It’s The Last Sunday of February. Did Your Congregation Have a Black History Program?

At all? Not specifically today, but at any point during this month?

Were African American Unitarian Universalists mentioned from the pulpit? Any African American Unitarian Universalist history?

Any acknowledgement of Unitarian Universalists of color?

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Getting To Write Your Own Story?…..Priceless (Black Panther, Wakanda, and Unitarian Universalism)

What would Unitarian Universalism look like if people of color were allowed to write the story of it?

One of the reasons that Black Panther and Wakanda are such a phenomenon in many circles is because of the story it tells. The story of a people and a land in Africa that was never touched by the “colonizer” (aka white people and white supremacy).  The story of a people and a land in Africa that was allowed to developed on its own and to keep its resources.

Of course, that’s why Black Panther and Wakanda are fantasy.

The colonizers did come to Africa.

The colonizers did rape and pillage; both the land and the people.

And that is why, dear friends, so many people of color are coming out of the movie saying some form of, “Know what…Killmonger had a point.”

What does this have to do with Unitarian Universalism?

What would it mean to look at Unitarian Universalism as a colonizer religion? How would that change the story that gets told?

What if the story of Unitarian Universalism was told from the perspectives of Killmonger; those who have been left behind or ignored or pushed to the side?

What would the story of Unitarian Universalism be if people of color got to tell their stories without fear?

As St. Paul says, “think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

#WakandaForever

But Some Of Us Are Brave…..or, It Was The Women

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.

 

Black Theology Saved The World Once, And It Can Do It Again

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.

“When You Deny Black People Their Humanity, All Things Are Possible”

Story time…

On my father’s side, the family is from Mississippi. (both of my grandparents were born there)  Yet, if asked, my father will tell you that he never set foot in the state of Mississippi until he was 40. Here’s why…
My grandmother had been planning to send her five oldest children to Mississippi to visit the relatives. She had been planning this for months. The plan was that my father and his four siblings would go for the week before school started the day after Labor Day. The trip never happened.
Why, you ask?
Because on August 28, 1955, Emmett Till was lynched in Money, Mississippi; just a couple of days before the Hampton children were supposed to go to Mississippi. As my father recalls it, my grandmother said upon hearing the news and cancelling the trip, “No. If anybody’s going to kill mine, it’s going to be me.” So neither my father nor any of his siblings ever visited Mississippi until they were grown.

Why tell this story?

On August 28,2017 (the 62nd anniversary of Emmett Till’s lynching) an 8-year-old black child was nearly lynched in Claremont, New Hampshire. (please, do not come at me that the child was biracial. while true, the child was not put in a noose and thrown off a table because they had a white parent; it happened because they had a black parent)

Claremont, New Hampshire. Pretty far away from Money, Mississippi. Yet the action was the same. The only difference is in Claremont, the victim is still alive.

I’m tired. I’m so tired.

Tired of writing about situations that should not happen and yet know that they will continue to happen because they happen to black people.

Tired of asking how liberal religion is speaking to the situation on the ground.

Tired of knowing that, for the majority of my co-religionists, things are going just skippy in their world. And they see no need for things to change.

Tired of seeing white tears but no white action.

Tired of being asked, through those same white tears, “What can I do?”, and knowing that I (and many others) have BEEN telling people who want to do the work what to do.

I’m tired.

Yet I do have an ask.

The young man who was nearly lynched in Claremont is going to need YEARS of therapy. Not only that, the family is going to need therapy and support too.

the ask

UUs in northern New England (upper Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine) should give money to the GoFundMe account that has been set up to help this child and their family. Give. Give generously. (UUs from other areas can give too, but this is in northern New England’s backyard)

the ask–part 2

Every UU congregation within 50 miles of Claremont should get together and have a rally and a White Supremacy Teach-In for the broader community. It does not have to be in Claremont, but it should be close.

Most of you have probably seen this picture before. It hung outside the NAACP’s national headquarters in New York from 1920 thru 1938. That it still needs to hang 97 years from when it first appeared……

An 8-year-old black child was nearly lynched on August 28.

“When You Deny Black People Their Humanity, All Things Are Possible.”

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.