The Past Is Not Dead. It Isn’t Even Past. …A Question for the UUA Presidential Candidates

Susan. Alison. Jeanne.

It was good to see the three of you in New Orleans. I appreciate the time you got to spend with us at the BLUU Convening. Even more, I am glad you got to hear questions that in another setting might not have been asked. (yes, the Ferguson question was mine and I would not ask it at the upcoming MidAmerica Region meeting for a number of reasons)

Anyway…..

Toni Morrison, in her non-fiction, has talked about “active dis-remembering”. I would like to explore that with you.

When we (the collective we) talk about our U/U/UU ancestors, most UUs think about the Transcendentalists. Nothing against Emerson, Thoreau, or the Peabody sisters, but if our picturing of ourselves is that limited, is it really any wonder that we are stuck in a morass when it comes to racial justice?

But along with that, there does seem to be an active dis-remembering when it comes to the transmission of our history as it relates to racial/ethnic justice and the journey we’ve been on. Many UUs, if not most, know about Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo. Yet many, if not most, have no idea Whitney Young was one of us. That Henry Hampton worked for the UUA. Have no idea about the Universalist church pastored by the Joseph Jordans.

Yet I do understand the impulse to paint the picture rosy. To make it seem as if our history has more James Reebs in it than Frederick May Eliots. But the reality is, however, Frederick May Eliot had power; James Reeb didn’t.

Faulkner said, “the past is not dead. it isn’t even past.” Which is why I pointed out that Frederick May Eliot had power and James Reeb didn’t.

There are processes in place that probably date back to Eliot’s time as head of the AUA. I’m sure they have be tweaked some, but basic bones of them are still there. To put it nicely, Frederick May Eliot was no friend. Those processes make it extremely easy for the organization to actively dis-remember the great cloud of witnesses of our history.

So…here’s the question (I know, that was a long lead-up)…what do you see as the UUA’s role in presenting a more complete and honest history of the journey towards wholeness?

I do have another question for the three of you, but that will be in another post.

Not Everything That Is Faced Can Be Changed, But Nothing Can Be Changed Until It Is Faced…A Short Open Letter to Rev. Peter Morales

“People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.” –Bro. Jimmy (aka James Baldwin)

Dear Rev. Morales,
I am stupefied at your response, in both the letter sent out to UUA staff and in quotes reported in UU World, to the discussion that has arisen in light of recent hiring decisions.

You are quoted in UU World as saying, “What bothers me is the characterization of the UUA as a ‘white supremacist’ organization,…If you call us that, what do you call Aryan Nation?”

You and I have both studied UUA history, as well as history of its parent organizations–the AUA and the UCA. In that history is the case of E. Ethelred Brown. Shall we talk about how he was treated? So, with that history out there, I wonder why you are confused as to the UUA being labeled a white supremacist organization. Surely you are not that naive. You do know that white supremacy is not just the Klan and Aryan Nation, right?

In your letter to UUA staff you write, “Since the UUA has made the hiring decisions there have been 14 hires in Congregational Life. Of those 14, six have been people of color.”

I think it is important to point out there are two regions that are completely white when it comes to Congregational Life staff. I will further point out one of those regions has the city of Boston in it. The other region has the cities of Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Minneapolis. That’s right, the region with 4 of the cities that have had major racial justice incidents in the past 2.5 years are all in a region served by a totally white Congregational Life staff. I digress….

You further say, “At the UUA staff overall, we have gone from 14 percent of color in 2008 to 20 percent today. At the level of managers, we have gone from 12 people of color (5 percent) to 19 (9 percent).”

The administration’s own Ends Monitoring Report from April, 2016 shows that the growth of people of color is in the areas labeled “Service”, “Sales”, or “Administrative Support”. This is the why of white supremacy; using people of color for their labor in areas where the decisions/policy aren’t made.

As a Christian, one of the most important things I believe in is the power of repentance. From what I can tell, the UUA has never repented for its treatment of E. Ethelred Brown. Over the course of the past days, your letter and comments have shown me that the UUA is still not ready to repent for its actions related to racial/ethnic justice. That is a shame.

I could go on. However, there is no reason for me to do so as I am not sure you will take heart to anything I have said.

I’ll end as I began, quoting Bro. Jimmy. “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Respectfully yours,
Kimberly R. Hampton, M.Div.

American Denialism pt. 1

Happy Black History Month!

Normally I write during BHM, but this has been the strangest BHM I’ve ever lived through so I’m not feeling steady in my thoughts. And much of my thoughts are just expletives. anyway….

Yesterday was W.E.B. DuBois’ birthday. And I continue to be amazed at how few white people have ever read DuBois, even though he is the father of American sociology and wrote on many subjects. Part 2 will be more about DuBois specifically, but since this thought is inspired by DuBois, it is good to keep the same title for them. (if these posts were going in a different direction, I would talk about double consciousness and canons, but that’s for another time)

As some of you may know, I am fascinated about how people are talking about–and looking at–this historical moment.

Why is most of the comparison to another historical moment that of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy?

Why are most people looking to Europe to make the comparison and not to our own history?

So…here’s a one question quiz…

What do the following time periods in American history have in common?

1877-1929      [I could have made this a longer period of time, but cut it off here]

1968-2000

2016-?

If you can figure out the big commonality, you will understand why I think looking to and comparing Trump to Hitler is misguided. Because I think it is really misguided. Don’t mis-hear me; I think there are some interesting parallels between the two, but I think there are some characters in American history that Trump is the direct descendant of.

I have no idea when I will post part 2. but part 2 is coming and there are some other things I want to write about. Thank you for your patience.

Charleston and Its Aftermath on Election Day

Yesterday was the first day of jury selection in the trial of Dylan Roof. You remember him, don’t you? He’s the one who killed 9 church people at Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, SC last year.

There’s not much I can say right now, but I thought I would point this out. It was a panel discussion put on by Yale three months after the killings.  The moderator is David Blight, history professor at Yale and the director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance & Abolition.

Shallow Diversity Is Not Diversity At All

One of the things you learn when you hang out with religious professionals is that no matter the religious affiliation, denomination, or theological stripe of the religious professional, the same kinds of situations pop up in congregations. [yes, I’m talking about congregationally-based religious professionals, not community-based ones]

So….I talked to a friend of mine earlier today about something that happened at a retreat with their vestry/worship committee/worship associates to plot out their year. Things were going well until the group hit THAT Sunday. You know what Sunday if you really think about it. That’s right….things went well until they came up on MLK Jr. Sunday. Soon as my friend told me what Sunday, I had to take a deep breath because I have heard this same story multiple times.

“We need to find somebody black to preach on MLK Sunday.” Many vestrys/worship committees/worship associates have said the same thing.

Here’s the question: Why?

Why did part of this group feel that they HAD to have somebody of African descent be the guest speaker on that Sunday? Why not have a Black speaker on the third Sunday of April? Why MLK Sunday?

And for those of us who have a little more planning room when it comes to worship, why is the only time there is some diversity in the readings on special Sundays  [MLK, Pride, etc.]?

Shallow diversity is not diversity at all, my friends. It’s tokenism. And no member of a marginalized community wants to be a token.

To quote my friend who told me the age-old story today, “for those who think it might be a great idea to “find a black person to preach on MLK Sunday,” but never think to diversify their list of guest preachers otherwise, we pray.”

Lord, hear our prayer.

Race, Theology, Sociology, and History Reading Group (#BlackLivesMatter)

With all that’s been going on, I’m feeling the need to read (and in some cases re-read)  a lot of books related to race and its intersections with theology, sociology, and history. So I thought I would invite readers of the blog to join me if they want to.

I’m developing a growing list that will move and change depending on what strikes my fancy. I might also add other areas of intersection (like education), but I’m going to stay in the lanes that I move in the most often. And there will be some fiction thrown in (especially if we’re talking about race and history).

The first two books that I will read are going to be “Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God” by theologian Kelly Brown Douglas and “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf” by Ntozake Shange [this will be a re-read for me]

I’ll start reading on Sept. 1. And write as I go along. You are welcome to join me.

Were Y’all Always This Clueless? Or Is This Willful Ignorance?

On Monday night, Michelle Obama gave her speech at the Democratic National Convention. I didn’t watch the speech, as I am not watching the convention. But I did see clips of it afterward.

The big point that has been talked about since that speech has been when Michelle pointed out that she lives in a house that slaves built.

Was this news to white people? Because there can be no other explanation for so many media outlets AND Smithsonian Magazine to “fact check” that line.

SLAVES BUILT THE WHITE HOUSE!

SLAVES BUILT MOST OF THE U.S. CAPITOL BUILDING!

SLAVES BUILT MOST OF WASHINGTON, D.C.!  (the old part of it)

How is this news?!!?!??!

In a country where 12 of the first 16 Presidents either OWNED slaves or had other, deep ties to slavery, why did media outlets feel the need to fact-check Michelle Obama’s statement of that? I do not understand this.

Were y’all always this clueless? Or is this yet another example willful ignorance?

Can People of Color Truly Be Safe in UU Congregations?

Situation #1

There was a memorial service for someone I knew at a UU congregation last Sunday. I knew the officiant for the service, and had emailed them earlier to let them know I was going to be at the service and if they needed anything to let me know. As I had made the offer, I arrived at the building an hour or so beforehand. After coming out of the restroom, another person of color (somebody I’ve known for a long time)  looked at me and started crying. She came over to me and said, “I’m so glad you’re here. You have no idea how hard it’s been coming to church these past two weeks.” When I asked her what she meant, she began to describe the conversations that had been going on in her congregation in the wake of the Sterling, Castile, and Dallas shootings and the Baton Rouge shooting that had happened just that morning. Being one of the few people of color in this congregation (it used to have more, but doesn’t now), she has been feeling as if she had to answer for the Dallas and Baton Rouge shootings, but nobody took time or seemed to care about how she might be feeling about the Sterling or Castile shootings. She’s now wondering how often she can go to her congregation.

Situation #2

Somebody who I admire greatly is a staff member at a UU congregation. Not long before GA, this person relayed a story of how they (and others involved in the congregation–lay and ordained) received a diatribe email that complained about the congregation being involved with anything related to BlackLivesMatter. The diatribe ended with the person who wrote it calling staff members “people of SOME color.” (emphasis mine)

I’ve been thinking about safety a lot for the past year, for many reasons. (some of you might have heard me talk about this at GA) These two situations bring those thoughts into much clearer focus.

In a denomination that is as white as Unitarian Universalism is, can people of color really be safe in our congregations?

What do we mean when we talk about “safe” congregations? [yes, I know that’s about sexual exploitation and abuse, but work with me here]

I’ll Skip the “National Conversation on Race.” I Have Better Things to Do. (#BlackLivesMatter)

In every interview I’ve seen with her, the FIRST question Philando Castile’s mother gets asked is about Dallas. Nobody in Dallas gets asked about Philando Castile or Alton Sterling first.

But the events of the last week has the white political and commentary classes now saying that we need to have a “national conversation on race [or about race relations]”.

I’ll skip this conversation, thanks. I have better things to do. Like bite my nails and flip through the Woman Within catalog that arrived in the mail Monday.

listen up my white, liberal friends. America has been having a “national conversation on race” for 397 years now. And black humanity is STILL up for debate.  There is no conversation to be had while my–and my people’s–humanity is up for debate; at least not for me.

As long as Philando Castile’s mother is asked about Dallas first when nobody in Dallas is asked about Philando Castile first, miss me with talk of a national conversation.

As long as Dr. King is trotted out to get black people to shut up and stop complaining, miss me with talk of a national conversation.

As long as so many white people continue to search for some reason to say that [Eric Garner/Mike Brown/Tamir Rice/John Crawford/Walter Scott/Freddie Gray/Sandra Bland/Alton Sterling/Philando Castile] did something to deserve the fate they met, miss me with talk of a national conversation.

As long as the “it’s class, not race” people continue to ignore the fact that poor whites are not policed the same as middle-class blacks, miss me with talk of a national conversation.

I have better things to do.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Hagar. A Meditation on the Past 28 Hours (#BlackLivesMatter)

Are you there God? It’s me, Hagar.

Wasn’t it enough that Sarai gave me to Abram so he could have a child?

That when I tried to get away YOU told me to go back?

So I go back. And endure.

Endure.

And Ishmael is born.

I have a reason to endure.

But then came Isaac.

And my Ishmael became a threat.

Abram put my child on my back and sent us out  into the wilderness.

We have been in the wilderness ever since.

And my Ishmael is still considered a threat.

No matter what he does.

YOU said that YOU would make a great nation of my Ishmael.

Are YOU there God?

Isaac’s nation is killing us.

Are YOU there God?

I’m tired of looking at the death of my child.

Are YOU there God?

Are YOU there?