President's Column: November 2019

Updated: Oct 15, 2020

On the first Wednesday of each month, Rev. Donna has been leading a discussion course examining the issues surrounding the pervasiveness of white supremacy culture in our lives. In October, the conversation turned to the African American experience in the United States.

Indeed, over the years since the initial British colonization of North America, the encountering of indigenous Americans (including those who spoke Spanish) and the arrival of new groups of people immigrating here has been marked by a branding of anyone not of English or Scottish ancestry as inferior, as “the other”. This included, over time, Germans, Italians, Irish, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Puerto Ricans – the list grows longer and longer. Today, Central Americans and Moslems are an especial focus.

None, however, have endured the persistent denial of basic human rights than have African Americans. This summer marked the four-hundredth anniversary of the arrival of 20-30 slaves from Angola, captured by British privateers from a Portuguese slave ship near Veracruz, and brought to Old Point Comfort in Virginia.

At first, they were treated as indentured servants, which was not quite the benign system of reciprocal obligations we learned in high-school American History class but in many ways an extension of the English feudal system. Over a couple of decades, though, for Africans and their descendants, this morphed into some far more appalling.

A landmark series in the New York Times Magazine this August, The 1619 Project, contains essays on slavery and its far-reaching legacy in this country. I urge anyone who has not read it to do so. One element of slavery that stands out for me is the degree to which this pernicious system was ingrained in the larger American capitalist system, and indeed, many modern financial and managerial tools had their genesis in slavery. This contradicts the view that chattel slavery was an odd feudal remnant and indicts in much greater duplicity individuals far removed from the actual slave owners.

For example, if I wanted to expand my cotton planting operation, I could get a mortgage to purchase human beings to clear land, plant, tend and harvest this highly profitable crop. The money to buy these human beings would likely come from lucrative financial instruments traded on Wall Street. Businesses, universities, and ordinary citizens in the North profited handsomely from investments in this arrangement.

I would keep track of my investment by closely tracking productivity of each labor unit. This would not only allow me to maximize my return on investment by forcing the enslaved to work longer and harder to escape the lash, but if I wanted tear apart their families to sell them, I had a record of their monetary value, for the New York credit analysts to use when the new enslaver takes out their mortgage.

The discrimination against former slaves and their descendants would continue, of course, past Emancipation through the failures of Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws, redlining of communities, lack of educational opportunities, and discriminatory lending practices promulgated by Federal policies well into the 1970’s, to a criminal justice system today that is skewed against our Black neighbors.

Which brings us to what we can do as UU’s to begin to rectify four-hundred years of wrong. A start is to educate ourselves about the culture of white supremacy that evolved out of this history and permeates our attitudes and beliefs, surfacing in micro-aggressions and in other ways, most of which we are completely unaware. The first Wednesday sessions can help. But we also need to take actions, to support criminal justice reform, including the Black Lives Matter movement. We must work to find ways to make government and organizational reparations for the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, and other forms of discrimination. And we need to listen to voices in the Black Lives of UU and in the local community.

What are your ideas to make UUCBV a vital force for racial justice?

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Meet Our Minister

The Rev. Christian Schmidt is our interim minister, and first became a Unitarian Universalist in this congregation where he was an active member from 2006-2009. He has since served congregations in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and California. His interests include his family (including four little boys he and his wife are raising), sports, and theology.