Monday, August 25, 2014

Ferguson: Stepping Back To See the New Situation


Ferguson is a new situation: it is exposing the mechanisms of institutionalized racism in the suburbs. This Vox explainer article is a good primer on the issues. Previous national level discussions of racism often centered on the inner city and the urban poor.






Ferguson is a new situation: African Americans have long been treated as a suspect and potentially criminal population in the United States. Whatever else has changed for the better, this reality has not changed. It may have gotten worse, with the Wars on Crime, Drugs and Terror. At the grassroots level, how the police treat African Americans has been where white racism has been most imposed, and most resisted. Remember that most of the urban uprisings of the 1960's were sparked by police actions.

Demonstration in support of Ferguson Community in San Francisco
After the death of Trayvon Martin, concern over police brutality is crossing over into portions of the white population. The Michael Brown killing continues that trend. It's an uncomfortable process right now. There are issues about how whites can appropriately identify with these protests: how does the "hands up - don't shoot" gesture read when performed by white people who don't face that reality. What about the role of white anarchists and communists who ally with the most militant street fighters? Do white clergy get co-opted by the police into being crowd control agents?

Despite these points of friction, it is true that broader white support for African American stuggle against the police is a relatively new thing; previously, white support for the African American movements engaged issues like voting rights, or public accommodations, which did not challenge the politics of respectability.

Supporters have raised over $400K for Darren Wilson. 
Predictably, there is also a backlash brewing, as other portions of the white population are rallying to support the police.

Where all this goes is everybody's guess. But we are in a new situation.

What does it mean for congregations of liberal religion, and specifically, Unitarian Universalism?

We are in the suburbs. Every UU congregation can be inquiring into the systems of racism in their community, and the communities of their members.

All that we have been learning about institutional racism will be needed in the future as we try to make sense of suburban racism: how seemingly race neutral policies in areas like mortgage approval, zoning, election cycles serve to keep African Americans disempowered in suburban communities. Chances are that your all-white suburb did not get that way by chance.

All that we have learned about white privilege gets real, when you consider what a difference it makes to live without the fear that your life is just in danger from the police than from any other source.

Finally, what we have learned from our participation in the LGBTQ struggles for rights and marriage equality is that it makes a difference when we make a firm commitment to people who are being marginalized.


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