Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

It’s More Complicated than White

This past week, I have been taking a January Intensive course (a semester’s worth of lectures and class time crammed into one week) taught by the Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed. He has a new book out, In Between, but his most well known work is Black Pioneers in a White Denomination. The course has been titled “Afro Americans and Unitarian Universalism”.

What I love about good Unitarian Universalist classes and courses is that if you go into them looking for answers, you will be sadly disappointed. If you go into them looking for the complication inherent in the universe to be shown to you, you will realize the point of the course. We rarely simplify things, we UU’s. This course has been no exception. The truth is that issues of race and culture are even more complex than can be delved into in a week long class, no matter how intentionally it is done.

I will not seek to go into those complications here… save one. I want to think a little this morning about Identity.

I have through most of my life identified as “white”. I look white, and a large portion of my ancestry can be classified as white. Because I look white, I have both overtly and subtly benefitted from “white privilege” or those ways in which societies’ assumptions about me because of my skin color are more to my benefit than my detriment… unlike the experience of many people of color. When I choose which group I belong to in anti-racism workshops, I always “caucus” with the “whites”.

However, it is more complicated than that. My ancestry is (as best I can determine) Scotch-Irish, German, and Cherokee. Quite a bit of Cherokee, on both sides of my family. The story of our Cherokee ancestry has long been part of our family lore, with stories handed down on camping trips and visits to the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina. I joined a “Native American” interest group at a young age, and studied what is in many ways the lost culture of the Cherokee. That ancestry is very real to me.

And yet, when I caucus at anti-racism events… I always go with the whites. Why? Because that is the dominate culture in which I was raised and that is the way people perceive me. But I know that it is more complicated than that.

And if its complicated for me, imagine if my wife and I have children… the kids will be Scotch-Irish, German, Cherokee, French, Vietnamese… and whatever else we’ve lost or forgotten. It seems like, for better or worse, my family has been sleeping with people that didn’t look the same for a long time.

So, I want a new box. I want a new box to check on that list of racial and cultural identities. Just after White, Black, Asian, Native American, Latino/a, and Other (who wants to be the “other”?), I want a new box.


Yours in Faith,


4 Thoughts on “It’s More Complicated than White

  1. What breaks my heart is when this happens at UU AR/AO/MC stuff. My sons are Hapa, (Asian/white…) and when they come to youth UU events, there are the two groups. You choose, kid.

    And they’ve been told BY UU ADULTS STAFFING THE EVENT “oh well, we’re all mixed race if you go back far enough” and “choose the group that society sees you as.” One son said “where’s the ‘what the hell are you?’ group?”

    Work to do. Thanks for sharing.

  2. How about taking a cue from your President and proudly choose the “mutt” box?

    I mean who really wants to be a 97% White WASU*U? 😉

  3. “What breaks my heart is when this happens at UU AR/AO/MC stuff. My sons are Hapa, (Asian/white…) and when they come to youth UU events, there are the two groups. You choose, kid.”

    And to think that once upon a time U*Us were strongly, quite rightly, and even quite righteously opposed to segregation. . .

  4. I very much relate to what you are saying. My mix is determined as Scotch/Irish, Swedish & Cherokee. As a kid I decided that I must have “Indian Bones” since my outside seemed to reflect the white parts of my identity. I recently attached a picture of my Cherokee-great-grandmother on my seminary class forum posting in which I said that I feel like she is one of my companions on this journey.

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