When they go low, we go high – Michelle Obama
It’s a really hard time in our country right now. I honestly wish we adults could keep it out of your lives – you face so much already. But instead, it’s in your face and in your schools. Some of our youth told me that their high school had an incident last week in which swastikas were painted in an act of graffiti. In addition to vandalism this is a hate crime – a criminal act directed at a specific group of people. For families who are Jewish, this feels surreal and sickening. I am so sorry you have to see this and encounter people who choose to spread messages of hate instead of love. I’m writing to you because I don’t want that hate to infect you.
As Unitarian Universalists, we talk a lot about justice for all people. We talk about how we are each responsible for creating a better world. I wonder if we talk enough about love. Love is powerful beyond measure. Love is an essential part of our faith, like hope, but we don’t always name it. It can feel a little like old school hippies to sit around and talk about how much we love each other. I hope you know how much we love you. I pray you know, because I know that in this time in our country the spray paint swastika sends a message not only to our Jewish youth, but youth of color, youth who are LGBTQ, youth who feel different in some way. I know seeing that angered you, may have scared you, and may have left you feeling like you weren’t sure what to do, but you knew you had to do something.
So I quoted Michelle Obama above, to remind us to go high. We can’t meet acts of hatred with hatred. We can’t allow the spirit of our effort to make sure all people are treated equally and with dignity to be dampened when bullies try to bring us down. And to do this work for love and justice, we really need each other. So keep coming on Sundays and to youth group. Reach out to your religious professionals at your congregation. They really want to hear from you, especially if you are struggling with incidents of hatred appearing at your school.
Here’s what I think you should do if you encounter racism or acts of hatred in your school or social groups. Take a deep breath. Remind yourself that there are others who know, as you do, that these acts are wrong. If someone is being harmed, seek help immediately. Tell friends you don’t find jokes that make fun of certain groups of people funny. Don’t forget to let yourself laugh and experience joy. Being joyful can be an act of resistance too.Talk about how your religious values teach you that every person is important and has worth. Talk openly with your parents about what you are experiencing and how it makes you feel. Talk with the religious education teachers in your RE class, or your Director of RE, or the minister. We will listen.
The other thing we can do is learn more about justice movements. Order a copy of Toward the Other America by Chris Crass, get your youth group to host a book study with teens and adults together, using the discussion guide you will find here. Towards the “Other America”: Anti-Racist Resources for White People Taking Action for Black Lives Matter is a call to action to end white silence and a manual on how to do it.
Organize a group to collect food for a local food pantry. Do some self-directed learning by going to the Teaching Tolerance website and looking at resources they create for teachers in classrooms. For those of you who watch or read news, make sure it’s a credible source. Your best bet is to stick with the New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, and BBC News. Make sure you balance your news consumption with acts that get your body moving, make you laugh, and help you connect to others who inspire you.
Remember, things are hard right now but we will continue to do what we always do – work for justice, model what it means to live our UU faith, and love one another.