The Care and Feeding of Black Children’s Souls pt.4

As I’ve said before, some of my favorite people in Unitarian Universalism are religious educators. So I think about them when I read stories about children; children of color in particular.

If you follow me on Facebook, you can see I recently posted a series of articles about racist things happening in schools. (You can read the stories here, here, here, and here). And in one case, how the racist action is being completely denied.

I think we need to face a fundamental truth, liberal friends; children are not as innocent as the liberal church wants to believe. This does not mean they are “totally depraved” in the Calvinist sense, but they are also not the “blank slates” talked about in philosophy—just not innocent.

So what does that mean for liberal religious education? How do majority white churches help children of color heal and become resilient in the face of the ongoing trauma they will encounter in the rest of their life (and, if we’re really going to be honest, in their church life too)?   What is liberal religious education in the face of continuing trauma? How do we support religious educators of color who are also dealing with continuing trauma? [I could ask the same question for religious professionals of color in general, but I think religious educators are in a unique position]

What does trauma ministry look like in places of continuing trauma? I am not criticising the work of the UU Trauma Response Ministry–they are wonderful people who do important and necessary crisis support/ministry work; this is a different question. We are seeing news stories almost everyday of children of color in communities around the country being in situations where they will face trauma over and over again.
So what does ministry and care look like once the “heat” of the moment wears off, but the feelings the moment created are still there?

What does it mean for UU congregations to take the work of the White Supremacy Teach-In seriously?

 

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Flag and Anthems and Protests…..Oh My

If anybody can give me a rational explanation as to why any black person in America should salute the flag, sing the anthem, or pledge allegiance I would love to hear it.

A black child was nearly lynched in Claremont, New Hampshire…..SIX WEEKS AGO.

White men with torches are marching through Charlottesville…..LAST WEEK

(former) SLMPD Officer Jason Stockley gets away with killing Anthony Lamar Smith, even though there is tape of him saying, “I’m gonna kill this n****r”…..FOUR WEEKS AGO FRIDAY

Patrick Harmon is shot in the back–by Salt Lake City police–August 13th. There is video of the officer who did it saying, “I’m going to kill you.” That officer was cleared…..OCTOBER 5 (if you don’t know about the Patrick Harmon case, you can read about it here)

And yet people are up in arms because some black football players have the guts to kneel during the playing of the anthem?

“It’s disrespecting the troops/vets,” they say. Well…that’s bullsh*t, to put it nicely. Let’s tell the truth here…the only reason football players are on the field during the anthem is because the Department of Defense PAID the NFL for it.

“It disrespects the flag,” they say. More bullsh*t. Kneeling is actually one of the most respectful actions one can take. And, have you taken a look at the U.S. Flag Code? Most of the people screaming the loudest violate the Flag Code everyday.

“Why don’t they protest in a different way,” they say. Ah. My favorite white people response. Because, as is becoming routine, I get to use their sainted Martin Luther King Jr. against them. Repeat after me…..

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

And now it looks like the NFL is going to bow to pressure and write a rule requiring players to stand during the anthem. As black players make up 70% of NFL rosters, I hope all of them stay in the locker room during the anthem from now on. (this is what happened pre-2009 when the DoD paid the NFL) But, barring that, I hope every black player pulls a Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics fist raise every week.

It’s time for a little honesty here people. This is not about the flag or the anthem or respecting/disrespecting the troops or vets. This has always been about race

“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.

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.

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.