What would Unitarian Universalism look like if people of color were allowed to write the story of it?
One of the reasons that Black Panther and Wakanda are such a phenomenon in many circles is because of the story it tells. The story of a people and a land in Africa that was never touched by the “colonizer” (aka white people and white supremacy). The story of a people and a land in Africa that was allowed to developed on its own and to keep its resources.
Of course, that’s why Black Panther and Wakanda are fantasy.
The colonizers did come to Africa.
The colonizers did rape and pillage; both the land and the people.
And that is why, dear friends, so many people of color are coming out of the movie saying some form of, “Know what…Killmonger had a point.”
What does this have to do with Unitarian Universalism?
What would it mean to look at Unitarian Universalism as a colonizer religion? How would that change the story that gets told?
What if the story of Unitarian Universalism was told from the perspectives of Killmonger; those who have been left behind or ignored or pushed to the side?
What would the story of Unitarian Universalism be if people of color got to tell their stories without fear?
As St. Paul says, “think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
I was going to write another post on what I think Wakanda has to teach Unitarian Universalism, but the longer I’ve thought about it, I need to take a step back.
One thing I know is that the Florida shooting was going to get talked about from the pulpit in UU congregations today. (and so it should) Yet, just as I’m sure about the Florida shooting being talked about, I’m almost as sure that Wakanda/Black Panther won’t get notice at all in most UU congregations.
Now….some of this is the “that could have been my child” factor about the Florida shooting (oh, I could write so much about this point. but won’t). And some of this is UU snobbery about cultural things that might have mainstream appeal.
But I think some of it is that the Black Panther universe is so explicitly Black that most UUs are too uncomfortable even imagining a place where whiteness is not centered. Where white people only play a small, side role in what’s going on (and that role being prescribed by a smart black woman….oooo weeeee! I ain’t even gonna go there).
So….was Black Panther mentioned from the pulpit in your UU congregation today?
There are so many things that Wakanda could tell Unitarian Universalism. This post will talk about one.
For those of you who’ve seen “Black Panther”, you will know that the title of this post comes from a conversation between T’Challa and Zuri. “Don’t tell me what’s possible. Tell me the truth.”
I’ve been thinking about denial in Unitarian Universalism lately; both active denial and passive denial.
Since the latest iteration of the racial justice problems in Unitarian Universalism became public almost a year ago, many UUs of color have been telling their stories of how white supremacy shows itself in UU congregations and other UU institutions. Yet, when presented with these stories, many white UUs have flatly denied or tried to rationalize what UUs of color experience.
UU religious professionals of color are STILL being pushed out of jobs and white parishioners are covering their eyes and saying that they “need to speak with one voice”.
UUs of color are getting told they are “too confrontational” when reading a piece of a work written by a person of color during a worship service.
White UUs want badly to believe certain things about their congregations. They want to believe in the “what’s possible.”
UUs of color are telling the truth of what is actually going on in UU congregations.
When the Commission on Institutional Change issues a more detailed report, how are white UUs going to handle it? Are they going to keep being in denial (the “what’s possible”)? Or will they listen to the truth?
I may write more on what I think Wakanda has to tell Unitarian Universalism, but I need to see it again before I make up my mind.
So this past week has been the week of stories related to UU churches seemingly going out of their way to be explicitly unwelcoming to people of color–particularly visitors.
What is it going to take for UU congregations to understand that visitors, especially visitors of color, want to be greeted as if they didn’t make a mistake walking in the door? That the congregation sees their visit as the gift it is? That hospitality is a big part of the call of working towards being the Beloved Community? That hospitality means something?
If UU congregations want to get anywhere in their racial justice work, it would help if they started with their own congregations.
If UU congregations want to be relevant in the future, they need to get woke now. Because if they don’t, they will get left behind.
I could make this post about the time, during my ministerial internship, when I was asked “When did February become Black History Month?” I could, but I won’t.
Yet it does seem right, on this first day of Black History Month, to ask how prepared UU congregations are to honor the month.
What’s your UU congregation doing to acknowledge the month? Is it doing anything?
I’ve been a fat girl all my life. So I know what it’s like to feel the need to prove that you are worthy [of love, respect, attention, friendship, common decency–take your pick]. I spent a lot of years trying to prove exactly that.
Since the news of “shithole countries” has come out, I have watched Haitian Americans, African immigrants, El Salvadoreans, and Africans still on the continent trying to prove that their countries are not “shitholes” or that they (and their families) are worthy of being in the United States (or not being looked down on by the United States). And it has made me so heartbroken. Knowing that their pleading is all for nothing. Because the one thing I know from my time going through this is that, if you are a member of a minority (or any out- group), there is nothing you can say, nothing you can do, no amount of education you can have, no way to present yourself, etc. etc. to make you respectable enough to the majority (or the in- group).
Welcome to the world of respectability politics. Where people on the outside of the circle try to prove they are worthy of something that should, by any and all measure, be their birthright. Where people are losing their lives because it can never be proven; the drawers of the circle will always change the boundaries to make it so.
If you want to understand why I talk about white supremacy the way I do; this is why. I don’t want anybody else to have to feel like I did as a fat, black girl; unworthy of the things that are necessary to living a full human life.
Respectability politics puts the onus on those who are oppressed to show that they are worthy of things that are human birthrights. Respectability politics saps the energy for the things that give life. In short, respectability politics are evil. And evil needs to be called out. Always.
If things go as planned, I’m going to do something this weekend that I haven’t done in years…..set foot in a UU church on MLK Jr. Sunday. anyway…
I think about movement work a lot.
King is such a overwhelming figure that so often it is overlooked that it was women–Black women–who sustained the Civil Rights Movement. Women like Coretta Scott King (who was an activist in her own right). Ella Baker. Rosa Parks (you know she had a life before refusing to give up that seat on the bus, right?). Fannie Lou Hamer. Pauli Murray. Amelia Boynton. and so many others whose names are only minorly known.
Even more, how about women like Ida B. Wells, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (a Unitarian), Fannie Barrier Williams (a Unitarian), Nannie Burroughs, Mary Church Terrell, Sadie T.M. Alexander; women who are in those generations before the 50s/60s CRM?
So if you are a UU minister still trying to figure out what to say on Sunday, why not try to talk about some of these women. Or talk about how Black women (especially queer and trans Black women) are generally the hardest hit by white supremacy. How, often, Black women are expected to stand up for everybody else yet nobody stands for them when they need it.
Black women have been doing the work of movement making and movement sustaining forever. On this King weekend, while he is getting most of the attention, take some time to remember who was there with him and isn’t getting the attention they deserve. As the title of the book says, (All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men) But Some of Us Are Brave.
Yes, I’m being a little facetious, but not much.
All the talk of authoritarianism has me thinking about Bonhoeffer.
Most people who know something about Bonhoeffer know that he spent time in New York as a student at Union Theological Seminary. Many may even know that he attended Abyssinian Baptist Church–pastored at the time by Adam Clayton Powell, Sr.
I’m guessing far fewer know that Bonhoeffer taught Sunday School there.
There’s something to this, I think.
Black theology (or any theology of the oppressed, really) strikes a balance between the personal and the systemic sin in a way that liberal theology doesn’t (and Bonhoeffer had real critiques of liberal theology). Bonfoeffer took what he learned at Abyssinian and built the underground seminary that shaped the religious dissenters of the Nazis.
So…with all the talk about authoritarianism, maybe it would do the so-called resistance good to do what Bonhoeffer did; spend some time steeping themselves in the theology (and pedagogy, to borrow from Freire) of the oppressed.
Black theology saved the world once, and it can do it again. If the resistance pays attention.
I’m starting this year the way I finished last year; thinking about Erica Garner and her baby.
In reading about the hows-and-whys of her death, I read that Erica had a heart attack not long after giving birth. This is not the heart attack that killed her, but another one. So when I say that Erica’s death should be counted in the Black maternal mortality statistics, I mean it.
Remember the old cliche “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”? Research shows that this is not true, especially for Black people–and Black women in particular.
What doesn’t break us outwardly, breaks us inwardly. In short…white supremacy/racism kills.
I’m out of words for now.
Erica Garner died earlier today. She was 27. And she leaves behind a 3-month-old baby boy named after her father, Eric.
I am so done.
Erica’s death should be counted in the Black maternal mortality statistics; but it won’t be.
Erica had an asthma attack that caused her to have a heart attack. But we won’t talk about how African Americans are more likely to have asthma and die from it…
According to the CDC’s 2015 summary of the most recent asthma mortality data, black Americans have a higher asthma death rate -at 23.9 deaths per million persons- than non-Hispanic whites (8.4 deaths per million persons), Hispanics (7.3 deaths per million persons), and other non-Hispanics (10.0 deaths per million persons).
Erica’s foster mother was with her when she died, and Erica’s child is probably going to have to go into the system (at least for a little while); but we’re not going to talk about Black children and the foster care system. [really, I’m not. because it upsets me]
Erica had been fighting for justice for her father since the day he was killed by the NYPD…so much so that the NYPD messed with her family at the hospital. But we’re not going to talk about the policing of Black bodies. [again…really, I’m not. because it upsets me]
I am so done.
If I ever get to preach on Holy Innocents Day, I would use the traditional passage from Matthew, I would also use this, from Jeremiah…..
Thus says the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.
Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,
says the Lord:
they shall come back from the land of the enemy;
there is hope for your future,
says the Lord:
your children shall come back to their own country. [Jeremiah 31:15-17]
Erica is not coming back, so we should weep for her. But Eric III is alive. And if America saw him as a Holy Innocent instead of a potential threat, there would truly be hope for the future.