A Service Coordinated by the
First Parish Racial Justice Roundtable
Delivered on Sunday, November 5, 2017
At The First Parish in Bedford
A Thought to Ponder at the Beginning:
To me, racism hasn’t been one big thing that could be rejected all at once. Rather, it has been like burrs that have to be picked off of my clothing
and out of my hair one by one, and that keep showing up in cuffs
and collars long after I think I’ve found the last of them.
—Doug Muder, from “Of Course I’m a Racist”
A Time for All Ages- Bunny and Blue
Bunny: Hi Blue!
Blue: Hi Bunny. (not sounding happy)
Bunny: You don’t sound so good. Is something the matter?
Blue: Well… I was just thinking about something that happened at school on Friday.
Bunny: Oh? What happened?
Blue: Well… there’s this new girl in my class, and I think some of the other kids made her feel bad.
Bunny: What do you mean?
Blue: Well… this new girl, Firhana, dresses in a different way than we do?
Blue: She always wears long sleeves and pants or a long skirt, even when it’s really hot out. And she wears this cloth around her head and neck, so we can’t ever see her hair.
Bunny: Ok. What’s wrong with that. There’s no clothing police, is there?
Blue: No. But some kids were talking about her, saying it’s weird that she never wears shorts. And one kid said she must wear that cloth on her head because she has really gross hair. And all the other kids laughed about it.
Bunny: Oh dear.
Blue: And I when looked over at Firhana, the look on her face was so, so sad. She asked the teacher if she could go to the bathroom, and then she was gone so long that the teacher had to go look for her. She didn’t talk to anyone for the rest of the day.
Bunny: That’s awful. What did the kids do?
Blue: Nothing. I don’t even think they realized that Firhana heard them or that they’d hurt her feelings.
Bunny: What did you do?
Blue: Nothing (sadly). I didn’t know what to do. She’s such a nice girl, and I was sad to see her so sad.
Bunny: Well… Let’s think about this for a minute. Tell me what you know about Firhana.
Blue: Ok. Let’s see… She’s really good at math. She finishes her papers before everyone else and then helps other kids if the teacher says it’s ok.
Bunny: That’s great! What else?
Blue: She always smiles and says good morning to the teacher when she comes into the classroom. And when I accidentally dropped my folder and all of my papers went flying all over the place, she helped me pick them up.
Bunny: That was so nice of her!
Blue: Yeah! So what if no one can see her hair. That’s not what matters. She’s a good kid. She’s kind and she helps others. That’s what counts.
Bunny: Right. Do you think you could explain that to the other kids?
Blue: I don’t know. But I’m going to try. What they did wasn’t right, but I think if I tell those kids all the things I just told you, they might be able to see it my way. And I think then they wouldn’t make another mistake like that again.
Bunny: I hope so. But there’s still one more thing. What about the Firhana’s feelings? Do you think you can make her feel better?
Blue: Well… It might not be easy, but I know when I’m feeling sad it’s nice to have someone do something to help me feel better.
Bunny: Like what?
Blue: Like the time when I forgot my library book, and I wasn’t allowed to check out a new book at library time. My friend let me sit with him and look at his book with him. We were having so much fun, I forgot about feeling sad about not being able to check out a book of my own.
Bunny: I get it. So what can you do?
Blue: (getting more and more excited) Maybe I’ll see if Firhana wants to read with me. Or I could sit with her at lunch. Or I could ask if she wants to play at recess. Or…or…or I could do all of those things!
Bunny: Sounds like you’ve got some good plans to work with.
Blue: Yeah, I think you’re right. And I feel better knowing there’s something I can do. I think I can help fix the situation and maybe even keep it from happening again. I’m glad we had this talk, Bunny.
Bunny: Me too, Blue.
By Megan Lynes
Our reading is by Crystal Valentine, who was the New York City Youth Poet Laureate in 2015.
Today’s service is built around stories, and Valentine’s poem is a story—one that not only tells of events past, but also one that is itself an event that unfolds as we hear it. You can google her name and watch her perform this exquisite poem on Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rYL83kHQ8Y
It’s a story of grief and weariness over too many souls lost to walking, driving, living, and dying while black. And it’s a story of despair over “what-about-ism” that too often meets the simple claim that black lives matter—an answer to “what about all lives, what about black privilege, what about the race card?” Like all poems, Valentine’s trembles with intensity. Like the theme of our service, though, it does not command its listeners to “see it my way.” Rather, it invites us to try.
By Crystal Valentine
Black Privilege is the hung elephant swinging in the room
Is the memory of a slave ship, praying for the Alzheimer’s to kick in
Black Privilege is me having already memorized my nephew’s eulogy,
My brother’s eulogy,
My father’s eulogy
My un-conceived child’s eulogy
Black Privilege is me thinking my sister’s name safe from this list
Black Privilege is me pretending to know Travyon Martin on a first name basis
Is me using a dead boy’s name to win a poetry slam
Is me carrying a mouth full of other people’s skeletons to use at my own convenience
Black Privilege is the concrete that holds my breath better than my lungs do
Black Privilege is always having to be the strong one,
Is having a crowbar for a spine,
Is fighting, even when you have no more blood to give
Even when you have lost sight of your bones
Even when your mother prayed for you
Even after they’ve prepared your body for the funeral
Black Privilege is being so unique that not even God will look like you,
Black Privilege is still being the first person in line to meet him
Black Privilege is having to have the same sense of humor as Jesus
Remember how he smiled on the cross?
The same way Malcolm X laughed at his bullet
And there I go again, asserting my Black Privilege, using a dead man’s name without his permission
I can feel his maggots congregating in my mouth
Black Privilege is a myth,
Is a joke, is a punchline
Is that time a teacher asked a little boy what he wanted to be when he grew up and he said alive
Is the way she laughed and said “there’s no college for that”
Ignorance is the only thing that won’t discriminate against you,
Is the only thing that don’t need a tombstone to learn your name
And it’s tiring, you know, for everything about my skin to be a metaphor
For everything black to be pun intended, to be death intended
Black Privilege is the applause at the end of this poem
Is me giving you a dead boy’s body and you giving me a 10
Is me being okay with that
I tried writing a love poem the other day, but my fingers wouldn’t move
My skin started to blister
Like it didn’t trust me any more
Like it thought I’ve forsaken it for something prettier
Something smoother to wrap around my bones
Like I was trading in my noose for a pearl necklace
Some days I’m afraid to look into the mirror
For fear that a bullet George Zimmerman-ed its way into my chest while I was asleep
The breath in my mouth is weapon enough to scare a courtroom
I’ll be lucky if I’m alive to make it to the stand
For some people, their trials live longer than they do
Black Privilege is knowing that if I die,
At least Al Sharpton will show up to my funeral
At least Al Sharpton will mason jar my mother’s tears
Remind us that the only thing we are worthy of is our death
We are judged by the number of people it takes to carry our casket
Black Privilege is me thinking that’s enough
Is me thinking this poem is enough
Black Privilege is this
Is this breath in my lungs right now
Standing right here
With a crowd full of witnesses
To my heartbeat
“Try To See It My Way”
Raquel Portillo Bauman
SPEAKING BEFORE GOUPS OF VARIOUS SIZES IS SOMEWHAT routine WHEN ONE IS AFFILIATED WITH COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES. DOING SO FROM BEHIND A PULPIT….IS MOST INTIMIDATING. Still, here I stand. Some of you know that I am from Texas, from Houston, Texas. Some of you might have heard about the damage done there by hurricane Harvey. Fewer of you might know that the Houston Astros, not the Boston Red Sox clinched the World Series this year though no countries other than this one were represented.
I would like to take through some of my experiences growing up in Houston. We can begin with my first day at Lubbock Elementary School. It celebrated its 100 years in operation while I was enrolled in second grade. It is where the pronunciation of my name, spelled R A C H E L was changed to Rachel and where my brother Jose Jorge became “Joe”. Because all of the teachers were Anglo and all drove cars, not pickups, and all the students except Larry Jackson were Latino, I assumed that to be teachers one had to be white and drive a car.
In sixth grade, half of the students were sent from overcrowded Lubbock to the newly built Rusk Elementary School. There were forty students in my sixth grade. One or two of the boys who had to sit on the shelves that lined the windowed wall slide out not always accidentally. It was at Rusk where teachers first told me I was different, smart, and maybe smarter than my classmates. Even at eleven years of age I knew I was not smarter than Juan or Jessie or Delia. Their grades on math and science tests were as good as or better than mine. I did speak both English and Spanish though.
It was at Jackson Junior High that I learned that there were many, many white people on the planet. It was also where my classmates from elementary school began to disappear. By the time high school graduation came around there were fewer than one hundred Latino/Chicano/ Mexican American students out of close to eight hundred seniors.
Enrolling in college was expected of me. My mother had contributed to Houston Baptist University for years. I did not know whether I believed in a god so I enrolled at a state school, one that matriculated zero African Americans, one where during orientation, a faculty member stated that “they” had their own school, one where I was not taught by a Latino(a) or African American professor during four years of undergraduate work.
The late sixties and early seventies brought many changes. That university elected an African American homecoming queen. In graduate school Dr. Waters and Dr. Jose Angel Gutierrez became part of the faculty and I continued toward a master’s degree and then a doctorate. On a dare, I applied for a job posted at the University of Texas Medical Branch. (The man who is now my husband chaired the search committee that hired me). I was thrilled to work for a program that had as its mission examining practices to ensure better representation of women and students of color in the medical school. It is also where a surgeon on the admissions committee once asked “….what will we do if all of the twenty minority students to whom we have offered admission decide to enroll here???”—-Twenty, twenty out of two hundred and three, twenty who were likely also offered admission at every other Texas Medical School, half of whom were likely offered admission to Stanford or Harvard or Baylor.
Because six to seven years is about how long I have ever worked at any one placement, I have also worked in DC, at UMass Medical, at Tufts, at Texas Tech. The birth of my son led me to return to work in public K-12 schools, the schedule better fit his. Placements took me back to Texas and fifteen years ago brought me back to the Commonwealth. I retired a couple of years ago and now work part time and have joined a book club or two. At one of our session the subject turned to the state of the country, our sessions often do. One of my close friends after sharing some of her experiences growing up in poverty, feeling excluded asked me if I had ever been made to feel less, less worthy, less accepted, less a part of the group. My answer was certain, my heart pounding I answered, “ Some have made the attempt, none succeeded and I have my mother, and my grandmothers, my father’s six sisters and well as my mother’s three, my mother’s only brother and my own father to thank. My dad, a man with only five or six years of formal school taught me, taught his four kids….”usted no vale mas que ninguno, y ninguno vale mas que usted”….you are on no greater value than anyone, and no one is of greater value than you. Gracias papa.
“What Do You Expect?”
My parents brought me to New York City from India when I was 3 years old. Since they were both working, they started me at a preschool soon after I arrived, even though I didn’t yet know any English. At bath time, my parents were shocked when they’d find bruises all over my shins. I told them the other kids were kicking me. My parents promptly complained to the teachers at the preschool, but nothing changed. I can just imagine my parents’ frustration at being in a new land and not being taken seriously. “What do you expect?! These people are not like our own,” I can imagine them thinking. I imagine the children at the preschool, asking my name and my staying silent; them talking about toys or asking for a turn and my ignoring them, since I didn’t know what they were saying. They expected me to answer and took my silence as a sign of hostility. Kicking seemed the way to go. My mother tells me that she finally told me that I should kick the children back. Promptly, the teachers started complaining to my parents that I was kicking the other children! “What do you expect?! These foreigners are not like us,” I can imagine the teachers thinking.
That sense of being an outsider, of being divided from the whole, is the hardest part of growing up different from the majority.
Recently, during a class at the gym, I was reminded of this preschool experience. A lady walked into the class after it was more than halfway done. The instructor looked astonished at the audacity or perhaps cluelessness of the woman for coming so late to her class. The sense of division was there immediately, the instructor showing with her body language that an intruder had come into the space. Sighing in exasperation to the “in” crowd of her regular students, she told the lady pointedly that the class started a long time ago. The lady looked back with a blank look on her face and continued with setting up to participate. Sighing in annoyance, the instructor took the lady’s silence to be a sign of hostility. Shaking her head to her favorite students, the instructor seemed to say with her eyes to them, “What do you expect?!” With adult subtlety, she had just done the equivalent of a preschool kick, effectively dividing “us” from the outsider. After the class, the new lady asked me a question in very halting English. Since both of them were white, the instructor had expected a certain response, expected a person who understood fluent English, who understood exercise classes and their etiquettes, and had not approached this stranger with a sense of curiosity or respect.
Although I also find myself thinking “Pfft! What do you expect?!” when I think about some groups of people, I try to remind myself that that is a sure sign that I need to stop and think about what am I really expecting from them. Do I really know enough about them and their background and their motivations? I try to remind myself that perhaps I shouldn’t expect and should instead try to bridge the divide.
Not long after the kicking incidents at preschool, I started asking my parents for candy from on top of our fridge to take with me to school. I would start handing it out to the other children as soon as I arrived. Ah, I felt surrounded by love again!
I’m not sure what motivated my three-year old self to try generosity instead of more violence. My best guess is that I gravitated towards what I knew, since until then I had been surrounded by only love and generosity from my doting relatives and neighbors in my grandparents’ village in India. Whatever the inspiration, that candy-giving act of generosity made all the difference! My parents tell me that preschool life went smoothly for me after that.
Although I can’t help going through life with the expectation of needing to defend myself my hope is to bridge that divide, set aside all expectations more often and give wholeheartedly to those different than myself.
Contemplating the Experience of “Othering”
By Jerald Ross
Thank you Renea, Raquel and Renu for sharing your experiences with us.
You have given us some insights into how painful and often persistent an “othering” experience can be. Unfortunately, it is easy to “other” someone through insensitivity, lack of awareness, or even as an unconscious behavior learned in a dominant, privileged culture.
At this time, we would like to invite parishioners into a period of refection. Have you had an experience of being “othered” because of your gender, race, ethnicity or other differentiating characteristic? Have you observed an interaction in which someone else was “othered”? Can you recall a time when you recognize that you yourself, intentionally or not, may have caused another person to feel “othered” or diminished because of their intrinsic characteristics?
What happened in that experience as you think back on it that was so excluding, “diminishing” or hurtful? And can you imagine another way the event could have unfolded that would have avoided that hurt or led to a more affirming outcome?
Again, here are the questions:
What made it so hurtful?
What could have been different?
I am going to invite us now into minute or two of silent introspection to consider these questions.
(GROUP CONTEMPLATION IN SILENCE)
Thank you (ending the silence and the exercise)
As requested, here (Attached below) are the closing words from today’s service, as adapted from Paul Kivel’s Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Social Justice”
Adapted from Uprooting Racism: How White
Assume racism is everywhere, every day.
Just as economics influences everything we do, just as gender and gender politics influence everything we do, assume that racism is affecting your daily life.
We assume this because it’s true, and because one privilege of being white is the freedom to not deal with racism all the time.
We are called to learn to see the effect that racism has.
Notice who speaks, what is said, how things are done and described. Notice who isn’t present when racist talk occurs. Notice code words for race, and the implications of the policies, patterns, and comments that are being expressed.
We already notice the skin color of everyone you meet—now notice what difference it makes.
The Dedication of Our Black Lives Matter Banner
“This is our third banner. The first was twice vandalized; the second – hung somewhat higher – simply wore out. And so it is up to us to dedicate – not so much this third banner – but to rededicate ourselves to the unfinished work of living its truth. We do as well bless this banner and it is well that we remember what a blessing is. A blessing does not fix us or change the world. Like prayer, a blessing changes nothing but a blessing can change us and we can change everything. A blessing does not instill health or well-being or strength. Instead, a blessing reminds us of the truth that is already present within us. We know that all life matters; we also know that persistent pernicious systems of white supremacy have deceived us into believing that some lives matter more than other lives or that some lives simply do not matter. Our faith – the faith we know to be true – affirms that Black Lives Matter. This dedication of ourselves and the blessing of this banner is a way to remember our strength, to invoke our capacity to grow and heal and change, to resist giving up. May we be rededicated and may this banner be blessed.
Let us shout amen.
And in quiet determination, let us also whisper amen.” — 11/5/17