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.

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.

Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired (A Question about all that is going on in the UUA)

Former UUA President Rev. Peter Morales is quoted in the UU World as saying, “I also understand we live in a time where for people of color and a number of groups, these are very anxious times. The UUA is not perfect, but what I do wish is there were more of an assumption of good will and common purpose.”

I’m going to do a deconstruction of the entire article later, but for now, I need to ask a question that might make it difficult for me to ever get a UU job.

Why should people of color assume “good will and common purpose” when it comes to things UU/UUA?

Because frankly, friends, I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. [thank you Fannie Lou Hamer for saying it first]

People of color in UUism have been talking about these issues since before I came into the denomination in the later 1990s. Are y’alls memories so short that you’ve forgotten about the “Thomas Jefferson Ball” at the Charlotte GA in 1993?

Cluelessness is nothing new in UUism.

Tone-deafness is nothing new in UUism.

Ignoring people of color is nothing new in UUism.

Not acknowledging our history is nothing new in UUism.

Malcolm X said,

“You don’t stick a knife in a man’s back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you’re making progress”

Asking people of color to assume “good will and common purpose” is pulling the knife out six inches. The knife is still in our backs.

I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Why should any UU of color assume “good will and common purpose” when it comes to things UU/UUA?

UUs…We Don’t Need Another “National Conversation On Race”

So the Commission on Social Witness announced that one of the four proposed Congregational Study/Action Issues that will be voted on at General Assembly in June is “A National Conversation On Race”.

oh Sweet Creole Jesus! Not again!

Listen up my white liberal friends. America needs another “national conversation on race” about as much as the country needs to start another military conflict in the Near East. What America needs to have is a conversation about WHITE SUPREMACY.

American religious groups (including liberal ones, and especially Unitarianism and Universalism) need to have a conversation about how they, for most of their history in this country, have propped up WHITE SUPREMACY. American religious groups need to have a conversation about how they going to use their theologies in order to dismantle WHITE SUPREMACY.

Having a “national conversation on race” continues to place the onus of change on those have been oppressed by state power and does nothing about the system of WHITE SUPREMACY that will stay in place after that national conversation is over.

One last thing….please, for the love of God and all that is holy, do not post comments/email me/call me/text me/etc. saying that race is more than black and white or that race is a social construct. I am so done with that white liberal/progressive bullsh*t that I don’t know how to tell you how tired of it I am.  So just don’t.

Mother’s Day In The Wake of Ferguson-Cleveland-New York-Baltimore

The Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C. issued a press release that started with the following lede:

In the wake of the violent deaths of black men and boys in encounters with police across the country, and in response to the unrest these deaths have engendered, churches across the Episcopal Diocese of Washington are dedicating Mother’s Day to “mothers who live with the daily fear of losing their children to violence and the children themselves,” said Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde.

This got me to thinking: how many UU churches would do that? Would the UUA encourage congregations to do something like that and offer resources to support that?

 

The Best Predictor of Future Behavior is Past Behavior…What Does UUism’s Past Tell Us?

Angry black woman speaking again…

Now that UUs are coming off of the “Selma” high…I think it would behoove us to remember that Selma is the exception in UU history when it comes race and not the rule.

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. So let’s look at UUism’s past behavior, post-Selma.

Black Empowerment Controversy

Disengagement

Thomas Jefferson Ball

And in terms of ministry….why have men of color (primarily African American men) had such a hard time in the UU ministry? Why are there so few lead ministers of color in our congregations? Why is there only one minority-majority congregation in the UUA? (how many of you can name it?)

So when Peter Morales stands in Brown Chapel last Saturday and says, “We are your partners forever,” is that really true? Our history shows that our partnerships, when it comes to race, are infrequent and easily dropped. But what might be even more telling, our memory is selective; we remember Selma (oh how we remember Selma), but we all but ignore the tumultuous relationship between the AUA and Ethelred Brown. We remember Selma, but skip over the fact that for an organization headquartered in Boston there was almost universal UU silence during the Boston busing riots of the 1970s.

If we are going to be partners, what’s the plan? Talk is cheap and easy; just saying we’re partners doesn’t mean that we are.

The UUA Board is Trying Again to Eliminate the Commission on Appraisal. Don’t Let Them Do It.

Well…..they’re at it again. There’s a new push to eliminate the Commission on Appraisal. The last time this was tried was a little over 5 years ago, and at that time they were also trying to eliminate the GA Planning Committee too. This time, it’s just the CoA by itself.

To those who know me really well, they know that I’m a big fan of independent investigative entities that are not answerable to the powers-that-be but to a larger body.

As the CoA is one of the few committees explicitly named in the UUA by-laws, I think it would behoove everybody to know what their function is:

Section 5.8. Commission on Appraisal.

The Commission on Appraisal shall consist of nine elected members. A member shall not during the term of office serve as a trustee or officer or hold a salaried position in the Association. The Commission on Appraisal shall:

  1. review any function or activity of the Association which in its judgment will benefit from an independent review and report its conclusions to a regular General Assembly;
  2. study and suggest approaches to issues which may be of concern to the Association; and
  3. report to a regular General Assembly at least once every four years on the program and accomplishments of the Association.

When it comes to power, there are 2 axioms to live by.

1. “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

2. “Who will guard the guardians?”

In UUA terms, the Commission on Appraisal is the entity set aside to guard the guardians. This move to eliminate the CoA is a bad sign that power does not want a group that is not answerable to them to be able to investigate anything they wish.

If the CoA is eliminated, who will guard the guardians?

Can Unitarian Universalism Speak To #Ferguson? (Thoughts One Month After)

With the news that the grand jury investigating whether charges should be levelled against Officer Wilson has been extended until January (not a good sign) and polls showing the wide chasm between how African Americans and whites view both the death of Michael Brown and the subsequent events in Ferguson has got me thinking.

Can Unitarian Universalism speak to #Ferguson? Or is Unitarian Universalism, as MLK said in his critique of liberal religion:

[I came to feel that liberalism had been] all too sentimental concerning human nature and that it leaned toward a false idealism. I also came to see that liberalism’s superficial optimism concerning human nature caused it to overlook the fact that reason is darkened by sin…

From the time of the Controversy, Unitarian Universalism has been tepid in its response to things racial. It’s not as if these issues haven’t presented themselves before. Let’s not forget that the reason that there is a “Journey Towards Wholeness” is because of asking people to dress in period dress at the Thomas Jefferson Ball at GA in Charlotte in 1993.

So…does Unitarian Universalist theology have anything of substance to say on the issues that have been laid bare by Ferguson? (assuming that you believe that there is something resembling Unitarian Universalist theology)

The “Black Empowerment Controversy” and the Haunting of the UUA (#Ferguson)

If you’ve read this blog any length of time, you know that I am always looking at UU reactions to race and racial issues. My last post posed the question of why African American men have had such a hard time in the UU ministry. This one will look at that question through a new lens (at least for me).

A couple of months back I posited that modern Unitarian Universalism (at least from the aspect of WHERE Unitarian Universalism grew) was, consciously or unconsciously, the result of racial bias based on housing patterns. I will now go further. Modern Unitarian Universalism is haunted when it comes to issues of racial justice. Haunted by the ghosts of the “Black Empowerment Controversy.” No matter what one feels about the “controversy”, I believe that the post-Controversy UUA avoidance of making firmer statements on racial issues (plus taking a long time to make the statements in the first place) and UU congregations fleeing of center cities and inner-ring suburbs is the result of a conservative UU backlash to the events of the time. And this post-Controversy backlash has affected all aspects of UU-dom; from the rough time that so many ministers of color have had in UU congregations to the lackluster support/encouragement of congregations in areas comprised primarily of people of color to the spotty support for youth of color.

But this should really not come as a surprise to me. Because the Controversy was just another instance of Unitarians/Universalists/Unitarian Universalists being uncomfortable with the idea of having people of color in their midst. From the encounter that Rev. William Jackson had with the AUA back in the 1850s (Rev. Dan Harper has written about it) to the harassment of Ethelred Brown and the Harlem Unitarian Society, liberal religion has had a hard time letting itself be spread outside of a select group (it’s had a hard time class-wise too).

However, our cousins in the UCC have many ministers of color and congregations comprised primarily of people of color. So do the Disciples (yes, they are cousins too). So what has impeded Unitarian Universalism?

I guess I am wondering how long the Mike Brown and Ferguson moment will last amongst UUs, UU congregations, and the UUA now that it’s not on our tv screens or written about in our newspapers everyday. Or will this moment be like so many of the recent—and not-so-recent—past and fade away with the next sexy story? Will we see this only as something that is happening outside of our congregations and not look at the way that what is happening outside of our congregations is being played out in our congregations too?

The UUA and UUism is haunted. And nothing will change until we name the ghosts.