Anti-Racist vs Non-Racist

I came across the following article today:  “I don’t trust white people, even the liberals, and science backs me up.”   It is a good article that exposes the difficulty white people have after 400 years of white supremacy immersion to behave in ways that are non-racist.  The good news is the science this author is citing is behavioral science and not science like the immutable laws of science, such as the law of gravity. This means that white people can change their behaviors and become non-racist.

Non-racist?  I do not see too many people in the anti-racism work talking about being non-racist.  They mostly use the term anti-racist.  So what is the difference?  Actually there is a huge difference.

My taking action as a white ally in a Black Lives Matter protest is an anti-racist action.  I am standing in solidarity against the racism that has been institutionalized in our criminal justice system. (If this statement is new to you; there is a whole body of work out there that documents our criminal justice system as racist, so I am not going to spend time here justifying that statement.)

My reading and researching about institutional racism in the United States of America is equipping me with information to bolster my ability to recognize racism as it has been displayed and continues to be displayed in this nation.  This reading and researching is anti-racism work.  But this work still does not make me non-racist.

As the article points out, there are still unconscious racist messages embedded into my culture that I practice without even batting an eye even as I proclaim anti-racist statements with my mouth and body. To be non-racist in my behaviors means I need to be willing to examine my behaviors in the context of racism. It means that I need to have a wider frame of reference in which to place my behaviors and decisions.

I will give an example.  And it is easier to look at someone else’s behavior than it is my own.  Alabama’s Governor Bentley recently made the decision to close down department of motor vehicles in the most rural counties of the state.  He stated this was for financial reasons because of shortfalls in the state budget. Governors have the unpopular task to make the hard decisions even though it will affect people’s lives. If state budget was the only factor behind this decision, this might seem like a difficult but reasonable decision to make.

However, in the wider context, this decision affects people of color in greater numbers than it does white people.  In the wider context, this decision was made after the state of Alabama passed the requirement that people have to have state issued photo IDs in order to vote in elections. In the wider context, this decision will force people to take time off from work to travel 3 or 4 hours away to wait in line for several hours to get their license and photo ID. In the wider context, the majority of people living and working in these counties do not have positions that pay for personal leave or sick time, so a day off from work is a day’s pay lost.  This may translate in not being able to make rent that month or place food on the table that week.  What first appeared as an unpopular and hard decision to balance a state budget, now begins to look like yet another means to oppress and disenfranchise the poor who also happen to be predominantly people of color.

Now Governor Bentley has stated this decision was not done for racist reasons. On the face of his statements, I believe him. But intention does not negate impact AND look at where he lives. He lives in a state whose state constitution of 1901 was created for the sole purpose to promote and sustain white supremacy. His actions are in line with 114 years of white supremacy codified into the Alabama constitution.

In order for Governor Bentley to be acting from a non-racist place, he needs first to be aware, consciously aware on a daily basis, how the constitution that he swore to uphold is first and foremost a racist document written in such a manner to prevent people of color to fully participate in the governmental process. He also needs to be aware, consciously aware on a daily basis, how his actions affect all of his constituents along racial lines. If he wants to truly be seen as non-racist, then he needs to change his behaviors when making decisions that will negatively impact people of color.

Let me attempt to give a more personal example to distinguish the two terms. I recently shared a sermon with my minister colleagues at our fall retreat entitled:  For Such a Time As This. It was the sermon I gave at the installation of another colleague. In it, I challenge our Unitarian Universalist denomination regarding racism within our faith.  Afterwards, one of my African American colleagues thanked me for stating things that he could not have stated then added ‘with such words comes great accountability.’ My sermon was anti-racist. My accountability to that sermon needs to be non-racist behavior.

It is easier to be anti-racist because that is merely pointing out the splinter in our neighbors’ eyes. The harder work, the aspirational work is to be non-racist, the plucking out the log within our own eye so we can see our own behaviors and change them to be increasingly non-racist. Undoing the ingrained behavior of a 400 year plus white supremacist culture will take concerted effort on all of our parts.

Those who are dedicated to this work need to be both anti-racist and non-racist. The willingness to stand in solidarity with people of color against racism and the willingness to do the hard soul-searching work to change our own behaviors so they no longer oppress others.

 

 

 

HB 56: Pondering Civil Disobedience

I have been pondering what our next steps should be in response to HB 56 in AL and HB 87 in GA. I confess my understanding of the HB 87 in GA is limited, so my comments here will reflect more on HB 56.

I attended the federal hearing of HB 56 in Birmingham. Judge Blackburn just wasn’t getting the religious argument and the attorney was not presenting a very strong argument to enable her to get it.  In fact, I thought she erred in her strategy altogether. The attorney went doctrinal and this law is not about doctrines but about resources that religious organizations offer in practicing their faith that enable immigrants (undocumented and documented) to remain in AL.  So there is a very good chance that the judge will rule for the state in regard to first amendment rights being violated.

But this is indeed about first amendment rights being violated. And so I have been wondering, what are the next steps?  I have been reading about the New Sanctuary movement.  The original sanctuary movement in the 1980’s was in response to supporting refugees from El Salvador fleeing their country from the US backed civil war. These refugees were not given asylum in the US because the US maintained they were allies with these countries. But this reason hides the deeper truth that the US was providing military training and arms to the governments that were killing their people involved in liberation theology in El Salvador.  So congregations of many faith traditions became sanctuary congregations and gave hiding places to refugees and moved them from congregation to congregation to Canada which was offering asylum.

In 2007 the New Sanctuary Movement was born, “with the goal of protecting immigrant families from unjust deportation, affirming and making visible these families as children of God and awakening the moral imagination of the country through prayer and witness.”  This movement is also comprised of a broad interfaith coalition including the Unitarian Universalist Association.  (See the UUA’s involvement with the New Sanctuary Movement here. )

These congregations support a family undergoing deportation with American born children perhaps by providing meals, transportation to work, and other material and spiritual support.  Congregations may also offer their locations to alternative labor/employer match sites.  I encourage you to thoughtfully examine the New Sanctuary Movement website and pay close attention to what are the expectations and roles of participating congregations as found here.

This site also discusses briefly the federal Immigration and Nationality Act which includes section 1324 regarding harboring.  According to this site, all cases regarding prosecution of this act were aimed at individuals who secretly harbored or concealed but not those individuals who notified INS of the undocumented person’s presence but continued to shelter them.   They surmise the same would be true for congregations who alert INS of the undocumented person’s presence but continue to shelter them. But this has never been tested in court and therefore the UUA legal counsel advises that congregations contemplating this stance to consult with an immigration lawyer.

In most states sanctuary is not a criminal activity but in AL under this new law providing sanctuary or creating sanctuary for undocumented persons is a crime.  Mickey Hammon, State Representative, during the public hearing of his version of HB 56 stated, after I spoke against this bill, that if any congregation has undocumented individuals worshiping in the church that he will ensure that the clergy with the undocumented persons are arrested. He has also stated that HB 56 was to impact all aspects of the immigrant’s life.

I am quite aware that in AL, if we were to have sanctuary congregations we would be asking our congregations to be willing to face the criminal charges as defined in Alabama’s law. People harboring undocumented immigrants could be charged with a class A misdemeanor unless ten or more individuals were harbored and then the charge is a Class C Felony.  What are we willing to risk to create justice?

UUA: Actions of Immediate Witness Albatross

The 50th General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association is now over. It was by and large a successful event with a tad bit of anxiety towards the planning of next year’s historic Justice General Assembly in Phoenix coupled with the association’s move towards policy governance.  This anxiety was most evident and most felt in the plenary session where the assembly debated the possible ending of Actions of Immediate Witness.   According to the by-laws,  “A General Assembly Action of Immediate Witness is one concerned  with a significant action, event or development the timing or specificity of which makes it inappropriate to be addressed by a UUA Statement of Conscience pursuant to the Study/Action process.”

In order for the UUA to sponsor a Justice GA where we are not doing business as usual means limiting the number of items that we have in our plenary sessions. In what ever fashion Justice GA is to take shape, there needs to be increased time in order for our presence in Phoenix to accomplish the most good.  We cannot simply suspend by-laws but we can change our by-laws to enable and empower our association to use this meeting as an action of justice. So there were two possible proposals in which to do this.

The first proposal proposed by the board would have eliminated Actions of Immediate Witness (AIW) altogether.  There were many reasons for advocating this possible outcome.  AIWs are no longer immediate.  A statement is made, debated sometimes with intense emotions hurled at opposing views. There is the false expectation that delegates will take these AIWs home to their congregations and implement them.   The statement is passed, the assembly present cheers, and the statement is promptly forgotten in the archives of the particular general assembly.

The strongest reason for this proposal was never stated at the assembly.  A question arose as to what impact would eliminating AIWs have on staff’s actions in social witness ministries.   The response was that AIWs have to date been a means to authorize staff to act on certain actions, for example, the staff did not feel authorized to speak up on stem cell research until there was an AIW presented. If an AIW on stem cell research never surfaced that year or any year for that matter, the UUA staff would allegedly not address the issue as part of their actions in Washington. It was a weak response.

The UUA board is in the process of transitioning into a policy governance board with a series of end statements that are developed through the board’s linkages with the congregations.  It is the ends that are to  drive the actions of the staff and not the whimsical fancy of any given assembly’s AIWs, regardless of how sincere those fancies may be.

The board was correct in its recommendation to eliminate the AIWs.  The staff’s response was only correct in that this was the pre-policy governance method of actions. The staff, once policy governance is fully operational, would have greater flexibility to act on justice issues than the current AIW actions of a program based board.  The Ends are what authorizes the staff to act for justice.  Specifically it is this end:

“Congregations that move toward sustainability, wholeness and reconciliation.

  1. Our congregations answer the call to ministry and justice work:
    1. Grounded in the communities in which they live
    2. Nationally and internationally
    3. With interfaith partners and alliances
  2. The public engages in meaningful dialogue and takes action informed by our prophetic voice and public witness.”

The question that Peter Morales as President and CEO of the UUA and his administration need to be asking is: Does the area of  concern further or hinder these ends?  And as an accountability measure: Are there congregations already pursuing this particular area of justice?

In regards to stem cell research, the example given at the assembly, the staff felt unable to respond nationally until the  AIW was passed in 2004. However, a quick Google search reveals that congregations were engaged in this subject at least as far back as 2001.  So if the UUA was a policy governance board back in 2001, the staff pursuing the ends as stated could have been engaged in this topic at least three years earlier instead of waiting for an AIW to come along.

Why should we hold our UUA staff back from pursuing the advocacy work necessary by making them wait for the possibility, the mere random chance of an AIW?

This Assembly showed the growing pains of an organization transitioning into policy governance.  Delegates and apparently UUA staff are still not fully informed as to what policy governance means for their association. There still remains an ignorance in how policy governance can and will create a more responsive UUA. There is further need to educate that AIWs are increasingly an ineffective mode of doing justice in these current harsh and repressive legislative times.

UUA staff cannot and should not have to wait a full year before a mere possibility that someone will introduce an AIW.  And when that AIW is not introduced, the staff should not feel that they are held hostage to the General Assembly in-actions in order to live out our faith in the national and international arena.    Staff do not need an AIW to empower their justice actions on the ground, the Ends statements provide that empowerment for them.

This proposal while it received a majority vote failed to receive the necessary 2/3rds majority in order to pass this assembly.

The second proposal was a compromise proposal from the Commission on Social Witness. It eliminated AIWs for one year, 2012,  and then reinstated a maximum of three AIWs beginning in 2013.  While this proposal allows the freedom for Justice GA to be a very different kind of General Assembly, it will hinder  the UUA board in functioning fully in their role  as a policy governance board for two more years, perhaps longer.  This is because AIWs are seen by Delegates and the staff as driving their justice actions instead of the Ends Statements. This is the proposal that passed.

However, the elimination or at the very least a reconfiguration of the AIWs function needs to occur.   Change is sometimes hard to swallow but in order for our national board and UUA staff to be as responsive as possible in these times, this change of eliminating AIWs is vital to our movement.

Boycott AZ ??

The General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association is currently scheduled to be in Phoenix, AZ in 2012.   The question has arisen in light of the recent draconian law passed that allows police to check the immigration status of people that they have a “reasonable suspicion” as being undocumented is whether or not the General Assembly should remain scheduled in Arizona for 2012. Should the UUA boycott the state because this new law and the bill that is awaiting the governor’s signature would ban ethnic studies and teachers who teach English with accents?

Add to this mix the  possibility of Colorado and six other states passing similar laws this year.  Add to this the impact of a boycott on the people we want to support.  Add to this the impact of boycotts and sanctions America has placed on oppressive regimes like Iran and North Korea and the negative  consequences  of increasing the suffering of their citizens.  The very opposite of what we had hoped.

The idea of a boycott,  in my mind anyway, seems to be a knee jerk reaction which does nothing but make the boycotter feel and think they are doing something about an issue they disagree with.  When in fact, it does little to re-mediate the situation.

There is a very good possibility that additional states will have passed similar or even more restrictive laws this year and by 2012, we could be seeing not just one state with draconian immigration laws that racially profile a population but an entire region of states.   What if by next year, North Carolina has proposed / passed a similar law–are we going to boycott our hosting of the  General Assembly in North Carolina? Are we going to boycott them all?

This action of boycott while it may feel good in the moment–may not be the best answer to change the laws.  We need to focus our attention on Washington to pass a comprehensive immigration reform that will not only protect the citizens of our states of the issues that illegal immigration produces but also immigration reform that protects the dignity and inherent worth of the people who have come to our country looking for a better life.  The combined laws and bills passed in Arizona represent in my mind something far more sinister than deporting immigrants who are here illegally.

Perhaps what we can do as a religious denomination  that will have a greater impact is to go to Phoenix in 2012 and as a silent vigil  of protest march in the streets with our passports held high in our hands because that is where this nation is headed.  Symbolically it speaks of fascist countries where papers were required to prove ones race and religion.   We have been a country where its citizens were free to travel without restriction, without harassment anywhere within our borders.

But it cannot begin and end there.  We must write our representatives both state and federal about true immigration reform and map it out in detail what that would look like.  Not just screaming that we want reform and allow the lobbyists and corporations to then dictate what can and cannot be in the reform, but detail out what true immigration reform looks like. And then press the issue home at every turn we make.

It is a very complicated and difficult issue to ponder.  I have a greater appreciation of Bernard Loomer’ s Size of God stance when I think of this issue and what solutions might be available. It is not a simple answer like boycott AZ in 2012.  It is a more multi-layered answer than that each with their own set of negative consequences attached.  We need to weigh our actions carefully.

UUA End Statement raises concern

At Mid-South District’s Annual Assembly in Nashville this past weekend, our UUA Trustee Lyn Conley shared with those present at the meeting the proposed UUA end statement and it caused some concern for me and several of my ministerial colleagues who were present. 

The end statement that was originally presented to the UUA Board  meeting in April 2009 stated the following: “Grounded in our covenantal tradition, the UUA will inspire people to lead lives of humility and purpose, connection and service, thereby transforming themselves and the world.” 

By the end of the Board meeting, the proposed end statement that passed and that Lyn Conley read to the District was the following: 

“Grounded in our covenantal tradition, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association will inspire people to lead lives of humility and purpose, connection and service, thereby transforming themselves and the world.”

There is a vast difference between stating “The Unitarian Universalist Association will inspire people to”… versus “The member congregations of the UUA will inspire people to… ”    

The first wording is an appropriate end statement for the Unitarian Universalist Association, the second is not.  Perhaps it is a subtle difference.  But in my experience of doing policy governance work, I do not believe so. 

Policy Governance is a model for how a board works in achieving its ends as a board and as an entity.  It is a helpful tool in guiding CEOs in fulfilling the mission of the agency. The UUA is an agency set up to serve the member congregations.

The second statement is a directive to the member congregations and the subset ends that follow contain possible criteria for enforcing that directive. If we had a presbyterian form of polity then the directive would also be appropriate but we do not have a presbyterian polity, not yet anyway, and therefore in order for the second wording to succeed it would require that each and every congregation in the association to buy into / or covenant with this end statement as their own in order for it to be implemented and aspired to by the congregations. 

The difficulty with this as an end statement for the UUA is that it is really an end statement for congregations that are supposed to be able to determine their own destiny through congregational polity. It is instead akin to parents developing an end statement for their child’s future: ‘Grounded in our family values, Mary child of Tom and Wilbur will major in medicine to become a doctor.’  While the goal of the end statement is laudable and perhaps very desirable by many congregations, to state that “member congregations … will inspire” is not within the UUA’s decision or even within their perview to decide. That decision of whether the congregation will inspire rests in the congregation.

The original wording is the UUA’s end statement. The revised and adopted end statement is the member congregations’ end statement, which is not in the UUA’s authority to develop. 

How will the UUA inspire congregations to be places of transformation?  What will the UUA do to assist that to happen?  All appropriate questions that the UUA will need to discuss and develop policies and parameters for the next President to then follow in fully answering these questions. As currently worded, however, the UUA is saying that the congregations will do this and that is not in the UUA’s control and once it is out of the UUA’s control it can no longer be the UUA’s end statement.  Nor is it in the parent’s control on how their child will decide to unfold her life. 

I do not question the laudable vision of inspiring people to living lives of humility and purpose, etc…. But I do question who will take responsibility and accountability for it happening… Placing it on the member congregations is the UUA abdicating its role in serving the congregations.  And while the UUA ‘s membership is made up of congregations, it is still an entity separate from the member congregations.  End statements are for the board of an agency to implement through its staff and not its member constituents.

Let me see if I can put this another way… I was the executive director of an AIDS Ministry for over 10 years.  My board developed end statements for me to work towards.  It was not the responsibility of the people with AIDS  who we served to implement these end statements, it was my responsibility and the staff I supervised to implement these end statements.  Hopefully by working towards these end statements it meant that the people with AIDS were living healthier lives because of them.   

It is the same with whatever end statement that the UUA Board develops.  It is the President and the staff of the UUA who will and ought to be responsible for working towards these end statements.  Hopefully, by working towards these end statements the member congregations will indeed be places where transformations happen.   The UUA can inspire us to be these places of transformation with their resources, their services to the congregations, their advocacy work for justice in our nation’s capital and in their holding the member congregations accountable to our covenant with one another.   Blessings,