First Unitarian Church of Rochester, 220 S. Winton Road, is exhibiting “Facing Racism” through Oct. 23 in an effort to educate about the ways racism is embedded in the fabric of society, and to help people and institutions dismantle it.
A Pew Research Center poll recently showed 58 percent of Americans say racism is a “big problem” in the U.S. The U.N.’s committee that monitors racial discrimination recently issued a warning over “alarming” racism in the U.S.
“As a white liberal, I thought that discarding racism would destroy it, yet racism is as strong as ever,” said the Rev. Joel Miller, interim senior minister at First Unitarian Church. “The evidence is clear that us white folks are, despite our good intentions, still somehow racists. But neither shame nor willpower can overcome our racism. We will overcome racism by learning about it, and by experiencing the real discomfort that education requires of us. That learning is worth it, and our integrity as human beings the reward for it.”
“Facing Racism” in the church’s Williams Gallery features historical photos of black people’s experiences in Rochester, courtesy of Monroe County’s archives.
The church will host the Rochester Museum and Science Center’s “Take it Down” exhibit about the controversial farm scene panel that was once part of the Dentzel Carousel at Ontario Beach Park. After people raised concerns about displaying derogatory caricatures of African-American children, Rochester preservation board voted to remove the panel in 2016 and use it in an interpretive exhibit. That RMSC traveling exhibit includes a 20-minute video, explains the history of racist imagery in society and challenges visitors to consider, “What is racism?”
The gallery space is open to visitors from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays and 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, but may be closed for an event. Call the church to confirm hours for a specific day.
The “Take it Down” planning committee will offer two opportunities to view the “Facing Racism” educational exhibit at First Unitarian, hear about racism today and learn about actions people can take locally to work toward racial justice from 7 to 9 p.m. Sept. 28 and Oct. 19.
Author Debby Irving will present “Waking Up White,” which will explore her journey away from racial ignorance, at 7 p.m. Oct. 8.
Irving, who is white, grew up in an upper middle-class-suburb in Massachusetts in the 1960s and ‘70s. She worked in urban neighborhoods and schools from 1984 to 2009, and struggled to understand racial issues until a college graduate course on racial and cultural identity shifted her worldview and opened her to greater understanding and ways to stop perpetuating racism. Her 2014 book, “Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race,” has won multiple awards.
“I continue to study racism and strategies for its undoing while working to educate other white people confused and frustrated by racism,” Irving said. “I remember these feelings all too well, and am passionate about transforming anxiety and inaction into empowerment and action. I believe most white people would take a stand against racism if only they knew how, or even imagined they had a role.”
Donations are encouraged at the “Waking Up White” event to cover expenses and to support social justice initiatives at First Unitarian.
For information, call 585-271-9070 or 585-546-3903.