The Union Club

Today was our last official day in Boston, and Alex, Lisa, and I decided to have breakfast in the dining room of the hotel in which we're staying.  Except "hotel" isn't quite the right word for it.  The Union Club was founded as a "club" for the Boston elite (ie - old, white, moneyed men) in order to support the Union side of the Civil War.  It's august walls are decorated with paintings and portraits of old, white, moneyed men.  Tho, strangely, there are also two portraits of Chinese merchants, their features seemingly anglicized.

While "membership" is no longer restricted to men, and presumably not restricted by race either, I still felt uncomfortable in the Union Club for the entire time we were there, and never more so than at breakfast this morning.  First of all, we didn't know how to order - did not know that we were supposed to write what we wanted on the chit.  And the three of us seemed decidedly out of place in our causal clothing amongst the multiple silver utensils and china dishes.

But it would unfair to put all of my discomfort on the Union Club.  It is but part of the landscape that is old Boston.  And every time I come up to the "mothership", where the UUA is headquartered, I am reminded of the disconnect between what we say we are and what we really are.  

Living in DC and attending All Souls, it is almost possible to believe that Unitarian Universalism is a faith with room for people of all ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds.  Even at All Souls, those of us who can't afford to shop at Whole Foods on a regular basis sometimes feel marginalized, but at least there is some diversity.  Moving into broader UU circles, that diversity decreases rapidly. And coming up to Boston... one is confronted with the fact that Unitarianism is a religion founded by the white elite.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Julia Ward Howe walked these streets.  

25 Beacon Street, on Beacon Hill, looks out onto the same Boston Commons as the Union Club, and indeed has an even more prestigious location as it is right next to the state capitol.  It too is a venerable building with a long history and lots of pictures of old white moneyed men hanging on its walls.  There are some portraits of women and people of color, to be sure, but they are far outnumbered, and one has the impression that they were put there because...

We don't normally stay at the Union Club when in Boston.  Because of the Board Meeting, all the rooms in Pickett and Eliot, the UUA owned bed and breakfast, were taken.  Staying at P&E, with the lax dress code and making your own breakfast in the communal kitchen, is far more comfortable than staying at the Union Club.  You could almost ignore the obvious wealth of the neighborhood, instead of being confronted by it.  But that is us, isn't it?  Most of us of higher socio-economic class, well-educated, who know the difference between a shrimp fork and a salad fork, claiming that it doesn't matter by our t-shirts and jeans. 



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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative