The Kids Are Not Alright (Charlottesville #3)

I need you to do some reflection, my white liberal friends.

How many of you, in your heart of hearts, believe that the Civil War was fought over state’s rights?

How many of you, in your heart of hearts, believe that slavery was dying out at the time the Civil War started?

How many of you, in your heart of hearts, believe that slavery was an inefficient economic system?

How many of you, in your heart of hearts, believe that the Civil War could have been avoided?

How many of you, in your heart of hearts, believe that there were Black Confederates?

In all the discussion around Charlottesville and its aftermath, one of the things that comes through crystal clear is that even most white liberals and progressives don’t see a problem with Confederate statues because you believe many of the myths about U.S. chattel slavery.

Don’t believe me?

How many of you complained when you saw that your child’s (those of you who have children) history/social studies book described enslaved people as “workers” or “immigrants”? Or said anything about the absence of any mention of Reconstruction and the reign of terror that was visited upon African Americans after the Civil War?

or explain why Gov. Cuomo is getting congratulated for this…..

and yet nobody seems to be asking why were Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson in the CUNY hall of great Americans in the first damn place?

The kids are not alright, my friends. They are getting taught the same white supremacist nonsense that you were taught. And this is why we are STILL debating the validity of CONFEDERATE statues being anywhere.

The kids are not alright, my friends, because you are not alright.

Charlottesville Is Why White People Need To Read A Book (or, the Violence of “This Is Not Us”)

I was cursed at birth. My birthday is February 12. So that means I share a birthday with Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. So I was destined to be bitten by the history bug.

Charlottesville.

If you were on social media yesterday, or listened to the news, then you heard/saw a common refrain…..”This is not us.”

Let me tell you something, white people…..

THIS IS US.

THIS HAS ALWAYS BEEN US.

And since nobody answered the questions of the quiz I posted a couple of weeks ago, I get to ask them again.

1.  What do I mean when I use the word “redemption”?
(if you think I am talking about the theological term, stop here. You have failed the test.)

2.  Who is Ben Tillman?

3.  What is important about Colfax, Louisiana?

4.  Who are Jefferson P. Long and Robert Smalls?

5.  What did the Civil Rights Cases of 1883 say?

6.  What happened in Memphis May 1-3, 1866?

White people saying “this is not us” is violence. Because this is us. These things have been happening to Black people in this country for time immemorial. Black people have been trying to get white people to understand this for time immemorial.

There were white people surrounding a black church with torches on Friday night.  This is not new.

Clergy were attacked while peacefully standing vigil yesterday. This is not new.

People died yesterday because of the actions of white supremacists. This is not new.

So, white people, I need you to read a book. Start with W.E.B. Du Bois’ “Black Reconstruction in America”. Because you perpetuate violence when you say, “this is not us,” when U.S. history is nothing but this.

more later.

Mercy Mercy Me, Things Ain’t What They Used To Be pt.2

ok…quiz time (and we’re going on the honor system that you aren’t Googling the answers)

1.  What do I mean when I use the word “redemption”?
(if you think I am talking about the theological term, stop here. You have failed the test.)

2.  Who is Ben Tillman?

3.  What is important about Colfax, Louisiana?

4.  Who are Jefferson P. Long and Robert Smalls?

5.  What did the Civil Rights Cases of 1883 say?

6.  What happened in Memphis May 1-3, 1866?

So…HBO has green-lit “Confederate”, a show from the Executive Producers of “Game of Thrones”. The press release about it says the show takes place “in an alternate timeline, where the southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution.” This concerns me.

1.  Chattel slavery in the U.S. was never not modern. All one has to do is read Edward Baptist’s “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” to understand how modern chattel slavery was.

2.  This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the 13th Amendment. Slavery is still legal in the United States.

3.  There is no “United States” if the Confederates won/were allowed to secede. There would be two different countries; the Confederate States of America and whatever the North would have become.

But that’s not all.

In the first interview that the creative team behind the series did (with Vulture), Malcolm Spellman said the following:

This is not a world in which the entire country is enslaved. Slavery is in one half of the country. And the North is the North. As Nichelle was saying, the imagery should be no whips and no plantations.

oh sweet Creole Jesus! There is so much wrong with this statement.

First…it misunderstands the antebellum North. There was slavery in the North until the end of 1865. (as a native of a Border state, slavery didn’t “end” here until December of that year) So if the South is allowed to secede, what becomes of the Border states?

Second…if “the North is the North,” then the North is on the brink of collapse. Because, let’s be very clear about this, THERE IS NO NORTH WITHOUT SLAVERY. American capitalism is built on the backs of black bodies. New York City does not exist without slavery. Harvard and Yale and Brown and all those other colleges that people aspire to send their children to only exist because of the money that slavery brought in–mostly in the form of endowments (and, in the case of Georgetown, the direct sale of slaves owned by the Jesuits). At the time of the beginning of the Civil War, slaves were worth more than every industry in America put together; the only thing more valuable than slaves was the land being worked by slaves.

Third…there will be “no whips and no plantations”? ok…Angola prison in Louisiana is on the land that used to be known as…wait for it…ANGOLA PLANTATION. How are they going to get around that? And as far as “no whips”…whips were not the only method of inflicting punishment/asserting control. Rape was a big thing on plantations (no matter the size); so if there’s going to be no whips, is rape still going to be used? If neither of these are going to be in play, then what methods of non-lethal violence are going to be inflicted on people? It’s going to have to be something whip-like because “we” must keep the property stable enough to work and reproduce. (that is the nature of chattel slavery after all)

Far too many people in the U.S. don’t know the actual history of what happened in the aftermath of the Civil War for this “alternate history” to be anything other than slavery fanfic. It’s obvious that none of the people involved in this project have read any books that deal with slavery/the Civil War/Reconstruction/post-Reconstruction. And, as in most things, ignorance is dangerous.

If HBO had wanted to show something about how slavery is still affecting the U.S., they could have picked up recently-cancelled WGN show “Underground”, which was about the Underground Railroad. Or they could have done special showings of Ava DuVernay’s FABULOUS documentary “13th”; the subject being what the 13th amendment actually says and how it plays out today. They could have funded a documentary about the school-to-prison pipeline. Or made a documentary using Richard Rothstein’s book “The Color of Law,” talking about how policy set up housing segregation. HBO could have done anything but what they did.

They didn’t. And that says something.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Why Do the Baptists Show Up and Liberal Religionists Don’t?…or…This Is Not About Polity (#FergusonOctober)

Elz Curtiss asks me if part of my agitation is polity related. Her point to me was:

It would be helpful to know what you are looking for when you bemoan the anti-racism silence of UU officialdom. The feeling I get is that our lack of a pope or bishops — someone who can stand up and deliver a strong position without fear of push-back — has been mistaken for silence and lack of concern.

And whenever Elz asks me to think about something, I sit with it.

The reason I said that this (timidness on the subject of race) is a thing in liberal religion’s DNA is because this crosses polity lines. The Episcopalians and the Quakers (who are as presbyterian as presbyterian can be) and the Anabaptists-Pietists have the exact same issue. This is not just a congregationalist issue. If this were a congregationalist issue, then the Baptists would have the same issue, or the Disciples; they don’t (at least not as overtly).

However, I do wonder why the President of the UUA can’t stand up on issues of race the same why that he (and eventually, she, ghe/gher) stands up for other things that are self evident like climate change or same-gender loving.

Is saying that there is something about how this country polices black and brown men that dehumanizes them that is controversial? If so, why? How many more black and brown boys/men have to die at the hands of agents of the state before that statement is not controversial?

Or am I asking for too much as a black woman who has a number of black and brown men in her life?

I still believe that there is something in liberal religion’s DNA that makes race something to be avoided.

Why Liberal Religion Will Always Be Behind The 8-Ball On Racial Issues (#FergusonOctober)

There was exactly one person from UUA Headquarters here in St. Louis over the 4 days of Ferguson October. It was not Peter Morales.  In fact, institutional Unitarian Universalism has been almost deathly silent over the events that have happened since July 17th–the day that Eric Garner was chokeholded to death by the NYPD. (one statement a month later–on Michael Brown– and a video shown on Friday evening do not really mean much in the grand scheme of things and doesn’t constitute speaking on the subject) Never mind that there has been no mention from Headquarters about the facts in a report that came out recently which showed how racist BOSTON policing practice is.

Last month I wrote a post on how I thought (and continue to think) that the UUA is haunted by the Black Empowerment Controversy. That however only looks at part of the issue. This post will broaden this out to look at liberal religion (not just Unitarian Universalism) as a group.

Did you know that there are four times as many Quakers in Kenya as there are in the U.S.? Keep that little factoid in mind while I continue.

Those of you who are familiar with 19th-century U.S. religious history know that certain religious groups–mainly the Baptists and Methodists, but the Lutherans and Presbyterians were also in the mix–were very good at founding ethnic congregations. In the case of the Baptists and the Methodists, African Americans created entirely new denominations; that’s why there’s the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A. and all of its offspring along with the A.M.E., A.M.E. Zion, C.M.E. and their offspring.

Homegrown religious groups such as the Restorationists (any church/denomination that comes out of the Stone-Campbell movement), Mormons, New Thought (Christian Science and the like), Spiritualists (while they are new thought, there are differences), Adventists and the like have a mixed history when it comes to minority members and congregations.

But there is one group of religious people who studiously avoided starting ethnic/minority congregations or truly letting in those who didn’t fit a very narrow type; the liberal religionists (or the dissenting end of the dissenting tradition)–the Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Unitarians (and Universalists to a lesser extent), Quakers, Anabaptists and Pietists, and so forth. Yes, I know that there are a smattering of black Episcopal churches and the largest church in the UCC is overwhelmingly black, so don’t write a comment trying to correct me on that. You know what my point is. Yet, if you look at the numbers (with the exception of the UCC and the UUA), all of these denominations have much greater membership in African and Asian countries than they do in the U.S. A big part of the reason for this is that most of these denominations sent missionaries out to those “remote” places around the world in order to “Christianize and civilize the natives.” But there has to be something more.

Why has liberal religion always had a hard time with race and racial issues in this country, yet had no problem going on overseas mission trips to countries where they would be confronted with the very same people they studiously avoided at home? What is it in liberal religion’s DNA that makes this cognitive dissonance possible?

Because until this is resolved, liberal religion is going to be flailing around and being irrelevant.

The “Black Empowerment Controversy” and the Haunting of the UUA (#Ferguson)

If you’ve read this blog any length of time, you know that I am always looking at UU reactions to race and racial issues. My last post posed the question of why African American men have had such a hard time in the UU ministry. This one will look at that question through a new lens (at least for me).

A couple of months back I posited that modern Unitarian Universalism (at least from the aspect of WHERE Unitarian Universalism grew) was, consciously or unconsciously, the result of racial bias based on housing patterns. I will now go further. Modern Unitarian Universalism is haunted when it comes to issues of racial justice. Haunted by the ghosts of the “Black Empowerment Controversy.” No matter what one feels about the “controversy”, I believe that the post-Controversy UUA avoidance of making firmer statements on racial issues (plus taking a long time to make the statements in the first place) and UU congregations fleeing of center cities and inner-ring suburbs is the result of a conservative UU backlash to the events of the time. And this post-Controversy backlash has affected all aspects of UU-dom; from the rough time that so many ministers of color have had in UU congregations to the lackluster support/encouragement of congregations in areas comprised primarily of people of color to the spotty support for youth of color.

But this should really not come as a surprise to me. Because the Controversy was just another instance of Unitarians/Universalists/Unitarian Universalists being uncomfortable with the idea of having people of color in their midst. From the encounter that Rev. William Jackson had with the AUA back in the 1850s (Rev. Dan Harper has written about it) to the harassment of Ethelred Brown and the Harlem Unitarian Society, liberal religion has had a hard time letting itself be spread outside of a select group (it’s had a hard time class-wise too).

However, our cousins in the UCC have many ministers of color and congregations comprised primarily of people of color. So do the Disciples (yes, they are cousins too). So what has impeded Unitarian Universalism?

I guess I am wondering how long the Mike Brown and Ferguson moment will last amongst UUs, UU congregations, and the UUA now that it’s not on our tv screens or written about in our newspapers everyday. Or will this moment be like so many of the recent—and not-so-recent—past and fade away with the next sexy story? Will we see this only as something that is happening outside of our congregations and not look at the way that what is happening outside of our congregations is being played out in our congregations too?

The UUA and UUism is haunted. And nothing will change until we name the ghosts.