Elz Curtiss asks me if part of my agitation is polity related. Her point to me was:
It would be helpful to know what you are looking for when you bemoan the anti-racism silence of UU officialdom. The feeling I get is that our lack of a pope or bishops — someone who can stand up and deliver a strong position without fear of push-back — has been mistaken for silence and lack of concern.
And whenever Elz asks me to think about something, I sit with it.
The reason I said that this (timidness on the subject of race) is a thing in liberal religion’s DNA is because this crosses polity lines. The Episcopalians and the Quakers (who are as presbyterian as presbyterian can be) and the Anabaptists-Pietists have the exact same issue. This is not just a congregationalist issue. If this were a congregationalist issue, then the Baptists would have the same issue, or the Disciples; they don’t (at least not as overtly).
However, I do wonder why the President of the UUA can’t stand up on issues of race the same why that he (and eventually, she, ghe/gher) stands up for other things that are self evident like climate change or same-gender loving.
Is saying that there is something about how this country polices black and brown men that dehumanizes them that is controversial? If so, why? How many more black and brown boys/men have to die at the hands of agents of the state before that statement is not controversial?
Or am I asking for too much as a black woman who has a number of black and brown men in her life?
I still believe that there is something in liberal religion’s DNA that makes race something to be avoided.
There was exactly one person from UUA Headquarters here in St. Louis over the 4 days of Ferguson October. It was not Peter Morales. In fact, institutional Unitarian Universalism has been almost deathly silent over the events that have happened since July 17th–the day that Eric Garner was chokeholded to death by the NYPD. (one statement a month later–on Michael Brown– and a video shown on Friday evening do not really mean much in the grand scheme of things and doesn’t constitute speaking on the subject) Never mind that there has been no mention from Headquarters about the facts in a report that came out recently which showed how racist BOSTON policing practice is.
Last month I wrote a post on how I thought (and continue to think) that the UUA is haunted by the Black Empowerment Controversy. That however only looks at part of the issue. This post will broaden this out to look at liberal religion (not just Unitarian Universalism) as a group.
Did you know that there are four times as many Quakers in Kenya as there are in the U.S.? Keep that little factoid in mind while I continue.
Those of you who are familiar with 19th-century U.S. religious history know that certain religious groups–mainly the Baptists and Methodists, but the Lutherans and Presbyterians were also in the mix–were very good at founding ethnic congregations. In the case of the Baptists and the Methodists, African Americans created entirely new denominations; that’s why there’s the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A. and all of its offspring along with the A.M.E., A.M.E. Zion, C.M.E. and their offspring.
Homegrown religious groups such as the Restorationists (any church/denomination that comes out of the Stone-Campbell movement), Mormons, New Thought (Christian Science and the like), Spiritualists (while they are new thought, there are differences), Adventists and the like have a mixed history when it comes to minority members and congregations.
But there is one group of religious people who studiously avoided starting ethnic/minority congregations or truly letting in those who didn’t fit a very narrow type; the liberal religionists (or the dissenting end of the dissenting tradition)–the Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Unitarians (and Universalists to a lesser extent), Quakers, Anabaptists and Pietists, and so forth. Yes, I know that there are a smattering of black Episcopal churches and the largest church in the UCC is overwhelmingly black, so don’t write a comment trying to correct me on that. You know what my point is. Yet, if you look at the numbers (with the exception of the UCC and the UUA), all of these denominations have much greater membership in African and Asian countries than they do in the U.S. A big part of the reason for this is that most of these denominations sent missionaries out to those “remote” places around the world in order to “Christianize and civilize the natives.” But there has to be something more.
Why has liberal religion always had a hard time with race and racial issues in this country, yet had no problem going on overseas mission trips to countries where they would be confronted with the very same people they studiously avoided at home? What is it in liberal religion’s DNA that makes this cognitive dissonance possible?
Because until this is resolved, liberal religion is going to be flailing around and being irrelevant.
With the news yesterday that the grand jury in the Michael Brown case is under investigation, it seemed like a good time to look at the broader situation going on between law enforcement and the African American community.
Since July 17th (the day Eric Garner was chokeholded to death), there have been at least 8 incidences of fatal or near-fatal encounters between members of law enforcement and African Americans. Remarkably, a number of them are on video.
Since I’ve been writing about the situations around Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and John Crawford there have been some who have written me privately telling me that I don’t understand these incidents from the law enforcement perspective and that, in essence, I (and many other African Americans) really am being paranoid.
Is it really paranoia when one sees video like this? And even if it is paranoia, is it really wrong?
At what point do African Americans get the benefit of the doubt when giving their stories of encounters with law enforcement?
The police who killed John Crawford will not see trial in state court in Ohio even though the video shows that he was doing nothing wrong inside that Walmart.
Eric Garner was walking down the street and the video shows that at the time the police encountered him, he was not selling “loosies” (as it is said the police were going to arrest him for).
Levar Jones (the video above) was parked in a gas station and getting out of his car when confronted by a state trooper who, had he been a better shot, would have killed him.
But the only reason we know about these is because of video.
There is no video in the case of Michael Brown. And the standard tropes are being pulled out by supporters of Darren Wilson. You know them, right? Mike Brown “lunged” at him. He tried to “get his gun”. He was “menacing”.
Yet I wonder if the situation would be any better if there was video. If the cops who killed John Crawford didn’t get charged; we have no idea what the grand jury in the Eric Garner case is going to do; and there are now questions of misconduct in the Michael Brown grand jury.
So it is really paranoia to believe that the system works against African Americans, no matter what kind(s) of evidence exists.
I’ve been trying to figure out a way to put into words just how surreal the last week has been on the racial front, from the truly consequential to the culturally interesting.
The truly consequential…yesterday the grand jury looking into the shooting death of John Crawford III came in with a “no true bill”, which means that the police officer who shot him will not go on trial (at least in Ohio state court) for his death. When the Special Prosecutor made the announcement, and released the store video tape, he made a point of saying that John Crawford did nothing wrong. Afterwards, John Crawford Jr. said, “How can he not do a crime, and not pose a threat, and do nothing wrong, but end up dead, shot and killed, and for that to be regarded as justified?”
So let’s examine this…a man carries a toy gun in the store that sells that toy gun and ends up dead as a result. Never mind the fact that Ohio is an “open carry” state. Or that Walmart is the largest seller of guns in the country.
Now there is news that a young black man in South Carolina was shot by a State Trooper after he was pulled over for a seat belt issue.
It seems that the crime all black men need to commit in order to receive deadly force (even though in the SC case the young man was shot in the hip and survived) is to be a black man in public space. I’ll write more on that later.
To the culturally significant…it’s Thursday. And many members of black female America are counting the hours until the return of Scandal. I certainly am.
For those of you not familiar with Scandal, it is created, produced, and written by Shonda Rhimes, who also created the shows Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. However, if you are a regular reader of the Sunday New York Times, you might know of Ms. Rhimes for a different reason.
Ms. Rhimes has a new show debuting tonight, How To Get Away With Murder, starring Viola Davis (known for her roles in Doubt and The Help). Because of this, Alessandra Stanley of the Times wrote a criticism piece of the new show that started with the following:
When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called “How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.”
On Thursday, Ms. Rhimes will introduce “How to Get Away With Murder,” yet another network series from her production company to showcase a powerful, intimidating black woman…
Later, in the same article, Ms. Stanley writes of Viola Davis:
As Annalise, Ms. Davis, 49, is sexual and even sexy, in a slightly menacing way, but the actress doesn’t look at all like the typical star of a network drama. Ignoring the narrow beauty standards some African-American women are held to, Ms. Rhimes chose a performer who is older, darker-skinned and less classically beautiful than Ms. Washington…
I have held fast to the statement “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” And while I think I know where Ms. Stanley was trying to go with her review of HTGAWM, the words she used to get there completely got in the way.
For a minute I’m going to skip over the very first line, but an attitude that seemed to pervade the article was that black women who are confident in their abilities and powerful in some way are intimidating or menacing. And on top of that, these same black women are playing the Jezebel or Sapphire because they happen to be sexual beings. This, I have figured out, is where my research is going (but with a theological dimension), so I’ll leave it here for now and return to it as my research continues.
Now to the first line…why did the editors who read this before it was printed not catch the “angry black woman” trope and cut it? Why is a powerful black woman always considered an angry black woman? And why aren’t producers/creators/writers like Dick Wolf or Aaron Sorkin labeled “angry white men” based on their male characters showing a natural emotion?
Why say that Viola Davis is “less classically beautiful” than Kerry Washington or Halle Berry? As part of the line talks about, most African American women do not fit into the very narrow beauty standards of the U.S.; so why not just say that Shonda Rhimes chooses actors/actresses that represent a broad range of physical appeal?
Like I said, this has been a surreal week. Maybe next week will be less so. I can only hope.
With the news that the grand jury investigating whether charges should be levelled against Officer Wilson has been extended until January (not a good sign) and polls showing the wide chasm between how African Americans and whites view both the death of Michael Brown and the subsequent events in Ferguson has got me thinking.
Can Unitarian Universalism speak to #Ferguson? Or is Unitarian Universalism, as MLK said in his critique of liberal religion:
[I came to feel that liberalism had been] all too sentimental concerning human nature and that it leaned toward a false idealism. I also came to see that liberalism’s superficial optimism concerning human nature caused it to overlook the fact that reason is darkened by sin…
From the time of the Controversy, Unitarian Universalism has been tepid in its response to things racial. It’s not as if these issues haven’t presented themselves before. Let’s not forget that the reason that there is a “Journey Towards Wholeness” is because of asking people to dress in period dress at the Thomas Jefferson Ball at GA in Charlotte in 1993.
So…does Unitarian Universalist theology have anything of substance to say on the issues that have been laid bare by Ferguson? (assuming that you believe that there is something resembling Unitarian Universalist theology)
…..a young man was shot, in the early afternoon, by an agent of the state and left to lay in the street for 4.5 hours.
The protests started almost immediately. And so did the disproportionate state response.
Now the story of Mike Brown and the protests in Ferguson are off the front pages of the newspaper and not at the top of the tv news (replaced by other disturbing news). Those of us who are local are hearing more details, including news of two more witnesses who have talked to the FBI.
Now that the story of Mike Brown and Ferguson are not talked about as often, will the willful blindness of the police state that African Americans live in set back in? Is the Mike Brown moment over?
If you’ve read this blog any length of time, you know that I am always looking at UU reactions to race and racial issues. My last post posed the question of why African American men have had such a hard time in the UU ministry. This one will look at that question through a new lens (at least for me).
A couple of months back I posited that modern Unitarian Universalism (at least from the aspect of WHERE Unitarian Universalism grew) was, consciously or unconsciously, the result of racial bias based on housing patterns. I will now go further. Modern Unitarian Universalism is haunted when it comes to issues of racial justice. Haunted by the ghosts of the “Black Empowerment Controversy.” No matter what one feels about the “controversy”, I believe that the post-Controversy UUA avoidance of making firmer statements on racial issues (plus taking a long time to make the statements in the first place) and UU congregations fleeing of center cities and inner-ring suburbs is the result of a conservative UU backlash to the events of the time. And this post-Controversy backlash has affected all aspects of UU-dom; from the rough time that so many ministers of color have had in UU congregations to the lackluster support/encouragement of congregations in areas comprised primarily of people of color to the spotty support for youth of color.
But this should really not come as a surprise to me. Because the Controversy was just another instance of Unitarians/Universalists/Unitarian Universalists being uncomfortable with the idea of having people of color in their midst. From the encounter that Rev. William Jackson had with the AUA back in the 1850s (Rev. Dan Harper has written about it) to the harassment of Ethelred Brown and the Harlem Unitarian Society, liberal religion has had a hard time letting itself be spread outside of a select group (it’s had a hard time class-wise too).
However, our cousins in the UCC have many ministers of color and congregations comprised primarily of people of color. So do the Disciples (yes, they are cousins too). So what has impeded Unitarian Universalism?
I guess I am wondering how long the Mike Brown and Ferguson moment will last amongst UUs, UU congregations, and the UUA now that it’s not on our tv screens or written about in our newspapers everyday. Or will this moment be like so many of the recent—and not-so-recent—past and fade away with the next sexy story? Will we see this only as something that is happening outside of our congregations and not look at the way that what is happening outside of our congregations is being played out in our congregations too?
The UUA and UUism is haunted. And nothing will change until we name the ghosts.
While this seems to be a moment where UUs are willing to talk about race at more than a superficial level, before looking at the community outside of the congregation it might behoove us to have a conversation about race in our congregational communities.
Ask yourself this question….why have black men—in particular—had such a hard time in the UU ministry?
Why are most ministers of color Associate or Assistant Ministers?
Just how open are most UU congregations to having leadership from people of color?
So while there is talk of the broader issues in relation to Michael Brown’s death, let’s really bring that conversation home to our own congregations.
So…on the day that Ms. Leslie and Mr. Michael Sr. have to bury their son, the New York Times prints a profile of him that says that Michael Brown Jr. was “no angel”. (I’m not linking it. If you want to read it, you’ll have to go to the Times’ page yourself.)
According to the article, Mike Mike (as he was called by friends and family) had smoked some weed, drank alcohol, and listened to rap. And maybe shoplifted.
If the same were said about an 18-yr-old white boy, would the Times have used the words “no angel” to describe him?
Since when has being “no angel” been cause to be shot at least 6 times?
Why are young black people only worthy of sympathy if they have no blemish in their background?
Both the writer of the article and the Times’ Public Editor have said that the “no angel” word choice was a misguided one. But the damage is done. By using the words “no angel” in describing Mike Brown, the implication that African Americans must be perfect in order to receive compassion or empathy or sympathy is reinforced.
This is making my head, and heart, ache. I will stop here.