Sunday, August 12, 2007

Blog Against Racism Week

So, this is me straying a bit from my normal nuclear pondering, but social justice is something I've got a big, huge lifetime commitment for.

The arena I've dealt most with issues of social justice is in my my church, and through our youth organization. As a liberal religion, we are in theory the tolerant, optimistic type who both embrace diversity and crusade against oppression. As an actual religious denomination, we are predominantly white, upper-middle-class, and well educated. Hardly exclusively, but predominantly. It's a hindrance for anti-racist work, to say the least.

I live in New Mexico. My church, many years ago, decided that a welcoming thing to do for some of the Hispanic population would be to sing our church's doxology twice every Sunday, once in English and once in Spanish. The idea sounded good, and it's been a regular practice ever since. The relative makeup of the church hasn't changed, and so while we do this one (in theory) tolerant, benevolent (said somewhat sneeringly) thing, we don't do anything else. No other part of the service is in Spanish, the church marquee is in English exclusively, and as far as I know, bilingualism has not been a trait we've required in our ministers (not that they aren't; I just don't thinks its expressly stated that they should be). Singing the doxology in Spanish fulfills the need of the congregation, makes them feel warm and fuzzy inside, and then leaves as a hollow, empty gesture that only assuages white guilt. (In my household, the phrase "Singing the doxology in Spanish" has become one denoting this futility, this empty-gesturism).

This is not to complain that "my church isn't recruiting enough Hispanics", which is itself a fairly racist term. Sure, it'd be fantastic if the community was perceived as (and actually was) more welcoming, and that it would be a safe place for people seeking a relief from whatever they find disagreeable with catholicism (again, a strong cultural trait, predominant but certainly not absolute). Recruitment is certainly not the way to address this; it's too contrived an act to do the church much good. Changing the atmosphere of church, making services (or their transcripts at least) available in Spanish, doing more than just groaning through "De Colores" when we feel the need to honor Hispanic heritage, and overall moving from an empty gesture with good intentions to more meaningful gestures with actual costs and risks for the congregation would do a lot of good. At the least, the presence of the empty gesture seems more offensive than it's absence.

This is a small thing, a local thing. There's much more to be said, about how what currently exists about UU anti-racist efforts and training is east-coast and black-white focused, about how the need for anti-racist training has rendered the nations largest youth-run organization's leadership impotent (time constraints and skewed priorities - important as the work is, a governing body is supposed to govern). There's plenty of room for discourse on racism beyond this, and there also plenty to be said about the dangers of anti-racist education, which is at the least an incredibly draining process. There also the big gaping hole of 'what action to take', since education upon education does not nearly enough.

I'm not going to be able to answer all this, or even pretend I'm able to answer all this. It's a huge issue, and an issue that cannot possibly be resolved just by an army of bloggers. The discourse is important, and so, with that in mind, I present some links.

kittikattie, a friend through livejournal, writes better and more thoroughly than what I can adequately say. Briefly, by topic line, here are the posts : overt vs covert racism, 1968 wasn't even a generation back for me, society's creation of the "Only Black Kid", Sci-Fi and Fantasy: The Whitewashing, The FoCcing Cabal: In Ur Fandomz, Harshin' Ur Squeez, Postive Racism is Still Racism: No, I'm Not A "Strong Black Woman".

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