The Work

Adam Lawrence Dyer
4 min readJul 31, 2023

Can we please stop branding what white Unitarian Universalists do in an effort to be anti-racist as “the work”?

I recently made reference to this language in a sermon delivered at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Charlottesville, Virginia, so I feel like some explanation might be in order. Throughout my parish ministry, I know that my frequently expressed frustration with this phrase infuriated some of my congregation in Cambridge and I know that my thinking directly contradicts some of my close and valued colleagues of color, but hear me out…

First of all, at its heart, this phrase is offensive. Really, this is the most racially removed and impersonal way one could refer to what actually needs to happen around racial equity in the world. “The work” makes it sound like a curriculum, which admittedly for some people, that is all it is. “The work” also makes it sound like something you get a vacation from (you don’t) or that you can put down at will (you can’t). This phrase makes what needs to happen appear to be some kind of well-contained, defined and finite set of actions that can be approached like a checklist and voilá… anti-racist! That ain’t it kids…

Second, referring to any efforts to be more cognizant of people of color and their perspectives as work, makes us (people of color) the work. It problematizes non-whiteness. Does this mean that every time you see, speak to or interact with a person of color it has to be work? Why would any non-white person want to be part of a community where being in relationship with them is publicly called work? Holy crap…

Finally, the entire framework is wrong. Why are white UUs eager to do “work” when they could be having fun, learning a new cultural sensitivity, making a friend,…cultivating the garden of their world? None of this is work. This is life. Building community around shared values, demonstrated through spiritual expression should never, in any way be about work. Put down the agenda and get to know a person.

The universal acceptance of this language may come from the settings in which the more probing conversations about race happen in UU congregations, which ultimately reinforces my point. If someone can only feel safe questioning whether or not they are a racist by going into closed, invitation only back rooms…then chances are y’all know the…

--

--