09 July 2005

Racism and Racial Profiling of UU Youth of Color at GA -- Summary of Events

Here's a summary of the recent racist events at the 2005 Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) General Assembly (GA) in Ft. Worth TX. I've collected this information from the following sources:

UUA Board of Trustees Open Letter (uua.org web site)
UUA Board of Trustees Open Letter and Reader Commentary (fuuse.com web site)
Reader Comments on the "Boy in the Bands" Blog

And here's what I found out:
  1. Some white Unitarian Universalists (UUs) assumed that UU youth of color were hotel service people and asked them to carry luggage or park cars.
  2. There was a "racial profiling" incident outside the hall where the GA Closing Ceremony was happening. A group of UU youth of color were stopped from entering because they were not wearing nametags. White adult UUs without their nametags were not stopped even though they were violating the same requirement on page 3 of the GA Program Book.
  3. The initial verbal dispute involved several UU youth of color and a UU adult who questioned their right to be there. This questioning provoked an angry response.
  4. This verbal dispute caused a UU minister to intervene in support of the UU adult.
  5. Another white UU youth intervened in support of the UU youth of color and verbally attacked the minister and she responded in kind -- escalating this conflict.
  6. During the GA Youth Caucus discussions after the Closing Ceremony incident, the Youth Caucus staff met and decided through consensus process to cancel the Monday night dance they had sponsored.
Canceling the dance was apparently a controversial decision for some GA attendees. Here's a bit of blog commentary from a young adult worked on the Youth Caucus staff:
" ... and i'm not sure what the sway the 'institutional youth of the UUA' means, but i'll guess is has to do with the canceling of the YOUTH sponsored dance. and the youth (and adults who were there in support, including myself) who cancelled it were white volunteer GA youth caucus staff, not youth office staff. it was a hard decision for the youth, but consensus was reached, we did not want to be a bunch of white people partying it up while all of their friends of color were spilling their guts about the crappy thing that had happened to them over the course of GA. that would be adding insult to injury."
And ... as you may have noticed in my earlier post, there's also a lot of denial that racism could be an issue for Unitarian Univeraslists. Denial won't make this problem any easier.


Matthew said...

Hi, Steve.

How are you defining racial profiling?

In the vernacular sense, at least, it seems to be a pretty serious charge to make against people who, after all, had good reasons to follow a security protocol.

When the ACLU campaigns against racial profiling, they are campainging against a systematic use of race and ethnicity to harrass minorities. Based on the evidence you've presented, it is hard to see that kind of institutional harassment at play in this situation. It is entirely possible that a rule at GA could have been observed unequally and unfairly without it being an act of racial profiling. That doesn't mean what happened was fair, but it does mean that it might be inflammatory to start using frought language to describe the incident.

What do you think the best outcome would be for our community?

Steve Caldwell said...

Matthew wrote:
"How are you defining racial profiling?"

Actually ... it depends on which ACLU source you are quoting.

Here's how the ACLU of Illinois defines racial profiling:

"Racial profiling is defined as any police-initiated action (including surveillance, detention, search, arrest, or other intervention) that relies to any degree on the race, ethnicity, or national origin of the individual – except when police seek a specific individual described in part by race or ethnicity. In most cases of racial profiling, police officers stop motorists of certain ethnic groups because of stereotypes that say certain ethnic groups are more likely to commit a crime than other groups.

'Driving while Black or Brown' or DWB is a slang term for racial profiling adapted from the actual illegal condition 'driving while intoxicated.'"

One example that the ACLU of Illinois uses is the following:

"'Out of place' or 'border patrol' stops: when the police stop and search motorists of color because their mere presence in what is usually a predominantly white suburban or rural area is viewed as suspicious."

This Illinois ACLU info can be found online here:


Now ... before anyone turns into a word purist, I'll agree that any non-law enforcement adult at GA who attempted to keep UU youth of color from attending a GA event were not "police" in a literal sense.

Also, there's nothing in the Illinois ACLU definition that requires the racial profiling to be institutional or systemic. Racial profiling can happen through individual initiative as well as through institutional initiative.

The person was attempting to enforce a community rule in a selective manner.

If we as a GA community were following a rigorous security protocol, the GA incident would look less racist.

However ... by Monday, there were plenty of UUs who were not wearing their nametags and were allowed to participate in GA events.

It seems that the key for being stopped and excluded from GA on Monday afternoon was being a person who was:

(1) young

(2) a person of color

(3) without a GA name badge

An older white person without a badge would not have been stopped based on my observations at GA and the observations of others.