiveness and retreat into a place where individual worldviews are not challenged.
As a white male fighting for these causes it is incumbent upon me to measure my actions, insure that I am speaking up but not over the voices of those who directly experience oppression in our collective culture.
Individuals who directly experience oppression have every right, maybe even an obligation, to speak forcefully and directly, calling out the oppressive actions and attitudes that they experience. Doing so as an ally, however, often just causes an un-needed escalation that causes distrust, hurt feelings and little in terms of progress in important social justice actions.
When we direct words like racism, white privilege and sexism towards individuals we effectively establish ourselves as individuals willing to label a human being. My argument here is not that the label does not fit, but that if those labeled as such do not see themselves as represented by the label our ability to engage in changing views and behaviors is shut down due to the defensiveness caused by our verbiage.
What I am suggesting is that we take compassion-centered approach, as members of the dominant culture all of us have had to confront our beliefs and evolve to a deeper place of understanding and compassion. In what way then is it appropriate to engage in name calling and labeling of individuals who have yet to arrive at a more inclusive worldview? Is it not our job instead to engage them with compassion, directly discuss our concerns about their views in a way that will be heard avoiding escalation that ends open discussion?
For me compassion is the centerpiece of effective radical social justice. If we engage in “calling people in” too compassion based discussion instead of “calling them out” for unacceptable beliefs are we not being more effective in our social justice work?
For me this approach means using story telling skills about oppression that have the potential of opening the eyes of those listening. It also means direct and ongoing engagement in social justice causes, manifesting a center place where open discussion is not shut down by name-calling or hyperbole.
The majority of racism and discrimination that we encounter is perpetuated by individuals engaging in “adverse” racism. By definition these people have no insight into the racist undertones of their opinions. Painting them with the same brush as the overt bigot only further entrenches their beliefs.
As CUUPS members we can choose a more effective and compassion centered approach; let us set the table of discourse with the language of compassion in the hope of effectiveness and the desire to reflect our belief in the dignity of everyone.