Responses: Teach-in on Racism and White Supremacy

May 1, 2017

Note:  The parts in regular font are from UUCP members and/or friends.  The parts in italics are my answers/points of clarification.

I think the biggest problem many white people have in trying to treat black people fairly is their lack of exposure to them.  People form relationships with others when they feel a connection, a sense of something in common.  How can one feel that when neighborhoods, schools, work places, churches are segregated?

This is one place where the internet offers us real treasures.  I have learned so much from reading blog posts, watching YouTube videos, and following Twitter.  Also, one thing I wonder:  shouldn’t the burden to integrate be on those of us who are white?  Rather than expecting everyone to come to us (and conform to our cultural norms) perhaps we should expect ourselves to go outside our comfort zone to develop those relationships, which, I agree, are all-important.

What are some important ways that we as white people can benefit from African wisdom and culture?

First I want to acknowledge that we already benefit from African and African-American culture in a ton of important ways.  From music to fashion to mathematics and science, many contributions have been made by people of color, who, by necessity, are informed by their culture.  So a first step would be to focus on identifying those contributions and expressing gratitude and appreciation…that said, I think we as a church would benefit from hearing more diverse sources.  One church I know has a commitment to include at least one reading and at least one piece of music by a people of color or indigenous people.  That might be a good goal to work toward.

How can we help people of color(s), different cultures feel included?  What may I change in myself to embrace people of color, different cultures, help them feel safe?  What I see in “color”:  beauty, loving, power, courage, steadfastness.  Can I learn of courage, beauty and possibilities in myself?  Allowing differences, often so obvious, and some differences, subtle but important, also allows space for me to ask for correction and express apology.  I often feel like a guest in the presence of another culture.  I have been asked many times to share my culture and language.  Sharing humor, universal and idiomatic, has lightened ambiance.  We are universal seekers.

There’s a process of learning and growth that happens when we are willing to do the work…we accept correction with an open heart and without shame, we apologize as appropriate, and we try not to make the same mistake twice.  And yes- humor helps.  

Does my skin entitle me to something?  It is a mark of me.  But underneath there is a strand of the continuum that is one in our ongoing evolutionary journey.  The only entitlement that counts is the knowing that we all have a shared need to support one another and join hands and hearts.  Differences may in some way define us but all threads must be gathered and woven into the fabric of life.

And how boring would the tapestry be if all threads were exactly the same?  The fabric doesn’t hold if all the strands go in the same direction.  We need difference, and tension, just as we need points of intersection and overlap.

White privileged men in my life- several- are kicking against the whole idea of “white privilege, especially male,” “Black Lives Matter,” paternalism, affirmative action, etc., etc., etc.  One white male in my birth family even said that it was a shame that a white person had to be afraid to walk down the street in some neighborhoods.  (I immediately thought of our history of lynching– I was appalled at his statements.)

But I see that white people- conservative men especially- are hostile, and I think that fear is at the root of this.  Promulgated by Fox News!  I don’t really understand that fear.  But it’s important that I embrace empathy for them as well as for marginalized people.

I am uncomfortable, not knowing how to interact with POC’s without saying or doing something insensitive- not wanting to but screwing up anyway.  I am afraid of, threatened by, and hostile toward big typically urban tattooed men (black, white/Latino or Asian.)  I intensely dislike hip hop/rap because it’s profane and violent in my experience.  Is this racism?

I don’t like our congregation being criticized for not being diverse, when our community is not diverse.  How do we become welcoming when so few “different” people ever approach us?  Why would Arabs approach us, since most are Muslim and they want to worship with fellow Muslims?  Fellow Christians, etc., etc.  How can we be welcoming to political conservatives and still speak our own beliefs- how can they possibly want to be here?  Is that because we aren’t welcoming?  We’re accused of that.

There are so many good questions in these paragraphs.  I don’t have good answers, though.  I think we just have to hold the questions, and be as kind with ourselves and others as we can.  I will say- I don’t think our congregation has been criticized for not being diverse.  Rather, I think we would benefit from engaging and embracing different cultures.  Does that make sense?

The sermon today made me wonder what our UUA organization does to attract or welcome Native Americans to our faith.  In Portland we certainly recognized the Lummis, mainly as a result of the Bellingham Fellowship and the work of Beth Brownfield, resulting in the Indigenous Workshop sponsored by the UU College for Social Justice which I was able to attend.  In our own NW district we voted to recognize the native people in our district.  Nathan Foster wrote our resolution in support which our church adopted unanimously.  In Columbus, we voted to recognize Indigenous People’s Day- or at least examine it.  My question is, do we have any UUA staff working on including Native Americans into our faith?

Good question.  I don’t think we have anyone specifically focused on working with Indigenous tribes.  I wish we did!  

Misappropriate of another culture?

1)  We wouldn’t criticize adopting Thai food, the chanting of Buddhism, blessing/thanking a deer for giving its life to feed us, living more simply to some degree like the Amish, making soul music that comes from Black culture, or routinely playing a sport from another nationality.

Doing so doesn’t make you a master at being another culture, but we adopt things from other cultures. How does this become “misappropriating” vs. “sharing culture?

It’s easier to take an example like wearing a Mohawk & whooping it up at a football game to see it in a negative light. Where’s the line?

You might admire the mindfulness of the tea ceremony but have only limited knowledge about it. You might create some ritual around having tea yourself to capture something of the tea ceremony.  Or you might be seeking spiritual guidance and think in terms of a spiritual quest…nature will reveal some insights to you; perhaps as a modified vision quest.

No, you most likely are not spending years under a mentor learning the precision of an actual tea ceremony, nor spending days fasting with a shaman, but I see these adoptions as respectful and adding dimension to what do or seek. Don’t claim to know it all because you read about it or add some nuances to your personal rituals. I can see someone from another culture might object to a lack of depth and heritage, but we can learn and enhance our existence through other cultures. How could that be wrong?

To me, something qualifies as misappropriation if it is done without permission and/or if it reinforces stereotypes or oversimplifies or in some other way distorts another culture.  The line isn’t always clear; mostly, I think we have to trust our instincts.  If something feels off, don’t do it!  But then, we also have to listen- if someone from that culture tells us something is off, then we have a responsibility to listen.  For example, “Spirit Animal.”  I’ve heard from multiple Native Americans that it’s inappropriate for us to ‘adopt’ a spirit animal outside of their cultural tradition.  

If you move away from American capitalism toward more modest choices you’ve picked up from other cultures, is that a “critical orientation” toward your culture and an “uncritical view” of another you emulate? Reverse Polarity is harder for me to grasp.

I think this is more along the lines of rejecting all of one’s own culture as ‘bad’ while idealizing all of another culture as ‘good.’  The truth is always more complex.  One’s own culture has good and bad aspects; all other cultures have good and bad aspects.  Polarization is about making automatic judgments rather than engaging in an authentic way.

To disallow cross-over is to entrench exclusivity.

I’m not sure I understand what you mean here.  Cross-culture interactions are always a good thing!

A couple things this brought up for me was a book I read in the late 80’s that transformed my thoughts on society and racism, and my frustrations of both sides building walls.
I will try and keep this short, but the book I read  is titled ‘Speaker for the Dead’, a sequel to the book Enders Game (I enjoyed reading science fiction as a teenager, but do not read it much anymore).  The story takes place on the planet Lusitania where at the moment, the Starways congress has demanded a wall built but between human colony and all other species.  There are two reasons.  One, the species called “Piggies”have eviscerated one of the scientist bodies (they did this to the scientists father too), but with no tree in the body (earlier the scientist find a piggy body eviscerated with a sapling growing from the body).  The other reason is a virus called Descolada virus, which, while lethal to humans, appears to serve a beneficial purpose to native lifeforms.  Before the scientist were eviscerated, they had made an important discovery about the virus they confirmed with the Piggies but never had a chance to share with the humans. Ender, the Speaker for the Dead, is summoned and discovers that the “piggies” native connections is to trees.  When an elder Piggie is ready, they are eviscerated and a tree grows from the body.  Ender finds out the Piggies were giving the human counterparts the highest honor. The Humans thought they were murdered.  Ender’s discoveries has both species (piggies and humans) learn, discover and begin communicating.  They both repent and forgive and even though Starways congress demands no contact.  The humans forgave, the piggies repented, and they learn to coexist even with the virus present.  (there is a lot of other cool stuff Ender finds out about the piggies I find fascinating, like how the piggies communicate with the father and mother trees and how piggies are born)
A bit of a long story to make the point of how I feel about racism.  While we comprehend a physical wall between Mexico and the U.S., it is our emotional walls that keep us apart. Walls built internally by both sides. When I am walking and say ‘hi’ to someone, which I do a lot, an African American person most of the time says nothing, and sometimes may not even look my way. I feel I have no walls, but I feel they do.  This came up in the short writing of the person who talked about fears in their entire day, but his fear doesn’t mean all Caucasian people have a wall built and should be feared.  Sometimes I feel that this wall is as strong as ever, sometimes there have been a window or doors that have opened.  My main thought is that while there is a lot of history of racism and oppression, I would like to see the the walls come down from within in a lower lever. For I, not to be seen as something other that I am. I do not think of a person of color as anything but who they are. As individuals, maybe we can be like the people on Lusitania and not listen to the Starwary Congress (our Past) and live and share together without fear in the present.  I would hope people who are kind and accepting are the majority and not the minority, but our fears make it look like the other way around.
This makes some good points.  The most effective work I have seen in building bridges across difference has all been individual relational work…people listening and connecting heart to heart.   
That said, I do think it’s incumbent upon those of us with privilege to do our homework, which is to say- to read and learn and think things through so that we can minimize the number of accidental micro-agressions we commit.
I loved that book- the whole series, really- and one of the other lessons for me was the way people do harm unintentionally when they don’t take the time to listen and connect with those they don’t understand.  So we need to ‘seek more to understand than to be understood.’

To be continued as other responses come in…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: