John Crawford III, Shonda Rhimes, Viola Davis and Black People Not Catching A Break

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.

Can Unitarian Universalism Speak To #Ferguson? (Thoughts One Month After)

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)

One Month Ago Today…..(#Ferguson)

…..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?

The “Black Empowerment Controversy” and the Haunting of the UUA (#Ferguson)

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.