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Reflections on Transparency and Vulnerability 

The following is taken from a 2000 issue of the Thomas Jefferson District Connections, a publication of the TJD of the UUA. Qiyamah Rahman was serving as district executive at the time of publication:

I am aware that a number of UUs of European descent in the TJ District are very upset about the use of the term “racist.” I cannot know what it feels like to be called a “racist,” but I do know what it feels like to struggle to name parts of myself that were almost too hideous for me and others to identify, name and embrace.

I grew up in an abusive family. My mother was a battered woman and my siblings and I were battered by my parents. When I first became a parent, I beat my children when they misbehaved. I deliberately do not use the word “spank” here, although that is how it was referred to by everyone, including those from whom I sought help to change. The language allowed me and others to justify this behavior and normalized the behavior. We have learned to sterilize our acts of violence through such neutral language. The act of naming the behavior for what it was, was part of my self-education and my decision to step outside the conspiracy of silence. In seeking to change I had to remove myself beyond the reach of those who would seek to aid and abet my behavior.

My name is Qiyamah A. Rahman and I am a child abuser. Those words allowed me to move toward healing and to non-violent parenting. To call myself a child abuser seemed extreme to some, but in the face of a society that sought to accommodate my behavior I needed to rename my use of corporeal punishment as violence. It was painful to name myself a child abuser. But one cannot begin to heal until one speaks the truth, as painful as it may seem.”

You can find the above text on pages 336-337 in the book, The Arc of the Universe is Long: Unitarian Universalists, Anti-Racism and the Journey from Calgary. This massive six-hundred-and-fifty-one-page book represents one of the most extensive resources on Unitarian Universalists’ journey and reflections on anti-racism efforts beginning with the 1992 General Assembly in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. This carefully researched book “recounts events and reactions through the middle years of the first decade of this century.”

How did it happen that in a book of this size with so many quotes and references from numerous individuals that mine portrays me in such a negative impression? And more importantly, why did I choose to say yes to including my experience? In retrospect I am not sure that I fully internalized my decision in the moment. In the end I had to live with my decision to be transparent, to be vulnerable and speak a truth that was so hideous and ugly. I have had some moments of regret having said yes to Leslie Takahashi when she called me one evening and requested permission to include the quote in the book. I did not instantly say yes but as I thought through my reason for my transparency and my efforts to work on vulnerability issues, I said yes moments later. What I did not fully realize is that there would be some challenges once I granted permission. I did not realize that in a book that numbered six-hundred-and fifty-one pages long that the index containing my name takes the reader to pages 336-337 where my confession is visible to any and every reader. My ego, my pride would have wanted folks to also be able to see the person and parent I evolved into and that we sometimes stumble as we plod along life’s journey.

Another moment that I experienced some regrets about saying yes was at a UUA General Assembly after the book was published. A white female minister shouted across the room in an excited voice, “Qiyamah, didn’t you say you were a child abuser?” I could see her husband nudging her and trying to quiet her. Knowing this particular person, I knew she was not being mean-spirited but she tended not to have much of a filter and she apparently wanted to confirm to her husband what she had evidently read. I could see the embarrassment on his face from across the room. In that moment my mind was racing. I knew others had heard her. She clearly did not have a discreet bone in her body. I did not and could not lie. But I felt like I wanted to disappear. I was not prepared to stand in the midst of all these white ministers and declare what I had so easily written and shared in a book. But neither silence nor a lie were options. So in that moment I decided to speak the truth and to hell with the consequences. “Yes, I said that.” And I mumbled something else trying to explain the context as they moved closer. But I had won! In the face of shame, embarrassment, and possible ostracism I had not acquiesced. Life hands us small victories sometimes. When I said yes to Leslie those many years ago, when I look at my tattered and worn copy of the book and when I reflect on my journey towards transparency and vulnerability, I know I have miles and miles more to go. But I am so proud of who I am becoming as I approach 74 years of age. It has taken a lifetime and I am still not there.

When I recently opened the book for a reference it fell open to page 588. The page includes a quote from Rev. Patricia Jimenez, then chaplain in Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She states, “There was an acknowledgment of the indigenous ancestors who were there. There was something about white people who came later. There was absolutely no mention, anywhere, that Texas was part of Mexico, that there are probably more people in that city who were Mexican or other Latinos, before then or even now. So—I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Where are we?’ This is Fort Worth, 2005. What have we really done?”

Rev. Patricia recently died and transitioned to the ancestars. May she rest in power. She reminds us that we have so much more work to do on ourselves, in our congregations, in our homes and in our beloved faith of Unitarian Universalism.

Below her quote were the words of another ancestar, Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson. Her words bring me comfort and are a reminder to keep on keeping on in my state of imperfection and flaws. She states, “You have to get over not making mistakes—we don’t accept the fact that we can make mistakes. Perhaps it is our individual roots. We are still learning to be in right relation one with one another, so that we can honestly say ‘I love you. I made a mistake, let’s fix it.’ Sometimes we just need to understand that we screwed up and yes, it is hard. For me it is wonderful for all of us to be able to stay at the table of Unitarian Universalism.”

Thank you, Rev. Patricia, thank you Rev. Hope, for your courage and legacy that inspire me to continue to strip away the layers of oppression. It will continue to feel uncomfortable, embarrassing and even painful. But in retrospect, I do not regret saying yes to Leslie. I hope I continue to say yes to the Universe every time it provides me an opportunity to grow and stretch and to stay at the table of humanity.

Warmest regards, Rev. Qiyamah

P.S. We are working on rolling out (in time for 2022 UUA General Assembly) the newest feature on our website, where we will introduce many more ancestars we want you to know about.

Posted in Controversially Q, Personally Q and tagged , , , , .

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