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.

Just When I Thought UUs Couldn’t Disappoint Me More……

Let’s be very clear about what happened in relation to Starr King.

Because they did not like the result of the Presidential search, a person or persons/cabal decided to show their ass and release confidential things related to the search to journalists in order to imply that the person who was presented by the Search Committee, Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, was less qualified and the affirmative action candidate.

So while there are calls for justice in relation to the two students, I hope that those who are calling for that justice are also doing all they can to support the person who was viciously maligned in the process.

But I already know that I’m asking for too much.

Yes…Some UUs Were In Selma. And? What Have UU Done For Me Lately?

I was trying to stay out of the ‘Selma’ conversation that’s going on on Facebook. And so far, I’m doing good. But…I’m seeing this recurring theme in a number of the comments. It says “why didn’t the movie say that James Reeb was an Unitarian minister instead of just a priest?”

This is another instance where I get it. I really do. Selma is the one–if not completely bright spot, the brightest spot–in U/U/UU history with regards to race. So I can understand the impulse to want recognition of the fact that James Reeb was an Unitarian minister.

Now the angry black woman has a question. Yes…James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo were in Selma and died because of it. And? Does the story always have to be about white people?

But let’s look at this on a larger scale….have you, my good UU friends, made so much of the Selma moment because our history–before and since–is just plain awful? Especially for a group that likes to think of itself as progressive.

Yes…some Uni-s and Uni-s (as Diana Eck has been known to call us)were in Selma…but what have Uni-Unis done lately?

Which side were most Uni-Unis on during the Boston Busing Riots?

Which side were most Uni-Unis on when northern school districts were being sued over segregation?

How many Uni-Unis fled neighborhoods when a few too many black families moved in? (yeah, y’all participated in white flight too. don’t front.)

How many Uni-Unis didn’t really see a problem in the fact that blacks and Latinos got rounded up in the War on Drugs, even though people of color and whites use drugs at roughly the same rate?

How many Uni-Unis saw how police routinely use force with people of color more readily than with whites and excused it as a figment of people of color’s imagination? Or said that we were paranoid?

So go ahead, self congratulate on Selma all you want, but as Janet Jackson sang, “What have you done for me lately?” [My asking that question does in no way diminish what I feel for the St. Louis area UUs and the area ministers who are out there doing the work.]

more later. maybe.

It’s Not Just #blacklivesmatter, #blackbodiesmatter Too

Let’s take a look at the most recent high-profile police-black men encounters:

After he was chokeholded, there seemed to be no urgency in the response from either the officers on the scene or from the EMTs who finally arrived some minutes later to give Eric Garner assistance. (if you haven’t watched the rest of the video after Eric Garner stops saying “I can’t breathe” you should)

Mike Brown’s body was allowed to lie in the street for four-and-a-half hours (two of those hours uncovered, if I’m remembering correctly). And a nurse who was on the scene at the time of the shooting was not allowed to render aid.

Akai Gurley. After being shot and making it down a flight of stairs received no aid because the officers who shot him–instead of assessing the situation and calling for aid–were texting their union reps and maintained radio silence for at least 6 minutes. The only reason that aid was called was because Akai Gurley’s girlfriend was able to get a neighbor to call.

After shooting him a mere two seconds after pulling up on him, the officers who shot Tamir Rice let him lie there for four minutes without any aid. The only reason aid was administered was because an FBI agent in the area came to the scene and rendered aid.

Four situations. Four deaths. Four cases of mistreatment of black bodies.

While we are talking about #blacklivesmatters, we need to expand that to also include #blackbodiesmatter too. The treatment of these black men’s bodies by those in authority/positions of power is shameful and is just another manifestation of this society’s thinking about black people.

Anthony Pinn wrote:

Black bodies are complex signs that represent something both appealing and repulsive for the society in which we dwell.

There’s something to that, I think.

When you look at the history of what is now the U.S., you will see that the first laws regarding black people are anti-miscegenation laws. What does that say?

#blackbodiesmatter. How society treats black bodies matters too.

more later.