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 D. Rivera
Religious Educator, LREDA
Director of Administration and Finance, TJMC-UU Charlottesville, VA
Secretary-Elect, UUA Board of Trustees