Monday, January 19, 2009

On Racism

My favorite non-UU minister, Rev. Rudy Rasmus, has a good post on his blog. Titled "Are You Racist?" he talks about a recent study, delving into how tolerant we are of racist behavior.

I thought his conclusion was very simple and on the point. If we expand it to include any differences (e.g. the person who is obviously homeless), I think it gives a good guide for addressing what's inside us, and moving forward through those feelings:

First, admit that you are afraid of people different from you. Second, feel the vulnerability that comes with the thought of allowing the stranger access to your space in the world. Third, act as though the fear cannot keep you from loving the other person.
Now, many -- especially liberals -- will look at that first sentence, "admit that you are afraid of people different from you," and protest. I'm not like that! I'm not afraid! Well, fear is not just being afraid that the bogeyman is going to steal your wallet, knock you down.

What I see in our liberal circles is a fear of offending, a fear of looking foolish. Mama said, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything." And we obey. We clam up. But how can understanding arise from a circle of silence? We have to be willing to be vulnerable, willing to say something stupid ... so that someone can say, "You know, that was kinda stupid." Otherwise, we just keep that not-well-thought-out-thought in our heads, and it is never corrected. And we don't grow.

Here's an exercise: set up a circle of Unitarian Universalists and get them talking about race. I'm going to make an assumption that the circle is all-white, because that is often the make-up of our churches. Okay, now drop in one African-American.

What happens? Does the conversation stop?

It's not for bad reasons ... we are sensitive to others' feelings, we UUs. Don't want to offend. Don't want to appear ignorant. Don't want ... to talk about it.

In that above post at Rev. Rasmus's blog, there's also a place for comments. If you can separate out your emotion and read them dispassionately, it is very interesting. Just by giving his post the provocative title, "Are you a racist?" brings out a bitter defensiveness in some. One person wrote something along the lines of "We elected an African-American president, what else do you want, for all whites to leave the country???"

I admit to having a hard time maintaining my dis-passion. So here's something cool and positive ... all the presidents, morphing from George Washington to Barack Obama. After seeing those historic faces, I admit, I had another one of those "WOW" moments of again realizing, "Holy Smokes ... Barack Obama is going to be President of the United States of America!"

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