An institution can be racist even if all members are engaged in anti-racism work. Let me say that again; an institution can be racist even if all members are actively anti-racist.
In order to deconstruct any racist aspects of our society, we must first identify them. That requires an open discussion, free of preconceived notions about what institutional racism is and how it might apply to First Unitarian. This cannot be taken as personal. When questions are asked, they are just questions requiring an honest answer.
We at First U do have a long history of anti-racist work that must be acknowledged, but in evaluating our current state as an institition, it is almost besides the point. We, as individuals, can all be doing everything that is possible in our personal lives to address racism, but our institutions might have a long way to go. Since they have not undergone the same critical examination that we have as individuals, we cannot know what growth is necessary, desirable, and possible. If we do not begin with a belief that growth is always possible, we negate that possibility and commit to stagnation.
It is also worth noting that, while the visible impacts of institutional racism are clear, the underlying structures that cause them are not always readily apparent. Moreover, we are part of a very large learning community. UU congregations that have adopted the 8th principle are all in the same boat; we are learning together how to change. This is new ground without very many concrete examples to follow. It can be expected that the path will not be straight and we can expect bumps along the way.
As we mark the close of Black History Month, let’s reflect on how our times might be viewed through the eyes of someone in the future.
Yesterday, February 26th, was the 10th anniversary of the murder of Trayvon Martin. The only reason not to call it a lynching is that the definition of lynching requires more than one person.
How far have we come in the past 10 years? Clearly not very far. Bridgewater police apparently haven’t learned that light skin is not a free pass and dark skin is not a crime.
Will history treat us well or see this time period for what it is? Racism is an illness that is killing our culture.
Truthfully, is equitable treatment too much to ask?
One Olympian takes a banned substance to help deal with her grief over the loss of her mother. Another Olympian takes a banned substance to improve her physical endurance. One is barred from competition although there is no possibility that the banned substance would have improved her performance. The other is allowed to compete despite the fact that the drug’s only purpose was to improve her performance.
Can it honestly be said that the only reason for leniency was the age of the skater? History tells us otherwise. Honesty demands that we, as individuals and as members of this institution, examine our modes of interaction and decision-making on an on-going basis to identify and address disparate treatment based on race.
February is Black History Month. The history of Black people in America is one of being on the receiving end of institutional violence and state-sanctioned murder.
It is not surprising that Black History Month this year began with the death of another young Black man at the hands of Minneapolis police executing a no-knock warrant.
There is very little in the mainstream press about this. Have they moved on? Are they tired of reporting the same thing? Isn’t that how we got here?
Say his name.
BIPOC oppression is not unique to the United States. While the American institutionalization of racism in the class system that grew out of the enslavement of African people is unique, the treatment of indigenous peoples in the US is actually more widespread. Three other countries, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, followed the same model of conquest, colonization, and genocide.
The horrors of “Indian Schools” in the US and Canada have been in the news for the last year, and many of us are aware of the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Let us shine a light on Australia for a moment.
January 26th is Australia Day, their national holiday. Unlike Canada Day and July 4th, rather than celebrate independence from Great Britain, Australia Day commemorates the invasion of Australia in 1788. It marks the beginning of the conquest of the Australian continent and the subsequent history of enslavement, violent siezure of land, and genocide, with state sanctioned massacres continuing well into the 20th century.
All forms of oppression are interconnected. There is no hierarchy of oppression. While Australia seems distant, how the two countries treat BIPOC is linked. If we in the US take action to acknowledge our history of oppression, it removes the ability of other countries to defend their inaction by pointing to our country.
The American Women Quarters Program is a new series of coins to be issued through 2025. The series “celebrates the accomplishments and contributions made by women to the development and history of our country. The fact that there is a series of coins specific to women is great. It’s a step forward, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that the necessity for the series highlights how history frequently ignores the accomplishments of women, especially women of color.
To the credit of the mint, four of the five women featured are BIPOC:
- Maya Angelou – celebrated writer, performer, and social activist
- Dr. Sally Ride – physicist, astronaut, educator, and first American woman in space
- Wilma Mankiller – first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation
- Nina Otero-Warren – a leader in New Mexico’s suffrage movement and the first female superintendent of Santa Fe public schools
- Anna May Wong – first Chinese American film star in Hollywood
The diversity in this series offers a view of intersectionality; “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender.” Seeing all oppressed people as having common interest provides a solid foundation for change and counters the oppressors’ desire to draw divisions in order to weaken that foundation.
As great as it is to see women, especially BIPOC, on the reverse of a quarter, George Washington’s image remains on the obverse. His role as a slave owner and as a defender of slavery casts a long shadow over his role in the revolution and as the first president. The complex and troubled history of our country cannot be overcome with single acts such as the issuance of this coin series. This serves as a milepost on a long journey that will not be at an end until equal BIPOC representation on US money becomes an unremarkable commonplace occurrence.
Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Jr Day, so let’s start off with a quote from him:
If America does not use her vast resources of wealth to end poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life, she too will go to hell.
Tonight begins the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat, which has become the Jewish “earth day”. Racial justice is inextricably linked to environmental justice. Whether it is access to safe food or exposure to harm from degraded air, land, and water, there is a tremendous racial inequality that cannot be ignored.
Some say this world of trouble
Is the only one we need
But I’m waiting for that morning
When the new world is revealed
When the revolution comes
When the rich go out and work
When the air is pure and clean
When we all have food to eat
When our leaders learn to cry
O Lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
Louis Armstrong 1968
Tomorrow is a day of service. Let us march with the saints and do the work necessary to keep our country from going to hell.
This week we lost an American icon. Sidney Poitier was one of the top actors to appear on film. He was a ground breaker as an actor and as a director.
While it is great to acknowledge that he was the first Black person nominated for Best Actor and the first to win it in 1964, it would be another 38 years before Denzel Washington became the second. He was a trailblazer, for certain, but it is still difficult for others to follow in his footsteps.
Mr. Poitier’s roles broke down stereotypes. He didn’t accept the subservient roles that had been the sole presence of Black actors in American movies. Those roles allowed White America to see a successful Black man in an “untraditional” role.
Poitier rose to the heights of the movie industry through grace, poise, and skill. As with other BIPOC professionals, he succeeded by being better than his white counterparts; being equal to them would not have been enough to earn the awards he received. “The New York Times noted that Poitier was ‘an ambassador to white America and a benign emblem of Black power’.” Perhaps, being “benign” was necessary for him to break through, but wasn’t being benign the role consigned to him by White society? Should it take a uniquely beautiful, soft-spoken and non-threatening individual to allow Whites in power to rise above prejudices?
We must celebrate the life of this great man. Let us honor him by continuing to fight for equality until the achievements of BIPOCs do not require a footnote to indicate how much more work was required because of their skin color.
As the regressives in society rail against Critical Race Theory, without really understanding what it is, we are seeing an effort to bury who we are as a nation. This white-washing of history can have only one response; we must lift up those events of this nation’s past that are being hidden, especially official actions against BIPOC groups.
This past week was an important anniversary in US history. December 29th is a date we should all remember. 131 years ago, in 1890, the US Army massacred well over 250 members of the Lakota nation at Wounded Knee Creek in what is now South Dakota. While this is the most well-known massacre, there are over 1500 documented military actions against native American groups with 71 Wikipedia pages devoted to specific massacres. At Wounded Knee, half of the dead were women and children. The army regiment involved was celebrated for their action, with 20 medals of honor issued. That is the same number issued for the entire 14 year war in Afghanistan.
The Remove the Stain Act was introduced in the Senate in 2019 and was reintroduced last year. This act would revoke those medals of honor. While it is likely that this bill will not make it out of committee, it is still worth reaching out to our senators and asking them to co-sponsor S.1073.
Last week we shared a little about the origin of Kwanzaa. We mentioned that Dr. Sanyika, a UU leader during the UU black empowerment period of the 60s, stated that the seven principles of Kwanzaa provide African Americans with a guide to combat white supremacy and institutional racism.
- Umoja (Unity): maintaining unity as a family, community, and race of people.
- Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): defining, naming, creating, and speaking for ourselves.
- Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): building and maintaining our community—solving problems together.
- Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): building and maintaining retail stores and other businesses and to profit from these ventures.
- Nia (Purpose): work collectively to build communities that will restore the greatness of African people.
- Kuumba (Creativity): to find new, innovative ways to leave communities of African descent in more beautiful and beneficial ways than the community inherited.
- Imani (Faith): the belief in family, teachers, heritage, leaders, and others that will lead to the victory of Africans around the world.
The seven principles represent seven values of African culture that help build and reinforce community among African-Americans. We can study these 7 principles of Kwanzaa to learn how to dismantle institutional racism as we build a community of communities here at First U.