Strange Fruit…or, Why We Are Still Having To Deal With Blackface

Anthony Pinn wrote, “Black bodies are complex signs that represent something both appealing and repulsive for the society in which we dwell.”

The beginning of Black History Month has been a doozy, I tell ya.

If you have followed this blog for any time at all you will know that I stand firm in my belief that the South won the Civil War, even though the North won the military engagement. This past week shows why.

The week starts out with Jussie Smollett, one of the stars of Empire, surviving a racist and homophobic attack that involved a hood, a noose, and bleach.

The week ended with pictures of Virginia governor Ralph Northam in his medical school yearbook either in blackface or in a Klan robe and hood. (if you don’t think he is one of those men in that picture, I have swamp land in Arizona to sell you)  And yesterday, Gov. Northam said that he wasn’t in the picture BUT he did go blackface a little later in the year in a Michael Jackson imitation contest. He also said that he knew the problems with using shoe polish to do the blackface. (did you catch that?)

I’ve been meditating on Dr. Pinn’s quote a lot this week. Because the U.S. still doesn’t know how to deal with Black/black bodies. The need to control/mimic Black/black bodies is a constant.

This is the strange fruit of the United States.

Every few hours/days/weeks/months some outrageously racist action takes over the news cycle. And those of us who know the history of racism in this country have to point out that there is nothing new in any of these actions. Those who have been in denial act as if it is surprising that none of this is new. The cycle repeats.

And all of this keeps us from having the real discussion about racist policy and practice. Don’t misunderstand me, the racist actions need to be talked about. However, until we get to the harder conversation about policy and practice, little will change.

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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.

Don’t Front…..You Send Your Children To A “Segregation Academy” Too

…..you just use different words to describe it.

It’s Election Day in Mississippi today. And a lot of people outside of Mississippi are caught up in the news of Cindy Hyde-Smith. First, there’s the video where she talks about sitting front row at a public hanging. Then there’s the tape of her talking about how things would be better if the vote of certain students could be suppressed (for those of you who don’t know which students she was talking about, she was talking about students at Jackson State and Alcorn State–historically Black colleges). Finally came the news that not only had Hyde-Smith attended a segregation academy, but that she sent her daughter to one as well.

It is the reaction to the last one that bothers me. (the reaction to the other two just exasperate me). Why, you ask?

Because most white children go to segregation academies, whether they are formal or informal. Public or private.

New York City has the most segregated schools in the nation. Not Mississippi.

Of the top 10 most segregated school systems in the country, at least 7 of them are in the North.

So, before you decide to form words to condemn Cindy Hyde-Smith and her segregation academy experience, look at the schools YOUR children go to. I can almost guarantee, they aren’t much different.

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

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

Black Panther and the War on Black Children

Pay attention to the part where the mother (with her son) is talking about what Black Panther really means. Yes, it makes me cry.

It was reported yesterday in the New York Times and other places about a study done by the “Equality of Opportunity Project” that Black male children (and Indigenous male children too) of rich families have a greater chance of being in poverty as adults than white or Asian male children. The executive summary states it this way:

Growing up in a high-income family provides no insulation from these disparities. American Indian and black children have much higher rates of downward mobility than other groups. Black children born to parents in the top income quintile are almost as likely to fall to the bottom quintile as they are to remain in the top quintile. By contrast, white children born in the top quintile are nearly five times as likely to stay there as they are to fall to the bottom.
Two things…..first, this study is specifically about Black (and Indigenous) boys. Second, this is specific about income; there is a difference between income and wealth. And the difference between income and wealth can, in large measure, explain why there looks to be such inequality between Black/Indigenous boys and white boys while at the same time not showing this type of inequality between Black girls and white girls.
What this study shows is how important, culturally, Black Panther really is.
Wakanda is not real. Unfortunately.
If Wakanda were real, then Black children wouldn’t be under constant assault from the society around them.
If Wakanda were real, then Black children would be seen as children and valued as such.
If Wakanda were real, then Black parents wouldn’t have to worry about what’s going to happen to their child in the outside world when that child grows up.
If Wakanda were real…..
What really gets me about the video above is not just the mother and what she says. What brings the tears to my eyes is the son’s total awe at being in the presence of Chadwick Boseman. Representation matters my friends. That boy’s wonder and awe matters.
#WakandaForever

The Exodus Should Not Be Quiet…Whether It’s Out of White Evangelicalism or Unitarian Universalism

I will write more about this after next week, but wanted to give some initial thoughts here.

In today’s New York Times there is an in-depth article exploring the exodus of African Americans from heavily white, but integrated, evangelical churches.

Since in the subtitle of the article mentions the word exodus, it’s got me thinking about the Exodus story.

For those of you familiar with the story, you know  Moses gave Pharaoh a number of chances to change the situation. Moses warned Pharaoh about what would happen if things didn’t change. The situation did not change.

African Americans–like Moses, whether in predominately white evangelical churches or liberal/progressive churches, have been giving Pharaoh a number of chances to change how their religious institutions work. African Americans–like Moses–have been telling Pharaoh what would happen if things didn’t change in these religious institutions.

The question is will Pharaoh be any different this time than the last time?

“Don’t tell me what’s possible. Tell me the truth.”…One Thing Wakanda Has To Tell Unitarian Universalism

There are so many things that Wakanda could tell Unitarian Universalism. This post will talk about one.

For those of you who’ve seen “Black Panther”, you will know that the title of this post comes from a conversation between T’Challa and Zuri. “Don’t tell me what’s possible. Tell me the truth.”

I’ve been thinking about denial in Unitarian Universalism lately; both active denial and passive denial.

Since the latest iteration of the racial justice problems in Unitarian Universalism became public almost a year ago, many UUs of color have been telling their stories of how white supremacy shows itself in UU congregations and other UU institutions. Yet, when presented with these stories, many white UUs have flatly denied or tried to rationalize what UUs of color experience.

UU religious professionals of color are STILL being pushed out of jobs and white parishioners are covering their eyes and saying that they “need to speak with one voice”.

UUs of color are getting told they are “too confrontational” when reading a piece of a work written by a person of color during a worship service.
******

White UUs want badly to believe certain things about their congregations. They want to believe in the “what’s possible.”

UUs of color are telling the truth of what is actually going on in UU congregations.

When the Commission on Institutional Change issues a more detailed report, how are white UUs going to handle it? Are they going to keep being in denial (the “what’s possible”)? Or will they listen to the truth?

I may write more on what I think Wakanda has to tell Unitarian Universalism, but I need to see it again before I make up my mind.

#WakandaForever