21 August 2005

Anti-Racism Sermon by Dr. James T. Brown

While googling for Unitarian Universalist anti-racism resources, I found this sermon on anti-racism that was written by Dr. Brown back in July 1999. Dr. Brown was the Southwest District Executive for the UUA before his retirement.

A large part of his sermon revolves around difficulties that many have with the word "racism" and the multiple definitions being used. Here's a short section of his sermon commenting on denial surrounding the topic of racism:
The UUA's definition of racism: "racial prejudice plus power and privilege" unnecessarily complicates our understanding of U.S. racism.

Simply put, racism is the unquestioned, deeply held group belief that one "race" - in the U.S. it is the White race - is superior to all other races, and (this is vitally important) all the People of Color "races" are inferior. The second part is vital to our understanding, because the belief in white superiority is more than egocentric chauvinism (we are the best), it is inextricably coupled with the deeply held belief that people of color, as a group, (not necessarily as individuals) are inferior (they are not up to acceptable standards). This (superiority/inferiority beliefs) definition of racism is used by most social scientists currently involved in these discussions. These beliefs are inculcated in the psychics and souls of Americans from the day they are born, and for immigrant Americans, from their first exposure to American culture and media of all types.

I have only found two reactions to the above definition from American Whites. The first group fully agrees with the definition - the great majority. The second agrees that it is true "for some white people" but they, themselves, "don't see skin color" - everybody is equal. The evidence of denial on the part of those holding the second position is easily discernible. Their neighborhood, their friends, their doctor/lawyer, their spouse or partner, their church, their heroes or role models, their favorite performers, etc, etc, are all white. Since all white people more or less agree, in words or deeds, that they, as a group, share the superior/inferior belief, and that belief according to most social scientists, defines racism, then it is not untrue or unfair to say all whites are racist (I will accept 99.9% if you simply cannot accept absolutes).

I must add that being a racist, that is, a believer in the white/POC superiority/inferiority dichotomy, is not a "sin"; original or otherwise. I call it an American cultural phenomenon. The "sins" of racism are the negative and oppressive behaviors and disparate acts perpetrated against people of color, by Whites, sometimes unwittingly, based upon their racism belief. It is the behaviors and acts committed that violate moral law and the UU's first principle, not just the existence of the belief. The evil of racism (the superior/inferior belief) is that it shapes all of America's institutions and their policies, and either consciously or unconsciously determines the behaviors of whites and POC's (POC internalized racism). The disparate treatment of POC's in the workplace, in financial institutions, in churches, in schools and colleges, in social and service organizations, in health care, in the insurance industry, and in retail establishments provide all the evidence one needs of institutional racism.
And here's one final comment from me about this ... I remember hearing Dr. Brown comment at the 2000 Spring District Meeting before his retirement. He commented on how troubling it was for him that it required the lynching of James Byrd for our district's ministers to engage in anti-racism work with their district colleagues. The more subtle types of racism including institutional racism existing both before and after James Byrd's death were not a sufficient reason for engaging in anti-racism work.

1 comment:

Clyde Grubbs said...

The UUA working definition, and Dr. Brown's both correctly understand the social dimension of racism. But both see the dynamic of racism as an extenstion of the Black/White relationship. Native peoples, Latino/Latinas, Asian-Pacific Island peoples et al, raise a cultural as well as racial dimension as components of their oppression. Anglo culture perpetuates cultural genocide, but the UUA analysis of racism that is drawn from over simplified paradigm doesn't draw out this dimension of oppression. African Americans will attest it is very real for them, and missing in UUA anti racism training.

So all peoples in our country white folk and Peoples of Color participate in a dominant culture that exalts one way of bieng human, one cultural way, over against all others.

Do People of Color participate in this racist and oppressive culture? Yes.

So the deductive mode used by Brown comes to correct insight that all White people participate in power and privilege of White/People of Color dynamic, but without the cultural dimension. But without the cultural dimension this turns "People of Color" into an undifferentiated mass of victims., rather than a diverse group of people seeking unity to overcome their oppression.