Thursday, July 07, 2005

How sensitive do we want to be?

Ok, remember when I said that I thought gay rights was a lot simpler than race relations?

This thing with the GA is a good example of why.

In my application for YRUU leader at my church, I was asked if I could be an enthusiastic advocate for YRUU. Feeling honest, I said that I thought I could do a great job advocating local YRUU, but I had big doubts about YRUU at a national level. I get this we can solve racism, but we can't get along with adults vibe that makes them seem like, well, a bunch of kids. I want them to be more.

My application was accepted, but yesterday I got an email from the youth leader, attaching the UUA's statement and saying "this is why it's important we continue to work on race issues."

Actually, I think this fuss indicates some very strange priorities on the part of the UUA.

First of all, as I told her, my issue is with YRUU's methods, not its goal. Eradicating racism has no greater fan than me.

But as far as the incidents described in the UUA statement are concerned, anyone who reads this blog knows that my husband was mistaken for a store employee just last week.

I surmised then that it was about his polo shirt or his knowledge of fish. Never occurred to me that it would be about race. I mean, of course not. He's white. The incident was only even worth writing about because the guy in the store also assumed he was gay and I found myself moving in on the both of them like one intent on protecting her property. I found my own instinctual behavior amusing.

So my husband is assumed to sell tropical fish because he's standing in the fish section and everyone just thinks it's funny but if people assume a kid standing outside a hotel is a bellhop, that's racism of such a degree that a national organization needs to craft a formal response?

And with the incident with kids hanging around outside the closing ceremonies, I find myself asking, since they WERE a part of GA, why weren't they IN the ceremony? It does sound like it got completely out of hand, but I find myself wondering if it didn't start with a bunch of kids in a group outside a formal ceremony getting louder than they realize they are getting. Teenagers do that, especially hyperactive teenagers of the sort inclined to skip ceremonies. I can recall being in loud and silly groups of kids, groups that were ultimately kicked out of someplace, several times from my own teen years. Admittedly, it was shopping malls and restaurants, but one would think loud and silly groups of kids would be far less out of place there than outside a formal ceremony.

Again, it got out of hand and it sounds like both sides behaved inappropriately. But was the minister really so upset because they were people of color? Or was the minister upset because GA is a huge emotional deal for a lot of people and he/she thought they were being disrespectful in some way?

I find myself sounding like my mother, who upon hearing my self-righteous complaints about how my right to giggle in the mall was violated, would invariably ask "what did you do to bring it on yourself?" Is this question appropriate here? I don't know. But I learned an awful lot by answering it myself.

So far, this UUA response has generated responses of "oh how awful" and some neutral responses, but I think the statement raises the question of how sensitive we want to be. The statement implies that some other things happened involving non-UUs that may have been more significant. If so, by all means, the UUA should have at it.

But it seems to me that there is no way we should be making such a big deal over the incidents described. I find myself irritated that The Blue Chalice accuses Sinkford of mentioning the Latino contribution to American society only under pressure since it was mentioned in the closing ceremonies rather than earlier. Are we THAT determined to think the worst of one another? I'm sorry, has Sinkford in any way been shown to have a problem with Latinos? If not, maybe it's more appropriate to cut Sinkford one inch of the slack that Enrique cuts the Mexican government's "We didn't mean to be racist, so it can't be racist" response to the stamp issue in his previous post.

Yes, we should be good to each other.

Yes, GA should be a place where people of all colors can feel comfortable.

Yes, we should set an example.

But I think we've gone WAY overboard here.



Oversoul said...

Yes, I think there is a tendency for some people to be overly sensitive. The description of the incidents in question left out any meaningful detail, so it's hard to make a judgment.

I rarely assume that I'm treated a particular way simply because I'm gay. When the state passes anti-gay legistlation, that's one thing; when someone cuts me off in traffic, that's a stretch to blame it on my sexuality...

Anonymous said...

Overboard is a good assessment. You know it's out of control in YRUU when a white teen participating in youth worship at this year's GA feels the need to issue a formal apology for his whiteness before performing his function in the worship. I sense a form of tyranny at work here that promotes more racism than it heals.

UUEnforcer said...

I think you probably described exactly what happened. I wonder what will happen to the minister involved, how much crap they will get and how much they actually deserve. It reminds me of the fiasco that arose a few years back around the bad skit put on by the Commission on Appraisal. Remember, and DRUUM wanted to have some oversight on the commission?
Another reason to scale back GA.

Enrique said...

Just to clarify. I am not accusing Sinkford of falling short. I value his leadership. Some much so that I went and thanked him personally for the mediating role he has played and his kind words during the closing ceremony. What I complain about is that we all created a set of circumstances that place Sinkford in a difficult role as our president. We created these circumstances because we don’t know how to speak to each other, and we don’t know how to listen to each other.

On a positive note, I also see people in a leadership role that are taking effective step to solve that problem. I am far more excited about the direction the denomination is taking than I am disappointed by the conflicts I saw at the end.

Steve Caldwell said...

I will first respond with some pragmatic youth advisor advice.

Here are the three suggestions that I have for obtaining UU youth advisor training:

(1) Contact other UU youth advisors in your cluster and your district ... by networking, you will find more experienced advisors who can provide you with support for you in your ministry with youth.

(2) Attend YRUU cons and other events in your cluster and your district ... being an advisor at a district or cluster event allows you to see effective youth advisor partnerships with youth and effective youth leadership being modeled. Most of my youth advisor training has come from "hands-on" experience at youth events.

(3) Have your congregation send you to the available UUA youth advisor training workshops in your district. Having attended 3 of the 4 trainings sponsored by the UUA Youth Office, here's what I would recommend for you:

- Attend the YRUU "Leadership Development Conference" (LDC) along with youth from your local congregation.

- Attend basic Youth Advisor Training

- Attend the YRUU "Spirituality Development Conference" (SDC) with youth from your local congregation.

I hear that the Advanced Youth Advisor Training is good, but I haven't attended it yet and cannot speak personally about it.

Steve Caldwell said...

There's an excellent UUA adult religious education curriculum that looks at linkages between racism, classism, ageism, heterosexism, and ableism. It's called "Weaving the Fabric of Diversity."

The session on racism has some excellent cautionary advice about the tendency of UUs and other religious liberals to discount the prescence of racism.

I would like to comment on this quote that was posted anonymously:

"You know it's out of control in YRUU when a white teen participating in youth worship at this year's GA feels the need to issue a formal apology for his whiteness before performing his function in the worship."

For what it's worth, the keynote speakers for the UUMA/LREDA Pre-GA Professional Days were Dr. Loring Abeyta and Rev. Dr. Tink Tinker. The title of their talks was "America as 'Dry Drunk:' from Domestic Abuse to Global Bully."

Much of their talk revolved around how we cannot avoid deconstructing our society and our histories with an anti-racist lens.

And that's all that the youth drummer in the youth worship was doing with his explanation about the cultural context of his drumming.

If we wish to effectively address racism in our wider culture and within our UU communities, we cannot avoid deconstructing our world.

Oversoul said...

Racism, mysogyny, homophobia, etc. are all spokes on a wheel, the center of which is the total and utter disregard for the value of the human individual.

Unfortunately, sometimes well-meaning groups and individuals fail to see this, and end up adding new spokes to the wheel.

I think that if UUs really grasped the idea expressed in the first PP (rather than promoting the inherent worth and dignity of a group label), they’d go a long way in addressing this issue.

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