2021-09-19 – Intersectionality: Environmental Justice and Racial Justice

Environmental justice and racial justice are inextricably linked. Environmental degradation primarily impacts poor communities which are disproportionately BIPOC. The lack of political power in these communities has made them especially vulnerable to both corporate and governmental actions that harm the environment.

Whether the impact of climate change on indigenous communities that we discussed last week, the complete failure to protect the primarily black citizens of Detroit from lead poisoning, the imbalanced loss of life in hurricane Katrina, or fact that as a result of red-lining, “Black people are 40% more likely to live in areas with the largest projected increase in heat-related deaths…” due to climate change, we can see that the stories of environmental harm affecting humans involve more BIPOC than White victims. This is too widespread to be assumed to be coincidental or unintentional. 

When we speak of racial justice and environmental justice, we must see them as inextricably linked. Those most affected by climate change and pollution must have a louder voice at the table. Their vote is their voice. Voter suppression is racially based. It prevents BIPOC communities from being fully engaged in the fight for environmental justice. Moreover, the historic focus of the environmental movement on abstract threats that appeal to wealthy donors both failed to address immediate needs of BIPOC communities and alienated a demographic that should have been obvious allies. Our service next week will feature Paula Cole Jones and will focus on this important topic.

2021-09-12 – Climate, Water, and Racism

Climate change is an existential threat to us all, but the most immediate impact is disproportionately being felt by BIPOC communities. Traditional ways of living are threatened by rising sea levels, falling water tables, and shrinking sea ice. 

On opposite sides of this continent coastal communities are threatened. The Mi’kmaq people are losing their land on Lennox Island off the coast of Canada. As the sea level rises, their island is disappearing and what is left is more exposed to storms. Similarly, the Inupiaq people in Alaska are watching their houses fall into the sea as the level rises and the lack of ice increases the impact of storms.

Whether we look at reservations that were originally situated on marginal lands, or nations in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska that rely on traditional subsistence practices, livelihoods and lives are already being affected by climate change. Water is becoming scarce in many areas, affecting the viability of farm lands. Sea ice is retreating, making seal hunting more difficult for both humans and polar bears.

Indigenous peoples, especially in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, have been saddled with treaties that they must adhere to, but the colonialist governments frequently ignore. These treaties, even if honored, restrict nations to agriculturally marginal lands, control their ability to leverage natural resources for subsistence, and limit their ability to access and control water rights. While they are the most directly and immediately affected by climate change, they have little political power to address either the causes or the impacts.

When we speak of racial justice and environmental justice, we must see them as inextricably linked. Addressing climate change equitably requires addressing the systemic racism that treats members of indigenous communities as second class citizens with no voice and few rights.

2021-09-05 – Kramer Manor Project

One part of our 8th principle is learning the history of our community. Kramer Manor in Scotch Plains was established as a Black neighborhood. It grew and thrived despite obstacles, including the refusal of federal funding for mortgages, the deprivations of the Great Depression, a World War, and systemic racism to become the multicultural community we know today. The history of the Kramer Manor neighborhood community is not widely known. Founded in 1924, this community is approaching its 100th anniversary. The Kramer Manor Project is conducting oral interviews of long-time Scotch Plain and Fanwood residents to collect these historical stories.

As we are part of the Fanwood/Scotch Plains community we should be aware of its history. Our country was colonized through conquest of  Native Americans and enslavement of African Americans.   As white supremacy developed in our country, people were included or excluded from history based on the color of their skin. Communities like Kramer Manor are everywhere yet have gone unnoticed by many. Their histories need to be revealed and celebrated by the entire community.

2021-08-29 – White Centering

 

We all know that person who makes every discussion about themself. It could be as blatant as a man inserting his sprained ankle into a discussion by a group of women about difficult labor, or it could be as subtle as bringing up a financial loss from a real estate crash when the subject is the multi-generational impact of red-lining.

When the topic is about the impacts of racism and the response is to make the story about white people it is called “white centering”. Perhaps the most blatant example is when someone responds to “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter”. The effect is to silence the victims; to minimize their pain; to cause new, fresh injury. 

Saying “all lives matter” is often an intentional effort to draw attention away from the impacts of racism, but white centering can also happen as a result of good intentions. White allies must be careful about attempting to show empathy through sharing what they perceive to be similar experiences. 

Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges we face in living up to our 8th Principle is how to not white-center our discussions, including the discussion about white centering. First U is a diverse community, not as diverse as we’d like, but diverse nonetheless. Every 8th principle minute, every racial justice discussion, every sermon, every activity must be undertaken with that knowledge. We must go to great pains to avoid linguistic assumptions about our composition.

2021-08-22 – Racism, Scapegoating and COVID-19

Scapegoating and pandemics go together. Jews were blamed for the Black Death. It should come as no surprise that the Lieutenant Governor of Texas blamed Blacks for COVID-19’s spread. Let me repeat that; on Thursday, August 19th, 2021, Dan Patrick, Lieutenant Governor of Texas, intentionally lied when he said that unvaccinated African Americans were the largest contributors to the growing spread of COVID-19. 

This is institutional racism. It is the official demonization of a segment of the population to deflect criticism of Whites who don’t get vaccinated. There are more unvaccinated White people in Texas than both vaccinated and unvaccinated Black people, so the statement is a bald-faced lie. But set aside the fact that it’s a lie; it’s almost irrelevant. This is an invitation to lynch people. Do we, as a country, really need this? Apparently, the current power structure sees the need to put lives in danger to retain their power. This action puts black lives at risk of violence and puts all lives at risk from the pandemic because it deflects attention from the real cause of the rise in cases; unvaccinated, unmasked people.

Dan Patrick must resign, but we can expect that he will receive support from his party and his political base and that his statements will actually strengthen his political position.

2021-08-15 TRHT Circle

Truth Racial Healing and Transformation or TRHT is a national and community-based process to bring about transformational and sustainable change, and to address the historic and contemporary effects of racism. Throughout the year there are opportunities to participate in TRHT circles. A TRHT circle is an opportunity to take action by coming together with diverse groups of peoples and institutions, intentionally listening, and unearth conscious and unconscious biases.

Social Justice Matters, the local non-profit Anti-racism organization in Scotch Plains/Fanwood that we supported with our March “share the plate” is encouraging us to participate in at least one of the local TRHT circles over the next few months.   As the centerpiece of the TRHT Framework, the Circles are meant to ground the various elements of the TRHT methodology in a compassionate and expansive forum for sharing personal truth to help begin the process of transforming hearts and minds.

The next TRHT circle meeting will be this Wednesday Aug 18th (details are in the Thursday Email Blast). I encourage you all to participate.  Doing so will provide you with both an opportunity for personal growth and to help build a Beloved Community, fulfilling part of the commitment we made when we adopted the principle in May.

2021-08-08 – Voter Suppression as Racism

In seeing the widespread attacks on voting rights, it is easy to miss the blatant racism inherent in these acts because of the existential threat they pose to democracy. We must understand that democracy is under attack because of the threat it poses to white supremacy.

The history of civil rights, racism, and white supremacy since the end of the Civil War has been focused on the voting rights of BIPOC. By denying formerly enslaved people and their descendants the right to vote, the existing white supremacist power structure has been perpetuated. The power of the vote was kept out of the hands of those who would use it to challenge the racist class structure. As the ability to limit voting rights continues to be reduced by both social and technological changes, the conservative minority is turning its attacks to the power of the vote itself. These attacks do threaten democracy, but the goal remains to protect white supremacy.

In the end, these attacks on voting rights, while threatening to democracy, are also attacks on our UU principles. By denying the vote to some, the 1st, 2nd, and 5th principles are assaulted. Because these attacks are racist, our 8th principle is directly involved. By replacing democracy with an autocratic minority rule, all 8 principles may become unobtainable in our society. We must stand up to these attacks on our basic beliefs. 

2021-08-01 – Call to Prophetic Action – Undoing Systemic White Supremacy

This year at the 2021 UUA General Assembly there was a “Call of Prophetic Action” to all Unitarian Universalists, as individuals, for Undoing Systemic White Supremacy. This “call” is a means by which we, as UU’s are informed mechanism within our denomination that communicates that we are directed by our history social justice is spiritual work and is firmly grounded in our Unitarian Universalist heritage, theology, and values.

Here is an excerpt from this call:

“We call upon the Unitarian Universalist Association, Unitarian Universalist individuals, and congregations to actively engage in undoing systemic white supremacy in all of its manifestations. Systemic white supremacy refers to the embedded, institutional, and pervasive nature of racism, white privilege, and racial bias and oppression in our society. We acknowledge the impact of systemic white supremacy is intersectional, meaning it impacts people differently across race, income/class, gender, age, ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation, religion, disability, and more. As Unitarian Universalists, we decry the ways in which the intersectional impact of systemic white supremacy divides our human family by privileging some groups over others and thereby generating resistance to the common goal of universal equity and justice…. Most egregious, we are losing lives of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color all across this nation—from long-standing ills of police violence, to hate crimes, to emerging crises of the pandemic—due to the evil of systemic white supremacy. “

 Therefore, as Unitarian Universalists we must:

  •       Engage with the movement, in our communities and nation, to heal the evil of racism.
  •       Carry forward the recommended healing actions conveyed in “Widening the Circle of Concern
  •       Build relationships across boundaries of privilege and oppression.
  •       Fulfill our UU role as a spiritual anchor to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color UUs.

 While we at First U have already adopted the 8th Principle and, in doing so, committed ourselves to this path, seeing the UUA take this action further validates our commitment and should serve as additional motivation for us all.

2021-07-25 – Counteracting anti-CRT and anti-BLM Propaganda

We have all seen and heard conservative activists railing against Critical Race Theory and moving to ban it from being taught in public schools. Don’t be drawn into arguing against the lies. They argue Critical Race Theory is being taught is school with the intent of making White children feel bad about being White. While that is patently false, it’s also not relevant. The idea that Critical Race Theory is taught in public schools is an intentional lie. Critical Race Theory is a legal academic theory, not a subject taught in primary or secondary school. If you are being taught Critical Race Theory, you are most likely in law school. So, why are we having this argument and what can we do to counter it?

The reason Critical Race Theory is under attack is that doing so is easy. It is easy to demonize an idea, the more complex the idea, the easier it is to do so. If someone doesn’t understand a concept and they are told it will hurt them, they will argue against it without really understanding what the issue is. The same was done to the Black Lives Matter movement. Lies were told by people in power and they were accepted as facts.

This is McCarthyism: Unfounded allegations levied against an opponent and their supporters for the purpose of retaining political power. The tactic is to place the opposing side in the position of having to defend against an unreasoned attack in a way that prevents them from responding with substance

Perhaps it’s time to respond to these attacks by calling out the attacker, rather than responding to the attack itself. Those orchestrating the attacks on CRT and BLM truly have no sense of decency. Their weakness is that many of those listening to them will leave when they realize the depth of their moral rot. Call out their hypocrisy and their lies. Call out their unAmerican attacks on democracy and free speech. But don’t defend CRT and BLM, because they’re not really the subjects of their attack.

2021-07-11 – 5th Principle Project and Gadflys – UU Racism

There is a small but vocal group called the 5th Principle Project that is attempting to hide racism behind our 5th Principle; The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large. What they are doing is portraying themselves as victims rather than acknowledge that they are trying to protect the White Patriarchy. 

Similarly, there is a group called The Gadflies who claim martyrdom as a result of attacks on their right of free speech. What they speak about is their opposition to social justice. They are against the anti-racism and anti-oppression work that our denomination is doing. 

In both cases, they co-opt the language of inclusion to protect and maintain the hegemony of white cis males over the rest of society. Using words intended to equitably extend power to all UU, they intend to exclude those who they view as a threat to their power.

Understanding who they are and what they really want is the first step towards counter-acting an alt-right movement within Unitarian Universalism. More background information has been shared on our web platforms.