Amendment 4 Does not Fix Racist Constitution

Tuscaloosa News does not seem to like my letters.  None of the letters I have written in the past 3 years have been published.  The newspaper seems more interested in publishing such pieces as “President is inviting the wrath of God”  which reduces this column to an entertainment section equivalent to the National Enquirer than serious debate.  After a week of waiting for a response or for publication, I am posting my letter in response to their editorial.

To the Editor:
The recent editorial supporting Amendment 4 (October 18) to the state constitution  does not seem to understand how racism works. Amendment 4 claims it will remove racist language from our constitution which was established in 1901 with the sole purpose of creating a White Supremacist State. Removing racist language is only a cosmetic touch as it does not and cannot fix the institutionalized racism that is still embedded in the constitution. The paragraphs that will not be removed by this amendment because they are not explicit in their racism are still racist. This particular section was written in the 1950’s when it was believed by the White majority that Blacks were not educable but merely trainable and that language remains. These terms, education and training refer to the alleged abilities that Whites versus Blacks had. The belief was Whites could be educated while Blacks could only be trained. The only way to fix our 1901 constitution is not by deleting phrases but by a complete rewriting of the constitution. Alabama Education Association Executive Secretary Henry Mabry is right when he states Amendment 4 removes the guaranteed right to an education. That is how institutionalized racism works. It is so embedded into our state constitution that to remove racist language actually restores racist policies. Cosmetic fixes are not enough, we need a new state constitution if we are indeed serious about undoing our racist heritage.
Fred L Hammond
Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

Postscript:  Since writing this letter, there have been  several conversations as to what the motivations or reasons are behind this amendment.  The author of the amendment claims it is purely to remove the stain of racism from the constitution.  Perhaps. One can never fully know what those intentions might be.

What is clear is this.  While removing racist language seems a laudable act;  this amendment REENACTS a provision that had previously been held unconstitutional that for racist reasons eliminated a right to public education. When actions to remove language is being undertaken within a document created specifically to create a white supremacist state then the whole constitution needs to be looked at to see where else racism is imbedded.  There are systemic aspects of racism  interwoven in the document that must be examined and rooted out.  For example; racism is also in the constitutional policies guiding the  actions of the governing body.  Removing racism demands not just a cosmetic touch but a full reworking from scratch in order to remove all forms of racial oppression.

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Is Justice Defined by the Victor?

It is the end of October.  I am getting up to ten political emails a day now all asking me to support their campaigns.  There is usually also a spin of fear in these emails.  The most horrible thing will happen if the other person wins the election. Doesn’t matter the political party, the fear expressed is the same.  If the other party wins, our way of life, our values, our freedom will be compromised or worse stripped away.

Is this really what our democracy is about?  Is it really a warring game where the other is characterized as some evil entity prowling to destroy our values?  If you listen to the commentaries this certainly seems to be the case.

I want to believe that the arc of history is bent towards justice.  So I try not to despair when I see racism rearing its ugly head in our proposed legislation or when I see laws curtailing the rights of people.  I say to myself eventually the arc of history will bend towards justice.  Maybe it is not a smooth arc but the arc is there and justice will win out.  But then, I have to ponder on who defines this justice?

I have a definition of what justice is and isn’t.  But so do the people who are proposing legislation that I feel attacks my definition of justice.  Come November 7th, barring a repeat of the 2000 elections, we will have either elected or re-elected a President.  Regardless of the winner, some will rejoice that the arc of history has moved towards justice.  And so I wonder is justice objective or subjective?

History it is said is written by the victors.  Is justice also defined by the victors?  Just as God can be created in our image and therefore love the people we love and hate the people we hate.  So too, is justice defined.  For 236 years, this nation has defined justice according to the words of white men.  There have been horrible atrocities in our nation’s history justified by white men in power. There has been genocide and slavery of entire races of people and these actions were justified by white men. The history books declare the actions were just or unjust depending on the victors.

Had the native peoples been able to prevent the white men from stealing their lands or the South had been able to defeat the North, the history of this nation would have justified the outcome differently. Here in the South, there is still a belief that the South was treated unjustly regarding the ending of slavery.  There is still a belief that state’s rights should have prevailed.

Today, there is a fear expressed by white people  that American history will soon be written by people of color; by people who do not share our religious doctrines; by people who have a different idea of how power should be distributed.  It is these fears that are the subtext in the political campaigns this year. The fear is that everything we thought we knew to be true will be considered false and rewritten. I would like to calm those fears and state that truth is never fully told by one side or the other. Truth is always a compilation of sides. It is by understanding the subjective angles of truth that we can begin to embrace our humanity and grow in compassion and love towards the other.

It seems to me that our freedom to vote for our leaders is even more crucial than ever before. For me, our leaders need to be the ones who will embrace the multiple sides of the truth as expressed by the people of our nation and begin to create justice with this recognition of the whole.  I want to believe that the arc of history bends forever towards Justice.  I want to believe that the positions I have taken are the correct positions. But perhaps the correct position is to have some humility and recognize that Justice as it develops may not be what I had in mind.  Blessed Be.

Endings, Beginnings, and the Time In-Between

by Rev. Fred L Hammond 14 October 2012©

 

I saw a Peanuts cartoon posted on Facebook recently that fits today’s theme.  Linus says life is filled with good experiences or bad experiences.  A question is asked about what about the in-between experiences.  The last panel has Snoopy on top of his doghouse with the caption, In-between experiences are for napping.

But that is where most of our life is spent—in the in between.  There are new beginnings.  Some are very clearly marked as such; the first day at a new school, the first position in a desired career or the purchase of a new house in a new community.  These are all new beginnings.  And there are endings and some of those are clearly marked as well; graduation from high school, leaving a position, or the death of a friend or a partner.

These are all beginnings and endings of one sort or another. A popular song a few years ago Closing Time had a line that stated, Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end[i]. But what about the in-between time?  Are we waiting as if life was a train terminal and the trains coming through were life’s beginning and ending story lines?  Or are we napping like Snoopy, waiting for the next good or bad thing for us to be awake to experience?

Most of us are in the in-between time. Isn’t that the time that really matters?  Motivational speakers would sometimes use a poem to talk about the in-between time, entitled The Dash.  The dash is what is found on gravestones between the year of birth and the year of death.  The person’s story isn’t the year markers, the person’s life story is what happened within the dash–the in-between time.  That is the important time of a person’s life.

How did they do it-this dash between these two years?  What did they experience?  What did they accomplish?  Who did they love? What events shaped their character—their destiny?  Who were the ones left behind?  How did they cope?  The beginnings and endings, the highlights and lowlights of a person’s life, these are defining and significant to the person but these are only changes in the person’s life.

What did the person do to cope with these changes?  Part of the process has to do with how we transition into these changes.

Walter Bridges, author of Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, states that we confuse change and transition by thinking of them as interchangeable words.  They are not.   He writes, “Change is your move to a new city or your shift to a new job.  It is the birth of your new baby or the death of your father.  It is the switch from the old health plan at work to the new one, or the replacement of your manager by a new one or it is the acquisition that your company just made.  … Change is situational.  Transition, on the other hand, is psychological.”

How do we adjust to having a new child that prevents us from just picking up and going away for a weekend?  What needs to happen within us that allows us to incorporate / integrate that very specific change in our lives?  Bridges states, “Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of furniture.” And without a transition into that new relationship in our lives—such as a newborn, or rather without that inner re-orientation and self-redefinition to the new event that change won’t work.

Our society does not do a very good job in handling the transitions of our life story.  Other societies are much more adept at transitions.  They have created a process to aid in that adjustment of self in relationship to the change.  These societies have rituals or rites of passage to assist people to let go of the ending of one chapter in a person’s life and to find and begin a new one.  Anthropologist Michael Rudolph[ii] sees ritual as a transformative practice that seeks to reorganize identity through the ritual performance.

Our child dedications, bridging ceremonies, wedding ceremonies, and memorial services; all make attempts of doing this transformative work.  But sometimes they fail because we expect the process to be over with once the ceremony marks that ending or beginning. The truth is transitions take longer than the ceremonial marker. And some societies prepare for that transition process. For example, the Jewish ritual surrounding the death of a loved one includes sitting Shiva for seven days followed by reciting the Kaddish up to eleven months after the loss. The process of sitting Shiva and Kaddish done in this ritualistic manner helps reorganize the internal identity of the bereaved person and family.

Bridges suggests that all transitions have three components, 1) an ending; 2) a neutral zone; and 3) a new beginning.  It is that neutral zone that is oft times filled with confusion and distress. It is the time that Snoopy takes a nap and hopefully wakes up to the new beginning already fully in place. He says that many people who choose to make changes will deny the ending of things and those who are catapulted into a transition can not see the possibility of a new beginning.  Such is the uncomfortableness of that in-between time.

Having a new child in our lives, as exciting as that is, is also an ending of sorts.  There are new priorities that must take precedent in order to raise this new life in a loving and nurturing environment.  If the parent insists on continuing to party with their drinking pals or taking off for the weekend without placing the child’s needs into the equation then there will be barriers to raising that child. That in-between time includes the grieving and the re-adjustment of the understanding of independence and freedom within the realm of parenthood.  There is no shame in recognizing that grieving process and by doing so one will be able to facilitate re-integration of the new beginning of parenthood. But to deny that an adjustment or reorganization of identity is necessary is to invite additional duress and conflict into the relationship not only with others but also with oneself.

This grieving during the in-between time is part of the normal process of transitioning to the new beginning.  Whether it is the arrival of new children into our lives, a move to a new community, or retirement from a rewarding career, it is normal to experience loss.

When I first entered seminary, I thought I was beginning a new adventure. And I was but I was also still in the throes of ending my previous life.   Bridges says the ending experience includes five aspects that include disengagement, dismantling, dis-identification, disenchantment, and disorientation.

I was surprised by the sudden unsettled feeling I was experiencing.  I chose to leave a successful career as executive director of an agency that I co-founded. In deciding to go to seminary I had to disengage from the work that I did for 15 years. This meant no longer keeping tabs on what employees or the new executive director was doing with my agency. It was no longer the agency that I co-founded and ran; it was now the agency where I used to work.

But I wasn’t anticipating waking up one day in Chicago, thousands of miles from my home, with this creeping dread of ‘O my god, who am I?’ I wasn’t expecting this feeling of disorientation but here I was in a strange city, where I knew very few people and I felt bewildered by the shift back into being a student again.

I had all these experiences, all this expertise but they were suddenly irrelevant to my being a student in seminary.  I had to dis-identify myself from my past identity. In some ways it was as if I had no identity because student was a temporary state.  I was no longer in the role of an executive director. I was not yet in the role of a minister. I was in between identified roles. This identity no longer existed and so there was a process of dis-identification that had to occur in order for me to learn a new identity. The identity of me as minister.

In my hometown, I had become known as Mr. Interfaith AIDS Ministry so tightly was I identified with the work I did with HIV/AIDS.  People claimed to know me whom I never personally met. People sought my advice on non-profits, on HIV/AIDS education, and on issues affecting the gay community. But in Chicago, all of my knowledge and skills that I developed as a Chief Professional Officer of a non-profit were persona non grata.  The identity that was assigned me in my hometown needed to be dismantled in this new setting.   This transition back to student was very unsettling. I needed a nap.

Of course in hindsight it was all part of the process of becoming a minister but I did not know that at the time.  Being a minister is a process that is forever unfolding.  I was no longer identified as an executive director of a non-profit agency that identity had died but I was not yet a minister either. So I was in between two places. One does not simply wake up into their new role fully formed.

And even though a person could wake up one day and be identified as a parent, there is still a process and a transformation of identity from not being a parent to being a parent.  All that was before is now gone, and the new parent has to adjust to that new identity and grieve the passing of the old one.  They must or they may become resentful of the interruption that responsibility for children often brings into our lives, or resentful of the new job, or resentful of the move to a new community.  It is not simply a turning of the page in the chapter of our life but rather a process of letting go of the loss of that which was before and realigning to the new circumstances we find ourselves.

How we deal with the endings and beginnings in our lives might be a pattern established as far back as childhood.  When an ending is occurring, we might discover that we handle that ending in much the same way as we did other endings.  Bridges writes, “Leaving for a better job may, ironically enough, cause the same grief and confusion that occurred in the past when you reached the sad end of a core relationship.[iii]” He adds, “…some of the feelings you experience today have nothing to do with the present ending but are the product, instead, of the resonance set up between situations in your present and those in your past.”

Abraham-Hicks, new age motivational speaker, calls this a vibrational set point.  It is the rut in the dirt road of how we dealt with all transitional situations in the past, and so we naturally will fall into that response pattern just as easily as a car driving on dirt road will fall into the well developed rut.  Depending on how successful our past transitions were can be an indicator if that rut in the road serves us well or holds us back.  We need to sometimes re-grade the road so we can make a much smoother transition this time around.

To do this work, we need to be willing to examine our past transitional moments. Bridges suggests that we examine our lives and answer this question:  “A new chapter in my life opened when…?”  For some, he suggests these might be relational and for others it might be places or projects.  He also suggests that we look at the changes that have occurred in our past year and gives us some categories to aid in our thinking of these changes.  What were the changes in home life; personal changes; work and financial changes; and inner changes are some of the areas to look at. This examination of these areas of our lives might enable us to gain insights into how we have handled past transitions and help us make the shift that we need to make to handle our current transition.

We also are better able to handle those times when everything feels up in the air or falling apart if the transition has meaning and is moving towards a desired end.  If it is not seen as a part of a larger picture then it can be experienced as simply distressing.  This explains the phrases that we often hear from well meaning folks, like ‘it was God’s will’ or ‘God has a purpose that we cannot understand’ or ‘God only gives us what we can handle.’  While infuriating when heard, these are attempts to ameliorate the distress caused in our lives by attempting to place them in a larger framework.

And while we might not appreciate comments like this when we are in crisis, there is a truth in these statements that we might overlook.  Life on this planet has a rhythm that all life integrates into and experiences. That rhythm includes the pain and loss we experience when events happen in and around us that we cannot control.  Now I do not advocate the notion of a god somewhere that plays our lives as some pawn piece in a celestial game of chess—and therefore our lives have a meaning that we might not see from our linear point of view. But I am suggesting that life has a rhythm of ebbs and flows and we as creatures expressing life are a part of that natural rhythm.

Bridges use the seasonal analogy to explain this rhythm.  Here is the analogy offered by Chance the Gardener in the movie Being There[iv]:

President “Bobby”: Mr. Gardner, do you agree with Ben, or do you think that we can stimulate growth through temporary incentives?
[Long pause]
Chance the Gardener: As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.
President “Bobby”: In the garden.
Chance the Gardener: Yes. In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.
President “Bobby”: Spring and summer.
Chance the Gardener: Yes.
President “Bobby”: Then fall and winter.
Chance the Gardener: Yes.
Benjamin Rand: I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we’re upset by the seasons of our economy.
Chance the Gardener: Yes! There will be growth in the spring!
Benjamin Rand: Hmm!
Chance the Gardener: Hmm!
President “Bobby”: Hm. Well, Mr. Gardner, I must admit that is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I’ve heard in a very, very long time.

While we might not fall exactly into these seasons at the same time as others, there is a rhythm in our lives.  It is natural for us to experience these transitions and we should not expect that we will not have them, because we will all have them.  Bridges reminds us, “First there is an ending, then a beginning, and an important empty or fallow time in between.” So things are not exactly in the order that Chance the Gardener suggests, it is rather fall—the letting go of leaves, winter, and then the spring when green life emerges from the seemingly dead brown wood.

We see this pattern in the theology of the resurrection.  Jesus dies–an ending, three days of disorientation, letting go of false hopes and understandings, then resurrection, new life—a new beginning—a new way of living in the world.  See the resurrection story follows a process of transition that is common to all of us.  One does not need to believe in the literalness of this story to also see this story as a parable for going through transitions in life.

So imagine for a moment what the followers of Jesus might have experienced during this ending of Jesus’ ministry.  There was turmoil. They witnessed Jesus’ arrest and many of them scattered—some denied their connection to him, others hid in fear. Still others stood vigil at his death still trying to comprehend what and why this was all happening.  I imagine they questioned the amount of time they spent following this man. Was it all worth it? Was it just a waste of time? These are all reactions to the changes that were taking place in and around them. And then early in the morning a few women went to the grave site and something new began.

Now not all transitions in our lives are that dramatic.  Some transitions are subtle much closer to the transitioning seasons where we notice a slight crispness in the air and a tinge of yellow in the leaves.  And over time we realize that we are in transition. But should that fallow time between an ending and a beginning seem like a major upheaval, Bridges offers this insight.  “It’s important to recognize the reason for these feelings and to realize that they are natural.  Just because things are up in the air now and you sometimes feel as if you were right back where you started, this is not a sign that you have made a mistake or have been wasting your time for the past ten years. It is only a sign that you are in one of life’s natural and periodic times of readjustment and renewed commitment.”   Recognize that “… adulthood unfolds its promise in an alternating rhythm of expansion and contraction, change and stability.”

Life’s transitions, be they found in nature with the seasons, or under the sea with the tides, or in the daily living of our lives is a natural process of the universe which even the stars above follow this rhythm of expansion and contraction.  So may our transitions lead us to new and great beginnings… but in the In-between leave some room for a nap. Blessed Be.


[ii]  Michael Rudolph , Ritual Performances as Authenticating Practices: Cultural representations of Taiwan’s aborigines in times of political changes as found athttp://www.cefc.com.hk/pccpa.php?aid=2631

[iii] Walter Bridges, Transitions: Making sense of Life’s Changes

Changing Our Narrative

 by Rev. Fred L Hammond 7 October 2012 ©

Last spring I delivered a sermon on the Doctrine of Discovery, a 550 year plus old document that set in motion the underlying narrative of the United States of America.  I talked about this doctrine then because our Unitarian Universalist Association was submitting a resolution to our Justice General Assembly in Phoenix to renounce this Doctrine of Discovery and request that all laws that reflect this papal decree be removed from our governing bodies. The resolution passed with an overwhelming majority of those congregational delegates present.

The story of this country is cast with this doctrine as a preamble to our history and the majority of our country’s actions have the spirit of this doctrine imbedded within them.  To remind us what the Doctrine of Discovery states, let me quote again Pope Nicholas V who in 1452 wrote:

” We grant to you (King of Portugal)  full and free power, through the Apostolic authority by this edict, to invade, conquer, fight, subjugate the Saracens (Muslims) and pagans, and other infidels and other enemies of Christ, and wherever established their Kingdoms, Duchies, Royal Palaces, Principalities and other dominions, lands, places, estates, camps and any other possessions, mobile and immobile goods found in all these places and held in whatever name, and held and possessed by the same […]and to lead their persons in perpetual servitude. [i]

Pope Nicholas V wrote another edict to protect Portugal from other Christian nations laying claim to lands already claimed by Portugal.  And in 1493, Pope Alexander XI expanded this edict to allow other Christian nations to also lay claim to lands not already claimed by Portugal and gave Christopher Columbus the right to lay claim to the lands he set foot on for Spain.

So the historical narrative of the United States essentially begins in 1492.  We know the poem entitled The History of the U.S[ii]. written in 1919, which begins with the stanza:

In fourteen hundred ninety-two,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue
And found this land, land of the Free,
Beloved by you, beloved by me.

It implies that prior to 1492 this land was uninhabited, unknown to anyone, per se.  Columbus found it and introduced to this land European civility—or so we were taught in school.  Yet, there were people already here with a culture that was long established.  Howard Zinn[iii] writes in A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present   “These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing. These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus.”

Another poem entitled In 1492 by Jean Marzollo first published in 1948 about Christopher Columbus contain these closing stanzas

The Arakawa natives were very nice;
They gave the sailors food and spice.

Columbus sailed on to find some gold
To bring back home, as he’d been told.

He made the trip again and again,
Trading gold to bring to Spain.

The first American?  No, not quite.
But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.

This isn’t exactly what happened after Columbus landed in the Caribbean but it is what we teach our children.  Some histories will make mention that the encounter of Columbus and his crew with the native peoples of the island went according to Columbus’ plan of enslavement and genocide but this mention is equivalent to a footnote.  While these histories do not deny the atrocities they do not make it central to Columbus’ mission. Columbus wrote the following to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand[iv],

I took by force six of the Indians from the first island, and intend to carry them to Spain in order to learn our language and return, unless your Highnesses should choose instead to have them all transported to Spain, or held captive on the island. These people are very simple in matters of war… I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men, and govern them as I pleased… They are very clever and honest, display great liberality, and will give whatever they possess for a trifle or for nothing at all… Whether there exists any such thing as private property among them I have not been able to ascertain… As they appear to have no religion, I believe they would very readily become Christians… They would make good servants… They are fit to be ordered about and made to work, to sow, and do aught else that may be needed, …

To sum up the great profits of this voyage, I am able to promise, for a trifling assistance from your Majesties, any quantity of gold, drugs, cotton, mastic, aloe, and as many slaves for maritime service as your Majesties may stand in need of.”

In the short time after Columbus’ arrival the population of what is now known as Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Cuba was reduced from 3 million to 60,000.  The people of these islands died; some to European diseases like small pox and others through genocidal killing and suicide for not being able to secure the gold amounts desired.

Howard Zinn in his text writes[v], To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to deemphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves—unwittingly—to justify what was done.”

And this has been our stance in the Americas ever since. We called it by many names; Doctrine of Discovery, Manifest Destiny, the Monroe Doctrine, and today American Exceptionalism. It is a part of our narrative that covers up or hides many sins that we have committed as a nation.  And it is this narrative that we teach our children in schools.  America is best.  America is the greatest.  America is the home of the brave and land of the free.  America can do wrong in its eyes.

Of course the question arises, who is this America.  From the earliest days of this republic it was white men who were America. This is a White supremacist narrative that is presented to the world.

Congress in 1790 enacted this law:  All free white persons who have, or shall migrate into the United States, and shall give satisfactory proof, before a magistrate, by oath, that they intend to reside therein, and shall take an oath of allegiance, and shall have resided in the United States for one whole year, shall be entitled to all the rights of citizenship.[vi]

Now in 1790 all the rights of citizenship only pertained to white men who owned property, white women were not granted all the rights of citizenship. And in many states Jews and Catholics were also not granted all the rights of citizenship.  The definition of who was white in America was narrowly determined. Benjamin Franklin gives a definition of whiteness in 1751:  “[vii]That the Number of purely   white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is   black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians,   French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call   a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only   excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People   on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased.”

Today there are texts written entitled How Jews became White Folks and How the Irish became White.  Our narrative as a nation was told from the perspective of Whites as the only sanctioned narrative.  To go against this narrative is considered sedition. That is a strong statement but it is a true statement nonetheless.

Especially if you listen to some of the conservative voices in this country going against the narrative is indeed seditious.  The narrative of America as told is being destroyed by having a Black president.  Te-Nehisi Coates[viii] in his article in Atlantic Monthly proposes that the furor over whether Obama has an American Birth Certificate or proclaiming him to be a Muslim is a means to maintain the white narrative of America.  If Obama is not an American or is a Muslim then he is not really the president of the USA and the white narrative of America is preserved.  There is a photo going around FaceBook of a poster at a Koch Brothers sponsored protest against Occupy New York that reads, “I’m dreaming of a White President just like the ones we use to have…”

Preserve the narrative of America at all costs.  Obey our laws, obey our cultural norms.  Do not disrupt the 550 plus years of white narrative that declares whites as superior over all others.   In 1635[ix], a native person allegedly killed an Englishman in Maryland. The English demanded the native be handed over to them for punishment under English law.  The chief answered how they would handle the native and refused, saying “you are here strangers, and come into our country, you should rather conform yourselves to the customs of our country, than impose yours upon us.”   But to do that would have made the doctrine of discovery invalid.  It would have changed the narrative of supremacy.

Arizona HB2281 which was signed into law and into effect December 2011 banned the teaching of ethnic studies in Arizona schools.  The ethnic studies specifically banned were Latino ethnic studies.  This law states that “School[s] in this state shall not include in its program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:

  1. 1.    Promote the overthrow of the United States Government.
  2. 2.    Promote resentment toward a race or class of people
  3. 3.    Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
  4. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

At the heart of this ban is a course of studies that were taught at the public schools in Tucson, AZ. Tucson is a community of about 47% Anglo, 42% Latino and the remaining 11% being Black, Native American, or Asian.  In the public school district the demographics change because many whites attend private or charter schools making Latinos to account for 62% of the student population.

The Mexican American Studies program was considered seditious because it taught the history of the indigenous people of the America’s from the perspective of the indigenous people.  History of the indigenous people did not begin in Europe with the Greco and Roman empires but rather with the Aztec’s and Mayan’s.  Columbus’ arrival was not the heroic event that unfurled the ability of Europeans seeking to breathe free but rather as the beginning of an invasion that destroyed civilizations and enslaved and ransacked human and natural resources. It placed the context of the land of Arizona in its thousands of year old histories of a proud people who lived in this land and had its resources taken away from them, first by the Mexican government and then by the United States government. The bumper sticker of the immigrant rights movement, ‘we didn’t cross the border the border crossed us’ is not just a sound bite it is an historic fact of a people living in the southwest.

Theirs is a narrative that highlighted the values of community that holds itself together. The sharing and generosity that Columbus found in the Taino tribe of the Arawak people is not seen as a weakness but as a strength of their heritage.    Yet, it is this ethnic solidarity in a community value that was made illegal by the Arizona law in favor of the strident American individualism. American individualism where the pursuit of capital gain is not to uplift the society but only to increase the privilege and power of the one receiving the gain.  This is not the society that neither Columbus nor any of the Europeans encountered when they arrived on these shores.  Europeans encountered the culture of Iroquois Chief Hiawatha, who said, [x]We bind ourselves together by taking hold of each other’s hands so firmly and forming a circle so strong that if a tree should fall upon it, it could not shake nor break it, so that our people and grandchildren shall remain in the circle in security, peace and happiness.” A Jesuit priest who encountered the Iroquois wrote, [xi]No poorhouses are needed among them, because they are neither mendicants nor paupers… their kindness, humanity and courtesy not only makes them liberal with what they have, but causes them to possess hardly anything except in common…”

And while I am not so naïve to think that the native cultures of the America’s was idyllic, these are narratives that need to be incorporated into the American narrative as a whole in order to sort out and sift the wheat from the chaff.  There are aspects of cultures found right here in these lands that could aid in the redemption of the American narrative that has spawned centuries of white supremacy and violent racism against others.

The Mexican American Studies program was one of those programs that sought American redemption through the telling of a history from the perspective of the native people’s point of view.  These students have the potential to contribute to our society if they are given the tools to understand where they fit in the narrative of this country.  They get to begin to rewrite that narrative to include their achievements, their cultural contributions.

The high school drop out rate of Latino’s nationally hovers around 56%.  The Tucson school district after implementing their Mexican American Studies program found the drop out rate decrease to 2.5% in the school district. Tucson students who attended this program did better in state exams as compared to their peers in other schools.  The students found that they found a reason why education was important for them to pursue. They discovered that education was relevant to their life experiences.

Clergy in Tucson[xii] wrote a letter in support of the Mexican American Studies program.  They wrote:

“As people of faith, we recognize how important our history and stories are to us. Scriptures are nothing more than the passed down stories of people who wanted their children and their children’s children to remember the ways in which God had moved within their lives and in the course of human history to bring forth freedom from slavery, forgiveness from retribution, love from hate, and grace from sin. The history of the people of faith within sacred scripture has never been the dominant history; our history is not the history of Egypt but the history of the Hebrew slaves, not the history of Babylon but the history of those carried away into captivity, not the history of Herod but the history of a refugee family who had to flee to Egypt, not the history of Rome but the history of a peasant named Jesus and his followers.” The same is true of the Mexican American Studies program; it is a history of a conquered people, the indigenous people of these lands.

Howard Zinn recalls a statement he once read that stated, [xiii]The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is.”

Yes, the story the Mexican American Studies program tells is counter to the narrative of this nation but it’s aim is not to raise up people with seditious acts but rather to honor the lives of those lost.  To glean from their stories the richness of their lives and the lessons their lives still have to offer us.

It may come as a bit of surprise to folks that tomorrow has two names as the holiday.  It is Columbus Day, a day in which Alabama anyway, seeks to honor those of Italian heritage. It is also American Indian Heritage Day, a day to honor the contributions of the native peoples from these lands.  It may seem odd that Alabama is only one of a few states and municipalities that honor the native people of this land officially. I hope Alabama gets why honoring Native Americans tomorrow is so important in our country.

This state also continues to honor Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Confederate Memorial Day.  And I think I now get why it is important for Alabama to honor and remember these people from a painful time in our nation’s history when ideologies clashed so brutally.

In order to fully live up to our potential as a people we need to understand our story as a nation. We need to change our narrative to include the fullness of our story; the good, bad, and ugly truths of our story.  It would be easy and it has been easy for parts of our history to fade away because they are too shameful, to painful to face.  We have done this in America.  We have tried to forget the Japanese Interment camps during World War Two. We have tried to forget the turmoil and unrest of the Civil Rights era.  We have tried to forget the brutal murders of sexual minorities like Matthew Shepard and the thousands who commit suicide because their sexual orientation is not viewed acceptable by society. And I am sure there are some of us who would prefer that the Undocumented remain in the shadows of America.

But if this country is to live up to its most sacred creed, then we must do its work to undo white supremacy and white privilege where ever it is established. It does not serve us well, it never ever did.

[i] http://unamsanctamcatholicam.blogspot.com/2011/02/dum-diversas-english-translation.html

[ii] http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2274/where-does-that-1492-ocean-blue-thing-about-columbus-come-from  Poem written by Winifred Sackville Stoner, Jr.

[iii] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn)- Highlight Loc. 72-75  | Added on Wednesday, October 03, 2012, 04:41 PM

[iv] http://red-coral.net/Columb.html  from the poem Columbus in the Bay of Pigs by John Curl

[v] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn)- Highlight Loc. 214-16  | Added on Friday, October 05, 2012, 01:02 PM

[vi] As found in the article “Fear of a Black President” by Ta-Nehisi Coates http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/09/fear-of-a-black-president/309064/?single_page=true

[vii] http://www.dialoginternational.com/dialog_international/2008/02/ben-franklin-on.html

[viii] “Fear of a Black President” by Ta-Nehisi Coates http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/09/fear-of-a-black-president/309064/?single_page=true

[ix] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn) – Highlight Loc. 456-60  | Added on Friday, October 05, 2012, 01:39 PM

[x] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn)-Highlight Loc 426-31

[xi] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn)-Highlight Loc 431-35

[xii] http://www.tucsonweekly.com/TheRange/archives/2011/06/21/faith-leaders-ethnic-studies-program-is-a-valuable-educational-program

[xiii] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn)- Highlight Loc. 252-53  | Added on Friday, October 05, 2012, 01:09 PM