09 July 2005

An Open Apology ...

... to anyone who feels that I called them a racist.

I'm sorry that I wrote anything that might have implied you were a "racist" as the term is commonly used (e.g. a person like David Duke and other overt white supremacists).

That was not my intent. I did not say anything remotely equivalent to stating "you are a racist."

But I did ask a question on my blog.

Is a tendency that I've observed in some online posts to minimize the role of race as a major factor in the GA incidents due to unconscious racism or ageism?

An unconscious response that comes in part from racist influences in North American culture could be happening here.

Suggesting this possibility arising out of involuntary and unconscious cultural influences isn't the same as calling a person a "racist." I just want to suggest that we need to be mindful of influences in our society that encourage us to discount racism.

Again ... my apologies for any misunderstanding my blog words have created here.

4 comments:

fausto said...

I just want to suggest that we need to be mindful of influences in our society that encourage us to discount racism.

Absolutely. Overt and unconscious discrimination are real social pathologies that affect us all, and are all too easy to overlook or deny.

By the same token, however, there are some UUs who tend to see the entire world in terms of social pathology, and their own place in the world as the prophet who will rub everyone else's nose in it or the messiah who will cure it. These people lack perspective in equal measure with those who ignore social pathology entirely, and they also seem to be more densely concentrated in certain pockets of UUism than in the denomination at large.

Some of what you have called "denial" on other threads may in fact only be a perception that UU youth programs are one of the places where such people tend to concentrate.

In Aesop's famous fable, the people who ignored the boy who cried wolf didn't do so out of denial of the wolf problem, they did so out of doubts about the boy's credibility based on his own prior conduct. Do UU institutional youth programs, and the UU youth who are most enthusiastic about them, have a "boy who cried wolf" problem that makes it more difficult for them to receive the credibility and acceptance they seem to crave? A lot of people seem to think so, and not only in the context of this one incident.

Steve Caldwell said...

Fausto wrote:
-snip-
"By the same token, however, there are some UUs who tend to see the entire world in terms of social pathology, and their own place in the world as the prophet who will rub everyone else's nose in it or the messiah who will cure it."

As a UU minister wrote in reply to another post on my blog, would this be an example of " ... appointing yourself Staff Psychologist and making guesses ... " with regard to the conscious and unconscious motivations of the person writing online?

The suggestion that Unitarian Universalists and other religious liberals might discount racism, ageism, etc in exploring these issues isn't one that I would have suggested a few years ago.

I first heard the suggestion that UUs often had a tendency to discount that racism happens in our congregations and other UU communities when participating in the "Weaving the Fabric of Diversity" curriculum for adults in my congregation.

The curriculum authors felt the need to emphasize that the real-life case studies in the curriculum were real-life case studies and not fiction created for the curriculum. They also suggested that it's very common for UUs to discount the possibility that racist things could happen in our congregations and UU communities.

We do a lot of great things in our UU congregations and other UU communities. But we cannot assume that our congregations and communities are immune from subtle racist influences in our culture.

fausto said...

would this be an example of " ... appointing yourself Staff Psychologist and making guesses ... " with regard to the conscious and unconscious motivations of the person writing online?

No, I don't think so. It wouldn't be either psychoanalysis or personal, individual criticism. It would be setting aside our institutional obsession with our own and others' racism for just a moment, in order to see whether there are other, similar shortcomings that we as a denomination also need to work on.

Why is it acceptable to criticize ourselves over issues of discrimination and oppression, but not over other denominational problems that to some eyes seem even more glaring, and even more of an impediment to being taken seriously by the broader society?

One of these other problems is, I think, a reckless and uncritical encouragement of an attitude that 25 Beacon has loftily called "the prophetic witness". Abusing this witness through undisciplined advocacy does nothing to further the societal change that it demands, but instead only marginalizes the voices who abuse it and the causes they advocate. Learning when and how to give this witness judiciously and effectively, rather than recklessly and indiscriminately, is something that we UUs need to be just as sensitive to as we are to the existence of discrimination and opression. Unfortunately, I do not think "institutional" UUism is nearly as concerned with teaching the appropriate (and inappropriate) uses of the prophetic witness as it is in generally promoting what James Luther Adams has called "the prophethood of every believer". This leads to the "boy who cried wolf" problem I mentioned above, and I think it's a real problem for both the UU movement as a whole and ourselves as autonmous, conscientious individuals.

I think part of the troubles that YRUU has experienced recently stems from an overemphasis of the prophetic witness at the expense of other issues of faith and character development, combined with grossly inadequate training in the effective and appropriate use of the witness. When the recent incidents of the GA are seen through the lens of "conventional wisdom" presumptions about the pervasiveness of racism, one familiar image emerges. When, however, they are seen through the lens of youthful immaturity combined with poorly conceived institutional promotion of reckless, undisciplined witnessing, an entirely different and less familiar image falls into focus.

It is no less a case of denial to dismiss one image than it is to dismiss the other.

Jeff Wilson said...

Hey Steve, I wasn't one of those personally offended by your earlier remarks. But I wanted to leave a comment anyway because I thought it was pretty stand-up of you to apologize. It helped me to understand how you approach this "racism" word/concept (very differently than I do, apparently), and was just generally the brave thing to do. I wish more folks in general could follow your example--we all make mistakes and misjudgments, and owning up to them is not only the right thing to do, it can keep an otherwise blocked coversation going and thereby maybe even help people hear your actual points.