These Things Wouldn’t Happen If You Just Listened To Black Women

I’ve gotten to talk to the bestest friend a couple of times over the past few days. And since bestest friend is also a UU of color, part of our conversation was about the Atlanta survey.

In all the go-around involving the survey, what’s been forgotten/lost is that this wouldn’t have become a UU social media topic if the woman of color (a member of UUCA) who originally pointed this out had been listened to in the first place.

So many issues, both in the UUA/its member congregations and outside of it, would be looked at differently if the general society just listened to Black women and other women of color.

Intersectionality is real. And things will not change–in the UUA/its member congregations and in the outside world–until those who are at the intersections are fully heard and acknowledged.

All I Have To Do Is Stay Black And Die (or…The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intent)

So…over the Facebook wires yesterday came this…..

The UU Congregation of Atlanta is moving. And in their information gathering, a survey was created. This was the first question. What was your first thought when you saw that question just now?  Mine was, “Did somebody not proofread this?”

In the discussion of this survey question yesterday on social media, those of us who said that the question was problematic were told that we didn’t understand the context of the question; what this question was intended to gauge reactions to possible gentrification. And, because a person of color was involved in writing the survey, we should assume the good intentions of all involved.

ok my white liberal friends, here’s something you need to know; there are only two things  in life I have to do…..stay black and die.

Why are people of color always asked to assume the good intentions of white people (or their agents, whether they are white or a person of color)? Asking people of color to assume good intention from white people is asking them to ignore the whole of American history. And it is asking people of color to do something that, let’s be honest, most whites don’t do; assume the good intent of people of color regarding anything.

W.E.B. DuBois said in ‘The Souls of Black Folk’:
Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half- hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.

No matter the intent of the writer of the question, let’s be clear what this question assumed. This question assumed that people of color (and the neighborhoods they live in) are problems. No amount of assuming good intent will change the definition of the word “undesireable”. No amount of assuming good intent will change the fact that Atlanta has the history that it has.

The road to hell truly is paved with good intentions. Assuming the good intentions of white people has done nothing but get people of color killed.

So please…stop telling people of color to assume good intent.

Black People Can Never Be Respectable Enough (White Discomfort with the words ‘White Supremacy’)

(it looks like I might have to do a thread on respectability politics, so this will fit in somewhere)

ok….since some of y’all are determined to stay willfully ignorant, let’s start with the actual definition of ‘white supremacy’:


the belief, theory, or doctrine that white people are inherently superior to people from all other racial groups, especially black people, and are therefore rightfully the dominant group in any society.                    [Random House Dictionary]

now….before you good white liberals hit my comments section to tell me that it’s only those other white people who believe that (those in the white hoods and so on), explain to me why there are CONFEDERATE statues in northern cities? Schools named after Robert E. Lee in northern cities? Why there was a Calhoun College AT YALE? [I do actually know why]  Confederate flags being flown from  Maine to Minnesota to Washington State and lots of other places in between?

If it’s only those others who believe in white supremacy, then explain all the surveys and polls that show that 25-30% of white liberals believe that blacks are inherently more violent or genetically not as smart as white people. Really, I would love to hear that explanation.

And on the UU front….
Have you heard of Ethelred Brown? And you really want to tell me that white supremacy isn’t in the DNA of the UUA.
Why is it that we can count the number of ministers of color who are solo or lead minister on a couple of hands? Yet people of color have been trying to be a part of the U/U/UU ministry since 1860?

Here are some other questions I have for those of you who are itching to come into my comments with the “not all white people” line…..
-When and where was your congregation founded?
-Has your congregation moved since its founding? If so, when? And to where?
-How close is your congregation to public transportation? (this is a class issue as well as a race issue)
-Did your congregation have discriminatory membership by-laws at any point? (a number of U/U congregations did at the time of merger)

I’ve been around Unitarian Universalists for more than a minute. I also have been involved in the criminal justice/drug law/prison reform-abolition movement since I was a teenager. I can tell you stories about what you good white liberals were saying about these issues when the face of addiction was black/brown. I can also tell you how you same good white liberals are talking about these issues now that the face of addiction is white. But please…tell me how this is not white supremacy.

Tell me how its not white supremacy that public schools are more segregated now than they were in 1954 when Brown v. Board of Education was handed down from the Supreme Court?

Tell me how its not white supremacy when, in case after case, those black/brown slaughtered by police have to be saintly in order to elicit sympathy from the white public. Don’t believe me…just look at how Tamir Rice was treated. There was nothing that could be pinned on him so people went trolling after his parents. Or how people tried to find something in Sandra Bland’s background.

White supremacy means that no matter what we do, black people (and brown and Indigenous people) can never be respectable enough to be deserving of anything resembling compassion or justice in the minds and systems that white people set up.

W.E.B. DuBois is credited with saying, “A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect.” White supremacy was set up to destroy black/brown/Indigenous bodies.

I’m sorry if black/brown/Indigenous people calling white supremacy “white supremacy” offends your delicate, fragile white sensibilities. Actually, I’m not sorry. Because you good white liberals have made deals with the devil (often members of your family) for time immemorial. Now that you’re being called on your complicity, it hurts. Oh well.

When you good white liberals are the first ones to condemn those who are saying people calling for the removal of confederate statues should be lynched (I’m assuming that you’ve heard about the state Rep. in Mississippi who called for that); when you stand up to your family members and tell them to get a clue because the Civil War was about slavery, then maybe we can move forward. Until then your discomfort and offense at being lumped in with those other white people when you hear the words “white supremacy” is not my concern.

Make Me Wanna Holler, Throw Up Both Of My Hands

Let’s talk about the policing of black bodies, shall we?

Late last night, a Tulsa jury found officer Betty Shelby not guilty of manslaughter in the killing of Terence Crutcher. You can be forgiven if you’ve forgotten the case; so many others have been killed by agents of the state since then. Anyway…according to reports the jury had asked if they could make a statement before giving the verdict and that members of the jury were crying as the verdict was read. I know that is supposed to elicit some kind of emotion out of me, but it doesn’t.

For there was video of this killing. We can see that Terence Crutcher had his hands up the entire time of the interaction. But that didn’t matter because Betty Shelby said she had “never been so scared in her life” as she was with a black man who was moving away from her. As has happened in every high profile killing of an unarmed black man by agents of the state, Terence Crutcher was portrayed as a “big, scary black man”. And, in the American psyche, all black men are threats to white women. So Terence Crutcher is dead because America must protect white women, at all cost.


If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I’ve posted stories over the last few days reporting on the disciplining of young black and multiracial girls for having hair styles that “violated” school dress code policy.

I. Can’t. Even.

The fascination with, politics and policing of, black women’s hair deserves someone better than me to write about it as a subject. But I’m going to say a couple of things.

Telling young black and multiracial girls that their natural hair or having their hair put into braids is a violation of a code is a violation of these girls humanity. It is telling them that their natural hair is somehow bad. And, by extension, they are somehow bad.

This also is a symptom of the over-policing of black children in schools. Black girls are the most over-sanctioned demographic in this nation’s schools. And research shows that black children (and brown children too) are punished more harshly for violations of policy than white children.

And there’s news today that a child of color with special needs was handcuffed and tasered in his classroom in Dallas.

I know that the machinations in Washington, D.C. suck up all the air in the room most days. But I think it’s important to point out that the state has been going wild on certain populations for generations.

There’s work to do, friends. There’s work to do.

If You Just Change The Key, It’s Still The Same Old Song

If you’ve listened to Mark Morrison-Reed’s Minns Lecture, or read “Black Pioneers in a White Denomination”, then you know about the survey (questions were asked about various aspects of worship and spiritual life) that was done in 1989 for the Commission on Appraisal. There are some striking differences in the responses.

When asked what they saw as the very important aspects of worship, white UUs chose “intellectual stimulation” and “fellowship” as their top two (at 74% and 65%, respectively). African American UUs, however, chose “celebrating common values” and “hope” as their top 2 (at 69% and 60%, respectively). Now, “fellowship”  is the third highest aspect for African American survey respondents (at 56%), and “celebrating common values” is the third highest for white survey respondents (at 60%), but if one looks at the entirety of the results, there is a noticeable difference.

The rest of the top five very important aspects for white UUs were “personal reflection” (53%) and “group experience of participation” (44%). The rest of the top five very important aspects for African American UUs were “music” (50%) and “intellectual stimulation” (47%).

When I was first thinking about this post, I thought it would be another one in my maybe-series about worship. While I will probably write about worship specifically later (the ten percentage point differences in the “music” and “personal reflection” answers deserves a post of their own), the survey  answers to the worship question point to a much larger thought.

We go to church for different reasons.

Let’s sit with that for a moment.

If white UUs are looking for intellectual stimulation and fellowship primarily when looking for a congregation, yet African Americans are looking for a celebration of common values and a place that gives hope when looking for a congregation; what does that mean when creating a space/place that is inviting to all?

So here are the questions…..

Why do you go to church? [and, by extension, why did you choose the congregation you chose]

What does the “beloved community” look like when what we are seeking are different things when we gather?


*the survey in 1989 only broke the answers down by white and black respondents. if the survey were being done now, I’m certain that the racial/ethnic breakdown would be more expansive.

Godspeed, Jim Key

News came out a little while ago that UUA Moderator Jim Key is resigning his position due to serious health concerns.

I last saw Jim at the UUA Board meeting April 21-22 in Boston. As always, he was deeply engaged, funny, personable, and an active listener. Considering the discussions that were going on, that was a true gift. He will be missed.

My thoughts and prayers are with Jim, his wife Liz, and the rest of his family.

Good luck and Godspeed, Jim.

Putting On The Whole Armour Of God

If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.
—Zora Neale Hurston

Here’s the brutal truth…

After institutional UUism’s ignoring of us here in St. Louis during and after things popped off in Ferguson, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t think it would be too much of a loss if UUism disappeared. But that’s my anger talking. And my privilege.

What do I mean when I say “my privilege”?

Simple. When I leave Unitarian Universalism, I will have a safe place to fall. In fact, I will have more than one safe place to fall because I am a Christian and there are many black churches in the denominations in which I have the closest contacts. Plus, there is a black denomination that I have always felt would be a good, maybe even great, fit.

The reason I write and talk about these issues in Unitarian Universalism (and have been doing so for YEARS) is not about me at all. I write and talk about these issues for those UUs of color who have been, and are, silent about the pain they are in because of the things that happen to them when they cross the church-house doors. I write and talk for those who, if they left Unitarian Universalism, wouldn’t have a safe place to fall.

In “The Souls of Black Folk” Du Bois wrote, “Within the Veil was he born, said I; and there within shall he live, — a Negro and a Negro’s son. Holding in that little head — ah, bitterly! — the unbowed pride of a hunted race, clinging with that tiny dimpled hand — ah, wearily! — to a hope not hopeless but unhopeful, and seeing with those bright wondering eyes that peer into my soul a land whose freedom is to us a mockery and whose liberty is a lie.”

The hope I have for Unitarian Universalism is Du Bois’ hope that he has when looking at his son; not hopeless, but unhopeful. And so these days I am putting on the whole armour of God and withstanding for those who are silent in their pain.


Mercy Mercy Me, Things Ain’t What They Used To Be

Marcus Garvey said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”

After a number of conversations I’ve had over the past week, here’s my conclusion…..

Unitarian Universalism is a rootless tree.

Too many Unitarian Universalists are running around having no clue; not just of Unitarian/Universalist/Unitarian Universalist history, but of American history in general. And in doing the work of dismantling white supremacy, historical ignorance is definitely not bliss. It is dangerous. And wounding.

I cannot tell you about the number of blank stares and utter confusion that is expressed when, either in my writing or in a sermon, I drop some bit of black history. [ask me about the word “nadir” sometime]

But, as Bro. Jimmy tells us:
History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of references, our identities, and our aspirations. And it is with great pain and terror that one begins to realize this. In great pain and terror one begins to assess the history which has placed one where one is, and formed one’s point of view. In great pain and terror because, thereafter, one enters into battle with that historical creation, oneself, and attempts to recreate oneself according to a principle more human and more liberating: one begins the attempt to achieve a level of personal maturity and freedom which robs history of its tyrannical power, and also changes history.

What I have come to conclude is that most white Unitarian Universalists don’t want to confront our history because, if they do, they can no longer go around acting as if what they do–no matter how well they intended it–doesn’t have a disparate impact.

I used to give white UUs the benefit of the doubt when it came to their historical ignorance. I don’t do that anymore. The future of Unitarian Universalism is at stake. And, after spending these past weeks trying to comfort UUs of color who have been spiritually wounded by their congregations, I can’t stress enough how dangerous this ignorance is. And it impedes our justice work.

A rootless tree will not survive for long. The question, for me, is, how long will Unitarian Universalism survive disconnected from its roots.

What You Have Amnesia Towards Does Not Have Amnesia Towards You

So Rev. Peter Morales decided to speak today; the second of two publicized days for the UU White Supremacy Teach-In. And he seems to be practicing some active disremembering.

But what is galling is the man had the NERVE to say, “…the Beloved Community does not throw people under the bus. The Beloved Community does not practice human sacrifice. ”

ok my white liberal friends and people who can pass, let me school you on this…..

the “Beloved Community” of Unitarian Universalism has been throwing people of color under the bus since Rev. William Jackson presented himself at the AUA meeting in 1860.

If you don’t want to believe me, go listen to Mark Morrison-Reed’s Minns Lecture from March 31 and come back to me.

Rev. Morales also says, “I have walked side by side with the Rev. William Barber a number of times at his invitation to protest racist policies”

Rev. Morales didn’t step foot in St. Louis in the aftermath of Ferguson. And we asked him to come.

I guess that we UUs in St.Louis/Ferguson didn’t matter as much as Rev. Barber.

And, yet again, Rev. Morales asks where were the people who assumed good will. So I’ll ask the question I asked early on:

Why should people of color assume “good will and common purpose” when it comes to things UU/UUA?

The amount of historical amnesia and willful ignorance and active disremembering that is going on right now is staggering. If it weren’t for the fact that I have people I love who are UUs and I really do believe in Susan Frederick-Gray, I would be done with Unitarian Universalism as of today.

anyway…..years ago the late Roger Wilkins said in a speech, “What you have amnesia towards does not have amnesia towards you.” That line has stayed with me since I heard it. And it is true. No matter how much official Unitarian Universalism wants to actively disremember, this history is out there for anybody who cares to look for it. It cannot be quashed.

What you have amnesia towards does not have amnesia towards you.


I’m With Her…As Long As “Her” Is Susan Frederick-Gray

Susan and I both grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis. This is the shallowest reason that I think Susan should be the next UUA President. And while there are times where I can be both shallow and provincial, this is not one of them.

In a lot of ways, the UUA is like St. Louis. White supremacy is ever-present, seldom talked about or acknowledged, vociferously denied or rationalized when brought up, and has a tendency to historical amnesia or willful ignorance. And it is highly provincial.

St. Louis will never be the same after the killing of Michael Brown and the aftermath of the events in Ferguson, although there are plenty of forces that would love to see it return to the way it was. (just look at the fight and vote over an MLS stadium that happened last month as an example)

Hopefully, the UUA will never be the same after this current crisis. Although, given UUA history, we must fight hard against the forces of inertia.

What does this have to do with me believing that Susan is the President the UUA needs in this time?

In one word: trust. I trust Susan.

Susan gets it in a way that only somebody who grew up in provincial waters can get it. Susan understands the power dynamics of provincialism better than most. (just listen to her talk about her power analysis of UUism in any of the Presidential forums that are online)  There is one place that can rival St. Louis in its provincial-ness, and that place is Boston and the UUA.
Susan knows what it’s like to be in an area that is in the midst of a major upheaval.
Susan knows churches and believes in them.
Susan is not afraid to say the word “theology”. She also understands that liberal theology needs to speak to the world in need of liberation theology through partnership.
Susan has a “make a way out of no way” kind of spirit.

I know all three candidates for President. I respect and like all three. But I believe we have one chance to not repeat the mistakes of the past. For that reason I believe the best person for the job is the one who has the “make a way out of no way” spirit.

I’m with her…as long as “her” is Susan Frederick-Gray.