Posts Tagged ‘racism’

Selma to Montgomery March, 1965

Selma to Montgomery March, 1965

A couple of weeks ago at the BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship I spoke about race and racism in the United States, in a sermon called Listen to the Struggle – you can read and watch the entire sermon here.

Today, as the nation observes the anniversary of the March from Selma to Montgomery, I simply want to share the prayer from that service – a prayer for hope and healing.

God of love and justice,
we cry out in hope and grief,
mourning the hard realization
that our nation has not yet fully come
to live the ideals of justice and equality,
hoping and working for the justice that is to come.

We cry for our lost heroes,
take their mantle and walk where they marched.
As we work for justice,
let us remember always the spirit of love,
that fierce and urgent love
that accepts no falsehoods or easy answers,
but that calls us onward,
that gives us the strength to face what we do not wish to see
and to hear what we do not wish to be told.

Let us reach out to one another,
and beyond our personal circles,
so that we as a nation may come to greater understanding,
and where we see injustice,
may we find courage to lift our voices
and move our bodies for what we believe in,
reaching out and reaching forward
in hope and healing.



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As a Unitarian Universalist minister, it is sometimes my role to answer correspondence that comes to our congregation from members of the community.  Last night, I received this brief note in my inbox:

Good Evening:

I am very upset at the signage that is outside of your church stating that “Black Lives Matter.” Since when has God chosen to see us by the color of our skin. The sign should be taken down and replaced with ALL LIVES MATTER. How will this nation of ours ever join together if we are constantly looking at everyone by their race. Unless you were actually there in Ferguson or in New York or Cleveland, you do not have all the facts.

A Bucks County Resident

It’s a sentiment I’d heard before, and I gave a great deal of thought before sending the following response:

“Dear [name],

Thank you for writing with your concern. Of course all lives matter. Central to Unitarian Universalism is the affirmation of the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Sadly, our society has a long history of treating some people as less valuable than others. Study after study has confirmed that in equivalent situations, African Americans and Latinos are treated with deadly force far more often than White people, and authorities held less accountable. Unfortunately, racial bias continues to exist even when it is no longer conscious – this too is confirmed by multiple studies. A lack of accountability in the use of force combined with unconscious bias is too often a deadly combination – and one that could place police officers, as well as the public, in great danger.

To say that Black lives matter is not to say that other lives do not; indeed, it is quite the reverse – it is to recognize that all lives do matter, and to acknowledge that African Americans are often targeted unfairly (witness the number of African Americans accosted daily for no reason other than walking through a White neighborhood – including some, like young Trayvon Martin, who lost their lives) and that our society is not yet so advanced as to have become truly color blind. This means that many people of goodwill face the hard task of recognizing that these societal ills continue to exist, and that White privilege continues to exist, even though we wish it didn’t and would not have asked for it. I certainly agree that no loving God would judge anyone by skin color.

As a White man, I have never been followed by security in a department store, or been stopped by police for driving through a neighborhood in which I didn’t live. My African American friends have, almost to a person, had these experiences. Some have been through incidents that were far worse. I owe it to the ideal that we share, the ideal that all lives matter, to take their experiences seriously and listen to what they are saying. To deny the truth of these experiences because they make me uncomfortable would be to place my comfort above the safety of others, and I cannot do that.

I very much appreciate you writing to me, and am glad that we share the goal of coming to a day when people will not be judged, consciously or unconsciously, on the basis of their race. I believe that day is possible, too, but that it will take a great deal of work to get there. That work begins by listening to one another, and listening especially to the voices of those who have the least power in society. If nothing else is clear from the past few weeks, it is painfully evident that a great many people do not believe that they are treated fairly. Healing begins by listening to those voices and stories.

Thank you again for writing me.

In faith,
Rev. Dan Schatz, Minister
BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship”


Sign outside the BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Warrington, Pennsylvania

Sign outside the BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Warrington, Pennsylvania

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Michael Brown May 20, 1996 – August 9, 2014

Black lives matter.

In August, police in Ferguson, Missouri gunned down Michael Brown, an unarmed African American man.  Last night the officer who killed him was held blameless.  This happens all the time.  Last Saturday, police killed Tamir Rice, a twelve year old boy in a Cleveland playground playing with a toy gun.  Thursday it was Akai Gurley in Brooklyn.  A year ago it was Trayvon Martin, shot to death by a vigilante in Sanford, Florida.  Every one of them died senselessly.

Black lives matter.  My colleague, Unitarian Universalist minister Christina Leone Tracy, writes: “Black lives matter.  Yes, all lives matter.  But our society has forgotten, or never really learned, the value of black lives.”

I am White.  I have never had to worry that I was in danger during a traffic stop.  I have never been followed by security in a department store.  I have never been afraid that if I walked down the wrong street I could be targeted by law enforcement or vigilantes.  Nobody has ever had to be told that my life matters.

Prior to the Grand Jury ruling in Ferguson, Michael Brown’s father made a statement in which he said, “No matter what the grand jury decides, I do not want my son’s death to be in vain.  I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change, change that makes the St. Louis region better for everyone.”

Sign outside the BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Warrington, Pennsylvania

Sign outside the BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Warrington, Pennsylvania

Such change will not come easily.  Bringing it about will mean speaking hard truths about racism, recognizing the disparity that remains between the races within the criminal justice system.  It will mean acknowledging the existence of White privilege, even when many White people do not feel privileged.  It will mean working through our collective shame, so that we can talk openly about the history and culture of racial injustice.  It will mean good people having to face aspects of themselves and their communities which they do not want to admit.  Black lives matter.  If we as a nation ever want to live this truth, then we have work to do.

A member of my congregation recently remarked that justice is a process, not an outcome.  To this I would add the words of an African Methodist Episcopal minister I used to work with – “In my Bible, it doesn’t say ‘get justice.’  It says ‘do justice.'”

The good news is that we have begun the process of doing justice.  After centuries of killings which have passed without consequence in the public sphere, large numbers are at last taking notice and speaking up.  Some people won’t want to hear about it, because many of us had liked to think we’d already moved beyond this kind of thing – but we will not be silent any longer.  May we have the courage and perseverance to keep talking, keep telling the truth, keep advocating, keep organizing and keep voting.

Michael Brown’s father asked that his son’s death not be in vain, that it lead to incredible, positive change.  This is my prayer – because Black lives matter.

Photo courtesy of Amnesty International

Photo courtesy of Amnesty International

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This morning I read an eloquent and powerful article on Cinco de Mayo by Sudie Hoffman at the Zinn Educational Project.  In this must-read blog post, Hoffman correctly names the damaging ethnic stereotypes embodied in the commercial appropriation of this day as it is celebrated in the United States.

I remember discussing Cinco de Mayo in a Mexican Studies class at the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute of Latin America Studies, back in 1992 when I was a student there.  Henry Selby, then the Director of the Mexican Center, went over the history of the holiday – the 1862 Mexican victory in a battle with France, which delayed (but did not prevent) the French march into Mexico City.  The details of this battle are still celebrated in the state of Puebla, but largely ignored in the rest of the country.  “Now why, ” he asked, “would a minor military victory become a national holiday?”

The answer lies in the name of one of the principal Mexican officers in that battle – General Porfirio Díaz.  The elevation of Cinco de Mayo was an essential part of his political rise to power, and fourteen years later, Díaz seized control of Mexico, beginning the Porfiriato – a brutal thirty-five year rule that ended only with the Mexican Revolution.  Perhaps it is not so surprising, then, that relatively few actual Mexicans pay much attention to the day.

Cinco de Mayo in the United States recalls none of this.  Instead, people here drink large amounts of beer, wear fake sombreros, eat North American versions of Mexican food that would never be served in most of Mexico, and imagine they are celebrating “Mexican Culture.”

Why do we do this?  Why do good, thoughtful people who would never think to celebrate African American culture with fried chicken, watermelons, and Sambo figurines nevertheless feel it perfectly appropriate to “honor” Mexico with racist stereotypes?

I don’t have an answer to this.  I hate to think people actually believe those stereotypes, but it’s likely many do.  Or maybe they simply don’t stop to think about how hurtful and damaging those kinds of images can be.

On the other hand, there is a reason Cinco de Mayo came to the United States, and it wasn’t to celebrate a dictator.  In the 1960s Chicano activists thought that this day might become a bridge to better understanding and acceptance of Mexican Americans in the United States, and a window to authentic Mexican culture.  It didn’t turn out that way, but there is no reason we cannot return to that initial intent.

If you want to celebrate Mexico on Cinco de Mayo, here are some things you can do:

  • Read up on Mexican history – there are lots of good primers online.
  • If you want Mexican food, try to find a good non-chain Mexican restaurant owned by people actually from Mexico – otherwise look up some authentic recipes online.
  • Read a classic Mexican novel – Pedro Páramo or Como agua para chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate) are readily available in translation – or see the movies.
  • Listen to authentic Mexican music.
  • Set yourself firmly and publicly against racist laws and policies that target Mexicans and other Latino people.
  • Learn about Mexican Americans in the United States.
  • Support organizations that work for immigrant justice.
  • Consider celebrating 16 de Septiembre – Mexican Independence Day – instead.

What ever you do, think about what you are doing and leave the racist stereotypes behind.

Here, to give you a taste of the beauty of Mexican culture, is the legendary Mexican group Los Folkloristas, in a 2011 performance on tour in (of all places), Wisconsin.


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Growing up around Washington, DC, I never thought much about the name of our football team.  This was for two reasons – one, I really didn’t care much about sports, and two, it was the Washington Redskins, had always been the Washington Redskins, and it was what I was used to.  Being raised in a community of folk musicians gave me a respect for long-held tradition at a young age.  There was even a song:

Hail to the Redskins
Hail victory
Braves on the warpath
Fight for old DC!

But some traditions have to change, and this is one of them.  We have passed the era of 1950s cowboy movies, in which the stereotypical “Indian” was a collective cultural icon of savagery and violence.  Today people everywhere, we hope, recognize that Native Americans are people, not stereotypes, and that it is hurtful and racist to use those stereotypes to market football teams (or anything else), however long and storied a history those names might have.

Look at it this way – would you name a team the Washington N-words?  How about the “Blackskins,” the “Yellowskins,” the “Brownskins” or even the “Whities?”  If the answer is “No,” then it’s time for a change.  Just because  something is what we’re used to doesn’t make it right.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a Native American child in this country.  I suspect that, like most things, the experience depends on where you are, what nation you belong to, and what your family and community are like.  Every experience is unique – but I do know that “Indian” war whoops, tomahawk chops, fake “Indian talk” (“Me want plenty….” ugh) and images of indigenous peoples as savage warriors make it a whole lot worse, wherever you are.  It’s racist; it’s wrong, and it’s time to let it go.

So let’s change the name (although some have suggested keeping the name and changing the logo to a red potato – I like that).  I’m sure we can come up with something that better honors the capital city of the United States, and that respects the people who first lived there.  Set up a big contest.  Make it a promotion.  Have fun with it – but let “The Redskins” go.

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