Black Lives Still Matter

IMG_0150Consider this:

The Dred Scott Decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, Woodrow Wilson’s segregationist policies within the Federal Government, all targeted in explicit language, the rights of blacks in the United States1. All state based anti-miscegenation laws included blacks whether or not they included other races or religions2. Throughout the history of the country, the gross majority of the time the federal government, or state or local governments have acted to restrict or exclude a race, it has largely been targeted at blacks or those with black blood in explicit language (albeit not exclusively, particularly in light of laws that restricted Chinese and Mexican immigration, interred Japanese citizens, etc.) The United States Census continued to use the term “Mulatto” until 1920 to protect whiteness in the population and vacillated between use of “color” or “race” until 19803; Even today, Black and White are still not broken down in the census except in their relationship to “Hispanic.”  Racism in the United States is built on the foundation of white superiority over black.

Now consider this:

The 15th Amendment speaks of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” even though its intent was to rectify a restriction that was aimed at blacks4; Executive Order 8802 (1941 desegregation of Federal Government) and 9981 (1948 desegregation of the armed forces) speak in general terms about “race, color, creed” even though they both only effected blacks and people of African descent (Native Americans were allowed to serve alongside whites as code breakers.)5 6 Brown v Board of Education was explicitly brought concerning blacks yet the ruling and the language of the decision speaks broadly to admit the plaintiffs to desegregated schools in the case on a “racially nondescriminatory” basis with all deliberate speed7. The voting rights act of 1965 although it was fought because of specific actions being taken against blacks includes the following broader less specific language:

“No voting qualifications or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”8

Time and again, the “solution” to specific discrimination aimed at blacks in the United States has not been specific to fixing that discrimination.  In 2005, 2008, 2009 Congress took baby steps toward acknowleding the government’s specific failure with blacks on this front by issuing first an apology for not passing anti lynching legislation9 and then issuing apologies for the United States’ role in the slave trade and the years of Jim Crow that followed the end of the Civil War.10  All of these congressional orders make specific reference to African Americans.  But this has been the exception to the rule.  Yet, when the Chinese Exclusion act was repealed in 1943 by the Magnuson act, the language was specific and spoke directly to people of Chinese decent11.  Somehow, whenever it comes time to fix something that is specifically aimed at blacks, white legislators get cold feet.  Even in addressing racism, black lives have not specifically mattered.

In medicine, one does not treat a sprained finger by putting someone in a body cast; One doesn’t remove the entire liver because someone has gall stones.  The goal in treating illness is always to be as specific and targeted as possible.  Rectifying the sickness of anti-black racism in the United States needs to be the same kind of specific surgery.  We cannot continue to speak or act in broad terms.  There is no shortcut, no blanket application to address black oppression because black oppression is unique; just as every other oppression that is experienced is unique.  What Black Lives Matter challenges us to do is address the specific issues surrounding black oppression without entering into the oppression olympics.  The movement tells us that we can look at the unique social location intersection that one group represents, whether that is race, color, nation of origin, sexual preference, gender identity, ability, or relationship status (or any combination thereof) and take the time to appreciate, uplift, uphold and defend each and every one of them.

Anti black racism is also not just going to “fade away.”  If the incidents at Sigma Alpha Epsilon in Oklahoma and North Carolina are any indication, young people are learning the language and action of racism just as their parents did before them12.  We are not “post racial;” If anything we are pre-racial for we have never been able to fully accept and explore concepts of identity with any sense of truth, honesty or equity.  We have only begun to explore who each of us really are.  Black Lives Matter is one step forward in that exploration.

#BlackLivesMatter

 

Footnotes

1. Dred Scott/ Plessy
2. List of Anti-Miscegenation Laws
3. United States Census Lists
4. Fifteenth Amendment
5. Executive Order 8802
6. Executive Order 9981
7. Brown v Board of Eduction Original Document
8. 1965 Voting Rights Act
9. US Government Apology for Lynching
10. US Government Apology for Slavery
11. 1943 Magnuson Act
12. SAE Under Fire

N-word Blues

Nigger is the only word like it in the entire global English language. Used in any part of the world, it brings up images and sentiments around oppression and otherization that are unique to the Black American experience. It has become a universal word that characterizes and summarizes racism in a way that no other slur does. Coolie, Kike, Spic, Dago…are vicious disgusting words, but they are not institutionalized the way “nigger” is; and this is not just within the borders of the United States, but it is part of the global consciousness. So much so that the liberal loving media has replaced it with the term I used to start this article… “N-word.”* The problem is that the “N-word” still means nigger, and frankly, it lets people off too easy. If you, as a liberal non-black person think it is difficult to read or say the word “nigger,” imagine what its like being the target of it? Think of this, we don’t say “S” word…we don’t say “K” word. There is a sick need somewhere in the global consciousness to maintain the meaning of the word nigger even if it is not used itself.

There has never been a movement to criminalize a word. Policing speech to that level goes directly against the Constitution of the United States. However, there is only one word, “nigger.” The use of this word, its place in the global consciousness and its place in language is like no other word. The word nigger has been a tool to justify and excuse institutionalized racism that has taken the form of a slow motion genocide.  There is a direct connection between this word and scores of lives lost. Those who would object to the criminalization of this word will immediately cry foul for their first amendment rights, but I would argue that the word nigger is not so much a word as it is a cultural pathology that is as damaging a pedophilia, rape and murder each of which carries a heavy legal penalty. To that end, I sincerely believe there should be a way to uniquely criminalize the word nigger in a way that reflects the unique way in which it perpetuates and undergirds institutional racism that is at the core of American culture.

As social media has evolved, so must our laws around communication. Hate groups use the word nigger as a weapon in their online tactics and they use it as a rallying cry. And despite some very gifted black artists and activists “reclaiming” the word nigger, I say to them, what is there to reclaim? As a black man, I never owned it in the first place and I don’t think the existence of the word nigger was ever justified. Let the racists have it.

Historically, the United States refuses to take ending racism seriously. Lynching was never criminalized. The voting rights act has been repealed, within my lifetime we lived under laws that forbade people of different races to marry. Time and again, US culture bends to the minds of bigots. This is crazy. What seems less crazy is taking away one more weapon from the arsenal of racism. But then the United States is weapon crazy. It should be no surprise that the “right” to the word nigger is guarded as closely as is the “right” to guns.

As long as there is a “nigger” there will always be a racist in SAE.

*I have used “n word” here for the sake of how social media works and to allow people to reblog this piece with less hesitation.

Please see this excellent resource: Jim Crow Museum: Nigger and Caricature

#TankTheOscars

imageSo, after looking at the potential impact of the 2015 Academy Award Broadcast, I’m putting out a simple call to action:  TUNE OUT.  If we really want to see changes in diversity in entertainment, we have the power to make our voices heard.  Despite some beautiful and impressive work among the filmmakers represented, the true diversity of this industry is not represented by those who are honored by its highest award.  We’ve tried making up our own awards and creating standards outside of the dominant culture, but the real statement would be to let sponsors, the Academy and the world know that we have no interest in only seeing white stories.  Again, the work that is represented this year is impressive and the stories are rich.  But they don’t represent the full breadth of voices in the creative arts by a long stretch.  please consider joining me and TUNE OUT from the Academy Awards.

#TUNEOUTOSCAR

#TANKTHEOSCARS

#OSCARSSOWHITE

Let’s Move On

Video

I wrote this song while I was Student Body Co-President at Starr King School for the Ministry in 2012.  It was at a time when I was heavily burdened by dysfunction at the school and what I saw as dysfunction within Unitarian Universalism.  It was also during the time when I lost my mother after a long illness.  The combination of factors meant that I came to a place of reflection about what “matters” and how we hold on to past hurts and challenges and how poorly holding on to such things really serves us.  There is so much we can learn from our past, and so much more we bring to the future if we are able to actually live in the present.

This song comes from a belief in hope that eventually, the earth moves, the ice melts and things begin to flow toward justice and peace.  I am re-posting it here today in dedication to all those who have been touched by the past year of events at Starr King School.  Although I am no longer a student at the school (I transferred to Pacific School of Religion in the fall) I believe that Starr King has a place in the education of liberal religious leaders and that the institution will thrive if those who have been charged with its leadership are able to love first, find peace and most of all, move on.

Let’s move on
To somewhere we are healed
Somewhere we can meet each other face to face
Let’s move on to somewhere brighter.

Let’s move on,
Let’s move on,
Let’s move on,

Let go of guilt, let go of pity,
Selfish tears are never pretty
Let’s heal the wound and move on.

Let’s move up
Above the heavy clouds
Above the blessed rains that come and bring us truth.
Let’s move up
And catch our rainbow.

Let’s move on,
Let’s move on,
Let’s move on,

Let go of pain, let go of sorrow,
Holding the past won’t bring you tomorrow.
Let’s heal the wound and move on.

Let’s move out
And breathe the air of joy
Inside we never smell the fragran scent of peace
Let’s move out, and find our future.

Let’s move on,
Let’s move on,
Let’s move on,

Don’t keep on repeating how you’ve been living
Bring something new to how you’ve been giving
Let’s heal the wound and move on.

End LGBT Racism

In honor of Black History Month, I’ve created this little video as a call to action in the LGBT community. We have enough challenges without labeling each other and speaking to each other in “types.” To call the LGBT movement the “New Civil Rights Movement” without addressing the rampant racism within the community is a travesty. And this isn’t just a black white issue: it influences relationships for every person of color in the LGBT community.  If we want both self respect and the respect of society at large, let’s end this game of internal oppression and deal with our own deep failings.

End LGBT Racism NOW!

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