I’ve been a fat girl all my life. So I know what it’s like to feel the need to prove that you are worthy [of love, respect, attention, friendship, common decency–take your pick]. I spent a lot of years trying to prove exactly that.
Since the news of “shithole countries” has come out, I have watched Haitian Americans, African immigrants, El Salvadoreans, and Africans still on the continent trying to prove that their countries are not “shitholes” or that they (and their families) are worthy of being in the United States (or not being looked down on by the United States). And it has made me so heartbroken. Knowing that their pleading is all for nothing. Because the one thing I know from my time going through this is that, if you are a member of a minority (or any out- group), there is nothing you can say, nothing you can do, no amount of education you can have, no way to present yourself, etc. etc. to make you respectable enough to the majority (or the in- group).
Welcome to the world of respectability politics. Where people on the outside of the circle try to prove they are worthy of something that should, by any and all measure, be their birthright. Where people are losing their lives because it can never be proven; the drawers of the circle will always change the boundaries to make it so.
If you want to understand why I talk about white supremacy the way I do; this is why. I don’t want anybody else to have to feel like I did as a fat, black girl; unworthy of the things that are necessary to living a full human life.
Respectability politics puts the onus on those who are oppressed to show that they are worthy of things that are human birthrights. Respectability politics saps the energy for the things that give life. In short, respectability politics are evil. And evil needs to be called out. Always.
If things go as planned, I’m going to do something this weekend that I haven’t done in years…..set foot in a UU church on MLK Jr. Sunday. anyway…
I think about movement work a lot.
King is such a overwhelming figure that so often it is overlooked that it was women–Black women–who sustained the Civil Rights Movement. Women like Coretta Scott King (who was an activist in her own right). Ella Baker. Rosa Parks (you know she had a life before refusing to give up that seat on the bus, right?). Fannie Lou Hamer. Pauli Murray. Amelia Boynton. and so many others whose names are only minorly known.
Even more, how about women like Ida B. Wells, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (a Unitarian), Fannie Barrier Williams (a Unitarian), Nannie Burroughs, Mary Church Terrell, Sadie T.M. Alexander; women who are in those generations before the 50s/60s CRM?
So if you are a UU minister still trying to figure out what to say on Sunday, why not try to talk about some of these women. Or talk about how Black women (especially queer and trans Black women) are generally the hardest hit by white supremacy. How, often, Black women are expected to stand up for everybody else yet nobody stands for them when they need it.
Black women have been doing the work of movement making and movement sustaining forever. On this King weekend, while he is getting most of the attention, take some time to remember who was there with him and isn’t getting the attention they deserve. As the title of the book says, (All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men) But Some of Us Are Brave.
Yes, I’m being a little facetious, but not much.
All the talk of authoritarianism has me thinking about Bonhoeffer.
Most people who know something about Bonhoeffer know that he spent time in New York as a student at Union Theological Seminary. Many may even know that he attended Abyssinian Baptist Church–pastored at the time by Adam Clayton Powell, Sr.
I’m guessing far fewer know that Bonhoeffer taught Sunday School there.
There’s something to this, I think.
Black theology (or any theology of the oppressed, really) strikes a balance between the personal and the systemic sin in a way that liberal theology doesn’t (and Bonhoeffer had real critiques of liberal theology). Bonfoeffer took what he learned at Abyssinian and built the underground seminary that shaped the religious dissenters of the Nazis.
So…with all the talk about authoritarianism, maybe it would do the so-called resistance good to do what Bonhoeffer did; spend some time steeping themselves in the theology (and pedagogy, to borrow from Freire) of the oppressed.
Black theology saved the world once, and it can do it again. If the resistance pays attention.
I’m starting this year the way I finished last year; thinking about Erica Garner and her baby.
In reading about the hows-and-whys of her death, I read that Erica had a heart attack not long after giving birth. This is not the heart attack that killed her, but another one. So when I say that Erica’s death should be counted in the Black maternal mortality statistics, I mean it.
Remember the old cliche “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”? Research shows that this is not true, especially for Black people–and Black women in particular.
What doesn’t break us outwardly, breaks us inwardly. In short…white supremacy/racism kills.
I’m out of words for now.