Race & Class

What Pat Buchanan Says About Obama's Speech

Well, I've posted his previous tripe, I might as well post this too.

From Buchanan's 3/21 post on his blog:

Barack says we need to have a conversation about race in America.

 

Fair enough. But this time, it has to be a two-way conversation. White America needs to be heard from, not just lectured to.

This time, the Silent Majority needs to have its convictions, grievances and demands heard. And among them are these:

First, America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.

Wright ought to go down on his knees and thank God he is an American.

....

We hear the grievances. Where is the gratitude?

----

I was stunned when he called the influx of Asians into the U.S., after racist quotas were eliminated in 1965, "the greatest invasion in [American] history."  (Methinks the Native Americans would disagree with that.)  I have to say tho that while his anti-Asian comments cut deep personally, this round of anti-black comments is just... I'm flabbergasted.

Is there not the slightest sense of shame when he refers to the forced immigration of Africans as SLAVES and then asks "Where is the gratitude?"

Mr. Buchanan, where is your conscience?

I've been thinking today, if I happened to find myself in a room with Pat, what I could say to him.  I've been wondering how I might stay in relationship with him instead of simply writing him off.  To be a UU means that even those who hate you still have worth and dignity.  

And I can believe that Pat Buchanan is simply ignorant.  Due to his upbringing, he hasn't had the opportunity to experience what it's really like for African Americans in this country.  So he can't understand the anger.

But that really only goes so far.  There is ignorance and there is willful ignorance.  It's one thing to not know and another to refuse to listen when someone is trying to tell you how it is. Buchanan calls Obama's speech "the same old con, the same old shakedown that black hustlers have been running..."  Is he talking about the same speech I heard?  The one where Obama went out of his way to recognize the legitimacy of white anger, and called on us - all of us - to rise above the hatred?  Obama recognizes the legitimacy of white anger, and Buchanan ignores it.  Obama articulates the source of black anger, and Buchanan calls it a "con/shakedown" and Obama a "hustler."

If I found myself in a room with Mr. Buchanan, it seems to me that whatever I tried to say he wouldn't listen.

Obama: now I truly believe

A few weeks back, I blogged about a realization that I had - that so many very different people with different expectations were projecting things on to Obama about race. And that eventually, when he has to answer to it, some people are going to feel disappointed and angry.

Honestly, I didn't think it was going to happen until after he was elected president. The fact that Obama is a long-time member of an "Unashamedly Black" church and the sermons of Rev. Jeremiah Wright are a matter of public record. So I was surprised that these things would all of the sudden reignite. After a couple of days of controversy, the candidate was forced to give a speech on race in America, and to defend his association with his minister.

What a tough place to be in. Time and time again, Obama has surprised me with his grace and intelligence, cutting right to the heart of the matter, ignoring the petty, and raising the conversation to a higher level. His "speech on race" was certainly no exception. But more than just eloquent, it finally removed all doubts for me about his substance. You see, even though I desperately wanted to believe Obama's hopeful message, ultimately, when the chips were down, I didn't know for sure that he could make the hard decisions.

It would have been easy for Obama to denounce Rev. Wright and go on. It would have quelled the fury in the white communities. And if some blacks were angered, it probably wouldn't have been enough to lose him the election. It would have been easy for him to give us an excuse to avoid really addressing race and racism, instead of the scapegoating we normally do - the sacrificial goats we offer up to avoid this painful subject. But he didn't do that. He came out and walked the hard thin edge of truth, the one that recognizes the legitimacy of anger but does not demonize anyone. He explained the source of Rev. Wright's anger and distrust, even as he denounced the ways in which they were expressed.

And in my favorite part of an amazing speech, he pointed to the complexity of the situation:

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother -- a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe. These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Who among us does not have a racist relative whom we nonetheless love?

Obama refused to run away from the issue of race. He pointed to the economic and social disparities that still exist as a result of slavery, even as he called us to move on. We need not recite the injustices of the past while failing to address the injustices of the present. And then he called on us to rise above our fear and distrust, towards our common desires. Do not descend into accusations about who said what. "Not this time."

But I have asserted a firm conviction -- a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people -- that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

Awesomeness. Now, I truly believe. I believe that he will make the hard decisions when necessary. And I believe that he is the one, uniquely situated in our times to lead us to a more perfect union. Not a savior, mind you, but a true prophet.

La Premisa y la Promesa

Construyendo el Mundo que Hemos Soñado

Por Roberto Padilla

First Unitarian Church of San Jose, CA

24 de febrero, 2008

Permítanme empezar citando al Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“… Hoy tengo el sueño que todos los hijos de Dios, hombres blancos y hombres negros, judíos y gentiles, protestantes y católicos, serán capaces de juntar las manos y cantar con las palabras del viejo espiritual negro: “¡Al fin libres!”
Este era el sueño del Rev. King y también es nuestro sueño. Esta es la premisa que tenemos, ser unas comunidades UUs multirraciales y multiculturales.

¿Pero como vamos a lograrlo? La respuesta sería aplicando los principios Unitarios Universalistas.
Nosotros, convenimos en afirmar y fomentar:
El valor y la dignidad propia de cada persona; la justicia, equidad y compasión en las relaciones humanas y la aceptación del uno al otro y el estimulo al crecimiento espiritual en nuestras congregaciones. Estas son las bases de la premisa para Construir el Mundo que Hemos Soñado.

Hace muchos años, la entonces Rev. Decana Lindi Ramsden, inicio el experimento de crear aquí en San José, una comunidad multicultural, multirracial y bilingüe. La idea sonaba bien y se ajustaba perfectamente con nuestros principios UUs. Ella hablaba acerca de que la comunidad donde nos encontramos es una comunidad de VMWs y carritos de supermercado; en otras palabras, en el Valle del Silicón, vive gente de clase media alta que pertenece al mundo de la tecnología y en la calle de atrás viven los marginados.

La idea era trabajar juntos los dos grupos, ¿pero por donde empezar? Había que sortear algunos obstáculos. A algunas personas no les gusto esa idea y se retiraron de la iglesia. Algunas de las que se quedaron, también tuvieron miedo de entrar en contacto con otra cultura; ¿Si invitamos a los latinos a nuestros hogares que podremos decirnos? ¿Como nos vamos a entender en dos idiomas, dos formas diferentes de ser y actuar?

El principio era integrar a nuestra comunidad con este grupo no privilegiado, pero había la barrera del idioma. Comenzamos por traducir al español, sermones, oraciones, cantos, poemas, folletos, etc., para todos aquellos que no hablaban inglés. Y luego, después de algunas negociaciones, la UUA autorizó la traducción del libro “La Fe Que Hemos Escogido” el cual fue traducido por Ervin Barrios y la Rev. Ramsden tomo varios cursos de español.

También existía la barrera socioeconómica, el nivel económico de los latinos era muy bajo y ellos también necesitaban integrarse al mudo productivo, entonces se crearon las clases de inglés y computación, además se les regalaron computadoras; detrás de todo estaba la idea de crear relaciones personales, porque así sería más fácil integrar a los dos grupos.

Hablando de relaciones personales, privilegios y no privilegiados, me recuerda que yo nací privilegiado en el seno de una familia de estrato socioeconómico medio de la Ciudad de México, con diferentes Universidades, diferentes opciones, mis padres aunque de clase no muy acomodada, les permitía que nosotros sus hijos asintiéramos a la escuela, teníamos el privilegio de estudiar sin preocuparnos de donde venia el dinero para nuestro alimento o nuestros libros. Yo tenía el privilegio de los niños de la ciudad. Este privilegio me dio la oportunidad de ir a la escuela, educarme y perseguir el sueño de ser doctor, porque quería ayudar a los necesitados. El día que me gradué jure que me iba a dedicar a los necesitados, para eso iba a usar mis conocimientos, el privilegio que yo tenia. Esa era mi promesa.

Privilegio se puede definir como la ventaja que se tiene por la cual no se ha trabajado. Yo no pedí nacer en la Ciudad de México, yo no pedí tener la familia que tengo, para mi fue un privilegio, pero también tenía una responsabilidad, la de usar ese privilegio que yo tenia. Fui a la universidad y en mi afán de ayudar a los necesitados, elegí ir a trabajar a un pequeño poblado de la sierra de Veracruz, México. Mi privilegio de hombre de ciudad, de clase media y estudiado lo lleve con migo, iba a cumplir mi premisa y mi promesa. En el camino a ese pueblo, me perdí y, ahí estaba yo, en la mitad de la nada, solamente con mi privilegio de haber ido a la Universidad, con mis conocimientos, pero con eso no se quita ni el frió, ni el hambre, ni el miedo a estar en un lugar desconocido.

Cuando por fin llegue al pueblo, llegue a una modesta oficina médica con mis conocimientos, con mi sueño de ayudar. Llegue a una sociedad donde nunca habían tenido un médico, donde hablaban español (Ahí no existía la barrera del lenguaje) y mi primer paciente me dijo, “Doctor me siento feo”. ¿Feo?, estábamos hablando el mismo idioma pero yo no podía entender a mi paciente; yo que había pasado los exámenes de bioquímica más difíciles y no podía entender lo que este señor quería decirme con que se sentía feo, yo que había escrito ensayos muy largos con una ortografía perfecta, no podía entender a lo que se refería con sentirse feo. Tuve que solicitar la ayuda de alguien del pueblo para poder entender lo que él me estaba diciendo. (El se sentía enfermo)

En este pueblo aparte de los problemas de salud, había problemas de educación; la única escuela que había solo llegaba al tercer grado. Si querían seguir estudiando, tenían que trasladarse a otro pueblo que quedaba a dos horas de distancia. Entonces ¿como iba yo a lograr cumplir con mi sueño, con mi premisa y mi promesa de ayudárnoslos? Empecé a hablar con ellos, a entrar en sus casas, a entender su lenguaje, su cultura, sus costumbres y tradiciones. Me quite la bata de médico y me fui al campo con ellos, también me fui con ellos a ordeñar la leche que después yo me iba a tomar, además era muy divertido; aparte de aprender cosas nuevas, empecé a hacer relaciones, a ser parte de su comunidad. En lugar de esperar a que alguien me llevara la comida, decidí ir yo directamente con quien me hacia de comer y esperar pacientemente a que la comida estuviera lista, teniendo la oportunidad de hablar con la gente, de sus propios sueños, de sus propios anhelos, pero en el terreno en donde ellos se sentían más confortables, en el seno de sus hogares. Y la gente lo empezó a apreciar.

Primero había que hacer relaciones a nivel humano, a nivel sensible, para poder usar la responsabilidad que me daba el privilegio que tenia para ayudarlos. Yo tenía el poder de poder hablar mejor que ellos para comunicarme a niveles gubernamentales más altos cuando se requería. Esa era parte de mi responsabilidad dado el privilegio que tenía. Así logramos crear un Kindergarden, ampliar la escuela hasta sexto grado, crear una tele-secundaria e introducir el teléfono al pueblo,

Cuando requería de ellos para algún proyecto sanitario que mi trabajo me exigía, ellos gustosos me ayudaban, porque no estaban trabajando con el doctor, estaban trabajando con el amigo, con uno de ellos. Cuando llegue a ese pueblo, por supuesto que tenía mucho miedo, al salir de mi casa pensé ¿estaré a salvo?, ¿de que podré hablar con ellos si no tenemos nada en común? Después entendí que entre el señor que ordeñaba la vaca y yo no había gran diferencia, los dos tomábamos la misma leche, los dos teníamos los mismos sueños de crecer y ver crecer a nuestras propias familias, ellos trabajaban en el campo y yo trabajaba en el campo de mi conocimiento; en realidad no había mucha diferencia. La ropa que yo usaba y la que ellos usaban no hacían la diferencia, la diferencia fue la forma en como nos relacionábamos.

El Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. fue un doctor, tuvo el privilegio de haber tenido un padre que lo impulso a estudiar, tuvo el privilegio de nacer con el don de la palabra, pero el regreso a la iglesia donde se daba el conflicto, empezó a hacer relaciones. En la época del boicot de los autobuses, el camino como los demás, camino con sus amigos. También sabemos que Cesar Chávez organizo a todos los trabajadores, pero primero hizo relaciones personales con ellos para poder lograr un fin común. Aquí vemos dos diferentes cualidades de liderazgo. Esta comunidad de San José es una comunidad líder y ustedes que asisten a la conferencia “Ahora es el tiempo”, también son líderes, lideres de sus propias comunidades.

Multiculturalismo no es aprender un idioma o traducir unos folletos, esto va más allá, es sentarse a la mesa de los otros, es ir a ordeñar la vaca y disfrutar juntos el proceso, sin el miedo al que dirán, sin el miedo a no poder entendernos, sin el temor de si saldré bien de este encuentro intercultural. Permítanme preguntarles, ¿Cuantos de ustedes han visitado las casas de personas de diferente color, raza o cultura?, ¿cuantos de ustedes han tenido sentado en sus mesas a alguien de una cultura, raza o color diferente a la de ustedes?

La gran mayoría de los Unitarios Universalistas de este país tienen el privilegio de haber nacido blancos, ellos no pidieron nacer blancos, pero tienen la responsabilidad que viene junto con ese privilegio, que es como usar el privilegio que se tiene, de como se puede usar ese privilegio para el bien común. Los que tenemos esos privilegios, no tenemos que preocuparnos por problemas de migración, por cuestiones de lenguaje, conocemos el sistema, conocemos nuestras leyes. Nosotros podemos ser la voz de aquellos que no tienen esos privilegios, empezando por reconocer el valor y la dignidad de cada persona.

Esta es la premisa y al mismo tiempo es la promesa; afirmar y fomentar el valor y la dignidad de cada persona; la justicia, equidad y compasión en las relaciones humanas y la aceptación del uno al otro. Con la promesa de una comunidad mundial con paz libertad y justicia para todos, respetando el tejido interdependiente de todo lo existente, del cual somos una parte.

Ustedes que vienen de muchas partes del país y nosotros aquí en San José, tenemos un sueño. Hoy, tenemos el sueño de que en un tiempo no muy lejano, podamos ver a nuestras comunidades UUs convertidas en comunidades donde blancos y negros, asiáticos y latinos, católicos, musulmanes y judíos nos demos la mano como hermanos, unidos todos por una sola fe.

El libro de Éxodo nos dice que Yahvé le prometió a su pueblo llevarlo a la tierra prometida, a la tierra donde ellos pudieran ser libres. Ellos lo siguieron a pesar de que al iniciar su peregrinar no les dijeron a donde estaba dicha tierra, ni cuando tiempo les iba a tomar para llegar a ella, ellos solamente sabían que con fe lo iban a lograr. Nosotros, los UU que estamos reunidos bajo este bello domo, sabemos que el camino es difícil, que habrá jornadas muy arduas adentro y afuera de nuestras propias comunidades para poder alcanzar nuestra tierra prometida, el de ser unas comunidades intencionalmente multirraciales, multiculturales, multiétnicas y porque no, multilingües.

Ven, ven cual eres ven, dice el himno con que iniciamos este servicio, este nos impulsa a invitar a todos a pertenecer a esta caravana de amor, sin importar raza, color, lengua, preferencia sexual, religión o condición socioeconómica, en otras palabras, los estamos invitando a formar parte de esta comunidad multicultural, multirracial, Hoy es el tiempo de empezar a despojarnos de nuestros miedos, nuestras arrogancias personales, nuestros malos entendidos. Hoy es el tiempo para trabajar juntos para logra nuestro sueño.

Oremos a cualquiera que sea el dios que adoremos, recordando que Cristo no era Cristiano, ni Mahoma era Musulmán, ni Buda era Budista, ni Krisna era Hindi, ni Yahvé era Judío, recordemos que Dios es multicultural, multiétnico, multirracial y políglota.
¡Hoy es el tiempo!

Amen.

 (Read this sermon in English.)

The Premise and the Promise

Building the World We Dream About

By Roberto Padilla

Delivered at First Unitarian Church of San Jose, CA

On February 24, 2008

Please allow me to start by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Today I have a dream that all children of God, white men and black men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestant and Catholics, will be able to join hands together and sing with the words of the old black spiritual: “Free at last!” This was Rev. King’s dream and it is also our dream. It is the premise that we have, to become multiracial and multicultural UU communities.

¿But how are we going to achieve that? The answer is, applying the UU principles.

We, covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, justice, equity and compassion in human relations. Acceptance of one another, and encouragement to mutual spiritual growth in our congregations. These are the basis of the premise for ‘Building The World We Have Been Dreaming of’.

Many years ago, our then senior minister, Rev. Lindi Ramsden, started the experiment to build here in San Jose, a multicultural, multiethnic, and bilingual community. The idea seemed good. And it did fit perfectly well with our UU principles. She was talking about the fact that our community where our church sits is a community where the BMW’s meet the supermarket shopping carts. In other words, in the Silicon Valley, there are the upper middle class people that belong to the High Tech world and those on the fringe who live in the back streets.

The idea was to work with both groups together but, How and where to start? There were a few obstacles to overcome. Some members of the church did not like the idea and left. Some of the people that remained also had fears of mixing with another culture. If we invite Latin people to our homes what can we talk about? How are we going to understand each other in two different languages, two different ways of being and acting?

Initially, the idea was to integrate our community with the unprivileged group, but we had the language barrier. We started by translating into Spanish, sermons, prayers, songs, poems, brochures etc, for all those who did not speak English. And then, after some negotiations, the UUA authorized the translation of the book “Our Chosen Faith” which was translated by Ervin Barrios. Also, Rev. Ramsden took several Spanish courses.

We also had the social and economic barriers. The income level of the Latino people was very low and they also had to be integrated into the productive world. Then we created the ESL and Computer courses. Behind it all was the idea of creating personal relationships, because that way it would be easier to integrate both groups.

Talking about personal relationships, privileged and unprivileged, it reminds me that I was privileged enough to be born in Mexico City, surrounded by different universities, different options. My parents, although not from a wealthy class, allowed their children to attend school, we had the privilege of studying without worrying about where the money for our food and for our books came from. I had the privilege of all city children. This privilege gave me the opportunity to go to school, to get an education and to pursue my dream of becoming a doctor, because I wanted to help the people in need. The day I graduated I swore that I would dedicate myself to those in need. I was going to use my knowledge for that purpose, the privilege that I had. That was my promise.

Privilege can be defined as an advantage that one has, one which one has not had to earn. I did not ask to be born in Mexico City, I did not ask to have the family I have, for me it was a privilege, but I also had the responsibility, of using that privilege I had. After I went to the university and in my quest for helping those in need I chose to go and work at a small village in the Sierra of the state of Veracruz. My privilege of being an urban, middle class, and well educated person, I took that with me. I was going to follow thru with my premise and my promise. On my way to that village I got lost in the middle of nowhere because I with nothing but my privilege of having studied at the university, with my knowledge, but that would not take away my hunger or my being cold, nor the fear of being at an unknown place.

When I finally reached that village, I came to a modest medical office with my knowledge and my dream to help. I came into a society that had never had a medical doctor, they all spoke Spanish (supposedly there was no language barrier) and my first patient said to me, “doctor, I feel ugly”. Ugly?, we were talking the same language but I could not understand my patient; I who had passed all my biochemistry tests, and I just could not understand what this man wanted to tell me when he said, ‘I feel ugly’, I who had written long essays with perfect spelling, could not understand what he meant by ‘ugly’. I had to ask someone from the village to help me in order to understand what he was saying to me. (he was feeling sick)

In this village, besides the health issues, they had some education issues; the only school they had was 1st to 3rd grade only. If they wanted to continue studying, they had to go to another village that was two hours away. Then, how was I going to achieve my goal of making my dream come true, with my premise and my promise of helping them? I started to talk to them, to come into their homes, to understand their language, their culture, their costumes and traditions. I took my doctor’s robe off and went to the field with them, I also went with them to milk the cows and get the milk that I would later drink. Besides being fun, I learned new things, started to build new relationships, to be part of their community. Instead of waiting for them to bring the food to me, I decided to go directly to the person who was cooking for me and wait patiently until the food was ready, having the opportunity to talk with the people about their own dreams, their own longings, but in their own terrain, where they felt more comfortable, in the heart of their homes. And people started to appreciate it.

First I had to build relationships at a human level, at a sensible level, in order to use the responsibility that my privilege gave me to help them. I had the ability to speak better than they did, to communicate with higher government levels when ever it was needed. That was part of my responsibility given the privilege that I had. That is how we managed to create a kindergarten, we made the elementary school go up to 6th grade, we created a distance learning junior high school, and introduced the telephone service into their village.

Whenever I needed their help for any public health related project that my job required, they helped me very gladly, because they were no longer working with the doctor, they were working with a friend, with one of them. When I first arrived in that village, I was, of course, afraid. When I left my home, I thought to myself, will I be safe? What will I talk to them about if we have nothing in common? Later, I understood that there was not a great difference between the man that milked the cow and myself. We both were drinking the same milk, we both had the same dreams of growing and seeing our own families grow, they were working in the field and I was working in my own field of knowledge. In reality there was not much difference. The cloths that I was wearing and the ones they were wearing did not make any difference, the difference was in the way we related to each other.

Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. was a doctor who had the privilege of having a father who encouraged him to study, he had the privilege of being born with the gift of being a great speaker, but he went back to the church where the conflict was happening, and he started building relationships. During the time of the boicott against the buses, he walked with the rest of the people, he walked with his friends. We also know that César Chávez, organized all the field workers, but first he created personal relationships with them in order to achieve a common goal. Here we see two different qualities of leadership. This community of San Jose, is a leading community, and all of you who are attending the “Now is The Time“ Conference, are also leaders, leaders in your own communities.

Multiculturalism is not about learning a language or translating some brochures. This goes even further, It means to sit down together at the table of the other people. It means to go and milk the cow and enjoy that process together, without the fear of what people might say. Without the fear of not understanding each other, without the fear of not doing well in this intercultural encounter. Let me ask you now, How many of you have visited the homes of people of different color, race or culture? How many of you have invited someone whose culture, race and color are different from yours to your table?

Most of the Unitarian Universalists in this country have the privilege of being born white. They did not ask to be white, but they have the responsibility that comes with that privilege, which means, figuring out how to use the privilege that one has. How to use that privilege for the common good. Those of us who have that kind of privilege do not have to worry about immigration issues, about language barriers, we know the system, we know our laws. We can become the voice of those who don’t have that privilege, and we can start by recognizing the worth and dignity of every person.

This is the premise and at the same time the promise: to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations and acceptance of one another. With the promise of a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all, respecting the interdependent web of all that exists, of which we are a part.

All of you who come from many different places in the country, and us here in San José, we all have a dream. Today we have the dream that in a not so far future, we might be able to see our UU communities converted into communities where blacks and whites, Asians and Latinos, Catholic and Muslims, and Jews, will hold hands like brothers, united by one single faith.

The book of Exodus tells us that Jahve promised to his people to take them to the promised land, to the land where they could be free. They followed him in spite of not being told where that land was from the beginning of their journey, nor they were told how long it would take for them to get there. They only knew that with faith they would be able to make it. We the UUs who are gathered here under this beautiful dome, we know that the road is hard, that there will be some very hard journeys within and outside our own communities, in order to reach our promised land, which is that of becoming intentional multiracial, multicultural, multiethnic communities, and why not multilingual communities too….

Come, come, whoever you are, says the song we sang at the beginning of this service. This song is inviting us all to belong to the caravan of love, no matter what race, color, language, sexual preference, religion or socioeconomic level. In other words we are inviting everyone to become part of this multicultural, multiracial community. Now is the time to start getting rid of our own fears, our personal arrogance, our misunderstandings. Now is the time to work together to make this dream come true.

Let’s pray to whomever might be the God that we worship, keeping in mind that Christ was not a Christian, that Mohamed was not a Muslim, nor Buddah was a Buddhist, nor Krishna was a Hindi, nor Jahve was a Jewish. Lets remember that God is multicultural, multiethnic, multiracial and multilingual.
Now is the time!

Amen.

(Read this sermon in Spanish.)

Survival

As much as I loved yesterday's part of the "Now Is the Time" conference, I had difficulty with the programing today. Dr. Butler asked us to reflect on and share our deepest longing with respect to this work. I did not want to share my deepest desire with some stranger whom I'd only just met. This is perhaps strange since I am willing to share with theoretically the entire world via the internet. I'm willing to throw it out there into the wind. But sitting in the hotel conference room next to flesh and blood, I felt vulnerable and defensive. The truth is that my deepest desire is simply to not hurt anymore. That is all I want.

It seemed to me like a small and selfish desire, unbefitting a UU and someone who was at this conference presumably for greater concerns. Hence my unwillingness to share. But it is not a small task to not hurt anymore. Nor does it only involve myself. I hurt every time I see someone else mistreated based on race (or religion/gender/orientation for that matter). So to relieve my pain we would have to relieve theirs. I hurt - I ache all over - whenever a white friend denies the reality of our suffering. So to relieve my pain we would have to open eyes/minds/hearts that are closed. It is no small task. I suppose I could have shared my desires in these grander terms, but the truth is that I just want to not hurt anymore.

After the scheduled programming, we broke into small informal caucuses. And it was good - it was amazing - to have people of African descent, Latinas, and Asians all in the same room. We aired our grievances, confessed our fears, affirmed and forgave each other.

One of the Asian women whom I'd met expressed an anger I have felt myself and heard other PoCs express. In telling a white UU that she wanted to work on racial justice, the response she got back was "Cool, I'm interested in animal rights." The logical conclusion here is that the physical and emotional welfare of humans of color is on par with the welfare of animals. And that this is some sort of "interest" as in hobby, which could change next week.

Racial justice is not an "interest." As our companion forcefully expressed, "My survival depends on it!" For a spit second my censoring brain considered labeling this statement as hyperbole, but then I remembered the conversation from only last Sunday. Her survival really does depend on it. All of ours does.

Making Contact

Today was the first day of the "Leading Congregations into a Multiracial, Multicultural Future" conference in San Jose, CA. Having to fight both the pouring rain and traffic, the commute from SF to San Jose took about two and a half times as long as expected and I arrived wet and annoyed, having missed the opening worship. I scanned the room from the back for someone I knew - anyone - briefly wondered, "why am I even here?!" and then spotted the familiar and always comforting form of Paula Cole Jones. Settling in next to her, I was ready to learn how to make our congregations more multicultural.

Dr. Jackie Lewis was wonderful. Energetic and sympathetic. She is the senior minister of Middle Collegiate Church in NYC, the church that Rob had mentioned as a model for diversity. I can see why.

As we took a fifteen minute break, I stood at the back of the room and watched its dynamics (something I like to do). Spotting an Asian woman at the front who was preparing to exit (in my direction), I knew from experience what was going to happen next.

Within seconds she spotted me. Her eyes lit up in recognition and she came straight towards me. "Are you Chinese?" she asked. Yes, I nodded. Wow, she was so excited to see another Asian face at a UU function. Black UUs may feel isolated in our mostly white congregations and need these kinds of conferences to connect. API UUs often feel isolated even in these kinds of conferences. So there we were, two Asians who had found each other. I soon learned that there was another Chinese woman here too. Three of us. We had lunch together. I told them about A/PIC and the recent conference. They expressed interest in joining.

And the part of me that is always the observer couldn't help but be amused at myself. Not that long ago I would have resisted this. I would have resented the assumption that just because we were Asian we'd have common interests. I would have been hesitant to be seen "congregating" with other Asian lest we look like we're refusing to integrate, conspiring. So great was my internalized racism. If my two Asian companions had any similar thoughts, they kept it to themselves. It was simply good to not be alone.

Thank you A/PIC, for helping me to this place. And I guess I should also say, thank you Unitarian Universalism.

Obama

I've mentioned how I tend to root for the underdog. As a result, even tho I think Obama is the better candidate, it's been hard for me not to root for Clinton too.

From my perspective, she's had it rough - being beat up on by all sides - while everything seems to come easy for Obama. He is the golden child, the rock star. Seeming to defy even the stigma of race, everyone seems to love Obama.

Not just liberals. I've met libertarians and even conservatives who love Obama. People who hate Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. People whom I would not have thought would support a black candidate. And when I ask them about it they say that Obama "transcends" race. He's "a different kind of black man." He's "post-racial."

And I'm shaking my head, amazed. Post-racial? What?

There are those who think that racism is largely over and that the only reason why there are still problems is because people of color keep insisting there are still problems. There are those who think that affirmative action is "reverse racism." My guess is that these are largely also the same people who think that Obama is "post-racial." Thus, he is a black man who is safe to support, who will affirm their view of the world. (They might be surprised to learn that their dream candidate supports affirmative action.)

And then there are us, mostly people of color and some white allies, who hope that Obama is strategically avoiding talking about race in order to get elected. We look to his long-time membership at Trinity, an "Unashamedly Black" church, and we hope that once he's elected, when the chips are down, he will be a candidate of real change... for everyone, yes, but especially for the poor and people of color.

All of us who support this man are pinning our hopes on him... from both sides. And the other day it occurred to me that even tho the candidate himself has very carefully avoided making promises to either "side," we've all projected so much onto him that when it comes down to it in the not so distant future, some people are going to feel angry and betrayed.

I just hope it isn't us. I don't think it will be.

I realized that things seem ridiculously easy for Obama now, but that's because of these projections. When the sh*t hits the fan, things will be very hard indeed. He is, ultimately, still an underdog.

There Goes the Neighborhood

Got into a disagreement about gentrification at church today.  Even tho we supposedly welcome a variety of views in our congregation, I guess I am always surprised when certain views clash so much.

This woman was critical of our church's position against gentrification.  Her argument seemed to be that she lives in Columbia Heights and she's happy that she can now walk to a Starbucks at night and surf the web on her laptop.    I said that was great for her, but what about the people who have been living in this neighborhood for decades and are being forced out now by the high prices, who can't afford Starbucks and laptops?  To which she said something about how you don't need to pay in order to sit in Starbucks and how she got her laptop as a hand-me-down.  She then went on about how she's a starving student, she's "poor," failing to understand that education is a kind of wealth.

Clearly, it is a good thing that crime has gone down in Columbia Heights.  When I lived there, there was a time when I heard gun shots on a regular basis and the Violent Response Unit truck often parked outside my door.  (Literally parked, as in an empty van sitting there for days taking up a valuable parking space.)  Clearly, residents have the right to feel safe on their streets.  Living there, I always knew I had a choice, that I could leave if I truly wanted to, unlike many other residents.  It is a good thing that crime has gone down.

Related to crime, no one wants a neighborhood to stay in poverty, where there is little access to essential services like groceries and banks and other stores.  Clearly, it is more pleasant to live in a neighborhood where one can walk to restaurants and coffee-shops, and where there are local jobs to be had.

But just as the streets become safer and vital services are opening up, that's when the people who have lived here the longest are being driven out.  If they are driven out, then they are driven out to other neighborhoods with high crime and lacking services.  What benefit is gentrification to them?  

Gentrification is not the same thing as economic development.  Nearly everyone wants economic development, for the reasons listed above.    To not want these things is to say that people who live in these neighborhoods do not have the right to safety and opportunity.  Gentrification is development of the buildings, etc, while pushing the people who live there out.  It is an invasion.  Colonization of resources (cheap land) for the benefit of those who have.  Damn straight that my church opposes gentrification.

The Union Club

Today was our last official day in Boston, and Alex, Lisa, and I decided to have breakfast in the dining room of the hotel in which we're staying.  Except "hotel" isn't quite the right word for it.  The Union Club was founded as a "club" for the Boston elite (ie - old, white, moneyed men) in order to support the Union side of the Civil War.  It's august walls are decorated with paintings and portraits of old, white, moneyed men.  Tho, strangely, there are also two portraits of Chinese merchants, their features seemingly anglicized.

While "membership" is no longer restricted to men, and presumably not restricted by race either, I still felt uncomfortable in the Union Club for the entire time we were there, and never more so than at breakfast this morning.  First of all, we didn't know how to order - did not know that we were supposed to write what we wanted on the chit.  And the three of us seemed decidedly out of place in our causal clothing amongst the multiple silver utensils and china dishes.

But it would unfair to put all of my discomfort on the Union Club.  It is but part of the landscape that is old Boston.  And every time I come up to the "mothership", where the UUA is headquartered, I am reminded of the disconnect between what we say we are and what we really are.  

Living in DC and attending All Souls, it is almost possible to believe that Unitarian Universalism is a faith with room for people of all ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds.  Even at All Souls, those of us who can't afford to shop at Whole Foods on a regular basis sometimes feel marginalized, but at least there is some diversity.  Moving into broader UU circles, that diversity decreases rapidly. And coming up to Boston... one is confronted with the fact that Unitarianism is a religion founded by the white elite.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Julia Ward Howe walked these streets.  

25 Beacon Street, on Beacon Hill, looks out onto the same Boston Commons as the Union Club, and indeed has an even more prestigious location as it is right next to the state capitol.  It too is a venerable building with a long history and lots of pictures of old white moneyed men hanging on its walls.  There are some portraits of women and people of color, to be sure, but they are far outnumbered, and one has the impression that they were put there because...

We don't normally stay at the Union Club when in Boston.  Because of the Board Meeting, all the rooms in Pickett and Eliot, the UUA owned bed and breakfast, were taken.  Staying at P&E, with the lax dress code and making your own breakfast in the communal kitchen, is far more comfortable than staying at the Union Club.  You could almost ignore the obvious wealth of the neighborhood, instead of being confronted by it.  But that is us, isn't it?  Most of us of higher socio-economic class, well-educated, who know the difference between a shrimp fork and a salad fork, claiming that it doesn't matter by our t-shirts and jeans. 

 

 

Wow, Iowa!

The first time that I was shown up by residents of Iowa was when I was interviewing for a postdoctoral position at the University of Iowa.  The taxi ride from the small airport into Iowa City passed field after field of corn, playing into my presuppositions of a rural and thus conservative state.  But the conversations that I had were pleasant enough.  And then someone asked me, "What's up with you guys in California and that anti-immigrant law?"  

My supposedly liberal home state of California had just recently passed proposition 187.  Prop 187 was an idiotic bill designed to deny undocumented workers social services, health care, and public education.  I say idiotic because even if you dislike undocumented workers, you wouldn't rationally want to deprive their children of education, nor deprive their families of health care so that they're forced to use the emergency rooms.  The denial of these most basic of necessities would make things even more expensive for everyone in the long run.  187 passed, much to my shame, but was overturned by a federal court.

And here was this guy in Iowa who couldn't understand what had gotten into us.  Neither could I.

So I should have learned my lesson to not discount Iowa.  Yet as the Iowa caucus came around, I didn't say it but I wasn't really expecting much.  It didn't matter what the polls said, I barely paid attention to them, the Bradley Effect was much on my mind.  Perhaps Obama would have a chance of winning in the more cosmopolitan, more progressive states, but surely not in Iowa.  

Color me absolutely and happily mistaken.  The voters of Iowa have sent a challenge to the rest of the United States, especially to the so-called liberal blue states.  Maybe the Bradley Effect is over?  Maybe race will no longer be the dominating factor in public elections?  

She says, hopefully...

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