There Has To Be More Than Emerson (The Canons We Have and What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day pt.2)

I knew it would happen as soon as the title for my last post came to mind.

I knew that some well-intentioned white people would send me private messages telling me I was wrong to use the word “crazy” because it is maligning those who have mental illnesses.

Before I get into the main point of this post, I want to talk a bit about words and word choice.
I try to be deliberate and precise when I write. I do this so people can get to my meaning without having to do mental contortions. Yet, most words have multiple meanings. For this reason I refuse to stop using words that have multiple meaning just because one of those meanings is problematic/troubling. Sometimes, it’s the right word because it has that problematic/troubling meaning. To step into it even more, I don’t think every word in every song needs to be changed because of a problematic/troubling word.
Now…I am not saying to be insensitive. I am saying that we need to extend some latitude when it comes to the words we have and understand the complexities of language. To repeat, sometimes the word is right because it is complex.

anyway…on to the main…
These last few weeks have brought into sharp relief how differently POCI and white people move around in the UU-universe, especially when it comes to the canons we have. And, subconsciously, the title of my last post was a test. A test that those who wrote me private messages failed. Spectacularly.

“What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day” is the title of a book written by Pearl Cleage, a black writer.

Off-and-on I have written about how limiting and limited the UU canon is (I last wrote about it a week ago). The messages I received today are just the latest example of that limitation.

In Unitarian Universalism, it’s ok to reference people of color occasionally. Just don’t do it too often or it will be assumed that your canon is limited. So you better not stray too far from Emerson and Thoreau or you’ll be in trouble.

It’s all connected, my friends; white supremacy in UU hiring practices to white supremacy in the canons one is allow to reference. The only way UUism can grow into the religious movement it’s supposed to be is by dismantling the white supremacy that pervades it.

There has to be more than Emerson. Because, sometimes, things really do look like crazy on an ordinary day.

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2 thoughts on “There Has To Be More Than Emerson (The Canons We Have and What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day pt.2)

  1. There are two interlocking things going on, at least in my congregation. What you say is true. I know enough that the title rang a bell, but I couldn’t quite place it, and I’m better read in black authors than most of my co-congregants. That sort of cultural disconnect is a particular problem for a congregation interested in growth that’s 98% white in a minority-white city.

    But we’re also a generally incurious group outside a relatively small cultural frame, and that particularly includes most post-1961 Unitarian Universalist ideas. I’ve tried everything I have energy for and just can’t any more, at least for a while. I mean, if I can’t get them to read Sharon Welch, with the word “Feminist” in the title and all, why should I bother even trying with Anthony Pinn? What’s the point?

    These things dovetail. When Melissa Harris-Perry spoke at Philander Smith, I could not get one person to go with me. I dressed medium nicely–good shoes hurt me, and I wore my yellow SotSL shirt under my sports coat so I’d be visibly UU–and ended up standing in back next to Walter Kimbrough and chatting with him before the talk, which was just remarkable. The only presenter/presentation designer as good I’ve ever seen–and I’ve seen a few–is Lawrence Lessig. I asked her a question and we engaged in a little back and forth about Unitarian Universalism. That led to a chat afterward with a young woman from Philander about my church. You’d think that’d be a damn feast for the intellectually curious or for people interested in outreach and church growth.

    But when one of the most prominent Unitarian Universalists in public life gives a free talk in your city and only one UU shows up, well, what message does that convey to people?

    I’m sorry if this seems like a derail, and I really don’t want you to do my emotional labor.

    But I am just so tired of it.

    I think a lot about what Melissa Harris-Perry said during her talk, about the people who offered free lodgings after Katrina and specified that they didn’t want black people. She told us that those helping, racist people were good people, some of the best among us and that they were racist. Which is either a message of hope or a message despair and not much in between. She was hopeful, I think.

    We’re scheduled to participate in the teach-in on May 7. I’d like to say I live in hope. But Hope is a hundred miles down the road from Little Rock. They’re both nice places. So maybe. Just maybe.

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