Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child (Thoughts on Black Maternity)

At the end of 2017, I did a series of posts about the Black maternal mortality rate. With the CDC’s releasing new numbers about the U.S. maternal mortality rate, it seems like a good time to revisit the subject.

According to the CDC, the maternal mortality rate for white women is 12.5 per 100,000 births.

For Black women, the maternal mortality rate is 42.8 per 100,000 births.  That’s three-and-a-half times higher. This is not a new phenomenon; the disparity has been known about for almost four decades.

Now…the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate of all the OECD countries, regardless of race. Also, the U.S. is the only OECD country where the maternal mortality rate is going up. But the Black maternal mortality rate is on par with many countries that are classified as “developing.”

What would it look like if the lives of pregnant Black people were taken seriously? Or if the country treated this as the healthcare crisis it actually is? (yes…I know about the two bills in Congress. you know what I mean.)

Mother’s Day is hard for a lot of people. And many preachers stumble over what to say from the pulpit on the day. If I may make a suggestion it would be to focus on this. There is no reason for the church to be silent in the face of people dying from things that, at least the data says, should be preventable. For those of us who are scripture-based, maternal mortality is a shadow throughout many of the stories of children and inheritance. For those who are less scripture-based, there are many stories of death in pregnancy/childbirth/post-partum that could be explored.

I can’t convey in words how important this is to me. Yet I know I will write about it again.

 

(to read more about the new CDC numbers, you can go here. for info about the two bills in Congress, you can go here. general info is here.)

 

 

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You Can’t Hit A Straight Lick With A Crooked Stick

For those of you who only know me through this blog or post-college, it might surprise you to know that I came to religion late. Don’t misunderstand, I grew up in the church. I love the church (and that is why I critique it so passionately). But I came to the academic study of religion later. And I came to it because I wanted to reconcile some things.

My life before the study of religion was in political science and sociology. (and yes, that has served me well in studying religion and theology). So the last few weeks have been interesting. And the political scientist in me has been sitting back and biting my tongue. Then yesterday happened.

Yesterday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren presented a proposal to address the student debt crisis (I am neither praising nor condemning the proposal, it is the reaction to the proposal that is intriguing to my mind). A part of the proposal that hasn’t been talked about as much, but I think is the much more interesting part of the proposal politically, is the fund for HBCUs and MSIs. This is where political science comes in.

Sidebar: the United States is the most conservative OECD country by every measure. (you will see why I give you this sidebar in a moment)

Political psychology research shows that white people, regardless of level of education/ income/socioeconomic class, become MORE conservative about social welfare policy/programs when/if they believe that people of color, PARTICULARLY BLACK PEOPLE, may in some way benefit from said policy/program. You can see this throughout Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction U.S. history.

Now…let’s apply this to Sen. Warren’s HBUC/MSI fund proposal.

In a society that becomes more conservative about social welfare policy/programs when the majority thinks that a certain group in the minority may gain anything, what does it do for proposals like Sen. Warren’s HBCU/MSI fund? Would this even be politically feasible in the United States?

As I said in the sidebar, the U.S. is the most conservative of the OECD countries by any measure. A good deal of that conservatism can be explained by how much Calvinism plays a role in U.S. politics. But it doesn’t explain it all.

Race and racism warp the U.S political imagination, just as they warp the theological imagination. That warped thinking limits what we see as possible.

I don’t know what will change this. It would take something radical.

His Name Is NOT “Killmonger” (Thoughts on Names and Naming)

With the Oscars happening two days ago, there has been an increase in thought pieces about the movies that nominated for Best Picture*.

Because I’m always looking at what people are saying about Black Panther, it seems to be a good time to point out something that continues to occur.

Many pieces, when they talk about the anti-hero of the film, call him “Erik Killmonger” or just “Killmonger”. I HATE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The anti-hero of Black Panther has a name. His name, the one his mother gave him, is Erik Stevens. The name his father gave him is N’Jadaka. In talking about him, it is important to note that.

Killmonger is Erik Stevens’ colonizer nickname. It’s important to point that out too. Because that nickname means something, and it is nothing good.

But this points to a larger issue. In these last days of Black History Month, it is a good time to think about the history of misnaming people of African descent. Or not giving Black people the honorifics that they have earned.

If I weren’t writing a different essay for the book on theology and Black Panther, I would write about the theology of naming. Partly because talking about naming would allow me to use part of my favorite story in Hebrew Scripture; Hagar naming G-d in Genesis 16. But also because I think it is important to look at how some names catch on and others don’t. And finally because I think this would allow for a broader discussion on the power of names and who gets to name.

Talking about names and naming also allows for a broader discussion of transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people and the issues they face in living into their true selves.

I might preach on this soon. And I will write about it; after I finish the essay for the book.

 

*—in case you didn’t know it, “Green Book” is a lie.

 

One More Thing…..(Don’t Preach King On King Sunday pt.2)

Dr. King’s birthday was yesterday. He would have been 90.

On Monday there is the national holiday to honor him. But in some states, Dr. King doesn’t get the day to himself. Because in those states, Dr. King shares the day with Robert E. Lee.  Let me repeat that so you understand.

On January 20, 2019, in some states, Dr. Martin Luther King has to share the day with Robert E. Lee.

And people wonder why “race relations” are the way they are.

If you know me in real life (or if you’ve read this blog long enough), you know that history is my thing. I truly believe Faulkner was right when he said, “the past is not dead. it isn’t even past.”

Part of the reason the United States is in the position it’s in is because too many people want to believe that our past is dead. Or, more precisely, that our past isn’t our past. That white supremacy is not a feature of our system, but just a bug.

So…if my last list of suggestions for things to preach this Sunday didn’t do anything for you, I have another idea for you.

This year, instead of preaching King, do a sermon that juxtaposes the two Kings: Dr. King and Rep. Steve King from Iowa. And your reading assignment is the last chapter of W.E.B. Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction in America, “The Propaganda of History”. Here’s a piece from near the end…..

…..In order to paint the South as a martyr to inescapable fate, to make the North the magnanimous emancipator, and to ridicule the Negro as the impossible joke in the whole development, we have in fifty years, by libel, innuendo and silence, so completely misstated and obliterated the history of the Negro in America and his relation to its work and government that today it is almost unknown.
     This may be fine romance, but it is not science. It may be inspiring, but it is certainly not the truth. And beyond this it is dangerous. It is not only part foundation of four present lawlessness and loss of democratic ideals; it has, more than that, led the world to embrace and worship the color bar as social salvation and it is helping to range mankind in ranks of mutual hatred and contempt, as the summons of a cheap and false myth.

There are statutes honoring Confederates all over the country, including Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. There are U.S. military bases named after Confederate generals. And a sizable portion of the U.S. white population believes that slavery (the expansion of it to be more correct) was not the cause of the Civil War.

So look here, white minister friends. There are so many things you can preach about Sunday. Please, as a favor to everybody, do not do the same tired thing and preach the palatable King.

Don’t Preach King On King Sunday

King Sunday is rapidly approaching, hence I need to ask white ministers to do something that would seem counterintuitive.

Don’t preach about Martin Luther King Jr.

Instead of preaching ABOUT King, preach about the things King would have preached about; the American Empire. Preach about the multi-headed hydra of materialism, racism, and militarism.

Or you could preach about Jazmine Barnes, the 7-yr-old who was killed while sitting in her mother’s car by a white man in a truck. and connect her to the 16th St Baptist Church bombing victims or Emmett Till.  (you can find info about Jazmine’s murder here, or here) There is even news that this may not be the first time this murderer has struck.

Or you could preach about Cyntoia Brown and how she is still in prison.

Preach about the children who have died at the hands of Homeland Security in the last month.

Preach about the U.S. government’s support of Brazil’s new President; who has promised to strip away the rights of Indigenous Brazilians and other marginalized groups there.

If the shutdown is still going on, you could preach about that.

If you’re determined to preach about a person, pick somebody that most in your congregation have never heard of. It could be one of the many women who sustained the Civil Rights movements. It could be one of the men from the generation that King learned from.

You could preach on the fact that 2019 is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in a British colony in North America.  Or you could preach about the 100th anniversary of the Red Summer of 1919. [if you’ve never heard of the Red Summer, you can start here at the Wikipedia page.] Talking about Red Summer would also allow you to talk about the fact that anti-lynching legislation JUST passed in the Senate LAST MONTH.

And if you are just determined to preach King (because I know some of you are just hard-headed), here again are some rules you should follow:

1. Before doing anything else, read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (you can find it here)

2. Do NOT use the “I Have a Dream” speech. I repeat, do NOT use “I Have a Dream”.

3. If you are going to use a King speech, it must be post-1965.

4. Understand that King understood that there is both personal sin and collective/systemic sin. If you are not comfortable saying the word “sin”, do NOT use King. King believed in sin.

5. Read “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” and “Why We Can’t Wait”

These are serious times. If you are going to preach King, please preach him responsibly.

First Meditation On Forgiveness (Of Our Spiritual Strivings pt.2)

I have been a Universalist all of my life. I was a Universalist before I knew the word “universalism” existed. I think it’s important to point this out because this post is about forgiveness.

I am also a brooder. It’s important to point that out too. So I’ll start with the most recent thing I’ve been brooding over first.

On Tuesday, Megan Kelly asked why a white person going around in blackface was racist. Ah, blackface. Welcome back into the national conversation again, old friend.

Yesterday morning, Kelly apologized for her comments. (no, I did not watch)

Apology not accepted. At least, not by me.

Two weeks ago tomorrow, UUA Board Secretary Christina Rivera and her child were sent a nasty, violent letter while they were here in Boston for meetings. Far as I know, the person who didn’t have enough courage of their convictions to sign their name to their vitriol hasn’t apologized or asked for forgiveness.

And, I hope that Christina and her family don’t forgive this person.

Some things are not forgivable.

Too often, wronged people are pushed to forgive things said or done quickly. Before they’ve even had time to process what has happened. [think about how quick the families of the Charleston 9 were asked if they forgave Dylann Roof] And yet, the person who does the wrong is seldom asked if they have repented. Because pushing for people to forgive regardless of whether or not the person who committed the wrong has repented is the very definition of cheap grace.

And I haven’t even gotten into the power dynamics of forgiveness. That will happen in another post.

Part of the reason I am a Universalist is that I believe in the power of forgiveness. But forgiveness takes time. And it takes repentance. They go hand-in-hand.

There is more I want to say, but it’s scrambled in my head, so I’ll end here for now.

 

Of Our Spiritual Strivings

I’ve been re-reading UUA President Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray’s letter which was published on her Facebook page Saturday night. (Actually I’ve read it a few times, because I read a paragraph and stop then read the next paragraph and stop)  I’m still trying to wrap my head around the whole situation. But it got me thinking about something that happened a couple of weeks ago.

At the end of the first day of the Commission on Institutional Change convening, we were asked to think about what kind of Unitarian Universalism we wanted. I still stand by my original answer (those who were there hopefully remember what I said), but I feel the need to expand it some. And, in order to do that, I need to quote Du Bois.

The first essay in Souls of Black Folk is titled “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” and begins with:

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.

So…to expand on my answer at the convening…I want a Unitarian Universalism that doesn’t see people of color as a problem. Because that is what the person who wrote the hate-filled letter sees us as.

What would it mean for Unitarian Universalism for people of color to be able to bring their full selves into this?

What would it mean for Unitarian Universalism to actually lean into a liberatory theology?

Unitarian Universalists have a choice to make. Choose wisely.

Dying Young

In all of the hubbub of the upcoming release of Omarosa’s book, the news of another Ferguson protestor dying on Friday didn’t make it into the zeitgeist.

His name is Allen Frazier and he leaves behind a wife and 4 children.

Before getting thrown into the Black Panther/Wakanda vortex, I was doing research into continuing trauma. The statistics are real; African Americans have a shorter life expectancy and higher rates of preventable deaths than any other group (along with Indigenous peoples).

In other words…..we die young. Racism kills.

There are theological implications to knowing that an entire system sets about creating conditions which will kill you and those you love. One of these days, I’ll get back to researching that.

But, even more, there’s something going on in St. Louis. The struggle here is killing people at an alarming rate. So, if you know somebody who’s doing the work in StL, check in with them.

And while I have you here, if you would think about chipping in a few dollars so that Allen’s family can bury him and cover a few bills, here’s the GoFundMe that’s been established: https://www.gofundme.com/v3z357-home-going

Having to Leave Your Blackness at the Church House Door

I’m part of the planning for some upcoming worship services. And during our planning meeting today, one of the other people involved asked (rhetorically), “how Black am I allowed to be in UUism?”

I hadn’t put it in those exact words recently, but it’s a question worth considering.

UUism asks people of color to play respectability politics all the time. There’s only so much of one’s person of color-ness that one is allowed to bring in to the church house, no matter what other marginalized identity that the person of color might carry.

So the question is…how much can UU culture change so that people of color can bring their full selves through the church house door?

In Wakanda, Stephon Clark Would Still Be Alive

I’ve been trying to come up with the words to express how I feel about the most recent state-agent killing of a Black person; Stephon Clark was killed by Sacramento police this week in his own backyard.

What I keep coming back to is…Stephon would be alive if Wakanda were real.

I know many of you are probably tired of hearing/reading me talk about Wakanda. But it is so lovely there. And it highlights how far from it we are in the “real world.”

Stephon Clark is dead because police mistook him for a man who was vandalising cars. Let me repeat that…..

Stephon Clark is dead because police mistook him for a man who was vandalising cars.

Sit with that.

A black man is DEAD over an alleged minor property crime.  (one that he was not committing, by the way)

Let’s look at the other major issue…..

Stephon Clark was shot in HIS OWN BACKYARD.

And another issue…..

Police interviewed Stephon’s grandmother BEFORE they told her that her grandson was dead.

Next issue…..

Police lied about the entire situation and only told the truth after video was released.

This is the real world.

Wakanda would be different.

Stephon Clark would be alive if Wakanda were real.

In Wakanda were real…..

Mike Brown would be alive.

Tamir Rice would be alive.

Eric Garner would be alive.

Sandra Bland would be alive.

Rekia Boyd would be alive.

Aiyanna Stanley-Jones would be alive.

In Wakanda, all the people would be alive because in Wakanda…black lives matter.

#WakandaForever