You'll hear a lot these days around the UUA about how UUs are a bunch of white, middle-class, individualists. I think that there is a grain of truth to that, but mostly it's a bunch of malarky.
If you ask the KKK, or the Christian supremacists, they'll tell you: the Unitarians are not "white" any more than the Jews are. Unitarians are heretics, unbelievers, subversives, communists, atheists, race-mixers, homosexuals, heathens, and dangerous religious frauds.
So long as we are busy pretending to be "white" and rehearsing our "white" identity, we will not be able to have an honest relationship with anyone, let alone our friends of color. The first step in cultural diversity is understanding what your culture is.
Especially among the ministers and UUA staff, they love to say these days that UUs are rabid individualists, that they cannot Respect Authority. I was involved for years in the Anarchist and Pagan communities, and let me tell you: the UUs have tremendous respect for their leaders.
They do, however, expect their leaders to have the same amount of respect for them.
Look around you. Think about what your culture actually is. Learn from the people of color: just because a lot of authorities are saying that your people are this that or the other, doesn't mean that it is true.
Another thing I was always told growing up is that UUs have nothing in common. We are so incredibly diverse, I heard over and over again. There is no way of predicting what you will find from one congregation to the next. Now again, there is a grain of truth to that; but what that idea does is it's a thought-stopper: it stops us from ever even thinking about what we are like as a people.
So I grew up thinking I could assume I had nothing in common with UUs in other places. Then I went to work at the UUA. They have a weekly chapel service there, a different minister from around the continent every week. I was really surprised, because week after week I saw the same thing: they all sounded like the had grown up in the same family. I mean, the same mannerisms, the same way of making jokes, pretty much the same general attitude and character. I thought, how do they do that?
Over the years I've gone around the country and visited lots of congregations. And you know, whether they're in Rhode Island or Texas, whether they quote the Bible or the Buddha, you go in there, and they all pretty much look and act like Unitarians. It's really recognizable.
I've visited one town where the congregation didn't have this familiar look from the moment I walked into the service. I thought, Oh, okay, here we go. And then the minister got to the part where they say, will all the new people please stand up. And just about the whole congregation stood! It turned out they had just had some big surge of publicity recently, and were being flooded by visitors.
If you are Jewish, or Queer, or a person of color, you maybe know the feeling of looking around a room to see if any of your people are there. The cues might be subtle or obvious, but a lot of the time, you can "just tell." You recognize each other.
UUs are a recognizable people.
I once served on a short-term committee made up of representatives from around the district. One day we all went to dinner together. We all sat at one long table, about fifteen people maybe. I didn't know anyone there very well, didn't really know anyone's name.
I was looking around and my eye was caught by the image of a youth representative talking earnestly with a silver-haired woman. The youth had this great purple dye in her hair, and the elder was wearing a lavender dress that really highlighted her silver beautifully. I thought, like wow, this is awesome, purple across the generations. I wanted to point out the scene to the person next to me, but first I took a closer look around the table.
Every single person at that table of fifteen was wearing purple! Different shades, different styles, each one tailored to the individual. I started laughing. I told the people sitting next to me. I thought it was astonishing and hilarious. The woman sitting two seats down heard me and got really defensive. Because she was wearing green instead of purple! She had to make this whole long speech about her spiritual path and all this to defend it. It was amazing.
UUs really are a recognizable people.
Now, I am going to make a lot of generalizations today-- maybe you think that I've already started. But when you're talking about cultural patterns, you're talking about generalizations. That's the nature of it. The exceptions are not really the point. I mean, of course not every UU is a vegetarian. But every UU knows lots of vegetarians, and every UU event either provides vegetarian meal options or runs into trouble about it. Not every UU is a political progressive; but to be a Republican UU means that you experience yourself as a minority. That's not true in all places. UU culture, on the whole, is highly lefty and vegetarian. The exceptions only illustrate the point.
The other important thing to remember is that if you look at us as a people, our immigration rate is enormous. 90% of our congregational members did not grow up UU. That is a huge crashing wave of immigration, of the outside culture flooding into our space. And we don't really have any formal initiation rites, citizenship classes, or creedal tests to orient people to our cultural norms. So given all of that, the fact that we are still a recognizable people is really remarkable.