Thinking About A #BlackLivesMatter Mother’s Day Worship Service

In these waning minutes on Sunday, I’m going to take a few of those minutes to write out something that has come to me in the last week or so.

Mother’s Day is a hard Sunday for many preachers (UU or otherwise). Now a lot of that is because many people don’t understand the origins of the day, but also because one never knows the minefields one might be stepping into.

So…how about, instead of either avoiding the day or turning oneself inside-out to hit every possibility, may I suggest that you consider doing a Black Lives Matter Mother’s Day worship service.

The readings could be words from women like Sybrina Fulton (Trayvon Martin’s mother) or Lezley McSpadden (Michael Brown’s mother); both of whom have books you can read.
Or you could use the poem like “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks.
I’m sure there are some words from Alice Walker or Audre Lorde or Jacqueline Woodson or Claudia Rankine or Toni Morrison or Sonia Sanchez that might speak to those sitting in your pews.

Or you could use this poem that I came across just today:
Black mothers
don’t
raise their children
to be murderers,
nor
to be murdered.
-from a young poet in New Orleans (I’m trying to find out who)

For those of you who are comfortable with Scripture, there are many stories of mothers losing their children (or living under the threat of lost their child). I seem to remember that Jesus had a mother. And of course there’s Hagar (or maybe that’s just me. I can make Hagar work for just about anything). Moses had a mother last I looked.

If you wanted to go a little further with it, read “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children.” Here’s a summary of what the paper says:

Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent,” said author Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles. The study was published online in APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Researchers tested 176 police officers, mostly white males, average age 37, in large urban areas, to determine their levels of two distinct types of bias—prejudice and unconscious dehumanization of black people by comparing them to apes. To test for prejudice, researchers had officers complete a widely used psychological questionnaire with statements such as “It is likely that blacks will bring violence to neighborhoods when they move in.” To determine officers’ dehumanization of blacks, the researchers gave them a psychological task in which they paired blacks and whites with large cats, such as lions, or with apes. Researchers reviewed police officers’ personnel records to determine use of force while on duty and found that those who dehumanized blacks were more likely to have used force against a black child in custody than officers who did not dehumanize blacks. The study described use of force as takedown or wrist lock; kicking or punching; striking with a blunt object; using a police dog, restraints or hobbling; or using tear gas, electric shock, or killing. Only dehumanization and not police officers’ prejudice against blacks—conscious or not—was linked to violent encounters with black children in custody, according to the study.

The authors noted that police officers’ unconscious dehumanization of black could have been the result of negative interactions with black children, rather than the cause of using force with black children. “We found evidence that overestimating age and culpability based on racial difference was a link to dehumanizing stereotypes, but future research should try to clarify the relationship between dehumanization and racial disparities in police use of force,” Goff said.

The study also involved 264 mostly white, female undergraduate students from large public U.S. Universities. In one experiment, students rated the innocence of people ranging from infants to 25-year-olds who were black, white or an unidentified race. The students judged children up to 9-years-old as equally innocent regardless of race, but considered black children significantly less innocent than other children in every age group beginning at age 10, the researchers found.

The students were also shown photographs alongside descriptions of various crimes and asked to assess the age and innocence of white, black, or Latino boys ages 10 to 17. The students overestimated the age of blacks by an average of 4.5 years and found them more culpable than whites or Latinos, particularly when the boys were matched with serious crimes, the study found. Researchers used questionnaires to assess the participants’ prejudice and dehumanization of blacks. They found that participants who implicitly associated black with apes thought the black children were older and less innocent.

In another experiment, students first viewed either a photo of an ape or a large cat and then rated black and white youngsters in terms of perceived innocence and need for protection as children. Those who looked at the ape photo gave black children lower ratings and estimated that black children were significantly older than their actual ages, particularly if the child had been accused of a felony rather than a misdemeanor.

The evidence shows that perceptions of the essential nature of children can be affected by race, and for black children, this can mean they lose the protection afforded by assumed childhood innocence well before they become adults,” said co-author Matthew Jackson, PhD, also of UCLA. “With the average age overestimation for black boys exceeding four-and-a-half years, in some cases, black children may be viewed as adults when they are just 13 years old.”

Trust me when I tell you “that’ll preach”.

So…there you have it…my suggestion for those of you who may be struggling with how to preach Mother’s Day. You don’t have to do the sappy, Hallmark holiday. And, for those of you UU preachers out there, it is a good way to tie-in what your congregation talked about during the White Supremacy Teach-In.

Someday We’ll All Be Free…But That Day Ain’t Today (Ferguson, Unitarian Universalism, and Me)

I. Can’t. Even.

I was going to respond directly to Rev. Don Southworth, but after a good night’s sleep I decided that I have already talked enough about Unitarian Universalist cluelessness and tone-deafness; why keep pointing out examples? They just make me mad. So I’m going to tell a story.

The one thing you need to know as I start is that my mother is not a worrier. I am the worrier. anyway…..

It was November, 2014. And all of St. Louis was waiting for the Grand Jury’s decision as to whether or not Darren Wilson is going to be charged with anything in relation to killing Michael Brown.

I was going to a meeting that was movement-related. Before my parents left out earlier that day I had told my mother that by the time they got back to the house, I would be gone. I wasn’t out a particularly long time, but it was long dark by the time I came back to the house. And my mother picked. And picked. And picked. Until she went to bed. I couldn’t figure out why she was picking. It finally came to me as I went to bed; my mother was worried about me being out in St. Louis after dark.

When I’m in St. Louis, I live 8.5 miles from Ferguson.

During the first month, I could tell you what time of day it was because the police helicopters flew over the house at particular times of the day.

Some mornings, we could smell the remnants of the tear gas that was released in the overnight hours.

My mother was worried because we live close to Clayton, which is county seat and where the announcement of the Grand Jury’s decision would be announced. If the decision came down that night, there’s a strong possibility that I wouldn’t have been able to make it home.

That is what St. Louis was like in those months. But I’m not finished.

Did you know there was a UU minister on the streets in Ferguson, EVERY DAY?

Did you know that there was a UU minister of color who had just moved to Ferguson mere days before Mike Brown was killed? And this minister was starting an interim position at the congregation that is closest to Ferguson? That some members of said congregation live in or around Ferguson?

Wanna know what we, the St. Louis area UU ministers, heard from institutional UUism (Board or Administration)? Not a damn thing.

Wanna know how many people from Administration came to St. Louis during Ferguson October? One, and that was because of a personal friendship. And that one was NOT the President of the UUA.

Wanna know how many members of the UUA Board of Trustees came to St. Louis during Ferguson October? NONE.

Do you know that we in the St. Louis area begged for an “all hands on deck” call for Ferguson October like the call that was given out for UUs to go to North Carolina for the Moral Mondays protest? Betcha didn’t.

So when I read letters like the one Rev. Don Southworth wrote, I have two reactions. One is to cry. The other is to do like Jesus and flip over some temple tables.

I’m not going to do either in this case. But I will make a comment on one paragraph in Rev. Southworth’s tragically conceived and executed letter.

“It seems clear that the board believes the most important issue and priority in our faith today is empowering our black siblings to have a more active and effective leadership role.  I also believe it’s important.  And I also believe it’s important to lower the debt for our religious professionals, and especially ministers, who sacrifice their financial well being to serve our faith; it’s important that all religious professional organizations and formerly affiliated groups such as DRUUM to have enough to do their important work; it’s important that our most innovative ministers and ministries – many of whom are people of color –  have enough money and resources so they can a) have enough money to live on and b) have the resources to give their ministries a chance; it’s important our seminaries, congregations and UUA staff have enough resources to be strong and healthy in the future; it’s important that we find funding for more community organizing, more speaking out against environmental devastation and immigration justice – especially given the insanity we have seen since the election; and it’s important that we deepen, strengthen and articulate our theology more powerfully in the world, so we can find new ways to connect with those spiritually hungry people in our communities who don’t know about us or don’t think we have something to offer them.”

It always fascinates me when white people don’t get that all these things are direct descendants of white supremacy. Environmental devastation? Ever heard of Flint? (they still don’t have clean water) Immigration justice? Shall we talk about how they are rounding up people who are darker skinned and leaving the undocumented Irish immigrants here in the Northeast alone? The “insanity we have seen since the election”? Let’s talk about voting rights and voter suppression, which is all about keeping people of color from voting. Community organizing? Let’s talk about how white organizers get paid but organizers of color are expected to organize for free. And that when they try to get paid, they are called everything but a child of God.

I’m done with white fragility today. More later, I think.

*–if you don’t know what I mean when I say my mother picked, email me. I’ll tell you.

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.

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]

What Black People Were Told Today–Holy Innocents Day (#BlackLivesMatter)

Just a few minutes ago, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty announced the Grand Jury’s no-true-bill in the case of Tamir Rice.

Today is also Holy Innocents Day on the liturgical calendar.

Well…black America got told again today…you are NEVER innocent.

Zora Neale Hurston said, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”

Black people are being killed by agents of the state at an alarming rate. And time and again we are told that it is our own fault; that we are never worthy of protection under the law. We are never holy innocents.

So listen up my liberal religious friends. Do NOT talk about “now is the time to heal.” Do NOT weep white tears and tell black people that you are just heartbroken by all of this. Just don’t.

13 months ago Tamir Rice was minding his own business playing in a park. But, because he was black, he is now dead. And the state took his life away then turned around and said that nobody was responsible.

What a message for Holy Innocents Day.

Stop Saying “the arc of the universe bends towards justice” (#BlackLivesMatter)

So, tonight, the grand jury looking into the Sandra Bland case has decided that there will be no major charges against  anybody who works for the jail. (there are still some minor charges they are looking at) That is just the latest display in the showing of how much black lives don’t matter.

UUs and other social justice activists love to say the MLK Jr. bastardization of Theodore Parker’s quote, “the arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.” I am going to make a simple request…STOP!

For the longest time I have made the caveat when I make this request, “unless you are going to do the full, original Parker quote, don’t say it,” but as of tonight, that caveat no longer holds. Really, I beg of you, just don’t say it.

It has now become just another meaningless platitude said to those who are oppressed to get them to continue taking it in the chin in the vain hope that, in the end, something resembling justice might appear. It is said not to actually move things forward, but to make the person saying it feel better.  It’s time to stop.

Sandra Bland should be alive today. She should be working at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M. She should be thinking about how she was going to get home to Chicago for Christmas.

Do not tell me that the arc of the universe bends towards justice. It might for some. But it hasn’t for Sandra Bland. Or Tamir Rice (nearing 400 days and still nothing). Or the 5 women who Daniel Holtzclaw raped and brutalized (how many of you know about that case?) but don’t seem to have been believed. Or Rekia Boyd. Or the lead poisoned children of Flint, Michigan. The arc of the universe might bend towards  justice for some. But it hasn’t for them and so many others; too many to name.

So until black lives matter, stop saying that the arc of the universe bends towards justice. Until then, those are empty words, meaning nothing.

When You’re The Only Black Person In A UU Church And The Topic Of The Day Is #BlackLivesMatter

So…I’m in one of the cities that I frequently come to. And when I’m in town, I go to one particular UU church. Yesterday was no different.

I had no idea what the sermon was going to be about when I walked in the door. This has its good and bad points.

The first thing I noticed when I looked at the Order of Service was that all the music is by black musicians/composers. And I know all but one. Bright spot!

Then I see that the reading for the day is by Ta-Nehisi Coates. As a member of the Horde, TNC always works for me.

Then comes that awkward moment when, looking around the sanctuary as the service starts, you notice that you are the only black person in the room (and one of four people of color in the room). And the subject for the sermon is going to be about #BlackLivesMatter. Well…………..

The sermon was ok. Not great, not bad. Ok. But I’ve come to realize, in the past year-and-a-half, that there aren’t that many UU ministers I could really trust with a sermon about race. I can count them on both my hands and have a few fingers leftover.

Anyway….what struck me was what happened after the service. Aside from the sideways looks (the ones that made me want to scream “No, I didn’t come today because the subject was Black Lives Matter”), it was the people who acted like they had never seen me in the congregation before. I’ve been roundabout this congregation for 10+ years, so unless they showed up in the congregation since my last trip here a few months ago, they’ve seen my face. I am not a new entity here. And yet. And yet.

There were a group of us sitting around during coffee hour talking. I think a couple of people joined us because two of the people in this small group were people of color and thought we were talking about the sermon. We mentioned it in passing, but the majority of our conversation was about the area where I went to graduate school and where I did my internship. And when we made our move to not join in the discussion group that was going to talk about the sermon, people seemed to be really put out by the fact that we weren’t staying.

Something is going on in UU churches, and I’m not sure congregations are ready for it. And people of color are going to be hurt in the process.

How are UU congregations supporting people of color in their midst during this time of learning for the majority of white UUs?

(yes, I know the question has been asked before, but it continues to bear repeating)

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?