Race & Class

Liberation from Racism

Since I've been co-facilitating a class on liberation theology at church, it's been on my mind a lot these days.  And since it's been on my mind already, we decided to do a theological reflection on it in the office today.  While going over some historical background and explaining liberation hermeneutics, the main thrust of my presentation was the difference between liberal theology and liberation theology.  To illustrate the difference, we looked at the concept of sin.

In traditional Christian theology, sin is going against God's will.  God defines what is right, and therefore going against God is always wrong.

We all agreed that liberals have difficulty with the concept of sin, with many rejecting it outright.  But if we were to formulate one, Adam came up with one that was both an accurate assessment of the liberal/UU framework, and the perfect foil for the liberation conception of sin. "Sin is going against my own conscience."

In liberation theology, one definition is this: For those who benefit from systems of oppression, sin is to contribute to the maintenance of these systems both actively and complicitly.  For those who suffer under systems of oppression, sin is to accept this without resistance.

Upon hearing this definition, EB pensively offered her thoughts.  Maybe, she said, this difference is the source of why we run into so much resistance when we do anti-racism work.  Because we're coming from a liberation (ie - systemic) point of view while most people are looking at racism from a liberal (ie - personal) point of view.  We're telling them that they still are complicit in racism because they participate in racially oppressive systems.  But from their point of view they are not racist because they have no personal feelings against people based on race.

I had known the difference between systemic and personal views of racism for a while now. Anyone who's taken ARAO (anti-racism/anti-oppression) training knows it, as had everyone in the office.  But it wasn't until today, and EB, that I tied it directly to theology.  It brought another dimension to the conversation that Joseph and I had had in March - that our goal is to move Unitarian Universalism from liberal theology to liberation theology.

Asian American Reactions to the VA Tech Shootings

Here's an article on msnbc about the reaction of Asian Americans to this tragedy.


I called home last night (home being San Francisco where my parents and brother are). Their responses were interesting. My mother was incensed that the initial reports identified the shooter as Chinese. What she didn't say but what I inferred was her worry that there would be an anti-Chinese backlash. (Tho personally I'm not sure if people who are inclined towards backlash bother to make such a distinction between different Asians. Remember Vincent Chin.) My brother was more direct, voicing concern about an anti-Asian backlash in general.

It's stupid. There have been mass shootings before, and the vast majority of the time it's by white men. And no one makes generalizations about white men as a result of them. In those cases we understand that it's the person, not the race. But here, because the shooter wasn't white, there are bigoted comments going up on newsgroups across the country, and the Korean American community has to go out of its way to voice their regrets, as if they're somehow responsible.

I realize that our society sees white people as individuals and everyone else as representing an entire ethnic group or race. But I am concerned that we, as people of color, may be internalizing this view into ourselves as well, so that when something like this happens we too view the person as representing all of us.


I'm hearing people complaining about a double standard/hypocrisy with respect to Don Imus' comments. The argument goes something like this: Imus used the same words that "rappers" use, and they don't get in trouble. So why is it that black men are allowed to say "ho" but when a white man says it all hell breaks loose?

Ignoring for the moment that for as long as power is held predominantly by one group in this country a "double standard" is not a double standard, this debate ignores the central issue. (so what else is new?) What Imus said was wrong, it was racist, even if he had not used the words that he used. It wasn't "nappy-headed hos" that was the problem; it was the judgment that he was making about the women's Rutgers team.

Lost in the soundbite and controversy of the words he used is the context in which he made the comments. Imus was comparing the players of the Rutgers team with the players of the Tennessee team. Both teams have a majority of African-American players. The Tennessee team tended to be more light-skinned/straighten-hair and the Rutgers team tended to be more dark-skinned/kinkier hair.

Bear that in mind as you read what Imus and his crew said:

IMUS: That's some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos and...

McGUIRK: Some hard-core hos.

IMUS: That's some nappy-headed hos there. I'm gonna tell you that now, man, that's some -- woo. And the girls from Tennessee, they all look cute, you know, so, like -- kinda like... I don't know...

McGUIRK: A Spike Lee thing.


ROSENBERG: It was a tough watch. The more I look at Rutgers, they look exactly like the Toronto Raptors.

Translation: dark skin, kinky-hair = scary, repulsive, bad. light skin, straight hair = nice, attractive, good.

And the worst part of it is that he probably has no idea just how hurtful those comments were to those young women, and to other African-American women. For Imus and for many Americans, the racial dimension of their ideas of beauty and worth are so deeply ingrained that they're not even aware of them.


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