Racial Justice at the Pace of White People’s Feelings Won’t Happen

I was going to name this post “Why Unitarian Universalism Must Change or Die,” but this is bigger than just that little corner of the liberal religious (and religious liberal) landscape.

PRRI in late June published survey data which shows that nearly one-quarter of white mainline/progressive Christians believe that businesses should be able to discriminate against African Americans if they are doing it for religious reasons. [the survey also shows results relating to discrimination against Jews,Muslims, queer people, transgender people, and atheists]

I can hear white mainline/progressives now…..”that means three-fourths of us don’t.” True. Not particularly comforting, but true.

The PRRI data brought to mind research from the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion* that shows white liberal churches are less welcoming of non-white newcomers. As the authors note in the abstract:
In response to these inquiries, representatives from mainline Protestant churches—who generally embrace liberal, egalitarian attitudes toward race relations—actually demonstrated the most discriminatory behavior. They responded most frequently to emails with white-sounding names, somewhat less frequently to black-or Hispanic-sounding names, and much less to Asian-sounding names. They also sent shorter, less welcoming responses to nonwhite names. In contrast, evangelical Protestant and Catholic churches showed little variation across treatment groups in their responses.  

Taken with the PRRI numbers, how should racial minorities look at this?

And then this month, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology** published long-awaited research showing that white people who call themselves liberal talk down (or seemingly less educated/informed) in conversations with non-whites. From the abstract:
Most Whites, particularly sociopolitical liberals, now endorse racial equality. Archival and experimental research reveals a subtle but persistent ironic consequence: White liberals self-present less competence to minorities than to other Whites—that is, they patronize minorities stereotyped as lower status and less competent.

oh…I can hear you now, white liberals. “But Kim, I don’t talk down to non-white people.” Honestly, I don’t give a flying f*** whether you–individual white person–do or not. This research is not presenting a new phenomenon. It has been studied before.

Most mainline/progressive religious denominations are going through some racial justice crisis at the moment. Research shows that racial justice in these places is going to come (if it comes) in spite of white people’s feelings about non-white people, not because of some great change in white people’s feelings. The question becomes how do the denominations deal.

 

*–Wright, Bradley R. E., Michael Wallace, Annie Scola Wisnesky, Christopher M. Donnelly, Stacy Missari, and Christine Zozula. 2015. “Religion, Race, and Discrimination: A Field Experiment of How American Churches Welcome Newcomers.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 54 (2): 185–204. doi:10.1111/jssr.12193.

**–Dupree, Cydney H., and Susan T. Fiske. 2019. “Self-Presentation in Interracial Settings: The Competence Downshift by White Liberals.” Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 117 (3): 579–604. doi:10.1037/pspi0000166.

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Unlike King, I Don’t Have A Dream

Yesterday was the 56th anniversary of the death of W.E.B. Du Bois (on the eve of the March on Washington). Today is the 56th anniversary of the March on Washington. And the 64th anniversary of the lynching of Emmett Till.

I wonder, since so many white people love to quote part of the last part of the speech, how many have actually read the entire speech? Because, if more of you had read it, you wouldn’t be using it as a cudgel when you want Black people to shut up about racial issues. What I do know is that most white people who consider themselves educated haven’t read Du Bois. And that is a shame.

On August 18th, the New York Times Magazine published a special edition called The 1619 Project. It’s been interesting to watch the fallout and only confirms why I don’t have a dream. Too many want to debate the basics of U.S. history in regards to slavery. Until there is general agreement about the basics, there can be no moving forward.

As the title of this post says, unlike King, I don’t have a dream. I know as a religious person, I’m expected to. oh well. With the continuing move to make this country a white ethnostate, there doesn’t seem to be a reason to have a dream like King’s. Please, do not come into the comments and say things will change once Trump gets out of office (whichever way he goes). That is ahistorical. Trump is not the cause of the problem, he is the result of 65 years of political and social activity in this country. I could go even further and say that Trump is the tangible result of this country coddling and placating Confederates and their descendents for 150-or-so years. But the day is almost over, and I really don’t want to dig into the historical and political science weeds.

More later.

Eric and John and Michael and Kajieme and… (Five Years On)

I should be writing about El Paso and Dayton, but friends, I have written about this country’s idolatrous relationship with guns more than enough and I write about white supremacy all the time.

Anyway…
It started on July 17th.

Continued on August 5th.

And August 9th.

And August 20th.

For six weeks in 2014, the killing of Black men by agents of the state was all over screens.

It’s not as if Black people getting killed by agents of the state was a new phenomenon. It most definitely isn’t. What made these six weeks different was there was video (in most cases) that could be played on a loop.

The movement that started because of the August 9th killing has changed many things. Not enough things, but many.

Five years on, Black people are still killed by agents of the state for anything and everything.

Five years on, the agents of the state still do not (for the most part) face punishment.

Five years on, the families of those killed have to fight to set the record straight.

Five years on, law enforcement agencies still fight against changes in procedure.

In the aftermath of El Paso and Dayton, it is with a melancholy heart that I write about Eric and John and Mike and Kajieme. And think about the others. And see the connections between this and El Paso and Dayton.

The U.S. is so outside the norm when it comes to OECD countries. Especially around guns and mass shootings. And policing. And incarceration.

In no other OECD country is there the toxic brew of easy access to guns and white supremacy. This toxic brew plays itself out in many ways. It plays itself out in law enforcement (and others) having an unnatural fear of black/darker bodies, which causes people to want to arm up to alleviate the fear. Which, in turn, lets those who have other issues (like toxic misogyny, a thread through every mass shooting) create chaos.

It’s been five years. And the toxic brew of easy access to guns and white supremacy is still causing chaos. That’s all there really is to say.

The Counterfactuals

I don’t normally deal with counterfactuals, but since I’m avoiding writing about why I think UUism (or most UU congregations) will stay white it’s related.

So let’s play the “what if…” game:

–What if Rev. William Jackson had been welcomed by the meeting of the nascent AUA instead of being given a few dollars and sent on his way?

–What if the Unitarians and Universalists had given the Joseph Jordans the money to found a seminary instead of doing misadventures in Japan?

–What if the AUA had left Ethelred Brown and the Harlem Unitarian Society alone instead of stripping him of his fellowship and sabotaging the church?

–What if the AUA (and the local ministers) had done anything (like recognize) Rev. William H.G. Carter and church he founded in Cincinnati?

–What if the UUA had followed through on its commitment to BAC?

And that’s just the ones off the top of my head.

In a different view…what if the Unitarians had done like the Methodists, Baptists (Presbys and Lutherans to a much lesser extent) and had established a few Black congregations themselves? What is/was in Unitarian theology that stopped this from happening?

What’s striking to me is the lack of imagination that U/U/UUs displayed and continue to display. I’ll write about that eventually.

When They See Us

“So much of what we think we know about black history is actually white history. We’ve told the black story through a white lens, with whites as the main object of black experience and existence. The ‘unconventional’ story is the one blacks have lived themselves.”     -Peter Temin


General Assembly has been over for a couple of weeks now, and while there are many things I could write about, my mind is stuck in history and its connection to the present.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of two things that are loosely connected, even though they are seldom talked about together: the exodus from the UUA and the publication of James Cone’s “Black Theology and Black Power.” And it didn’t even occur to me that we don’t talk about them together until GA was over.

Dr. Cone said that the reason he wrote “Black Theology and Black Power” was he saw what was happening to Black people and the inability of traditional theology to speak to the conditions of those most marginalized.

The exodus from the UUA in 1969 happened for much the same reason; members of the Black Affairs Council (BAC) saw the same thing happening in the UUA.
[yes, I know money was part of the issue. but money is never the actual problem, money is a symptom of the problem]

Far too often UUs talk about the “controversy” as a money issue, when actually it was much deeper than that. I frequently wonder what would happen if UUs talked about that period in a different way; as a white backlash to African Americans saying they were not ancillary to the Unitarian Universalist project, but major players in it. Yet, since that period is still talked about in the former way, UUism is stuck.

So now I get to ask the question that’s been on my mind since Ministry Days: do UUs  know that liberation theology exists? Or did liberation theology pass UUism by? Because I think part of the reason UUism is stuck, theologically at least, is there doesn’t seem to be an active engagement with liberation theology at all. And that lack of engagement means that UU justice work can look spotty and ineffective.

What happens to UUism if/when the story about itself ever changes? When the focus isn’t on those who have been talked about ad nauseam?

What happens when they see us?

Black Love Is Forever…or, The Institutions We Build

When I was younger and choosing where to go to college, I knew I was going to go to a women’s college. Never a doubt in my mind.

Seminary was different. It happened through a series of coincidental events that ending up at Earlham seems like it was meant to be. Yet, much as Earlham seems like it was meant to be, one of my biggest regrets is that I did not try harder to get into Howard Divinity School.

Why?  Because I wouldn’t have had to fight as hard.

Don’t misunderstand; ESR was good for me in a lot of ways. I love the friends I have from there. I still keep in touch with some of my professors. But two people kept me from dropping out: Dr. James S. Logan (Earlham College professor who taught my intro to theology class at ESR), and Mr. Bob Hunter (who had been a national racial justice coordinator for Intervarsity). Two Black men who cared about me and for me while I was in Richmond. For all those two did for me, it would have been a different situation at Howard. There is a holistic-ness that Howard would have provided.

I think about historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and the Black Church a lot. So when Robert Smith and his family pledged $40million to pay off the debt of the 396 graduates at Morehouse College this year, I couldn’t help but think about the institutions we build.

HBCUs and the Black Church are sustained out of love. It is a love born out of struggle and defined by hope. And, even with their issues, HBCUs and the Black Church offer a place where the diversity of the African diaspora can be seen its fullness and wholeness. Where people can see that different does not mean deficient.

I think of BLUU (Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism for my non-UU readers) the same way. Born out of struggle, defined by hope. Sustained out of love. And, hopefully, where Black UUs and UU-adjacent  people can see the diversity of the African diaspora reflected in its fullness and wholeness.

I’m writing this as my six-month-old cousin sleeps about three feet from where I’m typing. And I can’t help but be grateful for the love of those who established those HBCUs and Black churches all those years ago. Places that, when the time comes, can offer the baby a place where they can be fully themselves.

 

For a list of historically Black colleges and universities, you can find that list here.

 

Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child (Thoughts on Black Maternity)

At the end of 2017, I did a series of posts about the Black maternal mortality rate. With the CDC’s releasing new numbers about the U.S. maternal mortality rate, it seems like a good time to revisit the subject.

According to the CDC, the maternal mortality rate for white women is 12.5 per 100,000 births.

For Black women, the maternal mortality rate is 42.8 per 100,000 births.  That’s three-and-a-half times higher. This is not a new phenomenon; the disparity has been known about for almost four decades.

Now…the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate of all the OECD countries, regardless of race. Also, the U.S. is the only OECD country where the maternal mortality rate is going up. But the Black maternal mortality rate is on par with many countries that are classified as “developing.”

What would it look like if the lives of pregnant Black people were taken seriously? Or if the country treated this as the healthcare crisis it actually is? (yes…I know about the two bills in Congress. you know what I mean.)

Mother’s Day is hard for a lot of people. And many preachers stumble over what to say from the pulpit on the day. If I may make a suggestion it would be to focus on this. There is no reason for the church to be silent in the face of people dying from things that, at least the data says, should be preventable. For those of us who are scripture-based, maternal mortality is a shadow throughout many of the stories of children and inheritance. For those who are less scripture-based, there are many stories of death in pregnancy/childbirth/post-partum that could be explored.

I can’t convey in words how important this is to me. Yet I know I will write about it again.

 

(to read more about the new CDC numbers, you can go here. for info about the two bills in Congress, you can go here. general info is here.)

 

 

History Is Here To Help…..(You Can’t Hit A Straight Lick With A Crooked Stick, pt.2)

This post should be about The Young and the Restless and the tribute they are paying to the late Kristoff St. John, who played Neil Winters for almost 30 years, but former Vice President Joe Biden decided to enter the Democratic Party presidential primary race. Thus, political scientist Kim must have a word.

There is this narrative around Joe Biden (and to a lesser extent Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke) among the political punditry class that he will be able to reach out white working class voters who have “abandoned” the Democratic Party over economic issues.

Deep sigh.

This is not the case. And, fortunately, history and political science are here to help.

So…let’s start with the basic fact…

The last Democratic presidential candidate to win the white vote was LBJ in 1964.

55 years ago. Before a whole lot of us were even a twinkle of a twinkle in somebody’s eye.

And…there is a good deal of data to point to why this happened.

CIVIL RIGHTS

Since LBJ, there has been a white running-away from the Democratic Party because of civil rights law. To go even further…if you look at voting data, white people, as a whole, have consistently voted for the most anti-civil rights presidential candidate in the race. [now…one could quibble about 1968, but Nixon and Wallace were two sides of the same coin in reality. Wallace just said the quiet part loud and Nixon just implied it]
And if one looks at 1992, the only reason Bill Clinton won was because the white vote was split three ways.

What does this mean for 2020?

First, the likelihood of the Democratic candidate winning the white vote is slim-to-none. Because, as much as white moderates/liberals/progressive don’t want to acknowledge, most white people vote in the interests of whiteness/white supremacy. [again, history and political science are here to help] And…as the last post shows, white people become more conservative if they think that people of color may gain something.

Two, as vulnerable as the current occupant of the presidential office may look, he does have the incumbency advantage. There are 4 Presidents since the turn of the 20th century who have lost re-election. [Taft, Harding, Carter, Bush the elder; Ford does not count because 1976 wasn’t re-election for him]

It is not my place to say whether Joe Biden (or Pete Buttigieg or Beto O’Rourke) is the right person to be the Democratic nominee for President.

It is my place to say that if Joe Biden is chosen as a way to reach out to supposedly “gettable” white voters, that is a losing cause. In the best case scenario, the ceiling for any Democratic candidate when it comes to the white vote is 45%. Because, as history and political science show, there is a white aversion to civil rights in practice, if not in theory.

 

You Can’t Hit A Straight Lick With A Crooked Stick

For those of you who only know me through this blog or post-college, it might surprise you to know that I came to religion late. Don’t misunderstand, I grew up in the church. I love the church (and that is why I critique it so passionately). But I came to the academic study of religion later. And I came to it because I wanted to reconcile some things.

My life before the study of religion was in political science and sociology. (and yes, that has served me well in studying religion and theology). So the last few weeks have been interesting. And the political scientist in me has been sitting back and biting my tongue. Then yesterday happened.

Yesterday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren presented a proposal to address the student debt crisis (I am neither praising nor condemning the proposal, it is the reaction to the proposal that is intriguing to my mind). A part of the proposal that hasn’t been talked about as much, but I think is the much more interesting part of the proposal politically, is the fund for HBCUs and MSIs. This is where political science comes in.

Sidebar: the United States is the most conservative OECD country by every measure. (you will see why I give you this sidebar in a moment)

Political psychology research shows that white people, regardless of level of education/ income/socioeconomic class, become MORE conservative about social welfare policy/programs when/if they believe that people of color, PARTICULARLY BLACK PEOPLE, may in some way benefit from said policy/program. You can see this throughout Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction U.S. history.

Now…let’s apply this to Sen. Warren’s HBUC/MSI fund proposal.

In a society that becomes more conservative about social welfare policy/programs when the majority thinks that a certain group in the minority may gain anything, what does it do for proposals like Sen. Warren’s HBCU/MSI fund? Would this even be politically feasible in the United States?

As I said in the sidebar, the U.S. is the most conservative of the OECD countries by any measure. A good deal of that conservatism can be explained by how much Calvinism plays a role in U.S. politics. But it doesn’t explain it all.

Race and racism warp the U.S political imagination, just as they warp the theological imagination. That warped thinking limits what we see as possible.

I don’t know what will change this. It would take something radical.

His Name Is NOT “Killmonger” (Thoughts on Names and Naming)

With the Oscars happening two days ago, there has been an increase in thought pieces about the movies that nominated for Best Picture*.

Because I’m always looking at what people are saying about Black Panther, it seems to be a good time to point out something that continues to occur.

Many pieces, when they talk about the anti-hero of the film, call him “Erik Killmonger” or just “Killmonger”. I HATE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The anti-hero of Black Panther has a name. His name, the one his mother gave him, is Erik Stevens. The name his father gave him is N’Jadaka. In talking about him, it is important to note that.

Killmonger is Erik Stevens’ colonizer nickname. It’s important to point that out too. Because that nickname means something, and it is nothing good.

But this points to a larger issue. In these last days of Black History Month, it is a good time to think about the history of misnaming people of African descent. Or not giving Black people the honorifics that they have earned.

If I weren’t writing a different essay for the book on theology and Black Panther, I would write about the theology of naming. Partly because talking about naming would allow me to use part of my favorite story in Hebrew Scripture; Hagar naming G-d in Genesis 16. But also because I think it is important to look at how some names catch on and others don’t. And finally because I think this would allow for a broader discussion on the power of names and who gets to name.

Talking about names and naming also allows for a broader discussion of transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people and the issues they face in living into their true selves.

I might preach on this soon. And I will write about it; after I finish the essay for the book.

 

*—in case you didn’t know it, “Green Book” is a lie.