Is Asking People to Forget that Thomas Jefferson Was a Slaveholder a White Thing?

I had been trying to not sound like an angry black woman and come up with a different title for this post, but I’m tired of trying to not sound like an angry black woman.

Doug Muder, in his opinion piece in the summer issue of UU World says,

So, for example, it’s hard for us today to put ourselves back into an eighteenth-century mindset and realize the full outrageousness of the Declaration of Independence’s “self-evident” truth that “all men are created equal” and “are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” Forget that Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner when he wrote those words.

Is this a white thing? Asking people to forget that Jefferson was a slaveholder I mean. Because seriously, I don’t get it.

Since the time of Jefferson’s death in 1826, official America has done nothing but ignore the fact that Thomas Jefferson was a slaveholder, and everything that goes along with that. There are still people arguing that Jefferson did not have the six children with Sally Hemmings—that we know about—even though DNA (and the Monticello official diary) has proven that he did.

How much more willful amnesia should we sanction? How much more blindness to something fundamental to the understanding of Jefferson do we push aside in order to make him this radical that he never really was?

It took American historians a DNA test to finally start writing the truth about Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemmings. There has to come a point where we can start asking people to not forget that Jefferson was a slaveholder.

So I’ll ask the question again; is asking people to forget that Jefferson was a slaveholder a white thing?

Starr King Is Unique, but It’s NOT Special…or, Terminal Uniqueness Strikes Again…

I get to start this post with an Earlham story.

During my time at Earlham, the school went through 2 MAJOR searches; one for President and one for Vice President of Finance. They also had 1 important search that wasn’t as major (a long term interim). Finally there was a search that was minorly important (and my sentimental favorite); the Director of Library Services.

When Doug Bennett announced that he was going to retire, the Earlham Board of Trustees appointed a Search Committee comprised of board members, Earlham College faculty, ESR faculty, Earlham College staff, one of the Co-Convenors of Earlham Student Government, and an outside community member (if I’m remembering correctly, that person was from Indiana Yearly Meeting but not on the Earlham board). In conjunction with the appointment of the Search Committee, the board hired a headhunting/professional search firm to help the search committee.

Main difference between an academic executive search and a ministerial search…the presence of a completely neutral third party

After commissioning, the Search Committee (with assistance of the headhunting firm) interviewed specific people and did a survey to collect data on what people thought were the qualities that the next President of Earlham needed. From that information they worked up a position announcement and list of requirements. Then it was decided where the position announcement would be placed.

When the announcement was put out, there was a paragraph that looked like this:

[Blank] College is being assisted in this search by Academic Search, Inc. Nominators or prospective candidates may direct inquiries or questions to Senior Consultant X at [-----] or Associate Consultant Y at [-----]. A full position profile can be viewed by going to www.academic-search.com and clicking on current searches. Nominations and applications will be received until the position is filled but, in order to receive full consideration, candidates are encouraged to submit their materials by [date]. (this comes from a current Presidential search announcement, so names have been removed)

Second major difference between academic executive search and ministerial search…”outsiders” can nominate prospective candidates

The search firm did the initial vetting (checking that all applications were complete, that applicants had all the requirements, etc) and once that was done passed on all the applications. The Search Committee then looked through them and separated them into 3 piles; definite second look, maybe second look, definite no.

Once the piles were done, the Search Committee informed the community that the initial vetting was done and that they were going to start the process of phone call interviews with the people who they thought would be a good fit.

Something else the Search Committee did (that no ministerial search committee would do) is give the community a demographic breakdown of everybody who applied.

The phone interviews were done and the committee narrowed the potential candidates down to 7 with whom there would be more in-depth interviews.

During this time the committee asked the community what questions we thought they should ask. It was a given that not every question was going to be asked, but that they were going to ask some of the questions that the community came up with. Those interviews were done in a neutral location and when they were finished, the committee further narrowed the pool down to the final 3.

This is when the uproar happened on the Earlham campus. Why? Because the three finalists were all white males. But the reason there could be an uproar was because the community had been given the demographic information about who applied. There was so much uproar over the final 3 that the committee had to send out a letter to the community explaining why, in light of the demographics, the final 3 were all white males (and not a Quaker in the bunch, which was also a big concern). There were still grumblings, but the process continued.

Each of the three candidates came to campus, met people, and had separate sessions with faculty, staff, and students. There were dinners with outside community leaders. And a final meeting with the Search Committee.

Feedback was gathered from all the different groups after they saw each candidate. But nobody thought (as far as I can tell) that just because feedback was collected, that it meant that feedback was going to be given great weight than other factors.

After due consideration, the committee presented the Board of Trustees with their recommendation that David Dawson be the next President of Earlham. The Board took that recommendation.

Why am I telling this Earlham story in connection to situation going on around Starr King?

Because I believe that UU terminal uniqueness has struck again.

News flash: Starr King is unique. But Starr King is NOT special.

And too many people who are commenting on the sturm-und-drang are acting as if, because Starr King trains ministers, that it is somehow too special to go through the same process as other schools go through to pick their executive leadership.

Yes, there are always exceptions; when big name schools go out and get big names. But that is not the case for most schools.

Starr King is truly unique. Starr King is not special. If the search process works for schools as big as Ohio State or UT-Austin AND for schools as small as Wells or Lawrence or Earlham, it does work well for Starr King.

This UU terminal uniqueness has to stop. If it doesn’t, a whole host of people are going to get hurt in the process.

The Wall of Separation Between Congregation and Academy (Starr King but Not Starr King continued)

I will start with my conclusion:

All 3 candidates for the presidency of Starr King are academics. Just because they happen to also be ministers does not change the fact they they were candidates for an ACADEMIC job, NOT a pastoral/congregational ministry job.

ok friends, here’s the deal. There must be a wall of separation between the congregation and the academy. And it is to the benefit of both that the wall be there.

The academy must be allowed to push people out of every comfort zone they have by exposing them to the variety of thought and practice out there. The academy has the obligation to analyze and present its findings to the community of interested entities. It is also the repository for collective knowledge (in a way the the congregation can’t be). It nourishes people in one way.

The congregation’s job is different. The congregation’s job is to build people up AND challenge them to put that building up into practice in the wider community. It nourishes people in a different way.

This is not to say that the academy doesn’t do the things that congregations do or that congregations don’t do things that the academy does. They can and they do, but they are secondary to their primary function.

The search process for the leader of an ACADEMIC institution is going to look different than, and be different than, the search process for a CONGREGATION. To not recognize that the academy has different needs and different functions than the congregation does a disservice to both.

more later (including an Earlham story).

[special thanks to Elz Curtiss for making me clarify what my position is.]

I Got 99 Problems, And UUism Is All Of Them (Starr King but Not Starr King)

[yes, I was listening to Jay-Z earlier]

I wonder how much of the consternation/craziness that has come to pass in the time since the announcement of  Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt being selected as the next President of Starr King has to do with the fact that the 3 final candidates for the presidency are all ministers.

Here’s the question (or part of it)…What if the person who had gotten selected had been a non-minister? So instead of Rev. McNatt being chosen, the person who was chosen was Anthony Pinn. (if you don’t know who Anthony Pinn is, email me and we’ll talk)

Would there be the same call for the academic search process to more resemble the pastoral search process if the final result had produced a non-minister academic rather than an academic minister?

While people are ruminating over the situation that is going on at Starr King I think it would behoove people to remember that Starr King is an ACADEMIC INSTITUTION, not a congregation. And once we remember that, it is time to ask ourselves the question of whether we are trying to equate the President of Starr King with a minister because thinking of them as an academic means that we have to think of ourselves differently.

More tomorrow.

Not All People of Color Are Created* Equal (still more thoughts on “The Case for Reparations” and the Shaping of Modern Unitarian Universalism)

I didn’t think I was saying anything particularly radical in my last two posts. This is the United States after all and history has shown that African Americans really have been treated differently. As I am fond of saying…nothing new to see here.

But what has really made me see stars is the following thought….

We also have tended to see race in black and white terms and been rude and dismissive to the Latinos and Asian Americans in our midst.

All due respect to my Asian American and Latino readers [and to the person who wrote that statement], but not all people of color are created* equal. Do I think public policy has treated any people of color all that great? Nope. And you won’t ever hear me say that.

But my last two posts were my ruminations about how public policy, AS IT RELATES TO HOUSING, affected (and affects) the shape of modern Unitarian Universalism.

In the late 1930’s, as Detroit grew outward, white families began to settle near a black enclave adjacent to Eight Mile Road. By 1940, the black residents were surrounded, but neither they nor the whites could get FHA insurance because of the proximity of an inharmonious racial group. So, in 1941, an enterprising white developer built a concrete wall between the white and black areas. The FHA appraisers then took another look and approved the mortgages on the white properties. [thanks to the Fair Housing Center for giving the link where this was]

Did the FHA redline Latinos and Asian Americans out of certain neighborhoods? Did they not give (or more technically, back/secure) loans to whites who lived too close to Latinos or Asian Americans?

Restrictive covenants were a slightly different story. I’m sure that on the west coast, Asian Americans were probably undesirables on/in some of the covenants. Just as I’m sure that in the southwest Latinos were probably undesirables on/in some covenants. And Jews come up on some [I've seen a couple of these]. Yet there was only one group that was on every covenant: African Americans. And there is a reason that African Americans are on every covenant….public policy through the FHA.

Again, I don’t think I’m saying anything radical. TNC’s article just gave me a new way of looking at something that had confused me. I do think that public policy as it relates to housing is a factor in the shaping of modern Unitarian Universalism (I might even go so far as to say that it was a major factor, along with WWII itself). Hence, another piece of the puzzle as to why modern Unitarian Universalism is the way it is–and where it is where it is– slots into place for me. If my rumination doesn’t work for you, fine.

 

*—before you comment about my use of the word “created” with the very tired trope that race is a socially constructed concept, I know that. That is why I used the word created. If race is socially constructed, then the use of public policy in regards to people of color means that some groups of people of color are treated better than others. Meaning not all people of color are created equal.

‘Our White Flight Is Not Their White Flight’ (more thoughts on “The Case for Reparations” and the Shaping of Modern Unitarian Universalism)

I grew up in the most integrated area of St. Louis. Part of the reason my parents ended up buying in that area is because they couldn’t get into the area that they really wanted to be in [I knew part of the story before TNC's article, and have been finding out the rest since]—and this was in the 1970s, some years before I was born. I’m really glad that my parents ended up in their not-first-choice area because if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be who I am today. And that’s all because the school district was great. That is only part of the story however.

When kids start kindergarten in this district, the elementary school they go to is truly racially mixed (and socioeconomically mixed too); 45% white (mostly Jewish), 45% black, 10% Asian and other [the St. Louis region does not have a significant Latino population]. Yet this really interesting thing happens between 5th and 6th grade. When a kid starts middle school in this same district, the percentages have changed; it is now 25% white, 65% black, 10% Asian and other. And it gets even more interesting between 8th and 9th grade; it becomes 10% white, 80% black, 10% Asian and other.

I do not understand why. The district produces more National Merit scholars than the pricey private schools in the area most years. It does produce the most National Achievement scholars in the area every year. There are an array of AP and other advanced level classes. And yet most of the white kids are gone by the time their cohort is supposed to enter high school.

White flight takes many different forms. And frankly, I’m tired of hearing the ‘our white flight is not their white flight’ explanation/defense (liberals don’t say it exactly like that, but that’s what it is).

I know that not every congregation that formed in the period of time that we call the “Fellowship Movement” formed because of white flight. I know that some of those congregations were the only ones in an area that were a refuge for those who were involved in the social movements of the times. But that wasn’t most.

I stand by my assertion that federal housing policy benefited the growth of Unitarianism (and later Unitarian Universalism) in both good and not-so-good ways. This is not an indictment (ok, maybe it is). But I think to ignore/dismiss this when talking about how and why Unitarian Universalism is the way it is and WHERE Unitarian Universalism is where it is does us all a disservice.

And now I am going to go back and finish my paper on interracial sex and the tv show Scandal. Maybe that will cause less consternation.

Public Policy and the Shaping of Modern Unitarian Universalism (thoughts on “The Case for Reparations”)

Shawna Foster, in responding to a post on Tom Schade’s blog, wrote the following:
I believe systems of oppression are perpetuated unintentionally, and that religion is one of the ways we can become aware of our intentions and what we really mean by our thoughts and actions. This is one of the major reasons why I belong to a religious institution, I feel it is one of the few places in society with this role. People can be quite educated, and intellectual, but unintentionally perpetuate harm because of a lack of experience that causes transformational change to a different behavior – something I hope religion does – something I think you are doing write now by writing about the societal situation. To me this is a bit different status quo than oppressive forces intentionally causing harm; it is always a few who do overt violence justified by the covert violence of the status quo.

I’m trying really hard to see how anybody, with even rudimentary  knowledge of United States history, could say that with a straight face. Really, I’m trying but I so want to call bullsh*t.

If you haven’t read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ breathtaking article in the newest issue of The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations”, stop here and read it. Read it? Good. Now I can go on.

My thoughts start where TNC starts:

Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy.

Let’s be clear about this. To believe that “systems of oppression are perpetuated unintentionally” with the whole of U.S. history to look at means that one believes that slavery was some kind of unintended consequence in the foundation of the United States. It means that one believes that Jim Crow was unintentional. It means that one believes that the Supreme Court really wasn’t saying what it was saying in Plessy v. Ferguson. It means that one believes that when the New Deal was rolled out, the fact that African Americans (and Latinos for some programs) were almost universally shut out of participation was unintentional. It means that one believes that African American men being almost completely shut out of the GI Bill after WWII was just an overlook. It means that one believes that the FHA program saying that it would not subsidise neighborhoods that did not have restrictive covenants was some kind of bureaucratic overreach.

C’mon now. None of this was unintentional. The American experiment only worked (and works currently, if we look at the criminalization of 1/3 of all African American men and other measures)  because white liberals made (and make) an agreement with white conservatives that all whites will benefit in some way from the use/misuse/abuse of African American bodies and labor. Granted, who was/is considered white is malleable, but who is black is not; the “one drop rule” never applied to the Irish or eastern or southern Europeans. Race and racism in America is NOT unintentionally perpetuated oppression; it is the very heart and soul of the American experiment.

And in Unitarianism and Universalism, the treatment of people like Ethelred Brown and Lewis McGee and William Jackson or the Joseph Jordans show that religion is no sanctuary from oppression (perpetuated intentionally or unintentionally).

Now…the title of this post is Public Policy and the Shaping of Modern Unitarian Universalism. And it took me reading TNC’s article to make some connections that I had not been making.

Those of you who know me in the non-blogging world (or if you’ve read this blog for a long time) might remember that I’m not a big fan of all the nostalgia for the Fellowship Movement of the mid-20th century. There were many reasons I thought the nostalgia was unfounded. But I hadn’t connected the dots. The growth of Unitarianism happened in the post-WWII period that saw public policy shaping where we live. Since African Americans were shut out of the programs that made the suburbs and exurbs possible, is it any wonder that Unitarian Universalism is as non-diverse as it is.

Housing policy made modern Unitarian Universalism what it is. So the next time there is a wistful discussion about the Fellowship Movement, remember why it was made possible. Wherever you stand on the case for reparations, TNC’s article should be cause for a real discussion of how and why Unitarian Universalism looks the way it looks; and how hard it is to change that.

Nothing New To See Here…America Has Always Used Black Bodies To Make Money and Despised Them At The Same Time

I think I need to point something out to my white liberal friends.

When it comes to the ideas of Cliven Bundy or Donald Sterling…there is nothing new to see here. America is America because of the labor of black bodies that have been used, abused, and despised all at the same time.

But here’s the dirty little secret nobody really wants to deal with…white liberals aided and abetted this. From the time of slavery, where Northern factories made products whose raw materials were worked by slave hands and banks that made money off of slavery and all things associated with it; to now with the prison industrial complex and move to privatize elementary and secondary education, America is constantly creative in its ways to make money off of the fear of, and the talent of, black bodies.

Don’t get me wrong…I know things have changed, at least on the individual level. That means nothing when the system is set up so that black and brown children are suspended from preschool for “offenses” that white children only get a reprimand for. It means nothing when black and brown families with good credit scores were pushed into sub-prime loans for homes when white families were put into prime loans.

There is nothing new to see here friends. Let me know when that changes.

In Order to be Prophetic, You Actually Have to Say Something

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has until Saturday to veto a bill that would make the nullification efforts in the South back in the day look like child’s play. The UUA has been eerily silent about this.

It has been 11 days since the verdict came down in the Jordan Davis murder trial. Still no “official” response from the UUA.

For all this talk about being a prophetic religion, the UUA seems to not be speaking about the pressing issues of the day.

In order to be prophetic, you actually have to step up and say something.

The UUA Homepage Has No Offical Statement About the Jordan Davis Trial Verdict, But Plenty About the New Logo (A Response to Tom Schade)

Tom,

You describe the chatter around the new UUA logo and its roll-out as painful. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t; that’s an individual matter of taste.

You also wonder about why more UUs aren’t talking about things like Moral Mondays/the Moral March.

May I politely point out that the UUA homepage mentions nothing about the fact that 1,500 UUs were in Raleigh for the Moral March, but has plenty to say about the new logo and the UUA’s new (yet old) attempt at branding?

Should I point out that it was Saturday night that the verdict in the Jordan Davis murder trial came down, and yet there is STILL no official response from the UUA (while many other religious groups have said something) but the UUA homepage has plenty to say about the logo?

You want more UUs to talk about the “things that matter.” May I suggest that the UUA do the same?

What’s the old saying…..if you do the same thing the same way, don’t expect a different result. The UUA’s treatment of the new logo and its roll-out being more newsworthy/homepage-worthy than 1,500 UUs in Raleigh or a statement about the Jordan Davis murder trial verdict seems to be par-for-the-course to me.

There is nothing new here, Tom. The UUA is more interested in style than substance. Is it any surprise that there was going to be more written about the new logo/UUA branding effort(s) than about the Moral March or Jordan Davis or #neverlovedus?

When the UUA changes its focus, then the focus of many UU bloggers will probably follow.

Kim