I Don’t Need an Ally…

US/Mexico Border Fence - US side

US/Mexico Border Fence – US side

December 13, 2014 saw Millions March across this nation (#millionsmarch) for racial justice. Instead, however, I was at the US/Mexico Border at Friendship Park in Imperial Beach, San Diego for La Posada sin fronteras.  This annual symbolic re-enactment of Joseph and Mary looking for lodging in anticipation of the holy birth is one of many important gestures of solidarity by the border communities for those who are most affected by the US policies on immigration.  

As I stood there, seeing the steel fence and watching the seagulls casually drift above from one side to the other, I thought to myself, how desperately sad that we human beings do this; building walls, boundaries and borders.  What are we keeping out and what are we keeping in?  And I felt my own loss at knowing a world with such tragic structures.  I thought of my own loss at having Latino culture vilified and otherized in my homeland and I felt real sorrow as a faith leader hearing the names of people who had died at this border read aloud.  

don’t want this kind of monstrosity to represent me in the world…yet there it stands and there I stood as a US citizen.  The issue of steel, militarized walls is not some vague concept, it is real and it hurts people in my life every day; and it hurts me.  So I chose to be at La Posada, not because I am an ally in the fight for immigration rights, but because our policies do not allow me to be as free as the seagull or the light that pierces the openings of the fence.  I own a part of this fence and its my job to pull it down.

I pray for my friends and colleagues who are directly involved in the marches and protests for racial justice.  I will be present as often and appropriately as I possibly can, but people in ministry have a lot on our plate in this broken world. However, as a Black man, I will offer to my white liberal friends who ask me what they can do in the face of the current unrest around racism in New York, Berkeley, Oakland and around the country after Ferguson and the Eric Garner decision.  Please remember: 

I don’t need an ally…

I don’t need someone to help me understand my oppression,

I don’t need someone to explain to me how to protest, peacefully or otherwise,

I definitely don’t need or want you to feel my pain.

What I need is for you to put your privilege on the line.

I need you to be appalled by the images of slave owners and leaders of Native American genocide on our currency.

I need you to need an end to racial profiling because it lets white criminals go free.

I need you to stand up and say that the 1st amendment doesn’t have room for the KKK or neo-Nazis or Westboro Baptist Church.

I need you to be willing to be hated by the same people who murdered the Reverend James Reeb in 1965.

I need you to own your part in the struggle for equality and never remain silent when you hear me called nigger behind my back.

I need you to feel so enormously burdened by the gross imbalance of power and opportunity in this country that it is your priority, every day, to fix it.

I don’t need you to feel my pain…

I need for you to feel your pain.

Your struggle

Your oppression

Only when we first feel our own pain can we march in solidarity with the pain of others.

Own your part of the fence and pull it down.

US_$20_twenty_dollar_bill

US President Jackson – Slave Holder/ Native American Killer*

*Seminole Wars

A Voice With No Sound

Lynching

Gordon County, GA 1918

I have been unable to watch the video of Eric Garner’s death for three reasons:

First, I am exceedingly sensitive to such graphic images and when possible, I actually avoid television and any video based news for the internal downward emotional spiral it creates in me. I read almost everything I learn about the world…or I talk to people….or I’m there in person.

Secod, the end of life, no matter how brutal, is sacred. It does not deserve to “go viral” without honoring the very real passing of life.  We should not be able to look at an image like the one of Eric Garner or the image above of a man being lynched without first praying or in some way honoring that a real live person was publicly killed.  They both have names, and families, yet too quickly, we make them into historical and sensational “media.”

Civil Rights

Third, and most importantly, it conjures up an image that I can’t help but see in a historical context. It is an image that will live alongside images of white police beating black men in the 1960’s; It is an image that will live alongside the countless images of black bodies hanging from trees; It is an image that will live along side the picture of timid ignorant slaves being emancipated by the beneficent godlike white man; it is an image that brings to mind the careless and vicious rape of countless black and brown women for white men’s entertainment; it is an image that shows me what it must have looked like when white men captured slaves in Africa; it is an image that shows me exactly what the lives of blacks and all people of color in America has been under white domination:

A conflict with an unjustified beginning.
A battle that is public yet no one will defend.
An image that confounds reality and conscience.
A struggle where death is too often the end.
A voice with no sound.

Rest in Peace Eric Garner and God help us all.

Eric Garner

Nothing But Fear Itself…

Slide1I woke up this morning and read Tom Schade’s blog The Lively Tradition, “Fear vs. Boldness” parts 1 & 2 and it really got me thinking.  After reading this anonymous post about the turmoil and angst being felt by many Unitarian Universalist seminarians, I started drifting through the Facebook pages of my friends, both fellowshipped ministers and those still in formation.  I then came across the following article by Frank Joyce on one of their pages: “Now is the Time for a New Abolition Movement”…again more thinking, but more importantly, a personal wake up call to do away with fear and step into boldness…

Unitarian Universalists have some really good stuff going around diversity, but at the same time we are completely missing the boat where creating real change around racism is concerned.  I have been looking at how Unitarian Universalists are planning to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the actions and deaths in Selma, Alabama in March 2015,and in particular I have been following the Living Legacy Project.  Yet there is little language here or on the Unitarian Universalist Association website that states plainly that this was a conflict that came out of a deeply entrenched racial divide between black and white people in the United States, and no connection drawn to the ongoing struggle that is evident in situations such as the recent #FergusonDecision.  Instead, the information is focused primarily on “voting rights.”   This is historically correct and important, but I think we lose something in the memories of Viola Liuzzo or of Rev. James Reeb when we avoid saying that they were the victims of racially motivated acts of violence as white people standing up for the broader civil rights of black people.  And although Jimmie Lee Jackson was certainly killed because of his efforts to vote, the four girls killed in the 1963 KKK bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham were unquestionably killed because they were black.  The specific fight for voting rights was only the spark that ignited the massive bomb of race based tension that had been building since Emancipation 100 years earlier.  I applaud the efforts of my friends working on the Living Legacy Project, and among them are some of the bolder voices in Unitarian Universalism; they are my inspiration. But I see the hesitance to name the events in Selma for what what they were as part of our general fear in the face of boldness and I want to use this space to call on all Unitarian Universalists to name this tragedy for what it continues to be: the legacy of deeply rooted and brutal racism in America.

Losing the ability to state this painful truth says that we are willing to let fear temper our boldness.  Is this what we are teaching/learning in seminary?  Apparently, we have an incredible amount of work to do if we are actually going to live into any kind of real spiritual calling.  Let us find a way to live our truth, feeling all of our pain, seeing all of our wounds, and tending to them with the healing salve of love as equals in humanity.

Let us live our faith.

Love Your Body!

Get Bold TodayMy beautiful friend LeGrande Green did this interview with me recently.  I am so honored to be part of his new endeavor “BOLD.”  We had a great conversation about what it means to “Love Your Body!”  In a time and an age where where we are being challenged to find ways to love each other beyond race, class and gender, LeGrande and I ponder what it means for us to love ourselves, in particular our physical selves, first.

Get BOLD!

LISTEN HERE!

Join the Conversation

No Dinner Plans

michael-brown-grad-photo

The following is a statement that was made for the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship upon the news of the “No Indictment” decision from the Grand Jury examining the case against Darren Wilson in the murder of Michael Brown.

The tragic irony of the grand jury decision from Ferguson, Missouri coming so close to the Thanksgiving holiday is inescapable. We should be preparing dinner, not a cultural war. In a metaphorical sense, we should be talking about how many more people we can put around the table, not how many more people will be turned away. This ongoing struggle between black and white is a global disgrace and the combination of this decision and the deluge of news that we sift through also highlights how we are asked to “choose” where we put our attentions for justice. You see, the media and the ignorant would have us believe that Ferguson and Immigration are separate issues; that voting rights and health care, are about different things; that environmental justice and marriage equality effect different populations. But no, they all impact one very specific group of people: The Other.

You see, it is “The Other” that is feared. It is “The Other” that is vilified. It is “The Other” that is left behind, left out, marginalized and shot in the street.

Yes, we should be preparing dinner…

You see, if we were preparing dinner, we would be asking ourselves, “what will feed the people coming to table?” “What will make them feel welcome and nourished?” “What can we share that will fill their needs?”

Instead, too much of our time is focused on getting and keeping stuff or defending our rights to stuff or creating more stuff…

…when we should all be enjoying the stuffing and stuffing ourselves full with an abundance of love.

Right now, we are seeing the product of setting a table for some instead of a table for all. The food is there; the finest dishes are set, the crystal and flatware polished; the linen is crisp and clean. But with only a few at the table, most of the food will go to waste, the place settings will collect dust and tarnish and the meal will be incomplete. Only one opinion will be expressed in a flat conversation and everyone will leave deeply unsatisfied.

So let this be a lesson to us moving forward. Black people are not the enemy; white people are not the enemy; Immigrants are not the enemy; Latinos are not the enemy; Asian people are not the enemy; Transgender people are not the enemy; Bisexual people are not the enemy. The only enemy is when any of us is treated like “The Other,” and turned away from a table that should be set first with love. And let’s not forget that even then the real enemy is not “The Other” but “The Us.”

Let’s start preparing dinner…a meal where we are all welcome and fed.

Sending a prayer to the family of Michael Brown, the people of Ferguson and to everyone else who is feeling utterly helpless at this moment to a “system” that is not a system, but a sickness.

Not a Toy

The Real Tina Turner – Not a costume!

This morning I read an US Weekly piece about the music artist Ellie Goulding from “Burn” being attacked on Instagram for wearing an imitation Native American headdress for Halloween. The singer claims that she hadn’t worn the costume yet when the photos were posted. Of course this isn’t the first time Native American “inspired” outfits got someone into trouble; remember a couple of years ago when Karlie Kloss walked the catwalk for Victoria’s Secret in a full length headdress? (read about it here. Yeah, they were serving “rain dance refresher” cocktails at the “pow wow” themed afterparty.) Halloween seems to be the time when people of color suddenly go from being actual living breathing beings to someone’s first place in a costume contest.

News Flash: People of Color Are NOT Playthings

That’s right folks, gone are the days when one could dress up as an “Injun” or “Mariachi Band”or a “pickaninny.” You might think its “all just in fun” or that “everyone does it” but people of color en masse are saying enough, and frankly, we don’t do it, or if we do, its certainly to make a point. This is the danger of the commercialism of a holiday like Halloween. For years, it has taken advantage of the de-humanization of people of color so that along side the other animal costumes (gorilla, wolf, etc.) you had Aunt Jemima and Charlie Chan. Maybe these kind of outrageous stereotypes are gone, but the impulse of mocking appropriation that put them out there is not. There is still a lot of work to do in letting people know that the era where people of color are voiceless, nameless myths that are great fodder for a joke is OVER.

People of color are redefining what “harmless play” is and that’s a good thing. Some older generations squawk at a lost innocence. I would argue that it is more of a lost ignorance. Suddenly (for some) everyone actually matters. I remember years ago being told that I couldn’t play Elvis Presley in a review show. My argument was that if they were going to have a white woman playing Tina Turner in the same show, than surely I could also play Elvis. Alas I did not win that battle because of course Elvis Presley (who was dead by that point) actually matters and Tina Turner (who is still very much alive…thank you very much) does not.

What is happening is that the core sense of what it means to have an identity of any kind is changing. Not only in terms of intersectionality, but even in terms of the big ticket single identifiers (Black, Hispanic, Asian, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, Bisexual, Pagan, Christian, Muslim, Jewish…etc.) But in this identity revolution it seems sometimes as if people who identify as white are being left behind. It is as if privilege has been a drug that has numbed the sense of self identity among many whites, particularly older generations. It is extremely easy for someone like me, African American, gay…to look at the actions of Ellie Goulding and say “oh HELL no!” And I would tend to believe that goes for pretty much most people of color. Our senses are open and raw to this kind of hurt.  But I know for a fact (having had the conversation about the fashion show) that any number of white people I know, wouldn’t see the harm…wouldn’t get it. This is the morphine drip of privilege at work. How can you feel a sensibility that is blocked? There are those (mostly millennials) who are coming off of the anesthetic. They immediately get what it means when you ape someone else’s culture. But Ellie Goulding is 27 years old. Granted, she’s British; she has no personal cultural context for a relationship with Native Americans. But in this age of global internet, it is difficult to make any excuse for an international public figure being this unaware.

I’ve been told by some people reacting to the people of color revolution that it seems like an awful lot of work. This is, I believe, the reason that we even use the term “people of color”; it is shorthand for the dominant culture…much more digestible. I’ve always thought, however, considering world demographics that this terminology should be the other way around and that we should be referring to the global minority as “people of non-color.” I guess, in certain minds, recognizing each and every person for who they are and how they identify and trying to be authentic with them just isn’t as sexy as being able to make the odd Chinese or Indian joke. My response is this: think about how much work it has been to live invisible, mocked at, objectified, fetishized, stereotyped and generally put down for 400+ years?

The rest of the world is a little tired and ready to move on.

Oh, and speaking of sexy…don’t get me started on the whole “Sexy(…)” costume trend and the horrific stuff that says about what we think of women. UGH! But that’s another blog.

 

Voting Day

Just a reminder as people go to the polls that #blacklivesmatter…

On voting day,
Thanks to the casual Supreme Court erasure
Of 100 years of struggle for suffrage,
Tangled restrictions and loopholes
Will block the opportunity
For large pockets of American black people
To make their voices heard in a government
That originally wanted only 3/5ths of them anyhow.
…do #blacklivesmatter?

On protest day,
In Ferguson, Missouri where a white police officer
Shot and killed a black teenager
And where the officer will probably walk free,
Tension will continue to simmer just below the boiling point
And nothing will be done.
It will not spill over, or truly ignite,
Once again, the intense heat will just burn itself out
From 400 years of battle fatigue.
…do #blacklivesmatter?

On sentencing day,
A million black men will look across at each other
From ‘cells’ and ‘pens’
Hating each other hating themselves
For being made into animals by forced desperation.
An entire generation screaming for validation and truth
But they are left mute…their vocal cords cut
By a white system of “justice.”
…do #blacklivesmatter?

On vaccination day,
Liberia, distant and invisible, created from the guilt
Of the slave holding 5th US President Monroe,
Will continue to bleed thousands of black lives
Into fetid, dismal streets, decimated by Ebola.
This horror will miss the news cycle,
While a white nurse defending her “rights”
To ride a bike on a crisp, clean, clear Autumn day,
Is front page news.
…do #blacklivesmatter?

On Thanksgiving Day,
Black people will swarm the commercial circuses known as
Target, Walmart, Macy’s, Nordstrom,
McDonalds, Jack In the Box,
Searching for some way to reflect a true sense of self.
In the end they are forced to buy warped images
From the “anything-but-fun house” mirrors
Put up by a capitalist ring master
Who still only sees a price tag when he sees a black body.
…do #blacklivesmatter?

Do black lives matter?

White people…Do black lives matter?

Black people…Do black lives matter?

America…Do black lives matter?

World…Do black lives matter?

It is voting day,

But it is also judgment day.

#blacklivesmatter.