In person or online….

Three years ago at this time, I was planning to attend General Assembly, the annual gathering of Unitarian Universalists. I was finally getting recovering from a major health issue, and ready to travel again. Then, of course, the pandemic hit.

Well, we’re slowly learning to live with the ongoing pandemic. I live close enough to Pittsburgh, the location for this year’s General Assembly, that I could drive there. The question is — by the time General Assembly rolls around, am I going to be psychologically ready to attend a gathering with more than a thousand people?

I’m not ready to make a decision. Maybe I’ll watch online (I’ve come to quite like online attendance at conferences). Maybe I’ll attend in person (if I drove to Pittsburgh I could stop and see cousins Steve and Cheryl, and friends Paul and Gina on the way). Maybe I’ll set up a local conference-watch party, to combine a smaller in-person gathering with General Assembly programming. I hate to admit this, but I’ve been feeling fairly disconnected from denominational politics so I might just ignore General Assembly.

I wonder what other people are thinking about this year’s General Assembly….

The year in review: Unitarian Universalism

These are a few of the things I’ve been watching in the Unitarian Universalist (UU) universe here in the United States:

Article II Study Commission

The commission charged with revising Article II of the bylaws of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) released draft wording of a revision. From the few reactions I’ve seen online or heard in person, I suspect most Unitarian Universalists (UUs) were expecting minor revisions to the existing wording. But the draft represents a major rewrite — mostly new wording, no more seven principles, no more six sources. Kudos to the Article II Study Commission for attempting a much-needed major rewrite.

The real question, however, is whether we can build consensus around this particular rewrite, or if this reqrite will evolve into something that we can build consensus around. Personally, I’m ready for the Purposes section of Article II to be rewritten, but I’m not excited by the new draft version. What will the lovers of the “seven principles” think of this major rewrite? Will they vote for it? And if there is consensus among the usual General Assembly attendees, a tiny percentage of all Unitarian Universalists in the U.S., will the new wording be widely accepted by the rank and file? I don’t think the answers to any of these questions are obvious.

UU blogs

There aren’t many UU bloggers left. Scott Wells has finally reduced his blogging to just a few times a year. Will Shetterly moved to SubStack, deleting his old blog. People like Patrick Murfin and Paul Wilczynski are still blogging regularly, but they rarely blog about Unitarian Universalism any more. And there are a few long-time UU bloggers barely hanging on to their blogs, like Peacebang — who used to be a blogging machine, but is now down to one or two posts a year — and Doug Muder, also down to a couple of posts a year.

Continue reading “The year in review: Unitarian Universalism”

UUA politics: Article II revision, pt. 2

Once again, I’ll say that I’m critical of the present Article II, and since at least 2005 I’ve been advocating revision. And while I criticized the current draft revision in a previous post, I think the revision is headed in the right direction — towards a complete rewrite.

But.

In a conversation on Mastodon, Peter Bowden said something that made sense to me: This is not the time to revise Article II.

All the UU congregations that I know are still reeling from the effects of the pandemic. We are in survival mode. (As an aside, I’m predicting that in the next few years, as many as a third of all UU congregations are going to go under.)

And for many UU congregations, the old “Principles and Purposes” are woven throughout their congregational life. Many, maybe most, UU congregations have the old “Principles and Purposes” posted somewhere in their buildings, maybe as a framed poster, sometimes even painted right on the walls. UU congregations have incorporated the old “Principles and Purposes” into their bylaws, on their websites, in their Sunday school curriculums, in their worship services, everywhere. When congregations are still reeling from the pandemic, we’re asking a lot of them to remove this central part of their identity.

Does Article II need to be revised? Heck yeah.

Is now the time to revise Article II? Mm, no.

In that Mastodon conversation, Peter Bowden suggested maybe by 2030. At first I thought he was exaggerating, but as I thought about my current congregation I think that might be a realistic time frame for when we will have the bandwidth to take this on.

UUA politics: Article II revision

It’s long past time for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) to revise the Principles and Purposes section of the UUA Bylaws. The first post on this blog — way back in 2005, when this blog was hosted on AOL — was a critique of the seven principles. So I’m glad that the Article II Commission is working on a revision of the principles and purposes.

With that in mind, I’ll take a look at the draft version of the new Article II, and point out the things that drew my attention.

Section C-2.1 ends with this sentence: “We will transform the world by our liberating love.” I’m not sure what it means, especially the phrase “liberating love.” For me, using the word “love” implies a kind of post-Christian liberation theology. I’m fine with liberation theology. But as a Universalist myself, I’d prefer the phrase “universal love.”

Section C-2.2 begins by stating, “Love is the enduring force that holds us together.” I tend to agree with that, since I trace my religious roots back to the teachings of Jesus. However, I wonder what UU Buddhists think of this — Buddhist teachings tend to be centered more on compassion than love. And what about UU Hindus, and UU Jews, and UU Pagans — does this seem Christian-centric? I don’t know.

Section C-2.2, second paragraph continues with the assumption that covenant is central to Unitarian Universalism. This was a grounding assumption of the old Principle and Purposes as well. But the importance of covenant is a fairly recent historical interpretation, promulgated by historian Conrad Wright in the mid-twentieth century. As history, Wright’s arguments are problematic. So I read Wright’s arguments for the centrality of covenant, not as history, but as mid-twentieth century theology. I feel that covenant-as-theology is showing its age, and needs rethinking.

Section C-2.2, third paragraph includes a diagram. If you want to include a visual, it should be at least as well crafted as the text. This is not a well-crafted visual (using Microsoft Word to create a graphic does not constitute a high level of craft). I used to have a side-hustle as a graphic artist, so I find poorly-done visuals especially annoying. Before this draft goes any further, someone who has some actual visual training needs to create a decent graphic.

Section C-2.2 statement on justice: I’m glad that racism is named explicitly. I’m troubled that sexism isn’t explicitly named, given that clergy sexual misconduct and sexual harassment in our congregations continues to be a major problem. Nor is ableism named, nor is heteronormativity named, nor is… well, you get the idea.

Section C-2.2 statement on generosity: I’m not against this in principle. But the statement as it is worded comes off sounding like the UUA is softening people up to give more money. Needs to be rewritten.

Section C-2.2 statement on evolution: I completely disagree that this should be included as a value. Evolution is more properly a scientific concept. As a value, evolution is a product of European colonialism, where the scientific concept was perverted to mean that European civilization was higher and better than all the non-European “savage” and “heathen” cultures. So any application of “evolution” to social science concepts is, to me, immediately suspect.

Section C-2.2 statement on pluralism: This is not bad for a draft statement. It’s perhaps the best thing in the whole document.

Section C-2.2 statement on equity: I’m not sure how this adds much to the statement on justice. There’s probably something important here, but revision is needed.

Section C-2.2 statement on interdependence: This is not too bad. As is typical with Unitarian Universalists, however, this statement makes humans seem somehow separate from the interdependent web. There’s an easy fix for that, though — reword the statement something like this: “We honor the sacred interdependent web of all existence, which includes all human relationships, the relationships of all living beings, and the relationship of living beings to non-living matter.”

Section C-2.3 is a vast improvement on the so-called “six sources” of the present principles and purposes. I would however remove the phrase “we draw upon, and are inspired by, the full depth and breadth of sacred understandings,” for two reasons. First, there are sacred understandings that we as Unitarian Universalists find reprehensible. Second, this smacks of colonialism, where colonial powers felt they could appropriate any religious tradition for their own uses; I feel this phrase gives tacit permission to Unitarian Universalists to do that kind of religious misappropriation. The second sentence is all that’s needed here.

Section C-2.4 is quite good. It could replace the statements on justice and equity in Section C-2.2.

Section C-2.5 is half good. The last sentence should be dropped. This is the kind of sentence that can too easily be warped and weaponized. Plus, it simply isn’t necessary, given all that has gone before.

What’s missing: The big thing that’s missing in this draft of Article II is any statement in support of democracy. This, when many parts of the world seems to be heading in the direction of fascism.

This is a deal-breaker for me. I can put up with poorly-drawn diagrams, I can put up with outdated mid-twentieth century covenant theology — but I could not, in good conscience, vote for a statement that does not explicitly support democracy.

Update 1/22: In this comment on another post, Susan wishes that the Article II revision specifically named patriarchy as something we oppose.

Why UUA General Assembly can’t be reformed

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), the U.S. denomination of U.S. Unitarian Universalists, holds its business meetings every year. There’s no need to hold business meetings this frequently. And in fact, holding business meetings this frequently wastes resources. I’m going to go over the reasons why we don’t need to have General Assembly every year, and then I’ll tell you why we’re stuck with an annual meeting that we don’t need.

First, we don’t need an annual meeting because other religious groups get along just fine without meeting every year. The Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) meets every other year — they have about 850 congregations, compared to the UUA’s 1,000 congregations, though their congregations are on average larger than ours. The United Church of Christ (UCC), our closest religious relatives, meet every other year — they have about 4,800 congregations. Of course there are religious denominations that meet annually — the Swedenborgian Church of North America is one such group — but the experiences of the URJ and the UCC demonstrate that annual meetings aren’t essential.

Second, meeting every year contributes to global climate change. Most of the attendees travel to General Assembly on airplanes. It’s pretty hypocritical for a denomination that claims to be environmentalist to host annual meetings that contribute to global climate change. True, the organizers of General Assembly attempt to make the meeting as environmentally friendly as possible. That’s great, but if we’re really going to avoid hypocrisy we shouldn’t meet every single year. (And others do perceive us as hypocritical — I recently had a conversation with a non-UU who knows us well and who was gently scathing on the topic of our insistence on annual in-person meetings.)

Third, meeting every year ties up denominational staff hours. Rather than using their time to support local congregations, denominational staff have to devote too many hours to preparing for General Assembly. This means that the small minority of Unitarian Universalists who can afford the time and travel expenses to attend General Assembly receive an inordinate amount of time and attention from denominational staff. This diverts staff time away from local congregations, and away from the vast majority of Unitarian Universalists who can’t (or won’t, or don’t) attend General Assembly. (The same non-UU who knows us well was scathing on the topic of the way General Assembly misuses denominational staff time.)

None of these is a new argument. All of these are, to me, convincing arguments. Why, then, does General Assembly continue to meet every year?

First of all, because the delegates who decide how often to meet have a vested interest in meeting every year. General Assembly is designed to be a democratic institution. Delegates to General Assembly are the ones who vote on how often to meet. But from what I’ve seen, many or even most delegates to General Assembly are self-selected. Most local congregations can’t pay travel and lodging expenses for their delegates. That means most delegates attend General Assembly because they’re the ones who can afford it, and they’re the ones who enjoy it. The delegates are high-minded people — they wouldn’t be delegates if they weren’t high-minded people — but they like General Assembly the way it is. So without being aware of it, they have structured General Assembly to meet their needs, not the needs of most Unitarian Universalists.

Second of all, General Assembly meets annually because of what used to be called the Old Boys Network. Up until a half century ago, the Old Boys Network was an informal network of well-to-do, college-educated, upper middle class white men who all knew each other, and who informally looked out for the interests of one another. Again, many of the Unitarian Universalist Old Boys were high-minded, and most of them were perennial delegates to General Assembly. They honestly believed that their interests coincided with the interests of every other Unitarian Universalist. Over the last half century, the Old Boys Network has changed to include both people of other genders and non-white people — which is all to the good, and now they need a new name so I’ll call them the “Old Network.” Yet, inclusive though they now are, the Old Network retains one or two unfortunate features of the Old Boys Network: a certain lack of perspective, a certain defensiveness when their hegemony is challenged. The Old Network depends on an annual face-to-face General Assembly to maintain their social ties, so without being aware of it they’re going to resist attempts to change the frequency of General Assembly. And they have a lot of informal power within the Unitarian Universalist Association, so their resistance is a powerful force.

In short, we’re stuck with an annual General Assembly.

Even though we don’t need it.

Even though it makes us look hypocritical.

Even though it diverts resources away from local congregations.

I can only see one solution to this problem. It’s up to the perennial delegates and the Old Network to end this. I’m not a member of either group, so I’m not going to try to tell them what to do. (If it were up to me, we’d permanently end face-to-face General Assembly, and conduct all our business online, but I recognize this is a minority opinion.) But please, people, could you do something? I’m tired of being embarrassed at the way General Assembly misdirects staff resources and contributes to global climate change.

Non-affiliated Unitarian Universalists

A myth that has wide currency within Unitarian Universalism (UUism) today tells the story that every Unitarian Universalist (UU) must be affiliated with a congregation. This “myth of the affiliated UU” has become one of the stock myths told by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), and by many UU ministers.

Let me tell you why I think we should stop believing in this myth.

Years ago, when I was serving as a volunteer on-call chaplain at a hospital in Massachusetts, I visited someone who called themselves Unitarian. Without going into any confidential details, I can say this person was a member of a non-UU religious congregation and was quite happy about that, but still considered themselves a UU. As a chaplain, I of course accepted this person’s religious self-identification, and hoped that they would be able to use that religious identification in their healing process.

Only later did it occur to me that I knew of a fair number of other people like that person in the hospital — people who called themselves UUs but who didn’t, for whatever reason, belong to a UU congregation. Then the Web took off: I was a member of Church of the Larger Fellowship as it turned into an online church, and then I started this blog, and participated in a lot of online conversations, and I came into contact with a lot of people who call themselves UU but who aren’t part of a congregation. Really — a LOT of people.

We need a name for these people. I’m going to call them “non-affiliated UUs.”

Non-affiliated UUs are definitely UUs, but they aren’t affiliated with any congregation. They aren’t even affiliated with the Church of the Larger Fellowship, which is a happy home for a great many UUs, but which doesn’t suit the needs of lots of other non-affiliated UUs. I’m going to guess there are thousands, even tens of thousands, of non-affiliated UUs.

In the early days of Unitarianism and Universalism, you were a Unitarian or a Universalist if you said you were one. For many years, the American Unitarian Association accepted individual memberships. As for Universalists, there were lots of them who lived in rural areas or on the frontier where there weren’t any Universalist congregations. Read a book by Hosea Ballou, or a sermon by William Ellery Channing, and — bingo! — you could call yourself a Universalist or a Unitarian.

There’s a relationship between the current myth of the affiliated UU and the way we began funding UU institutions in the mid-twentieth century. From the UUA’s inception — in 1961, when the Unitarians and Universalists consolidated — the UUA as an institution received much of its revenue from per-member assessments levied on congregations. At the same time, ministry became an increasingly professionalized profession, typically requiring an expensive education that made economic sense only if the minister could count on a guaranteed income from working in a congregation. Thus, the myth of the affiliated UU became a convenient myth for both UUA staffers and lay leaders, and for parish ministers.

But the way we funded UU institutions in the mid- to late twentieth century no longer works. Too many UU ministers complete their expensive education only to find that they can’t find a job that will allow them to pay off their debts. (Not surprisingly, many people training for ministry are now turning to community ministry, so they can find non congregational jobs that will allow them to pay off their educational debt.) As the number of members of UU congregations decreased, the UUA finally gave up on the per-member assessment model, and has turned to assessments based on total operating budget of congregations.

Yet too many UU ministers and UU leaders continue to cling to the myth of the affiliated UU. This myth is taking on a destructive form: “You can’t be a REAL UU unless you’re affiliated with a UU congregation.” As a result, people who could be non-affiliated UUs are deciding that Unitarian Universalism doesn’t want them. In other words, the destructive form of this myth is forcing too many people to become religiously homeless.

Unitarian minister Theodore Parker made a famous distinction between the transient and the permanent in religion. He said that we sometimes cling to things that we think are an essential and permanent part of religion, but which are actually inessential and transient.

Being a member of a UU congregation is a good thing for many people. But congregations are a transient, inessential feature of Unitarian Universalism. You don’t need to be affiliated with a congregation to be a UU.

What is permanent about Unitarian Universalism? That you live an ethical life. That you challenge yourself to use your reason to engage with religion. That you allow yourself to doubt. That you allow your religious attitudes to change and evolve. That you value the Western religious tradition of which anglophone Unitarian Universalism is a part, while remaining open to insights from non-Western religious traditions. That you are in conversation with other UUs.

That last point deserves elaboration: How can non-affiliated UUs stay in conversation with other UUS? Through “sudden villages,” conferences and gatherings of a few days or a week where you get to meet other UUs face-to-face. Through reading UU writers, and listening to UU podcasts. Through online contacts: social media, blogs, email, whatever.

And how can UU institutional leaders welcome non-affiliated UUs? By sponsoring “sudden villages” that don’t require affiliation with a UU congregation. By supporting community ministers, those ministers who aren’t serving in a congregation. By allowing themselves to be in conversation with non-affiliated UUs, even when those conversations challenge core-but-transient assumptions about what constitutes a UU. By giving financial support to efforts that reach out to non-affiliated UUs (e.g., independent podcasts).

Above all, UU institutional leaders can welcome non-affiliated UUs by ceasing to retell the myth of the affiliated UU.

Coming up: How to be a non-affiliated UU….

Learning from the Gadfly Papers controversy

I have been following, at a distance, the controversy about the publication and distribution of The Gadfly Papers, a book of essays critical of the UUA’s antiracism approach, written and self-published by Todd Eklof, the minister at the Spokane, Wash., Unitarian Universalist church. Eklof distributed the books at General Assembly (GA), the annual meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA); GA was held in Spokane this year.

As someone who didn’t go to GA, and as someone who doesn’t trust social media for reliable information, it wasn’t easy to figure out what went on. So far, UUWorld.org, usually an excellent source of information about GA, has not reported on what happened; instead, in their media round-up column, they pointed to an article from the local newspaper.

That local newspaper, the Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash., published an article on June 25 titled “Unitarian Universalist minister in Spokane stirs controversy for calling church too politically correct.” The article gives a basic outline of the story. Unfortunately, while they interviewed Eklof, they didn’t interview anyone opposing him, relying instead on public statements issued on social media platforms. (The simple, non-conspiracy-theory, explanation is that the reporter was under deadline pressure, interviewed the local guy, and relied on public statements to fill out the opposing side.)

If you want to see some of those public statements, UUWorld.org provides links to statements from Diverse Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries (DRUUM), and the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Assoc. (UUMA) People of Color and Indigenous Chapter, and an “Open letter from white Unitarian Universalist ministers,” as well as a letter from the Board presidents of the Liberal Religious Educators Association. Elswewhere, I found a statement from the Allies for Racial Equity, and most recently a UUMA letter formally censuring Eklof.

What about the book itself? Well, I refuse to buy a copy: Eklof self-published the book on Amazon, and I won’t buy books from Amazon because they reduce the already meager incomes of working authors. I haven’t talked to anyone who has actually read the entire book. And most of the online reviews of the book that I have found simply state that it represents a white supremacist point of view, but don’t offer critiques of the actual arguments of the book.

However, Scott Wells did read the entire book, and posted a two-part review of the book on his blog: part one and part two. Scott reports: “It might surprise non-readers that he [Eklof] has ideas for dismantling racism, and to continue to work on not being racist. … You might think them hogwash (or wonderful) but they’re there. ” However, says Scott,”some terms Eklof uses, such as political correctness  and safetyism, are used by other authors to dismiss or belittle critics,” meaning that Eklof’s sugestions for anti-racism probably aren’t going to be heard. The book also offers at least one solution that I can only characterize as bizarre: in one essay, Eklof proposes splitting the UUA back into separate Unitarian and Universalist denominations, which Scott sums up as “Swiftian fancy, or simply romantic misreading” of Unitarian and Universalist history. Scott does not seem to care much for the book; if I were to pick one statement from his review to sum up the book, it would be this: “This is a work of controversy.”

After Scott’s dismissive review, I concluded I won’t spend my limited free time reading this “work of controversy.” And if I haven’t read the book, I don’t feel qualified to comment on it. But I do feel qualified to comment on the controversy surrounding the book, from my perspective as a religious educator.

Progressive religious educators like me spend a lot of time thinking about how to move people to a place of greater understanding; how to get people to change their perspective; and how to get people to act in more humane ways. While a confrontational approach utilizing a “work of controversy” might work in a few educational situations, if the goal is to move people towards greater understanding and more humane action, then there are many situations where a confrontational approach will not be effective. One such situation is when you, as the educator, are talking about racism and anti-racism and the U.S. today, and your auditors include people who have been rubbed raw by racism; in that situation, a confrontational approach is less likely to lead to greater understanding or more humane action, and more likely merely to piss people off. Thus, speaking as an educator, passing out a “work of controversy” on the subject of racism seems to me to be a waste of everyone’s time.

So where do we go from here? As a religious educator, I’d say it’s fairly obvious we in the U.S. all need to deepen our understanding of how racism has affected us, and continues to affect us. And I believe we would all like to figure out a more humane way to act with one another. The Gadfly Papers has proved yet again that controversy is not a particularly useful anti-racism strategy here in the U.S. — but that doesn’t mean we should give up.

Still speaking from an educator’s perspective, I would suggest that race is such a difficult topic here in the U.S. that we are going to need a wide range of strategies to address it; no one strategy is going to work for everyone and in every situation. But how do we judge what is a good strategy? I would propose a pragmatic criterion: if an educational strategy reduces systemic racism in a measurable way, then it is a good educational strategy. For example, for a religious educator working within a majority-white local congregation, if an anti-racist educational strategy leads to an increased proportion of non-white people in the congregation without a decline in absolute numbers of white people (beyond the usual losses to death or moving away), that strategy has succeeded quite well indeed.

Speaking from my own experiences in several local congregations, I believe that educational strategies based on behaviorist models (where we modify external behaviors) are generally more successful than therapeutic models (where we attempt to influence the way people feel). Similarly, educational strategies based on progressivist models (where we work together to confront or reduce racism in the wider world) generally work better than models based on logic or rhetoric (where we try to get people to think differently about racism). While I am not good at creating educational strategies at the denominational level, I suspect the same will hold true there; in which case, books about racism, or blog posts about racism, or social media chatter about racism, are not going to be particularly effective, except where they show us how to change behaviors and increase external action.

A must-read interview

Religion News Service (RNS) published an interview today with Rev. Lenny Duncan, a black minister in the 94% white Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA). Duncan has written a new book, “Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S.” According to RNS, Duncan’s book counters the notion that churches are dying, and challenges the ECLA to overcome white supremacy within the denomination.

The interview goes on to talk about other topics. And since the Unitarian Universalist Association is something like 95% white, I was very interested to hear what Duncan had to say about his own overwhelmingly white denomination. Here are a few key quotes from the interview:

In speaking of the necessity of reparations to person of African descent, Duncan says such reparations must go beyond money: “It is time for all straight white males in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to remove their names from ballots for bishop. It’s the same thing when we come to some of the positions that we see in our churchwide organization — to just self-select their way out.” The equivalent for the UUA, of course, is that all us straight white men should stop applying for senior staff positions in the UUA, e.g., Regional Leads — and of course we should not run for elected positions like UUA Moderator and President.

Duncan also believes in the value of shutting up: “As someone who shows up as a cis male, if I’m quiet long enough typically a female or femme in the room will say the same thing I was gonna say much more succinctly and probably more intelligently than I would.”

How can you motivate white people to actually do things like leave their names off ballots? Duncan suggests that “…the American white Protestant church is obsessed with legacy. If you want your church to survive, if you want your denomination to be relevant in the 21st century, if you actually want a viable Lutheran legacy in the American context, then you’ll take these suggestions….” Same goes for white folks in the UUA: if we want the UUA to survive even another couple of decades, then we had better start dismantling white supremacy now.

Duncan also believes that, just because your pews aren’t filled up on Sunday morning doesn’t mean that your local church is dying: “I think we need to rethink church and we need to rethink the way that we count membership. I might have, like, 40, 50 people in my church on a Sunday. But there’s 200 people who are engaged in our community in various ways.” This point ties in with what we know of Millennials (who are a white-minority generation): they want to do church the way they want to do church, and if you tell them that the only way to do church is to show up on Sunday morning they’re going to ignore you.

The interview is short and worth reading in its entirety. Read it here.

Boomers and privilege

I’m critical of using the language of privilege in public discourse; what can be a useful tool for analysis among like-minded persons does not always translate well to a wider context. For example, when white people of the professional and upper middle classes gain awareness of how they have personally benefited from structural racism, they may find it helpful when speaking with others who are challenging structural racism to use the phrase “white privilege”; in that context, “white privilege” becomes a useful shorthand way of referring to the specific benefits professional and upper middle class white people get from structural racism. However, when professional and upper middle class white people use the term “white privilege” in public discourse, working class whites can rightfully challenge them on at least two counts: first, the experience of white working class people in accessing the fruits of structural racism is different from that of white people of the professional and upper middle classes; second, white working class people have themselves been the targets of discrimination by white professional and upper middle class people (for one example, see Nancy Isenberg’s analysis of why upper middles class whites embraced eugenics, in her book White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America).

A big part of the problem here, I think, is that the nuances of intersectional analysis get lost in public discourse — “white privilege” is a short-hand phrase that sums up a good deal of thoughtful analysis, and short-hand phrases often do not translate well to the public arena. Obviously, the same applies to the phrase “male privilege,” another phrase that is sometimes used in public discourse. Nevertheless, just because I’m critical of using the language of privilege in public discourse, I do find that talking about privilege is helpful when I’m trying to analyze structural inequalities; with the caveat that when you’re dealing with individual people, one individual can experience more than one kind of structural inequality. So it’s important not to reify specific kinds of privilege, e.g., “white privilege” is an abstraction, not an actual thing.

With all that in mind, I’d like to explore the notion that here in the U.S. Baby Boomers have some kind of privilege. “Boomer privilege,” if it exists, arose for a couple of demographic reasons. First, there are large numbers of Boomers, and so it is easy for them to find many others who share a set of life-shaping experiences; because of this, it’s easy for Boomers to assume that their experiences are normative, and then to extend what they perceive as normative to other generations who may have a quite different set of experiences. This perception of what is normative is similar to one of the generating causes of white privilege, dating from when whites comprised the vast majority of the U.S. population: “whiteness” came to be seen by many white people as normative. Continue reading “Boomers and privilege”

Boomers, step away from the power structure so no one gets hurt

Sorry, folks, but the discussion got out of hand on this post. If you need to read any of this, it should be easy to find them archived somewhere on the Interwebs. But not here. I’ve never had to do this on my blog before, and I’ve written far more controversial posts (e.g., about clergy misconduct), but my health still isn’t 100%, I’m dealing with Sunday school start-up, and I need to focus on what’s going on in my congregation. I’m sorry.