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I keep trying to write long pieces about this and feeling like others have said the same thing better. So I will just put it in two sentences.
I am thrilled that the UUA Board has committed significant money to Black Lives of UU (BLUU); identified white supremacy as one of the biggest challenges facing us, and the dearth of leadership by people of color in high positions in the UUA itself as one of the expressions of that challenge; and chosen a three-person, all-people-of-color team for the acting presidency. This direction not only seems wise, prudent, and moral, but it gives me a surge of hope for the future of our faith.
When my daughter was very little, three or four years old, there was a conversation we would have all too often. I tried not to nag about minor dangers, preferring for her to learn safety through experience. But from time to time she would do something risky that could easily have been made less so, such as running down polished wooden stairs in her socks. “Be careful,” I would say. “Those socks are slippery on the stairs.”
Her almost invariable reply was: “I am being careful.”
“For example,” I would persist, “You could walk. Or take your socks off. Or hold on to the banister.”
“But I’m being careful!” she would say, hurtling down the slippery stairs in her slippery socks without a hand on the banister.
To her, “being careful” was something you did in your mind. Having declared the intention of carefulness, she could continue iffy actions without concern, as if the words were a magic spell. To me, the warning “be careful” implied action: if you want to be careful, you mitigate the risks by holding on or switching to bare feet. Otherwise, what you have in your mind doesn’t mean a thing.
Sometimes she fell and sometimes she didn’t, but the magical thinking wore off eventually, as it does. Magical thinking is common in young children–in fact, a key developmental stage–and they outgrow it. Except that I keep noticing it in adults when it comes to racism and white supremacy.
“I’m not being racist!” we white people tend to insist, holding up our good intentions as the magic amulet that will keep us from perpetuating white supremacy. But the intentions will not do that. Only our actions will.
If I feel like I’m opposed to white supremacy, if I want white supremacy to end, but I accept the lower car insurance premiums offered to me only because of my perceived race, or dismiss the abundant evidence of racist policing, or don’t take any action about redlining or hiring discrimination, then my actions are maintaining white supremacy.
The Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto will shortly participate in the White Supremacy Teach In brought to us by the excellent work of Black Lives of UU, and I think that in my role of educating adults, I will emphasize this attention to action. (Dan Harper, our Minister of Religious Education, will be leading the children’s piece.) For too long, white conversations about racism have focused on what is within us, whether it’s guilt- or shame-inducing (“I had a racist thought! I’m bad!”) or a source of righteous pride (“I’m an anti-racist racist!”), and as far as I can tell, it has been largely counterproductive. So as I strive “to be the change I want to see” (Gandhi), I am trying to worry less about what is in my mind and heart, and focus more on what actions I am taking–or declining to take. William James observed, “Action seems to follow feeling, but really actions and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not. Thus the sovereign voluntary path to cheerfulness, if our cheerfulness be lost, is to sit up cheerfully and to act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there.”
The sovereign voluntary path (what a great phrase!) to eradicating white supremacy from our hearts is to act and speak for justice and equality. Or, as I said ad nauseam to my child when she was small and prone to magical thinking: saying “I’m careful” doesn’t make you careful–grabbing the banister makes you careful! So: let’s do this thing. Right now, instead of thinking “How awful” about discrimination in car insurance–which is true, but does nothing for anyone–click on that link, and if your insurance company falls into the pattern, write to them pressing for a reversal. Here’s my letter. I expect I may need to send a follow-up, so I’ve put it on my calendar for 60 days from now.
April 6, 2017
The Progressive Corporation
6300 Wilson Mills Rd.
Mayfield Village, Ohio 44143
I was impressed by the careful methodology of ProPublica’s investigation into whether car insurance companies charge some people more for liability insurance depending on their likely race:
Being committed to the eradication of white supremacy, I naturally looked in the data for my own company, Progressive, and was dismayed to see that the disaparities in your liability premiums are striking, especially in Missouri. (The study only looked at four states.)
I know that unconscious bias can cause us to perpetuate white supremacy without intending to. Charging some people more for the same risk, depending only on where they live, is a textbook case of institutional racism, and it hurts people of color. I hope you will undertake a review of your premiums as quickly as possible (piggybacking on the research ProPublica did should expedite this process), correct the problem, and reimburse those customers who have been paying unfairly high premiums for years.
Please keep your customers informed of your actions on this matter. For my part, I will be asking ProPublica to look into home insurance to see if it is likewise biased.
Amy Zucker Morgenstern
Or, you know, act on whatever aspect of white supremacy is most infuriating to you. Just act. And if you’re near Palo Alto, join us for the Teach In April 30.
. . . is the problem with Trump. Is he our president or the flunky of a foreign, frequently hostile government? We don’t know.
Vladimir Putin should not be allowed to choose the next Supreme Court Justice.
So I’m with Robert Reich: this nomination must not go forward until the investigation into election tampering and Trump’s ties to Putin is complete. We deserve to know where Trump gets his money, why his private server talks to Alfa Bank so frequently (the F.B.I. says the reason could be innocuous–fine–find out for certain by subpoenaing the records), and to whom he’s in debt. We deserve to know whether he has been blackmailed by Russia and why he claimed that Carter Page never worked for his campaign (although he specifically named Page as a foreign policy adviser six months previously) and if there is anyone else, besides Page and Paul Manafort, who had a foot in both Putin’s and Trump’s camps.
Of course the government must keep rolling with him as provisional president, but allow him to name a new justice, who will serve 30, 40 years? No. Not until we have some answers. Much of this can be checked by following the money–is that why we still haven’t seen his tax returns?
I’m in the process of calling every member of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, listed here and here, respectively, to say this: “You are going to be greatly embarrassed by history if you confirm a Supreme Court Justice who was selected by someone who proves to be a puppet of Vladimir Putin. Please hold the nomination until the full investigation of the financial and other ties between the president and the Russian government is complete.”
A friend circulated this video to remind us what risks the drivers of colectivos, town-to-town taxis in Oaxaca, take whenever they get behind the wheel. When we want to go to San Martín Tilcajete for the munchkin to learn woodcarving, or to Teotitlán del Valle to see the weaving, we usually get there in a Nissan Tsuru. This is what a 35-mph head-on collision does to the people in a Tsuru.
When we return home later this week, I’ll be glad to be back in the land of airbags and strong steel frames, but like my friend, I worry more about the drivers than us. They’re the ones who spend half their waking hours in one of these cars.
But why is it made with so many safety shortcuts? We could blame Nissan, but it’s no different than most automobile companies in making cars to the standards set by the country, and no higher. Airbags were required by legislators, who passed that regulation over the decades-long protests of the manufacturers’ lobby; anti-lock brakes ditto; you can’t drive in the U.S. without working windshield wipers, the frames can’t crumple like they do in that video, and you can’t disable the seatbelts.
The only reason we have these safety features is that our government requires them. With an incoming administration dedicated to “easing regulations,” I wonder how long it will take for the cars sold in the United States to match those sold in Mexico.
Almost every time someone asserts “Black Lives Matter,” someone responds “ALL lives matter,” “That’s racist,” or “Don’t you care about [Syrian refugees, victims of civilian crime, etc.]?”
I have been involved in many justice issues, and none of them has attracted this level of “What about…?” backlash. None has made people jump in with accusations that I am being exclusionary. When I talk about modern slavery, people sometimes say “What about sweatshop labor?” but they understand that I’m not tacitly approving of paid, exploitative labor just because I’m focused on literal slavery. When I talk about our area housing crisis, people may say “We need higher wages,” but they never accuse me of not caring about wages. When I talk about gay rights, people don’t chime in with “But what about the rights of girls in Afghanistan?” or anything of that kind; they are content to engage with the issue of justice for gay people.
I said none of them inspires accusations of exclusion, but actually there is one issue that does. Almost every discussion of animal rights and welfare I have ever been part of has garnered at least one comment along the lines of “Why don’t you worry about the rights of human beings?” People get really upset about the simple assertion that other animals may also deserve freedom from cruelty, and calm responses about caring deeply about both have no effect. Evidence that one works for human rights as well as animal rights has no effect. You have done something offensive, threatening, by even mentioning other animals, by giving a concern for them them any part of your care and time.
I don’t want to leap to conclusions, here, or oversimplify a complex situation. I just want to note how chilling it is to realize that only two issues, in my experience, elicit the passionate conviction that concern for X necessarily excludes concern for Y: a focus on the worth of non-human animals’ lives, and a focus on the worth of black humans’ lives.
It was 1984, and it felt like it. I was in high school, trying to be a radical. Out in the world, the Soviet leader du jour and Ronnie (the other one) were playing at who could bring us closer to the nuclear brink. As a hostage situated midway between New York City and Electric Boat in New London, I figured it was likely that the means of my death would be nuclear war and the time would be within the following 20 or 30 years, probably even sooner. The United States seemed to be on the wrong side of every struggle for freedom: backing apartheid in South Africa, funding rape, torture, and murder in Central America just like the bumper stickers said. I carefully lettered “War is Peace / Freedom is Slavery / Ignorance is Strength” below a photo of Reagan looking jubilant, and glued it to the front of my notebook. I split my school days between my suburban high school, in Hamden, and ECA, the New Haven arts magnet that served surrounding towns as well as the much grittier, much cooler city. I was a member of my high school’s only left-wing political group, Students for Nuclear Disarmament, and making a list of colleges known for activist students.
Ronnie Gilbert and Holly Near were coming to New Haven to play at majestic Woolsey Hall, but in between the booking and the performance date, the clerical and technical workers of Yale had gone on strike. Woolsey Hall was part of Yale University. And there was no way these two were going to cross a picket line to sing. So they found an alternate venue a few miles north: the gymnasium of Hamden High School.
When the night arrived, there I was, in a room redolent of the unhappiness, if not the actual sneaker stench, of gym classes, gazing up at these two icons of subversive activity. An entire lineage was there: Ronnie Gilbert of the Weavers, who’d sung with Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger and been blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC); Holly Near of the next generation, her protegee and spiritual heir; and, another generation along, us.
I did not grow up on this music the way some of my friends did. I barely knew who the Weavers were (my friend Seth had been appalled to learn that I didn’t know “Goodnight, Irene”). I don’t know how I even came to have tickets to this event, and I didn’t anticipate how gloriously incongruous it would be to hear this concert at my high school until they started singing. “Hay Una Mujer Desaparecida,” “Two Good Arms,” “Harriet Tubman,” “Mary Got a New Job,” “Perfect Night.” Heroes and martyrs, rabblerousers and activists, lesbians, even, were being sung and celebrated right there in our gym!
Holly and Ronnie led us in “Singing for Our Lives,” the first time I heard that song, and the tears rolled down my cheeks. We were, we were singing for our lives–they understood! They set our struggles to music! Right under the noses of the assistant principals and all the other petty tyrants of Hamden High, who–if they did not actually endorse the dictators and juntas whom we’d recently discovered and vowed to oppose, and if they didn’t even vote for Ronald Reagan (that HUAC toady)–seemed to be arrayed on the side of repression. Most of the authorities in our world wanted us to be good little students, sit tight, date straight, not stir up trouble, not have any opinions. In the midst of political repression and standard adolescent turmoil, imperfectly and self-righteously, but with earnest hope, we were trying to sing our own song. And here were our convictions, my convictions, being given harmonious voice by these two tough, joyous women.
We sang “Goodnight, Irene” and went home. The concert was over. But the music played on. It’s never stopped, and it never will.
RIP, Ronnie Gilbert.
It was the kind of exchange of mindless violence that wreaks havoc on those who are innocently going about their lives in war zones of all times and places. In this case, it was in Belfast in 1976. IRA members fired on a British patrol. The British returned fire, killing the IRA driver. His car ran up on a sidewalk where Anne Maguire was shopping with three of her children, killing two of them before their mother’s eyes and injuring the third so badly that he died the next day. Betty Williams saw the accident and ran to help. She’d grown up in Belfast and seen deadly violence up close before, but this incident was the last straw for her. She began collecting signatures and organized a march of women protesting the endless cycle of violence. The 200 or so marchers passed by the house of Mairéad Corrigan, who was the aunt of the three children who were killed, sister of Anne Maguire. Corrigan came out and joined the march, and not long after that, she and Williams had planned another march, this time of 10,000 women to the graves of Joanne, John, and Andrew Maguire. The organization of Protestants and Catholics that they founded, the Community of Peace People (changed from Women for Peace when Ciaran McKeown joined them in leadership), pressed constantly for the battling parties to sit down together, and served loyalists and republicans equally, for example by arranging buses for people of all religions and political persuasions to visit their imprisoned family members. As they mobilized hundreds of thousands of war-exhausted, grieving people in Ireland and England, the fatalities in Northern Ireland fell dramatically. The Peace People’s declaration was signed by over 100,000 people:
We have a simple message to the world from this movement for Peace.
We want to live and love and build a just and peaceful society.
We want for our children, as we want for ourselves, our lives at home, at work, and at play to be lives of joy and Peace.
We recognise that to build such a society demands dedication, hard work, and courage.
We recognise that there are many problems in our society which are a source of conflict and violence.
We recognise that every bullet fired and every exploding bomb make that work more difficult.
We reject the use of the bomb and the bullet and all the techniques of violence.
We dedicate ourselves to working with our neighbours, near and far, day in and day out, to build that peaceful society in which the tragedies we have known are a bad memory and a continuing warning.
Williams and Corrigan were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that year. Alfred Nobel described the intent of the award quite narrowly–the recipient “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”–but the committee recognized the power of a grassroots movement. A peace congress probably wouldn’t have made much difference, but thousands of people demanding peace, over and over, in a grassroots movement all over two lands, most certainly did good work for fraternity–and sorority–between those two nations. Both women continue to agitate for peace to this day.
So much of women’s history in the United States focuses on a single, exhausting struggle: the fight for the right to vote, finally won in 1920 after several failed attempts to get it through Congress and ratified. It seems unbelievable that women have only been able to vote for president, and for most other offices in most places, for well under half of our country’s history. A global view puts that fact into perspective: modern democratic governments began coming on the scene in the early 17th century, but it was not until almost the 20th century that any of them permitted women the fundamental act of a citizen: New Zealand made history by granting women the vote in 1893, only 14 years after all men attained the vote there (prior to 1869, most men had to own land to vote).
Saudi Arabia includes women in the vote for the first time this year. After that, the only country where the right to vote is restricted to men will be Vatican City, which does have female citizens (a few dozen of its several hundred citizens) but recognizes no voting rights except those of cardinals.
However, like the gap that still exists in the United States between de jure and de facto voting rights, especially for people of African descent, women’s being granted the right to vote does not always equal the ability to exercise that right freely. Afghan women had the vote in 1919, a year before their sisters in our country could vote, but women under the Taliban cannot give speeches or run for office, and they can’t leave the house without a male chaperone: all dampers on their actually putting a ballot into the box to be counted.
The first time I did door-to-door political canvassing, I asked a woman if she’d made up her mind for the Congressional election and was silently shocked when she said, “Oh, no–my husband decides that kind of thing.” Around the world, in places where women have little freedom of other kinds, how many of their votes serve only to give their husbands a double dip in the voting pool?