Us, not them
“We are interconnected. It’s not happening to them; it’s happening to us.”
The Black Lives of UU Organizing Collective offers these reflections on the devastation in Puerto Rico and Mexico City:
Staying up on current events is an exercise in emotional endurance — from the current presidential regime’s assault on Black and brown immigrants, on women, and on poor people, to the heightened police state; from the dismantling of the already weakened social security networks for our elders and disabled folks to the disastrous impact, particularly on the most marginalized among us, of floods and hurricanes. News that is sometimes too hard to hold just keeps coming.
It’s easy in moments like these to go numb. It can be appealing to focus in on our day-to-day, to cry a little or even talk about how bad things are, but then secretly be grateful for the excesses we have and silently go through the motions of our day, doing nothing to transform ourselves or the world around us. As Black UUs, we are called to combat the alluring numbness or empty-handed heartache with something different — something more.
In these moments where the effects of ecological disasters are amplified and made more acute through structural and systemic global inequities, a sense of powerlessness can overwhelm us; it can stop us from searching for our own edges of misunderstanding or lack of knowledge. But we at BLUU understand ourselves and our community to be powerful people striving to live into our power, grow our awareness, and seek connection.
There is no clear path or right answer here, but what we do know is that much of transformational justice work begins in awareness. And that in the seeking of awareness and authentic connection with those directly affected, the path toward meaningful action oftentimes reveals itself.
We are interconnected. It’s not happening to them; it’s happening to us.
If we think the recent ecological incidents in Puerto Rico and Mexico City are incidents that happen to those poor people who we are disconnected from and who aren’t a part of whomever we’ve constructed “us” to be — then the tendency is to be trapped in inaction through pity and sadness.
But if we allow ourselves to understand those affected by these storms as part of the “we,” the “us” — however we construct that to be — then action becomes possible. Because for most of us, we aren’t just going to stand by and watch members of our own family or community struggle without doing something about it. In these cases of ecological disasters that are catastrophically affecting mostly poor Black and brown folks, we can see most clearly the threads of who is considered part of community and deemed worthy of support and who is deemed unworthy. This is just one way the overarching system of domination and white supremacy presents itself, even in the most dire of circumstances.
Unequal media coverage and lopsided sympathies are symptoms of white supremacy.
The lack of coverage in mainstream media, the lack of mobilization of resources, time, money, and life-saving help when catastrophes affect mostly Black and brown communities is foundational to white supremacy. And it begins with media coverage and everyday people giving a glancing pass of how unfortunate it all is without truly honing in on the devastation and the pain with the same tenacity and specificity as when tragedy strikes predominantly rich white communities. In order to find remedies to these symptoms, we must first learn how to become aware of them. Choosing where our sympathies lay and who is worthy of assistance feeds into the very system that we need to dismantle and disrupt.
Climate and ecological concerns are connected to race, class and gender oppression.
It was Audre Lorde who, in 1982 during her address to Harvard University celebrating Malcolm X weekend, said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Isolation, disconnection, and scarcity are symptoms of white supremacist informed systems of being in the world. From economics to politics to education and justice systems, they present themselves over and over but under a veneer of progress, liberalism and “good” people.
The deeper spiritual truth is that our world is on the brink of ecological collapse because of systems of exploitation that have ravaged mostly Black and brown communities and people across the globe. The culprits are economic, political, and military systems that operate on the wrongheaded notions of scarcity and abundance and expendability. We can no longer afford to think about ecological concerns absent an analysis of race, money, and power. To do so ignores the ways in which a lack of environmental protections and safeguards does untold harm to those already on the margins.
Moments like this allow us to see the underbelly of capitalism. It’s an opportunity to critique systems in a way that they aren’t normally critiqued and, from that critique, move into different actions in the world.
It also reveals who is coming forward to do the work of saving lives and recovery. And it’s most often the people who are not the most well-resourced — it’s everyday Mexicans pulling rubble out and desperately attempting to save people trapped underneath that may still be alive. It’s everyday people that are stepping up in Houston, in Florida, and in Puerto Rico, using what they have or traveling miles and miles to assist. And yet, millions of people continue to pour their money into organizations like the Red Cross that have been shown time and time again to be unable to meet the needs of people.
Some growing edges for your consideration: Why do we continue to trust mostly white-led organizations that continue to misuse financial resources? Why are we untrusting of giving directly to people most affected by disasters? To what extent are we willing to call into question the systems that lay the groundwork for these disasters?
We encourage you to give directly to those most affected, as oftentimes -though not always — large organizations miss the mark in helping people in the most desperate of situations. Here are some direct ways that you can help:
Houston and Miami: You can give direct support to Black women who have been displaced by hurricanes in Houston and Miami by visiting http://supportblackwomen.com/. This effort is coordinated by Dr. Roni Dean-Burren. There is also an Amazon wish list to support children affected by purchasing books on this Amazon wishlist.
Puerto Rico and Caribbean Islands: You can give direct cash support to Queer and Trans Boricuas through this link. Many were in the path of Hurricanes Maria and Irma; here is compilation of fundraisers from individual and mostly smaller organizations through the crowdfunding site YouCaring to help give direct support to those most directly affected.
Challenge yourself to give as generously and as abundantly as you would (and probably have) with other larger, usually mostly white-led international aid organizations. We’ve seen many mainstream media outlets calling for donations to the Red Cross, Unicef, or Oxfam. These organizations have dubious records of meeting people’s needs on the ground, yet because of the way white supremacist systems train us to think and act, many of us are still more likely to give to those larger organizations rather than to smaller, more effective organizations run by mostly people of color or to individuals that may have less flashy websites or giving interfaces — likely because they’re out there really doing the work on the ground.
Shifting perspectives is the wellspring of an ever-evolving faith.
We should never fall prey to the belief that Unitarian Universalism is a stale and stagnant faith. Unitarian Universalism has never truly revealed itself in our comfort, a need to be satisfied, or an unwillingness to be made new. It shows up in our commitment to ask the hard questions and make meaning out of what we discover in the answers. It shows up when we get clear about the fact that my freedom is bound up in yours and yours in mine. It shows up when we decide, as our own Dr. Takiyah Amin says, “to be the church of come as you are, but not stay as you have been.” Holding what has happened and is happening in Puerto Rico and Mexico City with all of our available senses, with the most honest analysis and critique, and with the resources that are at our disposal, is what will bring us that much closer to the world we actually want, not the one we have.
BLUU Organizing Collective
P.S. This list is just a start, if you have giving links to groups, individuals, and local organizations on the ground in affected areas please drop them in the comments! It’s out of isolation and in community can we fight white supremacy — in all the ways it shows up.