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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“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.”

Tiki Torches May Look Funny. This Is No Laughing Matter. (Charlottesville #2)

They surrounded a black church on Friday night, friends.

I know the pictures could cause one to laugh and want to mock them; a group of (mostly) men carrying cheap outdoor accessories. If that’s all they did, that would be one thing.

They surrounded a black church on Friday night, friends.

A group of white people surrounding a black church should send chills down the spine of every person of faith.

Just two years ago, after a white supremacist killed 9 people in Bible study at Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, there was a string of black church fires across the South. Remember that?

16th Street Baptist was bombed. 4 little girls died.

Black churches have always been a magnet to white supremacist terrorists (back to Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction days)

They surrounded a black church on Friday night, friends. And while it’s funny to think about these people using cheap, outdoor accessories as a way to make a point, they surrounded a black church on Friday night, friends. And the point would have been just as jarring had they used Bic lighters or regular candles.

Tiki torches may look funny. This is no laughing matter.

Have you reached out to your local black churches and ministers today?

This Is Just A Little Peyton Place And You’re All Harper Valley Hypocrites

So…UU social media is all aflutter over the NAACP-issued Travel Advisory for the state of Missouri. And, in the way of faux-wokeness with UUs, some are saying that they are thinking about maybe not coming to GA next year in K.C.

[I do find it funny that these faux-woke UUs are talking about avoiding a state that they have been avoiding since Ferguson when we were begging for people to come. But I have come to expect nothing less from UUs.]

ok, let’s start with one fact. The NAACP is NOT (I repeat, NOT) calling for a boycott of the state of Missouri. If they were calling for a boycott, this would be a different issue. This is a travel advisory. And, if you are white, it ain’t about you. It’s about Black people and other people of color.

another fact….the law that the NAACP issued the advisory over is also law in 38 other states. I wish, as a native Missourian, that the NAACP had issued the advisory over the traffic-stop information released by the Attorney General’s office. But that’s neither here nor there.

anyway…back to the faux-woke UUs. Here’s my question:

Did you have any qualms about going to GA in Portland? Or Columbus?

If you didn’t, you are a Harper Valley hypocrite.

UUs of color ALWAYS have to wonder about how we are going to move around in whatever city GA is in. Hell, we have to wonder how FELLOW UUs are going to treat us at GA. This is nothing new for us. And your faux-woke concern over the Travel Advisory is not helpful.

Here’s the next question:

Have you talked to any K.C. organizers (or anybody in Missouri, really)?

If you haven’t, you are a Harper Valley hypocrite.

To express your faux-concern about the Travel Advisory but not have had a conversation with anybody connected to the organizing efforts in K.C. or other places in Missouri shows that your concern is just to make yourself feel better.

So look…if you don’t want to come to GA in K.C., fine. Nobody’s making you come.

But if you are using the NAACP Travel Advisory as your excuse to not come to K.C. but had no problems going to Portland or Columbus, you are nothing but a faux-woke Harper Valley UU Hypocrite.

 

The Care and Feeding of Black Children’s Souls pt. 3

A lot of my UU friends happen to be religious educators. So when I read articles or studies about black children and education, I think about them.

It so happens that just as GA was ending, Georgetown University Law School released a study called “Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood”, which shows that starting at age five (that’s right, 5) black girls are viewed as less innocent and more adult than other girls. The press release from Georgetown says the following:

The new report reveals that adults think:
-Black girls seem older than white girls of the same age.
-Black girls need less nurturing than white girls.
-Black girls need less protection than white girls.
-Black girls need to be supported less than white girls.
-Black girls need to be comforted less than white girls.
-Black girls are more independent than white girls.
-Black girls know more about adult topics than white girls.
-Black girls know more about sex than white girls.

Sit with those results for a minute.

In conjunction with the results of the study done by Dr. Philip Atiba Goff released in 2014 about views of black boys which had similar findings (the big difference is the Georgetown study shows the loss of innocence starting for girls at age 5, Dr. Goff’s research shows the loss of innocence for boys starting at age 10), a disturbing picture presents itself.

What does this mean for UU RE programs?

I know the hard work that RE Directors/Ministers/Administrators put in to setting up their programs. Are they working at a disadvantage* though? If the people who volunteer to work in the RE program have a certain set of assumptions about black children (and I could probably extend that to all children of color), can that be overcome?

How can UU RE programs nurture the souls of children many see as needing less nurturing, comforting, protection, or support?

What support can UU churches give to adults who have had to live with this their entire lives?

How can UU churches educate to counter oppression?

more later.

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.

I’m With Her…As Long As “Her” Is Susan Frederick-Gray

Susan and I both grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis. This is the shallowest reason that I think Susan should be the next UUA President. And while there are times where I can be both shallow and provincial, this is not one of them.

In a lot of ways, the UUA is like St. Louis. White supremacy is ever-present, seldom talked about or acknowledged, vociferously denied or rationalized when brought up, and has a tendency to historical amnesia or willful ignorance. And it is highly provincial.

St. Louis will never be the same after the killing of Michael Brown and the aftermath of the events in Ferguson, although there are plenty of forces that would love to see it return to the way it was. (just look at the fight and vote over an MLS stadium that happened last month as an example)

Hopefully, the UUA will never be the same after this current crisis. Although, given UUA history, we must fight hard against the forces of inertia.

What does this have to do with me believing that Susan is the President the UUA needs in this time?

In one word: trust. I trust Susan.

Susan gets it in a way that only somebody who grew up in provincial waters can get it. Susan understands the power dynamics of provincialism better than most. (just listen to her talk about her power analysis of UUism in any of the Presidential forums that are online)  There is one place that can rival St. Louis in its provincial-ness, and that place is Boston and the UUA.
Susan knows what it’s like to be in an area that is in the midst of a major upheaval.
Susan knows churches and believes in them.
Susan is not afraid to say the word “theology”. She also understands that liberal theology needs to speak to the world in need of liberation theology through partnership.
Susan has a “make a way out of no way” kind of spirit.

I know all three candidates for President. I respect and like all three. But I believe we have one chance to not repeat the mistakes of the past. For that reason I believe the best person for the job is the one who has the “make a way out of no way” spirit.

I’m with her…as long as “her” is Susan Frederick-Gray.

A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste (Third Question for the UUA Presidential Candidates)

Susan. Alison. Jeanne.

I’ll start this post with two quotes from Mary McLeod Bethune. (we’re good with me assuming you know who she is, right?)

MMB said, “Studying goes deeper than mere reading. There are surface nuggets to be gathered but the best of the gold is underneath, and it takes time and labor to secure it.”  She also said, “Invest in the human soul. Who knows, it might be a diamond in the rough.”

As you know, I have a friend who is a seminary president. So we talk about the state of theological education quite a bit. The past few weeks have seen those conversations go in creative directions.

With the White Supremacy Teach-Ins starting today, and having a co-President who is focused on looking at institutional change, it seems to be a good time to look at those who lead our congregations.

Educating to counter oppressions takes more than a teach-in. It takes sustained investment in those who lead our congregations. First two questions…..

What do you see as the role of our UU seminaries in helping shape religious leadership that can go into congregations and help those congregations on the journey to dismantle white supremacy and counter oppression?

What do you see as the UUA’s role in helping the seminaries in doing this work?

Next question needs a different set-up.

In his Minns Lecture, Mark Morrison-Reed details the efforts of the Joseph Jordans to raise funds (somewhere in the neighborhood of $5,000) from the Unitarians and the Universalists in order to establish a seminary that would train Black ministers who would then go out and establish churches in Black communities. That effort did not go well, to put it nicely. If I am remembering correctly, the amount that the Jordans received was somewhere around $1,000. All of this was happening while the U-s and U-s were spending around $10,000 A YEAR on misadventures in Japan.

Now…I am not asking for us to consider opening a new seminary. (although I do think we need to reckon with what might have been in the light of what did happen) Here’s the question…..

What do you see as the UUA’s role in establishing (or re-establishing, as the case may be) relationships with seminaries that serve traditionally marginalized communites; seminaries such as Howard, Interdenominational Theological, Samuel DeWitt Proctor, Payne Theological, Hood Theological,  or Shaw?

There are so many more questions I have, but these three were the biggest in my mind. And yes, I know, I actually asked more than three questions.

I’m happy to talk to you about any of these questions anytime.

 

What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day (A Question for the UUA Presidential Candidates)

(this is the first of three questions that I will pose to the candidates. if you aren’t interested in UUA politics, check back in about a week-and-a-half.)

Susan. Alison. Jeanne.

As always, it was good to see you this weekend at both the Board meeting and the New England Region forum.

So I have three questions for you. Each of them will be their own post. And I never do a question without set-up. This first question is probably going to be the longest.

 

Dr. King once said that 11:00 on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. Let’s lean in to that for a few moments, instead of bristling.
 
Instead of trying to make already existing UU congregations into mini-Rainbow Coalitions (and hurting POCI in the process while white ppl do their work), is the UUA capable of encouraging the creation of congregations in “nontraditional” UU areas and not being stumbling blocks to them (i.e.-Ethelred Brown and the Harlem Unitarian Church)?
 
Questions related to the above
1. What do you see as the UUA’s role in helping entrepreneural ministries in underserved UU areas?
2. Given the very mixed history of ministers of color in the UUA and its parent organizations, what do you see as the UUA’s role in helping achieve successful ministries when ministers of color are called to already existing UU congregations?
There’s more I could ask on this subject, but these questions/ideas seem big enough.