For those who stepped out briefly: here is the backstory.
Melissa Mummert, in a sermon reprinted in Quest, describes Starr King School for the Ministry's decision to cease using the phrase "brown bag lunch".
Peacebang comments on this, and not in a supportive way.
Much commenting ensues. Most of it is a defense of SKSM's curriculum's focus on anti-oppression.
My interest was piqued by the blog entry of the Left Coast Unitarian.
For me the actual matter of dispute is fairly simple. If a person of color, especially an elder, suggests that a particular term is not the most inviting way to title or describe a gathering, I will take them at their word absent a good deal of evidence.
On a very small scale, herein lies the weakness of much of the anti-racism and anti-oppression work that has been done among Unitarian Universalists in the 21st century. This paragraph describes an asymmetrical relationship and a lack of mutual critical accountability. It goes far beyond the small things -- titles of gatherings -- but extends to highest levels of analysis.
Read over Melissa Mummert's sermon again, which describes in detail, how she learned that the phrase "brown bag lunch" was unacceptable at SKSM. It was just announced. She was silent, but did not understand. Someone else cautiously raised the question as to why this change was necessary, and Mummert internally cheered. A brief explanation was given, and that was sufficient to end the discussion.
Why? There are so many questions unanswered here, which require a critical spirit to raise. Just from my knowledge of history:
- My understanding is that the brown bag test was a means of enforcing color lines within the African American community in New Orleans in the early part of the 20th century. Was it used by whites as well? (Whites in the South did not distinguish between light-skinned and darker African Americans when it came to segregation.)
- Is this practice in the current memory of African Americans, or is it a recovered historical fact?
- Was the phrase "brown Bag lunch" itself used as a code to describe who was and who was not welcome at lunch?
- Are brown paper bags themselves objects that are avoided in African American communities because of their role in the racial history of the US.
- What attitude should white people take toward color prejudice in the African American community?
- What does knowledge of this piece of US racial history require of us? So what? Does it follow that we ought to not use the phrase "brown bag lunch"? Should we not use brown bags at all?
Such an attitude, as so briefly summarized by the Left Coast Unitarian, leads first, to intellectual laziness, secondly, to relationships of domination and subordination and finally to the abuse of power.
What the Left Coast Unitarian describes is, in compressed form, is a theory of the sociology of knowledge, an essential piece of the whole construct of Dialectical and Historical Materialism, as developed by Lenin, Stalin and Mao. It has a history, and has been put into practice, and the consequences have been made clear. It is a theory of knowledge that does not advance understanding and greater knowledge, but subordinates knowledge to the acquisition and maintenance of power.
When I talk about this, I am not talking about far away places and times gone by. The attitude toward knowledge, criticism and mutual moral accountability that the Left Coast Unitarian describes explains why our Unitarian Universalist movement has been studying racism and oppression for about a decade now, and is less sophisticated in its understanding of it than people were in 1975.
A final self-advertisement. Click on my longer paper "Anti-Racism Decoded" in the right column for a much longer analysis of anti-racism in the UUA, as I saw it at the time of the Nashville GA in what? 2000?