Survey of UU People of Color

Dear Unitarian Universalist Persons of Color who read

My name is Joseph Santos-Lyons, and I am working on my Senior Thesis at
Harvard University completing my Masters of Divinity.  My working theme
is "A History of Unitarian Universalist People of Color, 1980-2005".  I
have been a long time member of DRUUMM, the Asian/Pacific Islander
Caucus, and the Youth & Young Adults of Color communities,
originally from Portland, Oregon.  The purpose of the survey which can
be completed anonymously or with your name optionally for possible
follow-up interview, is to provide primary data that describes the
experiences, attitudes and potentially assert trends and collective
notions of People of Color in Unitarian Universalism.  My work will
also address the question of Unitarian Universalism in People of
Color.  While I am focusing on the last 25 years, I am always open to
pre-1980 history for contextual purposes, and I invite you to send me
anything you believe of relevance (even a personal email). 

I thank you for considering to take the time to complete this 10
Question Survey and 5 Background Informational Questions.  The Deadline
is December 1st, 2005.

With peace, Joseph

Download survey_uupoc_2005.doc


11 responses to “Survey of UU People of Color

  1. Radical Hapa: Survey of UU People of Color

    Joseph needs your help with a Survey of UU People of Color: My name is Joseph Santos-Lyons, and I am working on my Senior Thesis at Harvard University completing my Masters of Divinity. My working theme is “A History of Unitarian Universalist People o…

  2. Joseph, you asked for pre-1980 material as well. Here’s a little tidbit from my own research that may be helpful.

    The first non-white Unitarian whom I am aware of is Nakahama Manjiro (aka John Mung) who joined the church in Fairhaven, MA, in 1843. He was the first Japanese person to visit the United States. Note however that Manjiro did not identify as a “Person of Color” (the idea didn’t exist then) and that today the Japanese typically do not see themselves as “People of Color,” such distinctions being unuseful to their particular social/racial situation and history. Still, I think he’ll meet your definition.

    Manjiro’s explicit reason for joining the Unitarian church was the racial prejudice which he experienced in other local churches. The Unitarian church was the only one which would welcome him and allow him to sit with white friends. At the same time, his mentor Captain William Whitfield also joined the Unitarian church as an act of solidarity. Thus the history of “People of Color” within Unitarianism, so far as I have been able to document, begins with the acceptance of a non-white man and the act of solidarity of a “white ally.”

  3. My finished survey should be in your email box Joseph. Let me know if you need more info. Thanks and I wish you well on this project.

  4. Hey Jeff, thanks for the cite, I’m amazed you found that! Being from the West Coast, particularly during and after the Internment Redress movement, I do believe many Japanese American’s identify as Persons of Color. I know many today, organizations and individuals, who are parts of Community of Color coalitions. Peace – Joseph

  5. No problem, happy to help in any way. Can’t wait to read the results of your project. UU histories of African-Americans in UUism tend to stick at the Walkout, without adequate treatment of the many years and people who’ve come since. Heck, we were born and grew up after that paradigmatic event had already occurred.

    I should probably clarify my comments about Japanese and People of Color. Although I was raised UU, I’m currently a member of a Japanese-American dominated Buddhist organization, and as part of my research I visit other such temples (and sometimes Christian churches) as well. I’m one of three non-Japanese-Americans in my temple; at my previous temple, 60% of the members were Japanese-American. This issue has actually explicitly come up in my presence, and no one identified as a “person of color.” Some didn’t know what the term meant, so the others defined it for them. How did they describe it? They said that “People of Color is another word for black people.” So, to these folks at least, this term meant African-American. And I have to say, most (not all) of the African-Americans whom I’ve heard use the term clearly equate it with African-American, not all non-white people. I know that isn’t how the term was intended, and it’s not how I use it in my classroom, but it does seem to the be common, on-the-street usage.

    On the other hand, my area of study includes contemporary Japanese Buddhism, so I stay on top of cultural issues in Japan. The Japanese definately do not consider themselves people of color–to them it’s an artificial catagory that doesn’t reflect their self-understanding. The Japanese see themselves as former colonizers (Hokkaido, Korea, Taiwan, Manchuria, China, Burma, the Philippines, etc), not as the colonized. As much as I love them there’s a persistent feeling of superiority toward Africans, other Asians, and many sorts of folks, and little wish to build solidarity with other people just because they don’t have a European background.

    This isn’t to say that there are no Japanese-Americans who identify in some way as “people of color.” I’ve known lots who did. In the American context, it makes some sense due to our local racial/ethnic history. But in my experience, they are still a small minority of Japanese-Americans who do so–the overall community doesn’t claim the catagory nor wishes to have it pushed on them. I’ve learned not to say things like “As people of color, do you. . .” because I consistently get looks of non-comprehension. This was a slow lesson for me to learn–because I traveled in radical progressive circles, the Japanese-Americans I always knew were People of Color. It wasn’t until later than I learned how unrepresentative these folks can be.

    I’m not trying to evaluate the utility or value of the term, I’m just arguing that for about ten years now I’ve traveled in mainstream (as opposed to highly politicized) Japanese-American circles, and also happen to study Japanese culture, and in my experience the average Japanese or Japanese-American doesn’t consider herself a person of color.

    Obviously that doesn’t mean that you can’t use the term in your own work to describe a group of people whom you wish to study. I think it’s more than past time that we had a history of Asian-American UUs, and if you can include them in your project I’m all for it. If I come across anything else relevant I’ll be sure to send it your way. And if you need references later on for Manjiro, just email me, I can point you to some stuff you may want to cite.

  6. Joseph, here’s another tidbit for you, contemporary this time: page 203 of R. Marie Griffith’s “Born Again Bodies: Flesh and Spirit in American Christianity” (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004) describes an interview with her consultant “Gauri,” who was 25 in 2003. Gauri comes from a bi-racial fourth-generation white Unitarian/Indian Hindu family, and she discusses the different tensions about body image, self-discipline, and gender inherited from both of her background traditions/ethnicities. Really interesting stuff which, even though just a page long, might give you something unusually revealing to work with. And it exactly fits your main timeframe.

  7. Joseph,
    I felt it only right for me to correct some info you received from Jeff Wilson. The reference was good, but the info only partially correct. Manjiro was 14 when he was rescued from a small uninhabited island off he coast of Japan in 1841, by the whaling Ship John Howland out of Fairhaven MA.
    The Captain of that ship was William H. Whitfield, my husband’s ggggrandfather. Capt. Whitfield took Manjiro along with 4 other fishermen that were shipwrecked with him on this island. Capt. Whitfield took the men to Hawaii, (then the Sandwich Islands.). During the voyage, the Captain was very impressed withthe young Manjiro and his quick ability to adapt to the ship and the sea. Manjiro was very bright and learned quickly.
    Manjiro’s father had died when he was young, and he admired the Captain’s kindness and temperment . Once they reached Honolulu, the Captain, knowing that Japan was a closed society, and that if they went back they faced imprisonment and even death, asked Manjiro to return with him to Fairhaven where he would be educated and live well.
    Long story shortened, Manjiro did return to the US, Where he lived as a member of the Whitfield family for many years.
    The important part of this story , for your purposes, is the church, so here is the correction.Captain Whitfield at that time attended the Congregational church in Fairhaven, and of course,felt that spiritual education was important, and took Manjiro to church with the family. Unfortunately, the Captian was told that Manjiro, being a “person of color”, must be seated in the balcony with the “negroes”. Yes, there was dicrimination then, and seperate pews.
    Captain Whitfield refused to allow his foster son to be treated that way, and with family in tow, left that church! He then went to the Unitarian Church across the stret, purchased TWO pews,(a practice of the times) and took his family, including Manjio, to that church from then on.
    I know this is a long story, and gets longer, for “John Mung”, as he was known then, went on to the ’49 goldrush in CA, Eventually went back to Hawaii and Japan to see his mothe who believed he had died, was imprisioned for years, and Became Vital to the opening of Japan to the western world, when Commodore Perry sought trade with Japan.
    He went back once to see Captain Whitfield while acting as an emmisary for Japan, and the relationship between the two families continues to this day! We see each other at least once a year, and correspond thru e-mail and snail mail as well.
    Last month, Fairhaven Dedicated a monumnt to the Capt. and Manjiro in fornt of the old Unitarian Church, which is now aMaritime Academy. Although the Nakahama (Manjiro’s surname) family and Whitfield Family are now of the Catholic faith, we thank God for The Unitarian church, that allowed our ancestors to worship as a family with no predjudice, no segregation,and with the utmost dignity!
    Thank you for hearing me out, and for honoring all people regardless of origin or color!
    To learn more about this, please visit

    Kathi Whitfield
    Manjiro Society of McLean,VA

  8. Not sure where my info was incorrect (everything in your post reads like mine, Kathi, only expanded) but I’m sure Joseph is glad for the expanded version. I can provide additional info/references if need be.

  9. Wow, Hi Kathi, what is the Majiro Society>? Are there still Unitarian connections with the descended family?

  10. Dear Joseph,

    I have asked 8 members of the Princeton, NJ, congregation to respond to your survey request. Below is the response of one of them, an important perspective to consider.

    In addition, I suggest that you may want to interview an elderly black man in the congregation, Anthony (Tony) Tucker,in his 80’s, 609-989-9108. He does not use email so I did not send the message to him. Tony has experience in several UU churches and could provide you with a broad description of experiences lasting several decades.

    Good luck with your research,

    Hi Carol,

    I thought about this e-mail for awhile and have decided not to participate in the survey. Frankly, I find this a bit primitive and out-of-date. I don’t think of myself as a person of color. My wife, who is white, was actually offended by this e-mail. Please feel free to forward my e-mail to Joseph. Best Regards, Umesh.

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