On being a good “fit” for the UUA

No, I’m not going to be a “good fit” and that’s what’s wrong with the UUA

In the past few days it has become known that yet another UUA hiring decision has left the upper levels of leadership as white as ever. For the 3rd time within as many years, a Regional Lead position was filled with a white minister and for the second time with a white male minister.

What was not known publicly until now is that I was a final candidate for the position.

I do not reveal this lightly…in fact it is with real fear that I am jeopardizing any future career within UU communities. But as I consider what has happened, I keep coming back to the thought that if they weren’t willing to hire me for this position then what makes me think that will change for any theoretical future? And ultimately how do we hold the UUA accountable for racial discrimination and upholding white supremacy if no one stands up in the public square and says “me, it was me, you did this to me and it is not ok, I demand you make this right!”

And lest, as you read this, your white supremacy tries to intervene, yes I am fully qualified for the position (but perhaps you should ask yourself why that was your initial reaction.) During my final conversation with the hiring manager I confirmed with him that in his words “I believe you are ready to step into this position as is, I didn’t want you to think that I thought you would need to grow into the job.” And also was told that the deciding factor would be “…needing to make a decision about the right fit for the team.”

I began this process with every faith and hope that the leadership/hiring process of our faith would see me as “the right fit.” I have lived in the Southern Region for over a decade and served as religious professional for more than half that time. I have deep ties to the South through my husband’s family. They have shown me a culture I never knew, or could have possibly understood, from my native Los Angeles. I have served our faith with my unpaid time and resource as a member of the Board of Trustees, most recently nominated for a second term and elected to assume the position of Secretary of the Association beginning in June. And let me be clear, I know the individual who has been hired and I bear him no ill will. I recognize that it is his unearned white male privilege that made him the “right fit” over me. I hope he recognizes it too.

As I passed through the multiple layers of the hiring process there were red flags along the way; among others, comments about how a religious professional who is not ordained clergy is at a disadvantage when dealing with congregations; the utter lack of acknowledgment, when directly asked, of what work the white Regional Lead colleagues might need to do to welcome and support a woman of color on the team. But I chose to “assume good intentions.” And, as has been proven time and again, our UU good intentions are not good enough if they don’t examine impact and action.

So, in upper level management positions of power and influence in the UUA, what is the criteria for the “right fit?” A quick look at the President’s Leadership Council and the Regional Leads staff will tell you the right fit is overwhelmingly white, male, straight, and ordained clergy. The most recent census data available (2015) tells us that 83% of the service workers at the UUA are people of color. It also tells us that of the 49 positions of UUA Executive and First Management level, 42 are held by white people (86%), almost the exact inverse ….I’ll leave you here a moment to re-read those sentences.

And why is it important that we look at those three categories (service, exec, first management?) Because the top and bottom categories tell us the story of power and white supremacy in the UUA. The Exec and First Management levels are the directors of departments and staff. They have the power, influence and autonomy to direct policy, resources and hiring. And autonomy is a huge measure of power within our dominant culture; who gets to decide the what, when, who and how of the UUA. And just seven are people of color. It is an insult to the over 100 UU Religious Professionals of Color gathered at the recent Finding Our Way Home conference to suggest that this is anything other than racial discrimination at the UUA.

Lastly, in recent days I’ve read a lot on social media about this topic and inevitably someone says, “it’s not about this one hire.” And that is true and not true. This is just the latest in a long history of hiring (and firings) that keep religious professionals of color out of power in the UUA. But for me and my family, it IS about this one hire. I have been injured. My family has been injured. This also includes financial injury to our family. Our faith has been tested. I have had to sit my sons down, fierce warriors of Unitarian Universalism who love their faith deeply, and explain the realities of racially discriminatory hiring. And yes, I’ve always planned to have that talk with them, but I had hoped that it wouldn’t be in the context of our faith. The parade of emotions across their faces, confusion, disappointment, anger, and now resignation is almost more than I could bear. So yes, in the larger UU world it isn’t just about this one hire AND, to us, it very much is.

On every UUA open position job description you will find a line that reads: “People with disabilities, people of color, Hispanic/Latinx, and LGBTQ candidates are encouraged to apply.”  So here is my bottom line, the UUA is happy to welcome and showcase my “diversity”, skills, and talents in unpaid service to the Association but when it comes to people of color in paid positions of power and influence, they might as well change that invitation to read “need not apply.”

I, and my siblings of color, will never be the “right fit” within the current paradigm. The fact that the UUA can’t see how transformational our leadership would be for our faith is what’s wrong with the UUA.

YoUUrs in service,

Christina Signature

Christina D. Rivera

Religious Educator, LREDA

Director of Administration and Finance, TJMC-UU Charlottesville, VA

Secretary-Elect, UUA Board of Trustees

ends_mon_rpt_042016 16

Advertisements

55 thoughts on “On being a good “fit” for the UUA

Add yours

  1. Thank you Christine for your powerful words and willingness to speak out. You speak so many important and painful truths in this post. Thus needs to be shared over and over and it is disappointing to say the least that it does. Blessings!

    Like

  2. Thank you, Christina. I am not criticizing any of the fine people who have been chosen to be regional leads. There are lots of wonderful, qualified white male candidates, and they deserve an equal shot at these jobs. What they do not deserve is to have the “right fit” thumb on the scale, and that is what appears to be happening, over and over.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. It is so important we read this and confront the ways we are not living our values at every level. Thank you for having the courage to share this painful experience. White supremacy’s reach is so far and deep it taints almost everything and that means we must work harder to combat it. I am ashamed of our UUA for putting you through this experience as well as the other ways it/we have let white supremacy remain quietly dominant. I think UU as a whole is on the brink of something and I think it has potential to be big and bold and wonderful but only if we all intentionally live with our values. The only way to do this is to hear the ways in which we are not, so I thank you again for sharing and my heart goes out to you and your family while dealing with this very real pain.

    Like

  4. Thank you for your brave voice. I would go so far as to say I disagree with a previous comment, it is time we start actively fixing the imbalance in representation- qualified white males need to step back- consciously. I get very tired of how our UU community perpetuates the very realities we claim to condemn elsewhere. Letters like this are a call to action- I am thinking of how horrified I was when I looked at the room of white men at the recent women’s health summit… how can we claim to be a community of activists when we perpetuate the same insidious systems?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kirsten, I understand and to a large extent I agree. However, unless we designate certain positions as “no white males” (which would be appropriate in some cases), asking white men to step back means telling them not to apply for ANYTHING and I don’t see how that is workable or fair. Let’s be explicit about what we want and stick to it.

      The problem, again and again, is that we say “POC encouraged to apply” but the unexamined implicit biases of the decisionmakers hold sway.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Amy, That is exactly my point- that we should be designating positions of leadership as only open to underrepresented populations until we reach a point that reflects the diversity we claim to embrace. The hiring committee at the UUA should, I believe, be enacting that type of policy. I’m not saying white men to not apply for ANYTHING, but I did not misspeak when I said they need to step back. Step back to a support role, put their privilege to work on systems that are underpaid because they are NOT occupied by white cis men. (Religious education comes to mind quickly). Living our values requires us to challenge our hidden biases and often to sacrifice some of the opportunities that too easily fall into our laps.
        I think it is an illusion that we (in whatever privileged position we stand) can embrace the neoliberal values of striving for the top job/ forever pushing to have more status/ never giving up an opportunity to advance and still expect to truly live into what we claim as UU values.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. As one of those signs at a woman’s march put it ‘I can’t believe I’m still putting up with this shit.’ Sorry this happened and I appreciate your honesty and calling my fellow White UUs to pay attention to what is really going on.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. So sorry this has happened to you! You are my ultimate UU RE role model. I think anyone that doesn’t hire you is making a giant mistake. What can people do to help in this situation?

    Like

  7. Thank you for bravely sharing this. I’m not UU, but a member of another “progressive” denomination and this gives me a lot to think about!

    Like

  8. Thank you for your courage, Christina. I appreciate your bravery, and also your summoning the energy and taking the time to write such an eloquent essay which will make my letter to the UUA Board that much stronger. Having moved from Staten Island to Hilo, HI 3 years ago I am un-churched at present, but I am in S.I. for a few weeks and will work to get the UCSI to respond strongly.

    Like

  9. The UUA needs to change hiring practices to using a clear rubric so that there is not wiggle room around “the right fit” (i.e. someone who fits our current affinity bias). There are organizations that consult and advise on this very thing, and new practices being designed to take bias out of hiring. UUA needs to get serious.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. A close listening to the discourse in the UUA Is revealing. Peoples of Color are seen as “diverse.” White people are not seen as “diverse.” Diverse means different. Diverse assumes a norm.

    The culture of the organization seems to see “diversity” as 1) an asset and 2.) a problem of management. Managing difference without changing the norm.

    As long as the goal is diversity rather than an anti racist multiculturalism then even the few POC that are hired are “expected to fit” the norm, rather than transform it.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. I am very pleased you decided to speak out about this issue. In recent years, I have grown dismayed with what I saw to be a lack of desire to fully include people of color in all areas of UU. I just do not feel the UUA is doing enough to fully and actively promote racial/cultural diversity in its headquarters and congregations. I am very sorry you were passed over for this leadership opportunity, and I’m saddened at the pain it has caused you. Please continue to speak out, voices like yours and BLUU are extremely important and need to be heard by the UUA and member congregations; the discussion on race and culture needs to go beyond Building the World We Dream About!

    Like

  12. Christina, thank you for your words and information. I think we have to examine how we got to this place, and what we as a movement are willing to do to change things.

    Like

  13. Thank you for sharing your experience with this hire. And for all you are doing as a religious leader in congregational and denominational life. As a straight white woman formerly on the Executive Staff of the UUA, I am disappointed but not surprised that our system is still including “good fit” which seems to be the updated euphemism for the old boys term, “clubable.”

    Liked by 2 people

  14. As a young and queer, femme poc joining UU recently, I’ve already become frustrated at times with exactly this notion of seeking to ‘diversify’ and struggling with ‘fit’. While I cannot claim surprise that it continues at every level, thank you, as this does give me hope that folks are fighting.

    Like

  15. These are painful, vital observations. Thanks for making your pitch for the job, Christina, and for speaking your truth about the experience of selection. Your statement is brave, fair, and loving in calling the denomination to account. (Bet if you had included data on salaries and retirement benefits it would only have reinforced the stark picture you painted.) Many of us were simply too “well brought up” to fit into the culture, accept the losses gracefully, suffer the institutional biases privately, and never call them by their name. Unfortunately, though our learned responses make everyone more comfortable they support the entrenched ways of operating. The situation you describe needs to be confronted. I agree with Clyde’s observation that when we search for “fit” we reinforce the status quo. We can’t grow in depth, numbers or diversity without changing the norm and changing who we are/have been. Fear of that, I think, is where the “best fit” criteria come from and why it must be challenged for the bias it represents. Else, on the brink of becoming a powerful voice for Justice and a leader in this diverse and chaotic era, UUA will find itself sidelined as an irrelevant club for bright, white, old men. I am one who would recommend that for some period of time we ought to consider asking straight white males to not apply and make room for some of the many other talents and perspectives to make their way to the fore. Other “xxx-blind” rubrics have not proven successful at offsetting this human desire to seek comfort among one’s familiars. We call for Justice everywhere else; we must bend to its demands in our own house. Hope to see you and others like you in the leadership of my denomination in the near future.

    45-year Unitarian Universalist
    Denver

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Hermana, estoy contigo y con tu familia. Lo que te ha pasado es una herida profunda con muchas consequencias. Por ahora te digo que no estas sola. Que tus talentos sera reconocidos. No hay palabras para expresar el dolor de saber que Nuestra propia organizacion es racista en sus practicas e hipocrita en sus planteamientos. Te abrazo en la lucha. Maria Cristina

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Thank you for your courage, your eloquence, your honesty, and your example of speaking hard truths “in covenant” — describing the painful personal emotional and societal consequences of the persistent white-male-advantaged system. Your sisters–and, I hope, many brothers–stand with you in demanding strategies with measurable outcomes for long-standing, but insufficiently manifested, good intentions. — Trude Diamond, UU Church of Tampa

    Like

  18. A good fit in clothing means something that covers your ass and does not make you uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s time we were wiling to risk having things exposed that we are used to covering up and to experience discomfort. It is the only way we will move forward as an institution in dismantling racism. Thank you for your courage in speaking up.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. If a qualified individual is black, Latino, LGBTQ, male, female, or …., is not a “good fit” for your team, maybe there is something wrong with your team!

    Like

  20. Thank you for your service and courage. I send healing energies and support to you and your family. Abrazos from Miami…

    Like

  21. It is so hard to hear and read past the repeated “White Supremecy.” It makes it feel like you are calling the white men in our leadership members of the KKK or something. While I see there is need for action, the people that I think you want to hear you are going to have a really hard time getting past that.
    Are you happy with the resignation? Do you think that will help?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. From my FB post “Just to be clear, the resignation of UUA President Peter Morales was not anything for which I called or advocated, either in public or private. Let’s keep our attention on the real issues of institutional racism, racial discrimination and white supremacy within the UUA.”

      That it is hard to hear about white supremacy is kind of the point. We need white people to be committed to doing the uncomfortable things in order to make change. Yes, we need them to have a hard time and then get past those feelings. People of color have been having a hard time for a really long time! Institutional change happens when forces both internal and external reach the point where the discomfort leads to no other option than change. Our job is to make sure that change furthers our proclaimed values and principles as Unitarian Universalists, that we in fact embody the Beloved Community. Our job isn’t to make sure everyone feels ok about that goal and how we get there….it’s to make it happen.

      Here is just one resource that will help you get more comfortable with the term white supremacy:
      http://www.cwsworkshop.org/PARC_site_B/dr-culture.html

      I urge your congregation to take part in the #UUWhiteSupremacyTeachIn on Sunday April 30 or May 7th. More info at:
      http://www.blacklivesuu.com/uuwhitesupremacyteachin/

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hello
        As MLK said
        “Letter from Birmingham Jail (ext)

        By Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., 16 April 1963

        “First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

        Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
        In this case I would replace Negro with POC. Yes UU need to hear there is white supremacist thinking in our denomination. As A Black MBA, MD, MPH active on many committees at my church I have had to had a resume check to have a lay leadership role at my church when white members do not have to. I was told I needed to bring my CV and prove my qualifications because “they” were afraid congregants would think I was not qualified. Hiding behind this ” are you qualified ” to avoid addressing the racist behavior is getting old. I hear your pain Christina and am tired of hearing this continue to happen in our UU denomination. UUs need to realize good intentions no longer matter. If you continue to benefit from white privilege and do not Act to dismantle White privilege in the denomination, you should stop pretending and say that you welcome non white in the denomination.

        Like

  22. Thanks for sharing your story. While there might be explanations for this, there is no excusing it. Institutional racism is powerful and tough to overcome when the institution doesn’t see it. Still, I think Peter Mirales would be doing far more for this denomination by speaking openly about this problem, rather than cutting out, and leaving it for others to face. Best wishes Cristina, I hope to see you in UU leadership soon!

    Like

  23. The regional lead role is primarily to be a manager of ministers, grow congregations and to be resource for the many issues that congregations face. Did you have more experience then the selected candidate in these three areas? That’s not clear in your note.

    Like

    1. The regional lead role is as a manager of the region’s other congregational life staff, NOT to be a manager of ministers – because the staff may or may not be ministers. A part of this issue is an implicit bias in favor of ministers, which devalues and disrespects the experience and gifts of other religious professionals. A person of color who is also not a minister is on an extraordinarily steep (Sisyphean?) uphill climb. Still, I have both hope and faith. Thanks to those who have had the courage to speak out, I believe we are at a tipping point that, if we do the work, can make Unitarian Universalism stronger and better. It’s a fire in the belly kind of thing, and I’m feeling it.

      Like

  24. Thank you for taking the courageous step of sharing this story. We have so much work to do in our congregations and communities. As has always been the case in any work for justice, the leadership of people of color is critical as we figure out how to reconcile our deep values with our patterns and practices.

    Like

  25. Christina-thank you for your courage, I am so glad you spoke out and made the brave call for change. Ethicist Sharon Welch says the “moral calamity of our day is that flawed communities are unable to see as unjust the inequality crucial to its functioning.” Rev. Dr. Mark Morrison Reed’s recent Minns lecture makes visible the racism that has operated within our denomination for over a hundred years. Over and over again he cited the multiple times our faith leaders said no to multicultural ministries damaging lives and eviscerating the rich theology to which we aspire and sometimes claim. Thank you for making this again visible in this moment though we have no excuse for our blindness. The UUA needs to make explicit the steps we will take to create a multi-cultural and multi-gender leadership team (a nod to living beyond the binary). That may mean white men take a step back. Is there anything I can do to support you in this moment? if yes please contact me. Jill Cowie

    Like

  26. Christina, thank you for sharing your thoughts. As a female who is also active duty military, I can somewhat relate to not seeing people like me represented in the leadership of my organization. It is important to hear this side of the story, especially as it relates to minority groups (of all kinds). Being raised in the UU faith, I often take umbrage with how hypocritical we can be sometimes. I include myself, because I catch myself doing it from time to time. No one is perfect. The most vital thing is to notice when we fail to walk the walk and then correct ourselves. I agree wholeheartedly with most of your article. As a scientist and lover of statistics, I have one recommendation. When offering numbers or percentages, please represent all of the data, or at least compare the items in the same way. You noted in your article that 83% of the service workers at the UUA are people of color and that of the 49 positions of UUA Executive and First Management level, 42 are held by white people (86%). While I agree that the disparity is noteworthy and deserves both attention and change, you did not include that the number of service positions at the UUA in 2015 was only six. Perhaps a better use of statistics would be to include both the percentage and number of positions for each category. Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this issue. It is one that many would often like to side-step and I hope your article forces some people (if not all) to confront it head on and take action to move in a more positive direction.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Gordon O’Hara writes that one of the jobs of the regional lead is to be manager of ministers. I am well into my third decade of ordained ministry and I was not aware that anyone on the UUA staff managed ministers. Checked with a few others and they didn’t know either.

    The job of regional lead is to lead a team, inspire those whom they minister to, and assure that congregations are getting the services that they need, DREs do all that as part of their jobs.

    Like

  28. The hank you Christine to have the courage to speak out on this issue. I admire you for bringing this subject to the forefront. Blessings on your journey!

    Like

  29. Hi
    It is highly ironic that to announce the hiring this statement was made “….joins the team at a time when we all realize there is a lot of work to be done. The political environment demands that we harness our collective power and expand our understanding of sanctuary. The changing religious landscape asks us to lean into institutional and congregational re-invention. Today’s call of racial justice requires not only bold prophetic witness but also the bravery to admit where we’ve fallen short and the willingness to begin again.”
    Really!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Like

  30. Did it occur to you that you may have been qualified and suited for the job, as stated by one of the interviewers, but someone else could have been MORE qualified? What did you expect your interviewers to say to you? “We hate your guts and we regret inviting you to this interview”? OF course they wouldn’t say that. At that point they would not have known for sure whether they would choose you or not, so of course they would flatter you a bit. They wouldn’t have had you interview if they didn’t like you and think you were qualified in some way. Get over it.

    Like

  31. Yanna.

    Did it occur to you that you don’t actually know what was going through the heads of the individuals involved in the hiring process.

    What is being questioned is the stated reason that those individuals offered, namely “fit.” That term has a long been identified as having racial and gendered presumptions.

    Like

  32. Aloha Christina! This is the time to join our hearts to embrace the beautiful and complex diversity. Now we can recognize pain and injustice in order to move forward in a new way towards true equality and valuing of each of us. In Honolulu, we are using the A.D.O.R.E. training supported here by Paula Cole Jones, to launch our #UUWhiteSupremacyTeachIn along with 500+ other churches. You identified the inability of our beloved UUA to see what “good fit” should really mean. “Good fit” should mean what makes us grow, makes us better, aims towards equity, truth, peace and joy– not what is the same. Thank you for your courage and vision– see what it has wrought!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: