From “I Can’t Breathe” to “Fuck Your Breath”…Can Liberal Religion Respond?

I begin with two questions…

Was Walter Scott mentioned in your UU church Sunday?

Will Eric Harris be mentioned in your UU church next Sunday, the 19th?

With the release of the video in which one can hear a man who was “accidentally” shot in the back being told “fuck your breath” we have entered a whole new dimension of something. Something has happened so that things moved from “I can’t breathe” to “fuck your breath” rather seamlessly.

“Fuck your breath” is the denial of basic humanity. And while I know that some will try to make the case that this could have happened to anybody, it didn’t. It happened to a black man in Tulsa, Oklahoma, site of “race” riots in 1921.

Since the release of the Walter Scott tape on Tuesday, I’ve been asking myself if liberal theology and liberal religion can really say anything to the present moment. With the release of the Eric Scott tape and the news of the death of Natasha McKenna while handcuffed and shackled, I have come to the conclusion that neither one will be able to speak to this moment very clearly. The reason being that the American liberal tradition (religious and political/social), at its very heart, is paternalistic and doesn’t challenge white supremacy at all.

I thought I would be more disappointed with coming to that conclusion, but I’m not. It’s a relief in so many ways. It means that my gaining the most sustenance from liberation theology is not a betrayal at all. It’s recognizing that when some things were being thought about, people who look like me weren’t part of the equation.

What would liberal theology and religion look like if it took into account those who have had to make a way out of no way? Those who have been plundered and pillaged for generations? Those who are condemned and pathologized just because?

More later.

When It Comes To Encounters With Police, White People Never Believe Black People Without Videotape (and sometimes not even then)

My dear friend Tom Schade posted the following on Twitter a few hours ago:

As has been happening a lot recently, I disagree strongly with Tom because the evidence from the last 9 months does not go in that direction.

When news first came out about Eric Garner’s death, the police story was taken at face value, even though witnesses were saying that it was wrong. The only reason that changed is because Ramsey Orta’s video of the encounter was released.

The original police story that John Crawford was waving a gun around the Beavercreek Wal-Mart was taken at face value until the video showed that no such thing was going on.

Tamir Rice was supposedly pointing a gun at everybody who was around him at the rec center in Cleveland. Video shows that Tamir was by himself in an empty section of the grounds and never pointed that toy gun at an actual live human being.

And the police story in the Walter Scott case was that he went for the officer’s taser and that there was a struggle. The video shows that this is not what was happening.

So it’s time to be honest my white friends…y’all don’t believe black people about what happens in our encounters with law enforcement unless we have video to back it up. And sometimes not even then; lest we forget the case of Kajime Powell. It should also be noted here that in the cases where black women are mistreated and/or killed by members of law enforcement, nothing happens to those officers, whether it’s on video or no.

And even when there is video, too often you look for any movement we make or words we say to justify law enforcement overreaction.

There is an assumption in most white communities that the police don’t lie about their encounters with the public. Communities of color (and poor communities) know that lie  for what it is.

Without the videotape in the Walter Scott case, there may have been an investigation into the officer’s actions. That we can attribute to the protests that have followed the killing of Michael Brown. But without that videotape, there is no way that officer would now be charged with murder.

The Best Predictor of Future Behavior is Past Behavior…What Does UUism’s Past Tell Us?

Angry black woman speaking again…

Now that UUs are coming off of the “Selma” high…I think it would behoove us to remember that Selma is the exception in UU history when it comes race and not the rule.

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. So let’s look at UUism’s past behavior, post-Selma.

Black Empowerment Controversy


Thomas Jefferson Ball

And in terms of ministry….why have men of color (primarily African American men) had such a hard time in the UU ministry? Why are there so few lead ministers of color in our congregations? Why is there only one minority-majority congregation in the UUA? (how many of you can name it?)

So when Peter Morales stands in Brown Chapel last Saturday and says, “We are your partners forever,” is that really true? Our history shows that our partnerships, when it comes to race, are infrequent and easily dropped. But what might be even more telling, our memory is selective; we remember Selma (oh how we remember Selma), but we all but ignore the tumultuous relationship between the AUA and Ethelred Brown. We remember Selma, but skip over the fact that for an organization headquartered in Boston there was almost universal UU silence during the Boston busing riots of the 1970s.

If we are going to be partners, what’s the plan? Talk is cheap and easy; just saying we’re partners doesn’t mean that we are.

When White People Become ‘The Help’ (Starr King, #BlackLivesMatter, and “Selma”

In the Arts & Leisure section of yesterday’s NYTimes, Manohla Dargio wrote something that is probably going to get passed over by many, if not most:

What is the more important political issue raised, for instance, by a movie like “Selma”? That this historically informed fiction takes liberties with its representation of Lyndon B. Johnson or that it’s one of those rare American studio releases in which black characters are the agents of their own destinies? The shock of “Selma,” as the critic Wesley Morris recognized in his review, is that this is a movie in which “Johnson’s not only the president of the United States here. He’s also the help.” It’s hard not to think that at least some of the attacks on this movie stem from the fact that it’s a black female filmmaker who turned that white president into the help.

This post is about flipping the script. But in order to do that, we must confront some thing that America doesn’t really want to recognize.

For most of American history, black women have been forced to play the role of Mammie to white people’s Miss Scarlett. Black women are supposed to take care of white people; as for years we cooked food, cleaned houses, and wet-nursed children. Black women are supposed to patch up white people’s emotional boo-boos (“You’s special. You’s loved.” Isn’t that the line from ‘The Help’?).

Yet what is going on in the situations of Starr King, #BlackLivesMatter, and “Selma”, is that black women aren’t doing that. And in all three cases none of the black women involved are apologizing for that fact.

There seems to be a lot of white anxiety when they are not the focus/main driver of the story. In other words, white people don’t like being “the help.”

So here’s the question…..what will make white people less anxious about their condition?

With Malice and Forethought

So…a member of the Starr King cabal speaks. And while many replies are running through my head (mainly about how ratchety this situation is) , for this post I will concentrate on one portion of the cabal member’s statement.

Cabal member states:

Additionally, the release of the email hobbled the first chapter of Rev. McNatt’s presidency at Starr King. I would like to apologize to her. Coming into such a situation cannot have been easy for the Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt. I humbly beg her forgiveness for my part in any harm that has come to her, for which I am truly and profoundly sorry.

When the leaked information was leaked, it was done with a specific purpose; to imply that the chosen candidate, Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, was less qualified to become President of Starr King and was picked in spite of all available evidence. This was done with malice and forethought. This was done to make Rev. McNatt and Dr. Gabriella Lettini, who was asked for her honest opinions–as is done in every academic search process, look bad. This was done to make it seem as if the search process was fixed. This was done because members of this cabal thought that they were entitled to malign.

A little later in the statement, the cabal member points out the fact that their undergraduate education focused on social and racial justice. Yet earlier in the statement, cabal member states:

In the heat of outrage at what was perceived to be injustice, there was insufficient consideration of the implications this release might have for the new incoming president, or for the school.

How is this cognitive dissonance possible? How is it that nobody saw that by mischaracterizing the results, the implication was going to be that Rev. McNatt got the job over a “more qualified” person?

I know that with the releasing of this statement (and with the report of the Ad Hoc committee), many are saying that it’s time to move on. But how can things move forward as long as there is studious avoidance of the real issue?

The real issue being…the intentional leak of confidential documents was never about the process. It was about the result of the process. The cabal set out to imply that the Search Committee’s choice was “less qualified” for the job. They set out to imply that those who were asked to give their honest opinions were unnecessarily mean. They set out to malign the process.

I’m sure there were “trust” issues at Starr King. Every seminary has them. Heck, every school has them. Leaking confidential documents and mischaracterizing the results in order to imply that the incoming administration should not be there because they are “less qualified” is not how one handles those issues.

There is more that I could say, but it’s Scandal Thursday. So I’m going to prepare for tonight.


Mike Brown and UUism…..6 Months On (#BlackLivesMatter)

Six months ago today, Mike Brown laid on the street dead for 4.5 hours in the St. Louis heat. 3 years ago I asked the question “what does UUism say to the Trayvon Martins in its midst?”

I’ve thought about that question a LOT in the last six months and come to the conclusion that I didn’t acknowledge something that I should have when I originally wrote the question.

UUism doesn’t have many Trayvon Martins or Mike Browns or Tamir Rices or Eric Garners or [place name of person of color killed by agents of the state here]…..

so how much do #BlackLivesMatter in our congregations?

Dartmouth Is Offering A #BlackLivesMatter Course, How Many Liberal Churches Are Talking About Black (or Liberation) Theology?

In today’s issue of The Dartmouth there is an article which announces a collaboration between the departments of Geography and African American Studies for a course that looks at #BlackLivesMatter. The lede for the story says:

The geography department and African and African-American studies program are introducing a new course for the upcoming spring term called “10 Weeks, 10 Professors: #BlackLivesMatter,” dedicated to considering race, structural inequality and violence in both a historical and modern context.

This got me to thinking about churches.

Since theology (and theology in action) is supposed to be the church’s business, how many liberal churches (UU or otherwise) are talking about how theology has been used/abused when it comes to feelings about race, structural inequality, and violence? [yes, I know about the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery and the Papal Bull it comes from, but be honest, most people in pews or out of them still have no idea what that is]

How many liberal churches were only talking about race on MLK weekend (and maybe once during Black History Month) before Ferguson?

How many liberal churches are talking about liberation theology (black, womanist, mujerista, Asian-Pacific Islander, Indigenous/Aboriginal, or otherwise)?

So while we are working for change in the wider community/world, the real question becomes how much working for change are we engaging in in our religious communities.

The UUA Board is Trying Again to Eliminate the Commission on Appraisal. Don’t Let Them Do It.

Well…..they’re at it again. There’s a new push to eliminate the Commission on Appraisal. The last time this was tried was a little over 5 years ago, and at that time they were also trying to eliminate the GA Planning Committee too. This time, it’s just the CoA by itself.

To those who know me really well, they know that I’m a big fan of independent investigative entities that are not answerable to the powers-that-be but to a larger body.

As the CoA is one of the few committees explicitly named in the UUA by-laws, I think it would behoove everybody to know what their function is:

Section 5.8. Commission on Appraisal.

The Commission on Appraisal shall consist of nine elected members. A member shall not during the term of office serve as a trustee or officer or hold a salaried position in the Association. The Commission on Appraisal shall:

  1. review any function or activity of the Association which in its judgment will benefit from an independent review and report its conclusions to a regular General Assembly;
  2. study and suggest approaches to issues which may be of concern to the Association; and
  3. report to a regular General Assembly at least once every four years on the program and accomplishments of the Association.

When it comes to power, there are 2 axioms to live by.

1. “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

2. “Who will guard the guardians?”

In UUA terms, the Commission on Appraisal is the entity set aside to guard the guardians. This move to eliminate the CoA is a bad sign that power does not want a group that is not answerable to them to be able to investigate anything they wish.

If the CoA is eliminated, who will guard the guardians?

Not ‘At Risk’ But ‘In Risk’ (or Why #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter Are Not The Same)

Amy Hunter, who is the Racial Justice Coordinator for the YWCA here in St. Louis posted a tweet a few days ago that quoted Dr. Norm White, which said:

Children are not at risk they are in risk. Risk is all around them. This is about race [not poverty]

As the news that two young women (one Latina, one white) have been killed at the hands of agents of the state in the last few days hit the media, there is a growing call to stop saying #BlackLivesMatter and instead really talk about #AllLivesMatter.

I understand the impulse to change the conversation away from #BlackLivesMatter. I do. There is no doubt that there needs to be a hard look at the abuses of police power generally. But at some point, we have to look at the facts.

In encounters with the police, African Americans are 21 (I repeat 21) times more likely to be shot. Don’t want to believe that, read Charles Blow’s column from Monday here.

In the almost 700,000 stops-and-frisks that were performed in NYC in 2012 (the number presented to the federal court was 688,xxx), 88% of those stops were of blacks and Latinos, 12% white. In all of those stops, contraband was found less than 10% of the time, and of that percentage contraband was found on whites the majority of the time. Don’t want to believe that, go to the New York Civil Liberties Union website to get all the information.

Blacks are 4 times more likely to be arrested for possession than whites (Latinos are twice as likely), even though usage rates are about the same.

And those numbers are just about men. The numbers when you compare black, Latina, and white women are even more dramatic.

At some point there does need to be the recognition by white people in America that in most cases, race trumps class.

As someone who has been involved with the criminal justice-/prison-/drug law- reform movement since I was 17, I know that there are class differences and issues in how laws are enforced. However that does not change the facts that, regardless of class:

-African Americans and Latinos are detained more often than whites for the same crime/infraction or alleged crime/infraction

-African Americans and Latinos are detained at a younger age than whites (whether or not a crime has been committed or alleged to be committed) [read The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children]

-African Americans and Latinos receive harsher treatment while in detention

-African Americans and Latinos are charged more often than whites for the same crimes/infractions

-African American and Latino children are more likely to charged as adults than white children [see The Essence of Innocence]

-African Americans and Latinos are more likely to receive higher-level charges than whites for the same crime/infraction

-African Americans and Latinos are more likely to receive harsher sentences/penalties than whites when convicted of the same crime/infraction

-African Americans and Latinos are more likely to receive harsher treatment while in jail/prison

These are the facts.

Someday in the distant future, we as a nation might be able to say #AllLivesMatter, but it’s not right now.

The killing of unarmed civilians by agents of the state is always tragic. However, let’s be real; if this were happening in any white community every 28 hours on average, there is no way that white people would let racial minorities co-opt their movement by saying–in essence–“yeah, it’s a shame what’s happening to you, but that’s not as important as these cases where it happened to us too.” I might have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night.

Right now it’s #BlackLivesMatter because, when it comes to law enforcement and criminal justice, far too often we don’t. We can talk about #alllivesmatter when they actually do.