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

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.