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a living faith

September 18, 2011 4 comments

I have felt a gulf widening between myself and the Unitarian Universalist faith over the last year. I had expected activism to change me in profound ways; I just didn’t expect part of what drew me to this faith to eventually push me away. More and more often I ask myself, “What am I doing here? What am I representing? What represents me?”

We are a faith that is very proud of our commitment to social justice. We collect donations for charitable organizations and donate the proceeds of our collection plate once a month. We participate in legislative campaigns. We buy free trade goods in our sanctuaries or from artisans we invite into our space. We attend social action luncheons and serve in soup kitchens. We show up to march in parades in decent numbers, slightly less for vigils and protests, unless there is an opportunity for us to sing or some form of “alter call” from congregational leadership. But I rarely see UU’s  when our partner groups request volunteers or hold fundraisers. We’ll invite people into our space, meet them in neutral spaces, but rarely will we meet them in theirs.

I recognize that there are exceptions… but the fact that these two communities have such a small percentage of overlap is one of my biggest frustrations. I wonder if listing an organization as a partner on our website and showing up at the occasional demonstration or community event in our matching t-shirts is all we’re capable of. Displays of solidarity, participating in visible resistance efforts is a big, and important, part of justice work. But investing enough of ourselves to build the personal relationships necessary for an allied partnership seems to be beyond us more often than not. There is a reluctance to put ourselves in spaces where we would be the minority in the room, and resistant to sacrificing any of our time or investing our emotional energy. We’re all so proud of the justice work being done, but so few of us want to do it.

I’ve spoken with other allied activists & organizers and many have experienced the same frustrations. I was talking with friend and UU seminarian and commented that I was committed to my congregation thru the end of this RE year. After that, I don’t know. Unless there is a substantial shift in culture, I just don’t know. Which was followed by a discussion of whether I thought this culture was unique to my congregation or the entire faith, and how change is slow but we’re making progress. She’s not the first person to give me some version of the “arc of the moral universe” talk. As much as I love the quote, as much comfort as I find in it when applied to the folks across the aisle, hearing it applied to my faith both frustrates and outrages me.

Rage and fury and impotence aren’t really the emotions I was searching and yearning for when I went looking for a religious home. And as much as I love many, many members of my church family, as inspiring as I find my minister in and out of the pulpit, there are just far too many times that I feel like I’m in an abusive relationship. “We’re making progress.” “Change is slow.” “They’re trying… they mean well.” It sounds just like that girl, we all know her (hell, I was her), “He really loves me. He didn’t mean it. He’ll change.”

And maybe if my family looked different, if my closest friends and the vast majority of my support system looked different… if my neighborhood looked different, I might be a little more inclined to be patient. But my daughter told me last night that a classmate said to her, “You’re a black girl. Why don’t you just smack so and so?”… and it’s not the first time that kind of comment has been made. Women I love have reached out after having being hurt by someone’s unintended slur or stereotype, their colorblind ignorance… hands and voices trembling with hurt and anger. They speak of fear that speaking out will be interpreted as or strengthen certain stereotypes… or that they are most angry with themselves for having let down the wall they usually maintain with white people and being hurt because they hadn’t been on guard, hadn’t seen it coming. I have friends who have been harassed by police because of their skin color and/or accents, who get the full force of the law for minor traffic violations while we get passes for more serious infractions.

If this wasn’t my world, maybe I’d be less cynical and more magnanimous. I don’t want to be the only radical in my congregation (and that I’m considered a radical by fellow UU’s still perplexes me). But maybe I’d be willing to stick it out and be part of the catalyst for change my friends talk about. Maybe the stagnant pace of progress wouldn’t feel corrosive to my soul.

But this is my world, so forgive me, but I don’t care about your (our) good intentions anymore. I care about the impact of our individual and collective inability to live our faith and principles in meaningful and intentional allied relationships and how that effects people struggling for human dignity. I care about the people we hurt, directly or indirectly, with our good intentions.

This wasn’t easy to write. and I know that it may hurt or offend fellow UU’s, particularly those I have a personal relationship with.  But someone I love and respect asked me specifically to blog about this, and maybe she was right in that this is something that needs to be said, and heard.

Where are you on the Oppression Action Continuum? It’s not enough to educate yourself about an issue. If you are aware of an oppression and haven’t gotten involved, you are enabling that oppression. We can’t all do everything… but if we all did whatever we could instead of nothing at all, how amazing could we be? There is no small part of a justice movement; we all have our unique gifts, skills, and talents to offer even when our time or financial resources are limited.

I have found more personal fulfillment, been more deeply inspired, experienced more joy, felt more love, and seen more of God in the year I’ve been working with the activist community than I have in any church I’ve attended in all my thirty seven years.

If you haven’t invested of your self, what are you waiting for?

Oppression Action Continuum from Heeding the Call Justice Makers Curriculum

Memo: Justice General Assembly 2012

September 14, 2011 3 comments

Memorandum: Justice General Assembly 2012 (pdf)

This proposal for the structure of the UU Social Justice General Assembly in 2012 is a collaborative effort of Phoenix and Tucson Unitarian Universalist activists, Arizona-based community organizations and independent organizers working on immigration or human rights/social justice issues. Although we are aware that the decision to not uphold the boycott of Arizona was made at the request of two Phoenix-based community organizations, we also know not all Arizona organizations agree with this decision. Furthermore, we are concerned with the strategy of partnering with only the two or three largest Phoenix-based organizations to decide the direction of the GA. Many organizations make critical contributions to the struggle for justice in Arizona and some incredibly effective work is being done by smaller organizations. We have unique needs, unique perspectives, and unique skills. To truly create change, all of our contributions are needed.

We are asking for a decentralized GA structure, described below, that allows a multitude of community organizations to define their own goals based on current needs and to create service projects that enhance, rather than burden, their organizations and increase the likelihood that their efforts will proliferate across the U.S. A decentralized structure is being proposed for several reasons:

  1. We believe that this structure is more likely to create mutually beneficial, reciprocal relationships between GA attendees and Arizona community organizations through shared expertise, resistance strategies relevant to attendees’ home congregations, and interpersonal relationship building.
  2. People who are already involved in social justice organizing in Arizona will be able to determine their own goals and needs.
  3. Smaller community organizations can be involved. With this structure, organizations who would like to draw on the resources and expertise of attendees do not need a “seat” at the planning table. All that is needed is the infrastructure described below in order to allow everyone to participate as they see fit.
  4. Many community organizers and members are unable to travel to the Phoenix Convention Center (PCC). Checkpoints in the southern part of Arizona make it impossible for undocumented organizers to travel to Phoenix without serious risk to themselves. Even those in the Phoenix metro area face substantial risks when traveling outside their barrios. The risk of harassment or detention is escalated by the proximity of PCC to the MCSO offices and 4th Ave Jail. We should also take into account Arpaio’s reputation for retaliation against social justice organizers and public officials. Aside from the likelihood that Arpaio remembers the Unitarian Universalists from the last time they came to Arizona in droves, PCC is located in District 4 under Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, with whom Arpaio has long had a deeply divisive political and legal rivalry.
  5. The people who would most need services are also the most likely to rely on public transportation. The inadequacy of our public transit system limits the participation of families with minor children, elderly, differently-abled, and undocumented persons. The light rail doesn’t go to the hoods and barrios, many of which have limited bus service. It takes an hour by bus to travel to PCC from many of the barrios, and depending on the route, transfer wait times vary considerably, especially in summer months when public transportation typically has lighter demand. Even for those who are able to drive, free parking in the downtown area is limited and parking fees may be an expense families cannot afford.

For these reasons, we propose a General Assembly in the addendums that follow which will suit the needs of community members/organizers across the entire state of Arizona. For each point we are proposing below, we provide detailed ideas and concrete examples in the pages that follow. The following points are how we believe the GA may prove most useful to us:

  1. We would like people to know what is going on regarding immigration issues and the rights of undocumented people within their own communities (see Addendum A: Needs and Assets Report (PDF))
  2. We would like people to come prepared to share strategies being used in their own communities to stand with undocumented people and change the narrative regarding immigration (see Addendum B: Roundtable Structure (PDF))
  3. We would like people to come prepared to participate in community service programs that have been requested from a wide variety of community organizations (see Addendum C: Service Programs(PDF) )

If the General Assembly is structured in a way that allows us to establish our own goals and needs, we are willing to commit to sharing our time and expertise in a meaningful and reciprocal way. We have many organizers and volunteers who are happy to commit time toward making the GA successful if we feel that the GA will provide us with tools and resources that will improve our ongoing work or further related work in other communities throughout the United States and beyond. In return, we would like the Planning Committee to commit to developing the infrastructure needed for us to build ongoing relationships with attendees, including the online infrastructure. Finally, we are asking the Planning Committee to support a “bring it home” atmosphere wherein attendees are encouraged to consider how immigration issues are being played out in their home communities. In this way, we hope that attendees will realize that we are all Arizona.

Being experienced organizers, we realize that not all of these ideas may be realistically and effectively implemented given the time constraints and somewhat dramatic shift from the traditional GA structure. We have hopes, however, that if the majority of these plans could be executed, it could result in a significant step toward doing more meaningful justice work in the future, both at upcoming GAs, as well as in our home communities.

Addendum A: Needs and Assets Report

We request that all delegates perform a needs and assets report of social justice and social services for their own communities and congregations. For our purposes, we need to strategize with people who are actively working on social justice issues within their own communities or who are committed to implementing the plans we develop together in Roundtable Discussions in their own communities. We do not need people to come and tour Arizona; this is a distraction from our work and does not benefit our communities and organizations. We need people who can work with us on an ongoing basis regarding problems we are facing. We believe that the best way to ensure this ongoing relationship is for attendees to involve themselves in Roundtable Discussions and Service Projects that are relevant and transferable to their home communities.

· Places to start with to compile a Needs and Assets Report

  • Talk to leadership of churches that hold services that are not in English
  • Talk to members of these churches who are involved in social justice organizations
  • Talk to UUs who are involved in social justice organizations
  • Talk to community members who are historically marginalized ·

Other places to start:

  • Does your community have a prison or detention center nearby? What groups are working with prison populations?
  • Does your community have free/reduced legal services? Are these services provided to undocumented people?
  • Does your community have a workers’ rights group? A women’s rights group? An LGBT rights’ group? A domestic violence shelter? A health collective? Are these groups providing services to undocumented people as well?
  • Does your community have a group dedicated to affecting legislation or public policy? Does this include immigration issues?
  • Are there family support systems within your community (e.g., childcare collectives, mentoring programs, protection networks, sanctuary movements)? What are they doing? What do they need?
  • Does your local police force have 287(g) status? What has been your community’s reaction to the Secure Communities mandate?·

 Four main things to think about regarding Needs and Assets:

  • What resources are being provided?
  • What is currently working?
  • What obstacles do you face?
  • What do you need? ·

Things to think about:

  • Are current social justice organizations in your community aware of immigration issues? Could you expand them to work with undocumented people? What would this look like?
  • Are members of your congregation involved with these organizations? If not, why not? What concrete steps are you willing to take to involve other congregational members in social justice organizing?

Best practice: Have organizations that provide services for undocumented people help with the drafting of the needs and assets report

With a detailed Needs and Assets report, attendees will be able to identify Roundtable Discussions and Service Projects that are most relevant. For example, people who volunteer at the local domestic violence shelter may be most interested in a roundtable dedicated to strategies for successful filings for U visas or VAWA petitions. (Both are ways to file for protections for undocumented victims of domestic violence.) If VAWA programs are not currently available, attendees could begin to implement them in their home communities; if they are currently available, attendees could discuss problems they have had and brainstorm solutions with other people who file VAWA cases. We hope this example demonstrates the potential for being able to implement current strategies across the U.S. and to provide for ongoing relationships between people engaged in similar work.

Addendum B: Roundtable Structure

We propose that Arizona community organizations be allowed to structure Roundtable Discussions. These discussions should be held in a collaborative way with attendees who are either familiar with similar programs within their own communities (and are prepared to discuss the strategies and obstacles relevant to these programs) or who are committed to implementing similar programs within their communities. In other words, all attendees should also be participants. These would not be lectures or presentations; they would be strategy sessions. We request this restriction out of respect for our time and energy and to maximize the productivity of these Roundtables.

During our brainstorms regarding GA, several suggestions came up repeatedly. First, Roundtable Discussions should run for at least two or three hours so that all attendees, including people from our organizations, can develop strategic plans regarding next steps. Although Roundtables could be repeated to allow more individuals to participate, each session should be small. Second, the deadline for Roundtable topics should be no more than three months before GA to ensure that they are current and relevant for our organizations. Third, we would like to explore possibilities for interactive, online participation so that people across the country who are working on these programs but cannot attend GA will be able to participate. Finally, we suggest that a wiki-style, self-generated posting system be developed for several reasons:

  • To reduce bureaucratic obstacles, this can discourage participation from smaller organizations.
  • To allow attendees to do their Roundtable homework (via the Needs and Assets reports) before coming to GA.
  • To allow attendees and Arizona organizers to post resources, ideas, and obstacles on an on-going basis before and after GA. In other words, this would serve as an online resource and discussion board for congregations and organizations across the country who are working on similar topics. We could also post notes from the Roundtable for people who were not able to attend.
  • To provide a ready-made space for continuing to build relationships and develop collective wisdom.

When we have considered how Roundtable Discussions would function, the following suggestions have been made. Discussions would start with a “crash course” on the topic for people who are interested in implementing similar programs but do not yet have them. This would be followed by brief presentations from all attendees on how the issue is related to their home community. Then there would be a group brainstorm regarding strategies that have worked, things needed to adapt program/service for their home community, and the possibility for resource exchanges and ongoing conversations. Finally, each attendee would create a plan for implementing the program in their home community including obstacles and adaptations they can anticipate.

We believe that Roundtable Discussions will be very useful in helping us be more strategic regarding our work. As an example, the Childcare Collective of Tucson and the Valley of the Sun Childcare Collective/Valle del Sol Guarderias Colectivas are small community organizations that provide childcare services for community meetings and events. Their goal is to enhance the ability of women with children (who are historically responsible for childcare) to participate in community organizing and critical resistance. They have identified two possible topics for Roundtable Discussions:

  • They would like to hold conversations with people who are involved in Early Childhood Education and identify bilingual curricula that could be applied with children of varying ages (preferably with a social justice flavor, and even more preferably, with a “know your rights” component). If such curricula is not available, they would like to brainstorm about how such curricula could be developed so that it is both culturally and developmentally-appropriate.
  • They would like to hold conversations with people involved in other childcare collectives (The Tucson Collective has had phone consultations with several collectives across the U.S. and have found them to be very valuable). Their main concerns are: helping other CDBs or social justice organizations increase accessibility for primary caregivers (i.e. going to scale), maintaining parent involvement, and enhancing community building through childcare (i.e., being a vehicle for change rather than a service provided).

We also propose that Immigration or Anti Racism 101 level lectures be kept to a minimum and that intensive trainings and workshops be offered on topics such as accountability in AR/AO/MC organizing for allies, intersecting oppressions, leadership training for young adults, crowd management strategies, organizing a health collective, establishing a rapid response teams, crisis hotlines, English/Spanish Language Exchanges, or Spanish for Social Justice courses.

Addendum C: Service Programs

In comparison to Roundtables, Service Programs would be less collaborative and focus on using attendees’ specific skills sets to help with a short-term project. We suggest that a wiki-style website, similar to that for Roundtable Discussions, be created wherein community organizations can post service opportunities up to one or two months before GA to ensure that projects are timely and relevant to the current needs of our organizations. We propose that this structure be adopted so that organizations are allowed to identify and determine for themselves how short-term volunteers can best be utilized. On the wiki-site, we would post information on the background of our organizations, an overview of the project, what skills would be needed, how many people were needed and for how long, and additional concerns about accessibility (including checkpoints, terrain problems that would restrict participation for those with mobility issues, etc.). This will also give local organizations that already have an established relationship in the community an opportunity to lend their expertise and experience, which will be critical to the success of any service project. Projects that were posted well ahead of time would also invite further collaboration (e.g., several CDBs (Comites de Defensa del Barrio or neighborhood defense committees) have discussed expanding their community gardens. They could use the expertise of attendees familiar with rainwater management to help plan their project before GA and then have attendees help dig the garden during GA).

As a more specific example, No More Deaths, an allied organization that provides humanitarian aid to migrants in the Sonoran Desert, does not allow volunteers to serve for less than two weeks at camp because orientation and logistics are a continual drain on infrastructure. Therefore, many attendees would not be able to provide this specific service. However, No More Deaths has a continual need for volunteers to help with strengthening and streamlining their infrastructure. Although they cannot anticipate now what their service project needs will be next year, recent projects could have benefited from short-term volunteers as long as they had the appropriate skill sets. For example, the volunteer donation system was recently transferred into an online format for merging with a general mailing list database. To automate this transfer, several macros needed to be written by volunteers who were only somewhat familiar with this. If a computer programmer were available, this would have taken much less time. Therefore, the time spent by volunteers to orient the programmer would have been recouped by the time saved by having a programmer. For this organization, this would have been a worthwhile investment.

Most importantly, we request that service programs and opportunities hosted at PCC also be offered at decentralized locations based on community needs and interests. We are concerned that service projects held at PCC will be neither relevant nor practical for our communities. For example, we have heard of several references to setting up health clinics, voter registration and/or citizenship fairs at PCC. We recognize that the UUA is accountable to delegates and attendees to provide an accessible General Assembly, but we must also hold ourselves accountable to and provide accessible services for the Arizona community. There is an inherently troubling dynamic in asking undocumented and otherwise disenfranchised communities to bear the risk and burden associated with travel to a centralized location when those of us who have the privilege of documentation and are physically able to do so could, with comparative ease, travel to satellite locations in the barrios. If CDBs feel that health clinics would be valuable for their specific barrios, they could request these clinics on the wiki site and identify a location that would be accessible to people in their barrios. Furthermore, we must keep in mind that the primary purpose of a community health fair is to get people without access to medical services into an ongoing relationship with a medical provider and the people most likely to attend such an event will be more likely to have conditions that require follow up care. There are concerns about how relationships will be established with medical providers from outside Arizona, how follow up care would be managed for those who require it, in addition to the reality that many undocumented people will not travel to PCC due to concerns previously cited. It will be critical to partner with the local medical community already providing services that can coordinate follow up care for those in the community who need it.

Friends and Allies

July 14, 2011 Leave a comment

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It has occurred to me that if I were to blog more often, I would probably spend so much less time staring at a blank page, wondering where to begin. I’d spend less time on background info and more time making my point. So, I mentioned attending a Language Exchange with members of the Worker Rights Center, and their Wage Theft Campaign. The part I kept saying I would mention later, was that I had offered to nominate the Center for my congregation’s Share the Plate program, as they’ve recently lost some funding. The feedback I got was that financial contributions were certainly welcome, but what they really wanted was opportunities for workers to share their personal stories with various faith groups as part of their Wage Theft Campaign. So I said, I’ll look into what kind of options there are to be a guest speaker for one of our lay led services, and since I figured UUCP’s sermons were probably scheduled pretty far out, I’ll ask if there’s any interest from our sister congregation. One thing led to another, and if things work as I’m hoping, the WRC will be sharing their stories as part of a “Labor Sunday” service at one of our sister congregations here in the Valley.

This isn’t a campaign I ever saw myself involved in, but I was really touched by the time I spent with WRC workers. It seemed like I could make a meaningful contribution, even if it was just knocking on doors until someone said yes. I’ve found myself volunteering to become more involved in the campaign and some other potential projects.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about my role as an ally. I’ve had to check myself a few times, ready to run full steam ahead with some fabulous idea (some of y’all know these as “Cyndi’s delusions of grandeur”), because this isn’t my party. I was invited to the party, then I volunteered to be a party planner, but the theme and the vision of the party are not mine. If I don’t keep that in mind, I am no longer an ally. So I stop and turn around, and ask for feedback and direction.

imageI was reading an article I came across at No More Deaths called Becoming An Ally. It’s a really good article overall, but I particularly like the How to section. I’ve crossed the borders of faith, culture, race, and language many times in one one one situations. I’ve crossed them as part of a multifaceted group in a supporting role, but never as an organizer. I’ve tried to keep these things in mind as I navigate my first effort at organizing an interfaith effort with racial, class, cultural, and language barriers.

Maybe it’s because this is so present in my mind right now, that I feel stung by comments from some of my fellow activists and members of my church family about the UniteAZ White Ribbon Campaign. These criticisms don’t seem to recognize the diverse theological and political views of our allied groups or their individual members.

I have friends who have worked tirelessly on the UniteAZ campaign and I have friends who feel it’s the wrong approach. I don’t see them often, but these are people who awe and inspire me with their passion and dedication. People who light up my heart every time I see them with the sheer force of their spirit, people that I can’t help but embrace when I see them. People I have prayed for, cried for, who have graced me with their support in my personal growth as an activist, their presence in my home, their gifts of serving as mentors and role models for my children and probably in many other ways I haven’t even begun to realize.

While the UUA at large and the Arizona congregations in particular have a special relationship with Puente, one in which we need to be accountable, we are also accountable to Somos America, Arizona Dream Act Coalition, National Council of La Raza… all of which have endorsed this campaign.

So when there is division among members of targeted communities, what is our role as allies?

The work that Puente does is critical, and I am a passionate supporter of their efforts. When push comes to shove, you will find me wherever the drums are nine times out of ten. That’s just me… in your face, ready to burn your eyelashes with the candle or slap you with a light bulb if that’s what it takes (but very gently, and with much love though… I promise).

But not everybody is comfortable in that role, and more importantly, there are people who will never be reached that way. I’ve seen people slow down and read the protest signs, seen looks of contemplation cross their faces, and I’ve prayed that they will seek out more information that will lead them, ultimately, to seek justice. But I’ve seen just as many people go out of their way to avoid coming close enough for direct eye contact. Those people might shove a flyer in their pocket, and look at it later…. and may also feel the call to justice.

I may not always agree with certain viewpoints or actions from individuals or groups, but I will always honor their path in this struggle. Who are we to say the effort of one targeted group is better than that of another in their fight for justice?  We are still tripping over our own insecurities and inadequacies. It is not for us, as allies, to choose sides among our friends or tell our allies what kind of party to throw when half the time we can’t even figure out what we’re supposed to bring to the potluck.

Finding Our Humanity: Calling on my fellow Euro-Americans

December 9, 2010 25 comments

Last Sunday I was stopped by a member of my congregation… someone from what I call my church family. She mentioned THIS is why I cannot, will not, comply, written after I explained to my son that I would probably (or not) be arrested on the National Day of Non-Compliance

THIS is why I cannot, will not, comply.

Arizona in Crayola: Multicultural, I guess. Non-Toxic, debatable.

 When I asked my son what might lead an officer to suspect someone was not in the country legally and he answered, with only a little doubt in his voice…

“Their race.”

To which I countered,

“What race are Americans?”

He responded, 

White.”

With no hesitation. None whatsoever.

[snipped]

My son is only 14 years old, and already he’s picked up the subconscious message about who is American and who is not. My son is only 14 years old, it already it is imbedded somewhere in his subconscious that Americans are white.

 Read More

 
After confiding that she’d been thinking about that blog entry ever since, she started to talk about all the different classifications of Americans… Mexican, African, Native, Chinese etc.

I have to confess that I got a little nervous. Because the only thing harder than talking about race with people who are not white, in my experience, is talking about race with people who are. And I felt my shield go up, because I’ve heard one or two profoundly stupid things said in my church home, and I wasn’t sure what was coming. I was afraid it would be some argument about how all those prefixes should be dropped, and my mind was racing because I hadn’t been mentally prepared for a “that thing you said” conversation. But then she asked, “But what am I? Am I Caucasian or European American?” And I responded cautiously, still not sure where we were headed, “Well, there would be Italian, German, and Irish American…”

And then she asked the million dollar question. What can she do, in her day-to-day interactions, to challenge the assumption that Americans are of European descent by default, and everything else is “other.”

I wish I’d had a better answer. I’m a unusal case (in more ways than one, I know…) in that outside of work and church on Sunday, very few people who I see on a daily or weekly basis are white. I shared with her that I make it a point (with people who tend to use race or ethnicity to describe others when it is not relevant to the conversation), to mention EVERYONE’S race (aka, my “this white lady at walgreens” story), I don’t have those kinds of conversations often.

Tonight I was at a volunteer meeting for the Community Posada and someone (not white) mentioned Euro-Americans in a conversation, which was the motivation I needed to write this post and not table it until after I get all the other drafts in my head published. Most of the discussion on what I write happens in the link comments on my Facebook wall, but for the sake of centralizing feedback and hopefully providing some ideas and resources for others, I’d like to ask people to comment here and not on FB. You don’t need to sign up for an account to comment.

I want to hear from my Anglo/Euro/Caucasian American readers. Do you consciously use language to counteract the assumption that Americans are white by default? What does that sound like? How and when do you use it? What kind of reactions do you get? If you don’t, what kind of ideas do you have?

Thanks to all of you in advance, and a very special thanks to my sister. You renewed my faith last Sunday, as well as my commitment to continue witnessing, LOUDLY, about the costs of racism to white people. As proud as we may be to fight for justice, we need to acknowledge that we are also fighting for our own humanity.

A PS… This was written as a call for reflection & discussion to white/euro/anglo/gring@ people because I feel strongly we need to take more responsibility in creating equality and justice for all. People of privilege shouldn’t be looking to the people who are being oppressed to show us the light when we’re holding the matches and candles. That said, if you don’t fall into the targeted demographic and you have a suggestion about how we can do better or want to point out something we may do with the best of intentions that we really shouldn’t, jump right in.



Black Women Like Their Books Trashy

October 4, 2010 4 comments

Sometimes people say some shit that’s so stupid, you actually catch a case of stupidity yourself. It’s like the stupidity flowing out of their mouth infects you. There you are, in a state of shock, trying to figure out what the FUCK you can say to cure them, except you’re mouth is hanging open and you can’t speak. It’s like you’ve been hit upside the head with a stupid stick.

white privilege cardSo here I am, with a pen in my hand, dumbly signing my charge slip, thinking that I just spent an awful fucking lot of money but I don’t remember asking the proprietress if she had a racist stereotype that she wouldn’t mind bagging up with my books. I checked my receipt after I left, but it wasn’t listed so I guess it must have been a perk that comes free with my white privilege card.

What’s truly mind boggling about this is that I had actually been attempting to compliment the woman on the diversity of reading materials I’d found at the annual book fair was at. In addition to the standard book fair items you expect to see (cookbooks, you’re the best kid/parent/teacher ever, box sets of all occasion greeting cards) and the racy looking novels with black women I’d noticed the year before, there were several books for teens with African American protagonists; of the three I selected as potential gifts, two were teenage boys. I’d have to read all three first to screen for content that may be too mature or stereotypes I’d want to discuss, but considering how rarely I see books with diverse characters (protagonist or otherwise) for children over the age of eight and/or that aren’t a self esteem message on steroids, not to mention how hard it can be to find books that will interest a young man, I was thrilled to see these and three others for tween/teen readers.

So it was as I was trying to tell the woman how pleased I’d been to see books with diverse racial and religious characters, she interrupts me to warn me that some of “those” books can be a little risqué. I responded that I planned to pre-read them, and again tried to express that it’s not easy to find diverse literature for my kids so it was nice that they had a selection, limited as it was… but once again I was interrupted.

Black women like their books trashy,

she tells me, voice lowered. She doesn’t want to be overheard… but because I’m white, she assumes I’ll welcome being taken into her confidence.

BCwhitegirl0804

I struggled for a minute. I wanted so badly to insult this woman the way she had just insulted and offended me. I wanted to scream at her,

WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE TALKING TO? I’m not in your fucking club. THOSE ARE MY DAUGHTERS you’re talking about. MY BEST FRIEND. MY OTHER BEST FRIEND. MY EX FUTURE MOTHER-IN-LAW (ok, so she’s Tyler’s grandmamma but I loved her first). My son’s second grade teacher, who was also my older daughter’s first Big. Her kindergarten teacher. My baby girl’s “Nani.” Three of my kids’ best friend’s mothers. Two moms I met thru volleyball that I consider good friends and among the few people of any color that I’d trust my children with.

But alienating her wasn’t going change her thinking. I didn’t know what, if anything, that I could say in that moment that would. I still don’t know the answer to that question, so all I could do was my best to tell the truth.

“I’d have to say that’s a pretty broad stereotype. I know that several of the black women I know wouldn’t consider reading those,” as I gestured to the handful of racy novels with Jezebels on the cover.

She started to backpedal with, “Well, ours beg us to get these books… they just love them.”

Ours? Really? OURS? They BEG you to sell them books they identify with, for whatever reason? ARE YOU SHITTING ME? I was about to lose my job for slugging a vendor in the cafeteria at work.

I took a big breath, and as I gathered my purchases, I said that I didn’t know if she’d noticed, but it isn’t always easy to find books with Black characters in stores, and that I know this because I am always on the lookout for books that will appeal to my own multiracial children who don’t always want to read about little white heroes & heroines, but most of the books that we have were bought online, thru Scholastic Book orders, or out of state. I pointed out that if her Black customers were excited to see the few books she carried on the bottom shelf, it might have more to do with the overall lack of availability than the taste of the individual reader.

And I walked away. I don’t know how well received my final comments were, but at least I knew that I’d made it crystal clear that she if she wanted someone to support the BS she was spewing, she was talking to the wrong one.

Hindsight is always 20/20… and looking back, I wish I had pointed out specifically how asinine it is to assume that ALL Black women like their books trashy based on the requests of a few… even if ALL the Black women in the Phoenix Metro area loved these books, simple demographics should tell you that number is not representative of ALL Black women. I also wish I had pointed out that just because SOME Black women enjoy racy novels or that particular line of books, that doesn’t mean that is the ONLY genre that they enjoy. I still wonder if I should have told her to reverse the charge and shove the books up her… never mind.

The only thing I know is that we are so not post racial. Not even close.

     

Saturday Share from Cyndi’s Google Reader

September 18, 2010 Leave a comment

 

Cathleen Falsani: Anam Cara: Praying for Our Kids and Their ‘Soul Friends’ via Religion on HuffingtonPost.com by Cathleen Falsani on 9/13/10

An Anam Cara is someone with whom you share your deepest loves, fears, dreams, doubts, joys and sorrows. That soul friend will know him and love him for exactly who he is. He or she is a friend who will uplift him, reflect God’s love for him, and draw him toward his Creator, not away or astray. 

I prayed that, in the words of William Shakespeare, my son would take his soul friends into his heart and “grapple them to [his] soul with hoops of steel.” 

Cathleen Falsani is journalist, blogger and author of several nonfiction books, including the memoir Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace, and the forthcoming The Thread: Faith, Friendship and Facebook. 

 Sounds From Mexico’s Bicentennial via NPR Programs: Tell Me More on 9/16/10 

Alfonso Andre, drummer for the Mexican band Jaugares, talks about the band’s remake of the song La Martiniana for a new album that commemorates the Mexican Bicentennial. Andre also talks about his conflicted feelings about celebrating Mexico’s history. 

What is the purpose of (sex) education via Adolescent Sexuality by Dr. Karen Rayne on 9/15/10 

A good sex education might delay sexual activity.  In fact, a good sex education will ideally delay sexual activity.  But that’s not the main purpose of good sex education.  The main purpose of sex education is to support lifelong healthy sexuality.  We must take the long view here.  Sex education should not be designed to keep a student from having sex in high school – that is far too short sighted. 

Sex education must be designed to address individuals across their lifespans – to give them tools, skills, knowledge, and strength to understand their bodies, to be both introspective and appropriately communicative about their own desires, respectful about other people’s desires, and both safer and reverent about the entire process. 

White Feminists and Me: a Fable of Solidarity via Womanist Musings by Renee on 9/14/10 

I’m a 23 year old Sinhalese woman in Minnesota by way of Dubai by way of Sri Lanka. I am a Womanist, and part of my womanism is figuring out how to be in solidarity with my transnational sisters worldwide. I’m a daughter, a sister, a partner and a writer. I’m a brown girl who knows Shakespeare by heart and devours anything Toni Morrison. I believe in radical, revolutionary 

A Bleak Picture For Young Black Male Students via NPR Programs: Talk of the Nation on 9/13/10 

A report from the Massachusetts-based Schott Foundation paints a bleak picture of how young black men fare in school: fewer than half graduate from high school. And in some states, like New York, the graduation rate is as low as one in four. The foundation’s John Jackson and David Sciarra of the Education Law Center discuss what’s needed to improve educational attainment among African American children. 

Middle Schools Are Disciplining Kids by Throwing Them Away via Colorlines by Michelle Chen on 9/14/10 

Middle Schools Are Disciplining Kids by Throwing Them Away

Talk all you want about improving our nation’s schools, but the fact is, students can’t close the “achievement gap” when they’re not allowed into the classroom. Yet school suspension rates are climbing and potentially stifling educational opportunity for disadvantaged middle-schoolers, according to a study by the Southern Poverty Law Center

 

Activists have long warned of the school-to-prison pipeline–sort of the opposite of the honors track, steering poor kids of color into troubled adolescence and eventually the criminal justice system. The SPLC explains, “Disciplinary tactics that respond to typical adolescent behavior by removing students from school do not better prepare students for adulthood. Instead, they increase their risk of educational failure and dropout.” 

Conflating “Ethnic” and “Curvy” via Sociological Images by gwen on 9/15/10 

We’ve noted the fetishization of Black women’s butts before, and the conflation of non-White and curvy (also here). Yes, some non-White women have large butts and cleavage. So do lots of White women. And lots of women in all groups don’t have either, or have just one or the other, or have them but don’t still somehow manage to be very thin and toned overall. But having this body type is, in this case and many others, so identified as “ethnic” that White women who have boobs and hips become examples of “ethnic” beauty, not simply a version of female beauty. Notice that Scarlett Johansson’s body isn’t described as having “European curves” or, I don’t know, “British-American curves” or whatever her ethnic background might be in the way that Jennifer Lopez’s curves are perceived as an ethnic marker. It’s a great example of selective perception: women of all racial/ethnic backgrounds share body shapes, but certain physical features, such as hips, are seen as a group characteristic only for some women. 

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages

‘Values Voter Summit’ Will Likely Be Missing Jewish Voters: Conservative Conference Coincides With Yom Kippur via Religion on HuffingtonPost.com by Amanda Terkel on 9/15/10 

Yet it’s unlikely observant Jews will be able to attend the event, since it’s being held on Yom Kippur — the holiest Jewish holiday — which begins at sundown on Friday, Sept. 17 and ends at sundown on Saturday, Sept. 18 — right when the majority of the action at the conference is happening (including the Israel panel). In 2009, the Values Voter Summit took place during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. “Does the FRC think Jews don’t have values?” wondered Salon’s Washington Correspondent Mike Madden last year. “Or was this just the only fall weekend they could get into the Omni Shoreham hotel?” 

Anti-Defamation League spokesman Todd Gutnick said his organization didn’t see much of a problem with the conflict in timing. “Since these are all Christian groups involved, Jews wouldn’t be attending anyway,” he told the Huffington Post. Some conservative groups, however, are trying to make inroads with the Jewish community, recognizing that although some on the right consistently accuse progressives of being anti-Israel or even “anti-Jew”, Jews still overwhelmingly vote Democratic. On Monday, FreedomWorks, which helps organize many of the Tea Party gatherings around the country, told reporters that it was launching “a new initiative to reach out to racial, ethnic and religious minorities” — beginning with Jews, to coincide with the High Holidays. 

The Huffington Post contacted FRC Action for comment but did not receive a response. 

This Week in Blackness: White People and Black People Are So Different via Womanist Musings by Renee on 9/17/10 

Elon James has come up with a new This Week in Blackness, and of course I absolutely had to share it with you.  This week, Elon talked about the fact that Blacks and Whites experience the same event differently because of racism.   Whiteness has been taught to ignore this because it has been normalized therefore; it is quite easy to believe in a universal perspective.  There is a large difference 

Angela Himsel: Excuse Me, Are You…? via Religion on HuffingtonPost.com by Angela Himsel on 9/17/10 

On Yom Kippur, when I stand in synagogue for hours and recite the prayers, striking my fist against my chest to atone for my sins, and as I become more and more tired with the lack of food, water and more importantly, caffeine, it’s then that I feel a kind of certainty that God sees and loves each one of us in all of our totality, even the parts that we hide from one another and from ourselves. Wherever we are, whoever we’re with, God recognizes us and never needs to ask, on Yom Kippur or any other day, “Excuse me, are you Angela?” 

Off and Running Toward My Own Identity [Racialigious] via Racialicious – the intersection of race and pop culture on 9/7/10 

by Guest Contributor Collier Meyerson, originally published at Be’Chol Lashon 

Collier, thinking At 13 years old, in the planning stages of my Bat Mitzvah, my Hebrew School teacher called a meeting at his home to discuss details. He opened his door to see me, my father who is an Ashkenazi Jew and my black mother. Upon seeing my family, without asking, he regrettably informed us that the synagogue, would not allow me to perform the right of passage in their temple because my mother wasn’t a Jew. My wily mother, coyly and smarmily responded “oh, but her mother is Jewish.” 

Yes, it turns out my biological mother is a white Ashkenazi Jew. 

And with these words, my Hebrew school teacher, as though I was caught in the Woody Allen version of my own life as a film, threw his hands into the air and exclaimed “it’s Bashert [it’s destiny] then! You’ll have your Bat Mitzvah in the Temple!” In that moment I felt a definitive rage. I wanted desperately to be a part of the Upper West Side’s most exclusive and popular clique, Judaism, but felt what would prove to be an indelible stake in this idea of blackness, something pitted against Jewishness. And so there it was, in the home of my Hebrew School teacher that the two were separated, like oil and water. 

I was Black and Jewish but I couldn’t be both, I couldn’t be a Black Jew. 

Preparing My Kids To Be Able To Run Through Walls via Racialicious – the intersection of race and pop culture on 9/7/10 

by Guest Contributor Paula, originally published at Heart, Mind, and Seoul 

I think about the walls that threatened to thwart my growth when I was younger and how completely ill-prepared I was to handle them. If I’m being completely honest with myself, I realize that perhaps I’ve been far too generous in assessing how well equipped I was to deal with the very real walls of racism, prejudice and discrimination throughout my life. I have no doubt that my parents love and concern imparted upon me the knowledge that they were always there for me – and yes, that is huge in it’s own right – but as an Asian girl/adolescent/young adult, I recognize now just how unprepared I was in terms of not having the right language or effective strategies to be my own best advocate in my racially isolated world. 

 

Bloggers Unite – International Literacy Day: Reducing Illiteracy in the Prison Population Benefits ALL of Us! via THE INTERSECTION | MADNESS & REALITY by Joanna on 9/8/10 

PhotobucketAn estimated 20 percent of the adult population in the US is functionally illiterate. That figure SKYROCKETS to over 60 percent when you examine the literacy rates of the inmate population in jails and prisons across the country. And even more appalling is the fact that over 85 percent of juvenile offenders have literacy issues.

Considering that illiteracy commonly leads to lengthy and repeated bouts of unemployment (over 75 percent of unemployed adults have some problems with reading and writing) the low rate of literacy among the inmate population is a recipe for explosive recidivism rates. After all, if an ex-prisoner is unable to find or keep a job due to literacy issues, where else can he turn but back to the behaviors that landed him in jail in the first place?

Although a lot of people take the “lock them up and throw away the key” attitude toward prisoners, and would rather REDUCE the services available to prisoners, there is PROOF that literacy programs in prison CAN and DO help reduce the rates of recidivism, and can lead to an overall reduction in incarceration rates. 

 Us (Moms) vs. Them (Teens) via I am the Glue by Laura on 9/11/10 

This will be an 18 year round/fight.
Keep it clean…your language…your room…etc.
At the end of the match, the winner will be decided by who is left standing, or not in jail, or rehab.
I am taking bets now.
I got some insider information…shhh…this is on the down low.
Us moms are the best bet because we have been there and done that.
Got a teenager to show for it. 

What I Did On My Summer Vacation…or Why Water Communion Makes Me Uncomfortable via East Of Midnight by Kim on 9/14/10 

Can anybody explain Water Communion to me in a way that doesn’t make it seem like it’s a glorified Show-and-Tell and another example of how classist UUism can be?  

Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D.: Overturning the Texas School Board Madness? It’s Possible via Religion on HuffingtonPost.com by Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D. on 9/14/10 

Voters in Texas’s 5th District have the opportunity to put an end to the embarrassing and anti-intellectual actions that have diminished education across the state, and that’s an opportunity that will likely impact text book choices around the rest of the United States. I, for one, hope that they opt to do just that by replacing Ken Mercer’s madness with Rebecca Bell-Metereau’s thoughtfulness. 

Charges That a Civil Rights Hero Was an FBI Spy Shouldn’t Shock Us via Colorlines by Barbara Ransby on 9/17/10 

Charges That a Civil Rights Hero Was an FBI Spy Shouldn't Shock Us These stories remind us not only that our government has routinely violated the basic civil liberties of so many black activists over several generations, but it reminds us of the complexities and limitations of presumed racial loyalty. The Black Press was given access to movement events and meetings in the 1960s that white reporters were not. Why? It was assumed that a level of racial solidarity and loyalty existed. Maybe that was true. But maybe it wasn’t. We continue to project false expectations onto politicians and self-appointed race leaders because of phenotype rather than politics, ideas and other more tangible markers of “loyalty” to oppressed people. Everyone who looks like “us” is not a friend, and everyone who looks different is not automatically the enemy. This is a simple lesson that some of us still have to learn. 

Promise of a better life leads to the nightmare of sexual slavery – CNN via articles.cnn.com on 9/18/10

Many people associate prostitution with women walking the streets in shady areas and being picked up by johns. But Claudia says the prostitution ring for which she was forced to work had a long list of clients who knew the price they had to pay, who to call and where to go. It’s a well-organized and lucrative underground industry. Luis CdeBaca monitors human trafficking at the U.S. State Department. He says there are no reliable figures on the scale of the problem, but forced prostitution from Mexico and Central America is a big part of it.

Maybe you’re just hypersensitive about [fill in the blank]…

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

… race, religion, gender, sexual orientation

There’s not a whole lot more I can say that hasn’t already been said by Macon, so I won’t recreate the wheel, except to say this: any time you are tempted to ask someone whether they’re being hypersensitive about race (which is code for accusing them of playing the race card), ask yourself FIRST whether you’re being INsensitive about race (and put away your white privilege card).

So far, I would say it’s something like this — white people don’t have to think much about race; however, given the ongoing reality of racism, most non-white people do have to think about it, and analyze it, and figure out how it works. As a result, most white people know less about racism than most non-white people do. Nevertheless, a great, sad, and even tragic irony is that when non-white people take the time and effort to explain examples of racism, white people often doubt what they’re hearing, they often think they know more about a phenomenon with which they’ve had less direct experience, and they often want to talk about something else instead. They also commonly fail to understand how dismissive they’re being when they do those things.

via stuff white people do: listen poorly during discussions of racism.

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