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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.

[my address]

April 6, 2017

The Progressive Corporation
6300 Wilson Mills Rd.
Mayfield Village, Ohio 44143

Dear Sir/Madam,

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:

https://www.propublica.org/article/minority-neighborhoods-higher-car-insurance-premiums-white-areas-same-risk

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.

Sincerely yours,

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.

The news is all about how Melania Trump was channeling Michelle Obama last night. But the Congressman from Iowa’s 4th District was busily repeating old but, sadly, energetic white supremacist lies.
“Where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about? Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?” —Rep. Steve King, July 18, 2016
Whether the people who contributed more than “any other subgroup” are “old white people,” as King originally said, or “Western civilization,” as he said in a quick definitional retreat, it means simply: we’re the superior race.
But many people may nod along because it’s the history they learned. Sure, that’s us! We’re the cradle of civilization! And then when the evidence of other peoples’ accomplishments becomes too much to deny, we deftly sweep them up into our tent. Egypt, with all its accomplishments, can’t possibly be African–it’s “ours” (Western, white–Steve King’s kind of people). The Babylonians developed algebra centuries before Christ–oh, then they must be part of Western civilization too! (Even though they’re the bad guys in the Bible and seem to have been located in . . . oh dear . . . Iraq.) By the way, speaking of math, the supposed birthplace of Western thought, ancient Greece, was embarrassingly late to the foundational concept of zero. The Egyptians, Babylonians, and Olmecs were busily using zero while Socrates’s contemporaries were still dismissing it.
And then there’s agriculture, astronomy, music, literature, art, religion, philosophy, navigation, etc., all shaped by the contributions of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the pre-“Columbian” Americas, even though in U.S. American education, these contributions are often afterthoughts at most.
I remember when an English professor at my college asserted that the syllabus of his early-American lit class was composed of white male writers because others just hadn’t contributed. Students started posting flyers all over campus: “Professor, have you heard of:” followed by a long list of African-American and female writers of the time. I don’t know if it changed his views, and I doubt very much that such a stream of “people you should have heard of” would change Rep. King’s. But that list changed me forever. So, not for King but for the sake of anyone who might be thinking, quietly, “He’s right . . . ,” please comment with some of the greatest contributors to human thought and culture who were not “white people.”

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