Social Justice Articles 6
cheese things from the kitchen ?’ The woman she asked was the former Moderator of the congregation. The only “caterers’ help” that evening was a young White woman wearing a conspicuous apron with the caterers name across the front.
Assumptions—we all make them because we have all been “carefully taught“. Assumptions ooze from the cultural woodwork and float unabated through our social atmosphere.
If we had time, I’m sure we could do a little workshop and each of us shares a few stories of our own. Maybe tell a few on ourselves, even. Maybe there will be some of that at coffee hour.
Sometimes that’s the most meaningful part of Sunday morning.
I wish I could tell you that as UU’s - with the “the inherit worth and dignity of the individual” at the heart of our faith - that we UU’s are a bit ahead of the rest of society on this issue. But I can’t.
Our congregations are almost entirely all White or token integrated. Only a handful of our congregations are genuinely integrated, and there are only a couple more so than there were 25 years ago, notwithstanding that Bill Sinkford, our current President, is Black. But many evangelical congregations and not a few mainstream Protestant and Catholic congregations far outstrip us. We reflect the larger society even as there has been progress, especially in the military and the workplace where there are some reasonably effective laws and enforcement.
But where there is less effective regulation, in areas where things are more informal and voluntary, there is still and abundance of racism.
Much of it is more subtle, covert “unintentional” slips of the tongue and the like. But there is still plenty of raw bigotry. My daughter has been stopped for “driving while Black” and she and her husband have heard the “N” word a few times. And the disparity in our health care, education, and housing is terribly discouraging. Indeed, racism still literally kills people. Look at the experience in New Orleans after the hurricane or examine the facts in education, housing and healthcare in any American town or city.
Instead, I’d like to turn to the question of what we can DO about racism … how we can respond to what goes on in our presence … and how we can look at ourselves a bit more clearly and understand how WE … all of us … you …have been “carefully taught”. How do we unlearn all those attitudes, assumptions, and habits that were “drummed in our dear little ears?” These attitudes are still being used in dozens of implicit but powerful ways … by the media... by the makeup of our neighborhoods (and congregations) - still so sadly narrow.
Perhaps some of you reading this may be a bit more ready to teach yourself how to reflect on what you’ve been taught, how to un-learn some old deeply buried assumptions and habits, and maybe even to begin to learn new assumptions and habits.
There is no lack of resources these days. That’s one small but hopeful bit of progress. The libraries and bookstores are filled with thoroughly researched and eloquently told volumes on the subject. I’ll mention just one: The Rage of a Privileged Class, by Ellis Cose. And every TV network has by now done several major specials on racism … renting and viewing a couple is instructive; doing it together in group can be even more helpful. The UUA has a range of programs you can draw on as a congregation. There is no lack of resources.
“You’ve GOT to be Carefully Taught”
by Robert Throne
(Editor’s Note: Bob Throne and I first got to know each other as seminary students at Andover Newton Theological School about twenty-five years ago and have remained friends since then.
During all these times, Bob’s commitment to racial and social justice has remained strong, both because his family is multi-racial and because he served one of the few multi-racial congregations in the UUA. His words here, therefore, come from personal and professional experiences. John Morgan.)
“You’ve GOT to be taught to be afraid,
Of people whose skin is a different shade,
And people whose eyes are oddly made.
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight;
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
These words are from the musical South Pacific, of course, by Rogers and Hammerstein. They were written a half century ago but they are still instructive today.
Let me tell you a story. This one’s on me, and it wound up on the front page of the Washington Post about ten years ago. The first autumn I was called to the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Mt. Airy, Philadelphia, I found myself on a six hour drive to western PA for a meeting of the Pennsylvania Universalist Convention. One twenty-five member of Restoration was driving and after an hour or two of casual conversation, getting to know one another, I turned to her and said - ‘What’s a proud African American women like you doing in a UU congregation?’ Without hesitation, she replied - ‘Oh, I was raised Baptist but I always questioned the superstitious stuff as a young women and I wanted a place where I could think for myself’. A classic UU experience, I believe.
But my question was essentially racist.
I might have asked many other people about how they became UU, but I would never have mentioned race. Indeed, I HAD asked dozens of people about their UU story. But I assumed that this particular woman’s race made a difference … I didn’t ask how she became a UU, and then ask if being Black had made her story different. I just unthinkingly assumed it. It’s a subtle point, but rooted in what I had been ‘taught’ … that race makes people different. Well, maybe it does; maybe--or maybe not; depending on the individual and the subject ay hand.
Now I was in my early 40’s at the time, married to a Jewish woman, with children who were White, Portuguese, and Black--a thoroughly diverse family. And we had sought out and lived in integrated communities for our entire marriage, had been cross-racial adoption activists, and had had not a few difficult struggles with racism among our own families, even. But still, I had assumed, without thinking or asking, that race automatically made a difference.
Here’s another story. In the course of one of the very few conversations about race among Black and White folks I’ve ever experienced, a long time White, member asked ‘Well just what IS the “Black” experience anyhow?” And a lovely Black friend and neighbor of maybe fifteen years replied ‘Oh just this week I was in Windfall - a very smart jewelry shop in an upscale neighborhood - and when I went to buy a bracelet they took my credit card into the back room and only returned after about five minutes. Has that ever happened to you? And my son, in his 30’s and a high school teacher, has White folk cross the street to avoid his walking too close to them. This happens all the time. Does that happen to your son?’
I could go on. There was a denominational event there at Restoration and a UU visitor from central PA saw a woman, a Black woman, with a tray and knowing that the hor’deurves had been catered, asked “Oh would you please get me some more of those