CC and Rev. Sean try to "just say hi."

ChaliceChick: Whaddup?
me: You ask good questions.[smile]
ChaliceChick: I try.
me: I like that we’re having the conversation.
ChaliceChick: Me too. I think there’s a lot of tension about this stuff for reasons I don’t completely understand. Not that racism isn’t by its nature a tense subject culturally all around.
me: Remember, I’ve just taught a class completely deconstructing the modernist and racist roots of our tradition.
ChaliceChick: I didn’t remember.
me: So I have a lot of “back story”…That’s what I did on sabbatical: a whole class on the Journey Toward Wholeness.
ChaliceChick: I see. I think everybody brings their own backstory to such discussions.
me: I got really convinced as we read through all the materials, essays, etc, that much of what we hold dear is part and parcel of our roots as a snobby, powerful, and often oppressive group, so I am trying to address that without being a total ass to people.
ChaliceChick: I’d be interested in a post about post-modernism and reason, though I might argue with it.
me: If I can find the time… I’m not a true post modernist, but I am a critic of modernity.
ChaliceChick: Got it. Well, no pressure, but I, for one, am interested.
me: The problem with so much of what we call “reason” is that it is predicated on an assumption of clear binaries where one side is of more value than the other: reason/intuition being one or reason/experience.
ChaliceChick: I don’t remember if I’ve ever directly told you that my dad is a schizophrenic, but growing up like that is an excellent way to grow up to be a modernist.
me: Wow. I bet.
ChaliceChick: As you know, backstory all around.
me: yup
ChaliceChick: But yeah, though that’s my reflex, I am trying to keep an open mind.
me: So for me, the way people defend rationality can seem a lot like a defense against acknowledging that our motives, words, etc. can be and often are racist…and that people experience them that way.
ChaliceChick: I don’t think that’s it. I think that’s sometimes it, but I really don’t see most of the people in this discussion that way.
me: We love to say “we didn’t intend to be racist”but what about the people who experienced it that way? I think we need to balance both.
ChaliceChick: It’s so hard. I’ve observed some people attribute everything (Va tech shootings, for example) to racism, while I attribute everything to mental illness (Kramer’s racist meltdown, for example.)
me: It seemed reasonable to me that changing the name of a lunch discussion was not going too far.
ChaliceChick: As I said, it really wasn’t, but I think UUs are really sensitive to “This is racist because we say so.”
me: Yes, but in my experience, Starr King isn’t very often the one doing that. JTW and the Crossroads trainings did that. SKSM is the only place I see trying something different. Everybody else just gave up and said “this won’t work.”
ChaliceChick: I’ve heard people of color make fun of whites for being so scared of being called racist. But at the same time, it’s really disquieting to feel like at any moment you could be accused of something truly terrible and there’s no way to defend yourself.
me: Yes, it’s scary… but we are supposed to be brave. [smile]
ChaliceChick: We are?
me: Trying to remember the words of Rank by Rank…something about brave…
me: The hardest thing for white people, I think, is to admit that yes, indeed, we are impure, screwed up, messy, imperfect, and sometimes stupid. And so is everybody else. I think it’s part of how white supremacy shows up as fear instead of anger/rage/hatred.
ChaliceChick: Yeah. I can see that.
me: So part of what I am secretly wishing for is people to say, “Wow. I really did just assume my right to say ‘brown bag’ was more important than someone else’s feelings and maybe I did that because I was scared or uncomfortable.”
Now you know why I am passionate…I have an agenda…that will probably never happen. [smile]
ChaliceChick: I honestly don’t think that aspect was fear. I think I heard it and thought “boat people,” and someone else thought of when he was called a racist for not giving a guy on the street money, and another person thought about getting yelled at for saying “a chink in the armor.” I think that people don’t want to hurt each other’s feelings and I think when the message is “Hey, did you know X and Y about the history of this?” it’s one thing, but when it’s “This is racist!” it’s another.
me: But isn’t that a kind of fear of being mistaken for a racist?
ChaliceChick: I don’t know. In me, it feels like irritation.
me: Have you read Rebecca Parker’s book of essays?
ChaliceChick: Which one?
me: Blessing the World
ChaliceChick: No, I haven’t. I will keep an eye out for it.
me: She does a good job of talking about the way whiteness is constructed to make us fear being wrong and how we are taught to “not know” things that interrupt the way the world works. And then to defend why we didn’t know or how we shouldn’t have needed to know or how what we didn’t know is actually not true… It’s very compassionate.
ChaliceChick: Honestly, at this point, I am somewhat conditioned to believe that people of other races are oversenstive. I was kept waiting in a tire place on Monday, a black man came in soon after me and was kept waiting too. I found myself making a point of complaining about the staff ignoring me so he would know it wasn’t just him. I don’t think this is a wonderful way to be, but it’s become my reflex because I’m so used to the assumption of racism in UU circles.
me: But that assumption of oversensitivity is a stereotype.
ChaliceChick: I know.
me: So the cycle just repeats in a new way… it reminds me of the AIDS virus, always changing just enough to avoid our attempts to cure it.
ChaliceChick: I totally get that. If it helps, I’m similarly nervous around white people whom I know are into Anti-racism.
me: The way AR/AO has been done in the UUA has been harmful at times and we are seeing the result of that. And yet, it was a start …by well-intentioned people trying to do something good.
ChaliceChick: I know.
me: But we dismiss them so easily because we didn’t like what happened and because anti-oppression work is scary as hell.
ChaliceChick: OK, come to think of it, I don’t know.
me: From my perspective, they made one HUGE mistake: they borrowed materials from other faiths and those materials were based in a Calvinistic “original sin” mentality. And yet, lots of people had life changing experiences in spite of that.
ChaliceChick: (((those materials were based in a Calvinistic “original sin” mentality))) OK, both sides of this debate just started to make a hell of a lot more sense to me.
me: Yup. The Crossroads model really says that racism, like original sin, is inborn and whites are guilty. (if not inborn, taught at such a young age that it is impossible to escape) and that the only way to “redemption” is strict adherence to an AR/AO model and practice: *to root out racism in all its forms… *to confess our guilt… etc. etc. etc
What those original JTW people didn’t see was that while a small group of people were having those life-altering experiences, many more were building resentment. I am trying to acknowledge the depth of oppression, our complicity as an association of historically privileged folks, and yet…leave room for hope, grace, compassion, and love.
ChaliceChick: Wow. Umm… speaking of not wanting to be wrong, how come current AR/AO folks don’t admit this?
me: You know where the ones who do are? Starr King. (and some at 25 Beacon.) Frankly, it’s why I’m no longer on the JTWTC and am on the SKSM board instead. That is where I see a real UU theology of ECO emerging. And they got there by making dumb mistakes like the brown bag thing. My allegiance to SK is not just because I went there.
ChaliceChick: OK.
me: It’s because their work is the only place I see hopeful beginnings of a way out of all this. That’s what keeps me “hooked.”
ChaliceChick: My impression is still that y’all are a bunch of hippies, but I do think that improving the racial climate is a good goal.

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10 thoughts on “CC and Rev. Sean try to "just say hi."

  1. This is really cool on multiple levels. Informative, and a cool way of both breaking past the lag time of the blogging medium, but finding a way to share the conversation in the blogging medium. Really cool.

    And like I said, very informative.

  2. Is there an introductory book to the whole AR/AO framework/history in the UUA? Introduction? Overview of the various thinking of on the issue? I want to learn more, but it seems a little overwhelming.

    Great dialogue by the way.

  3. Sean, I can’t seem to track it down, but were you saying in a comment somewhere that critical thinking is a modern construction? And that it’s somehow overvalued? I seem to have read that somewhere, and I’m not able to find it, but did you say that? And if so, could you elaborate? Because wherever it was, it just sounded crazy to me. Am I totally misinterpreting?

  4. wow, how liberating to read this dialogue. I feel so isolated from and alienated by the UU ar/ao work as I have experienced that it makes me hyperventilate just to post here. I will look forward to reading more of your work on this topic. Bless you for your courage and engagement in the struggle.

  5. Elizabeth, I asked that question at CC’s and Fausto suggested I Google “racism” at the UUA site. I did and found a link that seems to contain a lot of the controversy in a nutshell.

    But yeah, a critical history of the movement would be nice.

    Ellis, that comment may have been in a thread at CC’s, which I pounced on a bit… I’d like to see that explained more, too, because I think it is central to this discussion.

  6. There is a book coming out at GA (last I heard) in celebration of the JTW’s 10 year anniversary that describes this history. I will try to find out more.
    Also in a pdf document on the old UUA site there is a pretty good history, but it mostly just gives dates and stories, not controversy or thinking. The most comprehensive look at theology and thinking regarding anti-racism and anti-oppression in the UUA is the book Soul Work
    Hope this is helpful. Will get to the “rationality” question when I can.
    Rev. Sean

  7. I am finding the idea of “Original Sin” compelling, in the sense that there are some nasty things that seem to be wired in to the human character that a moral person needs to wrestle with at every turn.

    I can imagine an experiential racism course based on a bird feeder.

    Shortly after hanging a bird feeder, one develops opinions of species: squirrels are uppity and must be twarted, “taught lessons”. House finches are greeedy, crowding out the goldfinches. aqnd don’t get me started on those dumb-looking mourning doves…

    So, although the lack of resolution is painful, i think the ongoing discussion is crucial to what we aspire to be.

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