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?

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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.