These Things Wouldn’t Happen If You Just Listened To Black Women

I’ve gotten to talk to the bestest friend a couple of times over the past few days. And since bestest friend is also a UU of color, part of our conversation was about the Atlanta survey.

In all the go-around involving the survey, what’s been forgotten/lost is that this wouldn’t have become a UU social media topic if the woman of color (a member of UUCA) who originally pointed this out had been listened to in the first place.

So many issues, both in the UUA/its member congregations and outside of it, would be looked at differently if the general society just listened to Black women and other women of color.

Intersectionality is real. And things will not change–in the UUA/its member congregations and in the outside world–until those who are at the intersections are fully heard and acknowledged.

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.

If You Just Change The Key, It’s Still The Same Old Song

If you’ve listened to Mark Morrison-Reed’s Minns Lecture, or read “Black Pioneers in a White Denomination”, then you know about the survey (questions were asked about various aspects of worship and spiritual life) that was done in 1989 for the Commission on Appraisal. There are some striking differences in the responses.

When asked what they saw as the very important aspects of worship, white UUs chose “intellectual stimulation” and “fellowship” as their top two (at 74% and 65%, respectively). African American UUs, however, chose “celebrating common values” and “hope” as their top 2 (at 69% and 60%, respectively). Now, “fellowship”  is the third highest aspect for African American survey respondents (at 56%), and “celebrating common values” is the third highest for white survey respondents (at 60%), but if one looks at the entirety of the results, there is a noticeable difference.

The rest of the top five very important aspects for white UUs were “personal reflection” (53%) and “group experience of participation” (44%). The rest of the top five very important aspects for African American UUs were “music” (50%) and “intellectual stimulation” (47%).

When I was first thinking about this post, I thought it would be another one in my maybe-series about worship. While I will probably write about worship specifically later (the ten percentage point differences in the “music” and “personal reflection” answers deserves a post of their own), the survey  answers to the worship question point to a much larger thought.

We go to church for different reasons.

Let’s sit with that for a moment.

If white UUs are looking for intellectual stimulation and fellowship primarily when looking for a congregation, yet African Americans are looking for a celebration of common values and a place that gives hope when looking for a congregation; what does that mean when creating a space/place that is inviting to all?

So here are the questions…..

Why do you go to church? [and, by extension, why did you choose the congregation you chose]

What does the “beloved community” look like when what we are seeking are different things when we gather?

 

*the survey in 1989 only broke the answers down by white and black respondents. if the survey were being done now, I’m certain that the racial/ethnic breakdown would be more expansive.

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.

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.

Playing Mammie to Miss Scarlett (POC, White Fragility, and Unitarian Universalism)

I’m probably going to shock you with what I’m fixin’ to say.

My favorite movie is Gone With the Wind.

You must understand…I can deconstruct that movie backwards and forwards with the best of them. This does not change the fact that Gone With the Wind is my favorite movie.

What does this have to do with Unitarian Universalism? (I’m getting there, don’t rush me)

Bro. Jimmy wrote in Notes of a Native Son, “We have to make ourselves blank in order to wash away your guilt.”

Now…to Mammie and Miss Scarlett.

As a black woman, for most of my adult life there’s this character I have been expected to play. I am expected to play Mammie. By Mammie I mean that I am expected to take care of white people (Miss Scarlett) in any situation; especially if the situation involves black women and white women. And it is really present in liberal circles. This expectation is exacerbated by the fact that I am a fat black woman. I cannot speak for all black women [nor would I even if I could], but I think my experience mirrors that of a lot of black women.

Unitarian Universalism is on the precipice of having some difficult conversations. MAYBE. (the possibility/probability of y’all flaking out is real)

What I worry about is that you, my white liberal friends, are going to go Miss Scarlett in the extreme and expect people of color to play Mammie to you to our emotional and spiritual detriment.

White fragility is real. It has been showing itself in this current UUA kerfuffle. And all too often people of color have to “make ourselves blank” in order to alleviate white people’s fear.

So…here’s the question…what’s going to happen in Unitarian Universalism when people of color don’t play Mammie to white people’s Miss Scarlett?

 

 

 

 

*–if you are one of my white woman friends and you are worried that I’m talking about you, the fact that you are worried means that it’s not you. the women who have done, and will continue to do, this, aren’t even concerned. they will continue to be oblivious.

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]

UUs…We Don’t Need Another “National Conversation On Race”

So the Commission on Social Witness announced that one of the four proposed Congregational Study/Action Issues that will be voted on at General Assembly in June is “A National Conversation On Race”.

oh Sweet Creole Jesus! Not again!

Listen up my white liberal friends. America needs another “national conversation on race” about as much as the country needs to start another military conflict in the Near East. What America needs to have is a conversation about WHITE SUPREMACY.

American religious groups (including liberal ones, and especially Unitarianism and Universalism) need to have a conversation about how they, for most of their history in this country, have propped up WHITE SUPREMACY. American religious groups need to have a conversation about how they going to use their theologies in order to dismantle WHITE SUPREMACY.

Having a “national conversation on race” continues to place the onus of change on those have been oppressed by state power and does nothing about the system of WHITE SUPREMACY that will stay in place after that national conversation is over.

One last thing….please, for the love of God and all that is holy, do not post comments/email me/call me/text me/etc. saying that race is more than black and white or that race is a social construct. I am so done with that white liberal/progressive bullsh*t that I don’t know how to tell you how tired of it I am.  So just don’t.