09 July 2005

Racism and Racist Incidents at 2005 UUA General Assembly

In case you haven't heard about this yet, some disturbing things happened at the 2005 General Assembly in Ft. Worth TX.

The UUA Board of Trustees has published an open letter to UU youth of color and UU people of color who attended Fort Worth General Assembly and to the broader UU community.

Rev. Eric Posa was an on-scene Chaplain for the event and his very useful analysis can be found online here.

Commentary from fuuse.com can be found online here.

The surprising thing about this incident is the tendency of some to minimize the impact of what has happened. I don't know if this comes from unconscious racism, ageism, or a combination of the two. Examples of this tendency for some Unitarian Universalists to dismiss racism as a possible cause for some incidents at GA can be found online here, here, and here.


Jeff Wilson said...

I disagree that tendencies to question the role of racism or sexism in these (and similar) incidents necessarily means that the commentator harbors unconscious racism or agism. In fact, the suspicion may come from over-exposure to the refrain that everyone (especially white Americans) harbors lurking racism etc that colors every human interaction and results in constant victimization of the unprivileged.

Steve, you've essentially accused a couple of people of being racist because you disagree with their analysis of an incident that none of y'all was involved with. It's the frequent accusation of being racists that eventually causes a lot of people (who hold justice, equality, and anti-prejudice as core values) to tire of official "anti-racism" projects and tread cautiously before assuming that racial or other prejudices are importantly involved in ambiguous incidents.

I don't see anyone dismissing racism or agism as a possible factor in these incidents, as you allege. Everyone I've seen retains these as possible factors, but they don't necessarily automatically assume that they must be the key factors. What I see is UUs doing a very good UU thing: examining the evidence, questioning dogmas (such as those that originate in the anti-racism sectors), keeping an open mind (versus the snap assumptions of many on the it-must-be-racism/agism side), and refusing to pass final judgment without a clear understanding of what did and didn't happen.

I don't know how much if any racism or agism was involved in these incidents, because I wasn't there. Minorities do encounter lots of prejudice, so it is reasonable to guess that racism could've been involved. And it is reasonable for minorities involved to guess that they were being racially discriminated against--which doesn't make them right in their guesses. But not all incidents are necessarily motivated by race, so it is also reasonable for the bloggers you mentioned to guess that maybe these incidents weren't racial in nature.

Steve Caldwell said...

Jeff ... I'll disagree here (no surprise).

As a minimum, we're witnessing some unconscious ageism here. I've read one UU blogger who was minimizing what had happened by saying "Kids get yelled at. Sometimes unfairly." as a socially acceptable standard of behavior for interacting with youth.

Do you think we would tolerate verbal abuse being directly towards adults in our UU communities?

On the fuuse.com message board, I posted the following comment about racism being omnipresent in North American culture:

"Given the omnipresensce of racism in North America, how can anyone of us avoid the influence of the culture we are living in? Racism is like smog in the air ... no matter how good my intentions are, I've got some of it inside me.

Even with my best intentions, I may accidentally hurt others. Given what I've learned about racism from UU curricula and UU books, I don't think that anyone who is white cannot help being racist. The question is what do we do with this assessment to improve our UU communities and the world at large?"

On the fuuse.com web site, I've said that I'm racist but I'm trying to work on it. I don't think we need guilt or anger here ... simply an acknowledgement that we white UUs still have a lot of work to do in this area.

Chalicechick said...

Steve can call me Shirley Temple if he wants. That still won't make me Shirley temple.

I'm not a racist. And I never said kids getting yelled at unfairly was acceptable. I said it happens.

But it happens to white kids too. And race often has nothing to do with it.

I think we owe the minister the assumption of innocence until we have more than speculation.

You don't know what was in this person's head. You're assuming. Are you willing to risk another person's career that you're right?


Steve Caldwell said...

On 9 July 2005, Chalicechick wrote:
"Are you willing to risk another person's career that you're right?"

No need to worry about a minister's career from my actions ... I don't know the details of who the minister is or what she said to our youth at GA.

As Unitarian Universalists and religious liberals, we focus so much on the needs of the individual (First Principle) that we overlook the the web of interconnections between us that forms our community (Seventh Principle).

Hypothetically, let's say that something "bad" happens to the career of the minister we are discussing as a result of what had happened at GA 2005 ... professional ethics investigation and other fallout from an allegation of racism, etc.

By focusing on the individual, we are missing the larger point. Focusing on the individuals involved doesn't address the social and cultural forces that created the circumstances that produced a racist outcome.

Part of the problem with our analysis of what happened at GA may be the UU liberal religious emphasis on extreme individualism.

To effectively address racism, we who are white need to claim it and own it as ours. This is analogous to the suggestion that males need to claim and own patriarchy in order to address it effectively.

Chalicechick said...

Steve, don't be silly. Nobody's going to need any silly professional ethics investigation.

I mean, you've bypassed that. Uuism is small. This incident will follow this minister for her whole career. And all thanks to campaigns like yours, based solely in rumor.

And you don't even have to bother yourself with the pesky facts.

It's people like you, firm decisive people untroubled by pesky detail of truth or fairness, who keep conservative churches free from gay ministers.
(and the occaisonal straight one who justh seems a little gay, but hey, in a culture infected with homosexuality, sometimes you gotta break some eggs...)

Steve Caldwell said...

Chalicechick wrote:
" ... don't be silly. Nobody's going to need any silly professional ethics investigation.

I mean, you've bypassed that. Uuism is small. This incident will follow this minister for her whole career. And all thanks to campaigns like yours, based solely in rumor."

Again, this conversation keeps coming back to hyper-individualist concerns surrounding a minister's reputation. Hyper-individualism is a common trend in liberal religion.

We aren't looking at how we arrived at a church culture where the various racially perceived slights and insults could have happened unchecked at a church conference.

I'll admit here that I'm assuming that the UUA Board's letter and Eric Posa's recounting of his tangential involvement are mostly accurate accounts. I doubt that Rev. Posa or the UUA Board would engage in rumor-mongering.

Finally, I have never blogged about the identity of this minister. I don't know the identity of this minister and I really don't care to know. I'm not curious at all ... really.

I do hope that this incident does serve as a growth and stretching opportunity for our congregations and other UU communities.

fausto said...

There is, I think, an overzealous eagerness in some corners of UUism to find and oppose prejudice and oppression wherever possible, whether or not the circumstances truly cry our for justice, or even truly exist. Calling other bloggers who are trying to ask what happened at the GA "racist" and "ageist" would seem to be an example of such zeal.

If I observe that, as a general rule, teenagers tend to be more self-absorbed and immature than adults, does that make me "ageist"?

If I ask whether, in this incident that none of the writers here apparently witnessed, the maturity of those involved is perhaps being afforded too little weight and the race of those involved is perhaps being afforded too much, does that make me both racist and "ageist"?

Others have asked whether the admission badges were being checked equitably, and that's a reasonable question. However, if I ask whether those who tried to crash the event without showing their badges had actually registered and paid to attend, am I presumptively guilty of some kind of heinous prejudice for daring to challenge the acceptable presupposition?

PeaceBang said...

Steve, it seems to me almost comically ironic for you not to see how your own "hyper-individualism" is at play here. For what else could cause you to malign the integrity of other bloggers by appointing yourself Staff Psychologist and making guesses as to their "unconscious" racism, ageism or anything else?

Not only is this insulting and patronizing, but it is obviously steeped in your own biases and assumptions (and also quite damaging to the sense of community you claim to revere). Simply saying that you disagree with their conclusions would have sufficed.
We all have a right to share our own best guesses as to what social ills or particularly UU "besetting sins" were at play in these incident/s *none of us saw.* There is no reason to exploit the ugliness of the situation by casting self-righteous aspersions at those who ask different questions than we would ask.

I suggest you stick with "I" statements and with the truths you know.

Oversoul said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Oversoul said...

I’ve known CC for some time, and I don’t think she was justifying that yelling at kids is ok per se, but rather she was trying to put some perspective on things. There is a tendency by some UUs to turn molehills into mountains.

Additionally, I’ll thank you very much for not lumping me into the “I’m white thus I can’t help but be racist camp.” I won’t deny that racism exists, although I think what is most pervasive in our culture is not racism so much as simply gross ignorance about those who are different from ourselves. I see this being the case about almost every “group” I’ve encountered.

I’ve lived in a culture in which I was the ethnic minority, and I’ve experienced both racism and ignorance first hand, so I’ll pass on the white guilt thanks.

“Part of the problem with our analysis of what happened at GA may be the UU liberal religious emphasis on extreme individualism.”

As I posted on CC’s site, the very problem of racism, homophobia, misogyny etc. lie in the absence of recognizing the individual, rather than too much focus on the individual. When we treat an individual as the ambassador for a group, we dehumanize them. This is the root of hatred at worst, pandering at best.

“To effectively address racism, we who are white need to claim it and own it as ours.”

But it isn’t ours; it’s everyone’s. It exists in all cultures and countries. It’s a human problem. In Japan ethnic Japanese look down on and discriminate against people whose ancestry lies in Korea and China (and a growing Indian population). In Taiwan the native peoples are discriminated against by the ethnic Chinese majority. In Vietnam the indigenous people have been displaced by what we normally think of as Vietnamese. It is a universal phenomenon.

Chalicechick said...

Thanks, everybody. I hadn't even realized this conversation continued.


tim fitz said...

Steve, I think you're right on to ask the questions and I don't think you should confuse peoples' defensive reactions as something you should feel responsible for. The defensiveness that people have displayed in response to simple questions of the potential role of racism and ageism pretty much proves you right. Thanks for being an ally.

Anonymous said...

One comment which has nothing to do with the topic but everything to do with your religion:you should never again, either collectively as an organization, or individually, use, invoke, infer, or make reference in any capacity to the name of Jesus
Christ.Your beliefs are so far removed from the tenets of the Christian faith that the only purpose you would have for doing this would be to gain credibility and acceptance by association. Deny this all you want, but know it to be true beyond all doubt.