R-E-S-P-E-C-T (-ability politics)

I’ve been a fat girl all my life. So I know what it’s like to feel the need to prove that you are worthy [of love, respect, attention, friendship, common decency–take your pick]. I spent a lot of years trying to prove exactly that.

Since the news of “shithole countries” has come out, I have watched Haitian Americans, African immigrants, El Salvadoreans, and Africans still on the continent trying to prove that their countries are not “shitholes” or that they (and their families) are worthy of being in the United States (or not being looked down on by the United States). And it has made me so heartbroken. Knowing that their pleading is all for nothing. Because the one thing I know from my time going through this is that, if you are a member of a minority (or any out- group), there is nothing you can say, nothing you can do, no amount of education you can have, no way to present yourself, etc. etc. to make you respectable enough to the majority (or the in- group).

Welcome to the world of respectability politics. Where people on the outside of the circle try to prove they are worthy of something that should, by any and all measure, be their birthright. Where people are losing their lives because it can never be proven; the drawers of the circle will always change the boundaries to make it so.

If you want to understand why I talk about white supremacy the way I do; this is why. I don’t want anybody else to have to feel like I did as a fat, black girl; unworthy of the things that are necessary to living a full human life.

Respectability politics puts the onus on those who are oppressed to show that they are worthy of things that are human birthrights. Respectability politics saps the energy for the things that give life. In short, respectability politics are evil. And evil needs to be called out. Always.

that’s it.

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

Yes, I’m being a little facetious, but not much.

All the talk of authoritarianism has me thinking about Bonhoeffer.

Most people who know something about Bonhoeffer know that he spent time in New York as a student at Union Theological Seminary. Many may even know that he attended Abyssinian Baptist Church–pastored at the time by Adam Clayton Powell, Sr.

I’m guessing far fewer know that Bonhoeffer taught Sunday School there.

There’s something to this, I think.

Black theology (or any theology of the oppressed, really) strikes a balance between the personal and the systemic sin in a way that liberal theology doesn’t (and Bonhoeffer had real critiques of liberal theology). Bonfoeffer took what he learned at Abyssinian and built the underground seminary that shaped the religious dissenters of the Nazis.

So…with all the talk about authoritarianism, maybe it would do the so-called resistance good to do what Bonhoeffer did; spend some time steeping themselves in the theology (and pedagogy, to borrow from Freire) of the oppressed.

Black theology saved the world once, and it can do it again. If the resistance pays attention.

What Doesn’t Break You, Breaks You…..All The Holy Innocents, pt. 3

I’m starting this year the way I finished last year; thinking about Erica Garner and her baby.

In reading about the hows-and-whys of her death, I read that Erica had a heart attack not long after giving birth. This is not the heart attack that killed her, but another one. So when I say that Erica’s death should be counted in the Black maternal mortality statistics, I mean it.

Remember the old cliche “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”? Research shows that this is not true, especially for Black people–and Black women in particular.

What doesn’t break us outwardly, breaks us inwardly. In short…white supremacy/racism kills.

I’m out of words for now.

All The Holy Innocents pt.2

Erica Garner died earlier today. She was 27. And she leaves behind a 3-month-old baby boy named after her father, Eric.

I am so done.

Erica’s death should be counted in the Black maternal mortality statistics; but it won’t be.

Erica had an asthma attack that caused her to have a heart attack.  But we won’t talk about how African Americans are more likely to have asthma and die from it…
According to the CDC’s 2015 summary of the most recent asthma mortality data, black Americans have a higher asthma death rate -at 23.9 deaths per million persons- than non-Hispanic whites (8.4 deaths per million persons), Hispanics (7.3 deaths per million persons), and other non-Hispanics (10.0 deaths per million persons).

Erica’s foster mother was with her when she died, and Erica’s child is probably going to have to go into the system (at least for a little while); but we’re not going to talk about Black children and the foster care system. [really, I’m not. because it upsets me]

Erica had been fighting for justice for her father since the day he was killed by the NYPD…so much so that the NYPD messed with her family at the hospital. But we’re not going to talk about the policing of Black bodies. [again…really, I’m not. because it upsets me]

I am so done.

If I ever get to preach on Holy Innocents Day, I would use the traditional passage from Matthew, I would also use this, from Jeremiah…..

Thus says the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
   lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
   she refuses to be comforted for her children,
   because they are no more.
Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping,
   and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,
says the Lord:
   they shall come back from the land of the enemy;
there is hope for your future,
says the Lord:
   your children shall come back to their own country.     [Jeremiah 31:15-17]

Erica is not coming back, so we should weep for her. But Eric III is alive. And if America saw him as a Holy Innocent instead of a potential threat, there would truly be hope for the future.

All The Holy Innocents

Today is Holy Innocents Day on the liturgical calendar.  It’s the day I consider most on the calendar. Especially this year.

If you haven’t heard, Erica Garner is lying near death at a New York City hospital. Four months after giving birth. You remember Erica, don’t you? The daughter of Eric Garner; the man whose death at the hands of the NYPD was captured on video. The man who gasped “I can’t breathe.” Erica is 27 and had a heart attack (brought on by an asthma attack).

There has been a raft of articles/stories/studies that have come out in the last few months focusing on the Black mother and infant mortality rate. The numbers are heart-rending…Black babies are three times more likely not to make it to their first birthday. Black mothers are three times more likely to die in the first days after giving birth. Black babies are more likely to be born premature and, regardless of length of gestation, weigh less at time of birth. Black women with college education have worse birth outcomes than white women with high school or less education; so socioeconomic status does not enhance health outcomes. This does not even get into the issues of infertility and crisis in pregnancy.

Racism kills. From the womb to the tomb.

On the day after Christmas the following appeared in an op-ed,
“A recent study asked pregnant women what was their biggest fear during pregnancy….. Caucasian women said gaining weight and having a healthy child. Do you know how African-American women responded? Fear of bringing their child into this world. Fear that their son may be killed because of the color of his skin. When I shared this with obstetricians, they were shocked. How many are screening for that type of chronic stress during the visit? What are the effects of that type of chronic stress during the entire pregnancy?”

Sit with that for a while.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, it’s Holy Innocents Day. While the biblical story is about the slaughter (by the State) of all Jewish male babies under the age of 2, I’ve always thought that it was about more than just the babies.

As we are learning, generational trauma affects all aspects of life (and DNA, as research is showing). What if we understood Erica and her baby as part of those Holy Innocents whom Herod called to be slaughtered? How would it looked if the church started paying attention to those who are left behind after the slaughter? (this, of course, assumes that the slaughter ends) What would it be like if the church understood that one of its missions was to work with the communities most affected by trauma (along with calling out what Herod is doing)?

If I ever get to preach on Holy Innocents Day, these are the questions are what I would be asking. And calling for the church to remember Erica and her baby are some of those Holy Innocents.

more later.

The Life (and Soul) You Save May Be Your Own…..(the Alabama Vote and Unitarian Universalism)

I’ve been trying to find the right words to describe this moment and I’m not sure these are right. But I shall try anyway.

A few months ago I wrote about how, often, Black women are placed in the role of Mammie; taking care of and protecting white people (white women in particular). Or “saving” them. This is certainly playing out in discussions of the Alabama Senate vote.

Quick recap of the facts…98% of Black women and 93% of Black men voted for Doug Jones. 63% of white women and 72% of white men voted for Roy Moore. If this had been any other special election, Roy Moore would be Senator-elect. This time was different. Because Black turnout increased while white turnout was slightly depressed. And Doug Jones won.

A common refrain as the news came out about the vote and who voted was that Black people “saved” [blank]. That blank could be democracy/Alabama/America/etc. This concerns me. And the reason it concerns me is that this centers white people. That’s not what the Alabama vote was about.

Black people did save with their vote. The people they saved were THEMSELVES. The fact that white people got saved in the process is secondary.

Roy Moore was patently unfit for office BEFORE news of his sexual predilections for teenaged girls became national news. Still….Moore almost won because white supremacy is……….

Black people in Alabama turned out in larger than expected numbers because they knew they would be the hardest hit if that man won. The man said that America was “great” when we had slavery, after all.

One last time…Doug Jones won because Black people voted to save themselves.

Now…..what does this have to do with Unitarian Universalism?

All the work that BLUU is doing is about Black people saving their own souls. If, in the process, Unitarian Universalism grows into the religious movement it claims it wants to be, then that’s a bonus.

Along with that…while y’all are in a thankful mood, listen to Black women. Pay Black women. Let Black women lead.

Yes…this is a little self-serving. But it’s really not. I’ve seen Black women in this movement who have been trying to get Unitarian Universalists to understand the stakes of not confronting white supremacy for years. I’ve seen how they have been treated. It has not been pretty. Maybe now, after the turmoil of the spring, that will change.

I have more thoughts, but they’re not fully formed yet. So more later.

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?

 

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.