Can We All Be Racist?

By Mel Harkrader Pine

Racism: An institutionalized system of economic, political, social, and cultural relations that ensures that one racial group has and maintains power and privilege over all others in all aspects of life.  — UUA Handout

A discussion with my wife last night led me to make sure I was right about the official definition of racism as determined by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), so I looked it up. The quotation above is the first line. I encourage you to read it all.

I’m supposed believe that “one racial group [presumably white people like me, for instance, with historic roots in Europe] has and maintains power and privilege over all others in all aspects of life.” That’s a lot of power and prestige. Who knew?

The first problem is that we whites with European roots are not one race any more than all people with roots in sub-Saharan Africa are one race. My anti-racist friends tell me I just don’t understand, or recognize, the systemic nature of racism. But no culture lives under just one system.

John Legand

A white friend of mine told me recently that, if he and a black man walked into a room, he would immediately have higher status than the black man. When struck me immediately was the guy saying it — a blues musician with both arms heavily sleeved in tattoos. If he, dressed in his casual gig-appropriate clothing, walked into a bank board meeting with, say, John Legend, dressed as in the photo, who would have prestige and who would be considered a misfit?

So many systems in play.

Yes, on balance, we ahites have it better than blacks. On balance. And, yes, there’s a cultural system in force. But it’s one of many systems.

I’m short, fat, 72 years old, bald, and have an odd walk. Those are each systemic limitations. I’m also smart and articulate as well as white — systemic advantages. But those characteristics aren’t races, you say. Well, they each have genetic components, so maybe they’re as “racial” as the designations “black” and “white.”

Here’s more from the UUA:

It is worth noting that many people believe that People of Color and other people marginalized by race or ethnicity cannot be racist, because their skin color automatically takes away racial benefits.

Persons of color may be hostile toward whites, according to the UUA, “but such attitudes must be distinguished from systematic control over the lives/lifestyles of White people.”

And let’s address those automatic benefits I’m supposed to gain from racism. The UUA apparently believes that there’s a fixed amount of oppression in the world. So I benefit because you are more oppressed than I am. That sounds awfully like the wrathful God of the Old Testament, who needs to mete out a certain amount of punishment every year.

Strange thinking from a religion founded in part on universal salvation.

Rev. Dr. Thandeka dealt in 1999 with the reasons why the UUA’s anti-racism program would fail, and this weekend she posted her paper on her Facebook page. While her statistics are now somewhat dated, her truth is stronger than ever.

Oppression and racism harm us all, and we white folks benefit only from their net reduction.

Copyright 2018 © Mel Harkrader Pine


  1. “It is worth noting that many people believe that People of Color and other people marginalized by race or ethnicity cannot be racist…”

    Okay. Can black people be anti-Semitic? How about Islamophobic? Misogynistic? Xenophobic? (

    What if a given black person—Al Sharpton, say—dislikes homosexuals? “White folks was [sic] in caves while we was building empires…. We taught philosophy and astrology and mathematics before Socrates and them Greek homos ever got around to it,” Sharpton once said. Later—one might argue belatedly— in 2005, Sharpton called for an end to homophobia in the African-American community. Which is nice, but that means Sharpton “evolved,” presumably the way Obama “evolved” on same-sex marriage. If they can evolve, can white people also evolve? Or must Sharpton and Obama, and their descendents, be considered homophobes in perpetuity?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another way of saying: Are People of Color actually human beings? And therefore prone to all the sins and foibles of our species…or are they some other, Rousseau-y creatures? (Being intimately related to a number of POCs, I know what my answer would be…)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed membership in the UUA denomination with many years of developing wonderful relationships, immersing myself in the spiritual richness of programs like “Well Spring” , serving on ministerial search committees, leading the annual pledge campaign as stewardship chair, singing in the choir and offering untold auction events in our home. I attended the annual GA with enthusiasm and gusto and held a position of compensation consultant with the local regional office of the UUA. When the “perfect storm” of the obsession with “white supremacy” and notions of “racist white privilege” took hold, our UUA President was forced out and the “black lives matter” banners festooned the entrances of untold numbers of our churches and congregations, things took an unfortunate “turn”. NOT because I objected with the goals of our racial justice movement, but rather the self-loathing of whites, was not universally accepted by all members. White males like me, successful and recognized members our our community were especially reviled. I took issue with the manner in which my local congregation embraced the UUA “collective” and was removed from the congregation, by the Board. Reinstatement was contingent on an onerous mixture of apologies, working with an outside “spiritual consultant”, group meetings before the Right Relations Committee, etc. The process went on for five months and ended with my resignation. I had lunch just the other day with friends from that church who told me things have not changed, and actually “he” was confronted by the same committee for asking the question as to what was the reason so many mixed race couples were joining the church. His inquiry was in the spirit of encouraging such membership, but was seen as a suspicious action, worthy of “investigation”. I left the church and the denomination, now 9 months ago, and have since found a “spiritual” home where members of all races worship together, as well as marginalized peoples of all kinds including LGBT, other-abled, the poor, the homeless, etc. That spiritual home is The CATHOLIC Curch.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Louis—that’s a wonderful ending. I, too, have found (no longer to my surprise) far more “diversity” of all kinds in non-UU churches, and it makes the condescending and dismissive remarks about Catholicism and conservative Christianity —though not, of course, Islam—-not only insensitive but also ignorant.

    And the way our denomination has been treating its long-time, devoted, supportive and generous White Male congregants is self-defeating. How stupid can we be if we are throwing people like you away?

    By the way, I had the chance to participate in a Catholic Mass at a small Catholic college last year. I found it incredibly moving—so many people—lots of them kids— of all races, nationalities and (yes) orientations lining up to receive the Eucharist as millions do and have done throughout the centuries. Boys in hoodies and sagging basketball shorts, girls with crew cuts and nose rings, bespectacled professors and fashionistas… I folded my arms across my chest to signal a request for a blessing, and was blessed by a priest who hailed from Kenya.

    Liked by 1 person

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