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As we remember the terrible devastation, sorrow and inhumanity those many years ago on 9/11, let’s also remember how people and institutions came together around the world to support one another on that day and since. Let’s remember also how our own Unitarian Universalist organizations, the UU Service Committee and UU Association, together raised funds from members/congregants across the country to support the families and loved ones of 9/11 victims who would not receive support from “traditional” charities.
Undocumented workers’ families were ineligible for support from the government and many charities – even when the victims were the sole support of the family. Because of their status, undocumented workers had toiled in the shadows of the Twin Towers in obscurity, and families had no proof that the worker had held a job. Additionally, the families lacked the class advantage that could open doors to their new country’s legal system.
In 2001, legal marriage was not yet available for lgbtq+ individuals. Without a marriage license, the partners of 9/11 victims and their children were often ineligible for support from most organizations. The UU Service Committee worked with immigrant rights and lgbtq+ groups on the ground in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania to make sure that classism and other forms of bias could not keep families from receiving the help and support they needed.
Additionally, UUSC continued to support those affected by the tragedy. For example, it funded clinics addressing the rise in respiratory illnesses in communities of color that were in the direct path of the massive dust clouds that filled the air following the towers’ collapse. And, of course, individual UU congregations and groups were on the front lines to support 9/11 survivors and families in the immediate aftermath and beyond.
So, as we remember the events of 9/11, let us remember also to continue the fight against classism and bias. And, as UUs, let us continue to press for lgbtq+, BIPOC and immigrant rights – all under attack from organized internal forces. Remember everyone!
ICE, Refugees and Justice
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Emma Lazurus, 1883
A refugee by definition is a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster. These are typically people with no homes, no money, no tangible evidence of their past life, because they had to move often without any advanced warning for their survival. These are people who despite their former social class advantage are left with very little.
There are 26.4 million of these people in the world right now. According to Amnesty International, all refugees have the right to receive assistance, the right to protection from abuse and the freedom to seek asylum, regardless of who they are or where they come from. What does the United States have in order to help refugees? Well, one of the most notable and feared agencies is the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, famously known as ICE. ICE has one thing they are especially good at doing; sending many refugees back home. These refugees get sent back because they don’t have proper documentation, money or identification. Things I would assume that a refugee would have trouble attaining just based on the definition of a refugee.
We have to protect the values of our United States, the values our founding fathers used to create the constitution. The values that throughout United States history were exemplified by hope, refuge and new beginnings. For we are truly the land of second chances. The Statue of Liberty offers a beacon of hope to those around the world that the United States is the home of freedom and liberty. ICE contradicts these values. ICE. isn’t patriotic. The agency seems to be interested in preventing some people from getting to experience these patriotic values.
I have a question for each of you. Are your family members or ancestors immigrants? If so, they likely moved to the United States for freedom and hope or whatever reason that was important to them. Aren’t you glad that they did that so you can have the life you have? Aren’t you glad that the family your ancestors started is here? Aren’t you proud of your heritage, whatever it may be? So why do we want to restrict other people from doing the same? Do we not want to give them the chance to build a family and a life, just like yours did?
This past summer Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. Now, there are more than five million Afghan refugees, many of which are trying to flee to the United States for safety. The U.S. response has been to send most of these refugees to holding centers or other places outside of the United States. They denied these people safety. Will they do the same to Ukrainians fleeing the war?
I work in a restaurant and many of the Immigrants I work with are afraid. One of my friends is constantly afraid of getting deported to Mexico, even though he is legally here and not even from Mexico. My friend works every day to support his family. He is 17 and goes to high school and has two jobs. He is the father figure to his younger brothers and he supports his mom financially. Why would ICE deport him, an honest kid just trying to give a better life to his mother and brothers? Why does he live in fear when he has not done anything wrong?
When I read about these people, they aren’t just statistics but mothers, fathers and my friends who are scared, scared for their future and their children’s future. They are not wealthy or influential, but they work hard and are decent and honest people just trying to live.
“Refugee Admissions – United States Department of State.” U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State, 8 Oct. 2021, www.state.gov/refugee-admissions/.
I sat in a staff meeting on Wednesday morning, May 25, 2022, listening to my colleagues share their reactions to a gunman’s rampage that killed 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, the day before. We are administrators for private schools serving students from 2 to 20 years old. The head of our team said his first response was to scream, “NO MORE.” Another — the most buttoned-down one among us — said she was so #!!*ing tired of the carnage followed by nothing from those at the highest levels elected to make change.
When we talked about the steps we’d taken/needed to take to support our students and parents, the remarks by one school director broke my heart. She said with a deep sigh, “We sent an email to parents last night. We updated a message that was first written to families 10 years ago after the Newtown, Conn., massacre.” She added that she had updated that letter countless times for the many mass shootings since Newtown as well as for state-instituted killings like that of George Floyd.
In the past decade, our schools have made a substantial investment in improving security and in preparing students and staff to react quickly in cases of a dangerous intruder. So, why are we stuck in the same place 10 years after Newtown? As one politically-active colleague said of her own social justice efforts, “Why even bother anymore?”
Why? Because we must.
But It’s Hard
I have been involved in social justice work since I was a child. My mom took me to community-building activities while I was still in grade school. These are hard times for people who believe in social justice, equity, and addressing classism and racism.
The expected overturning of Roe v. Wade will most severely impact women and families with less class advantage. According to a May 2022 NPR report on the landmark Turnaway Study, women denied an abortion were four times more likely to be living in poverty years later than those who had one. Their children were less likely to attain higher education were more likely to be involved in crime and had lower adult earnings.
According to a recent study by Columbia University researchers, more than 3.7 million children in the U.S. slipped into poverty when conservative members of Congress refused to extend the expanded Child Tax Credit beyond December 2021. States across the nation have outlawed telling the truth about racism and the racial wealth gap, allowing transgender children to become themselves or even providing water to people waiting in line to vote (in under-resourced primarily black and brown areas). The proliferation of new voter suppression laws is meant to keep people of color and those with less class advantage from participating in American democracy. And this is the tip of the iceberg when we look at the backpedaling of policies that have advanced social justice, equity and equality.
The effects of these policy reversals have not and will not directly touch the lives of people in the sphere of our elected officials. Over half of the members of Congress are well-educated millionaires from safe neighborhoods with “good schools.” According to FundHero December 2020 research, even in local elections the average cost for each vote received is $1.00. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have $5,000 to be elected to the local Library Board.
It’s no surprise then, that most federal and local policies support those with more class advantage. This is true of gun laws also. According to Mark S. Kaplan, professor of Social Welfare at UCLA, there is a strong relationship between poverty, inequality and firearm violence*.
It’s Up to Us
It is hard to keep up the fight for justice right now, whether it is for social class, race, gender, LQBTQ+, disability rights and/or other forms of equity. But oppression can only fester and grow when people give up hope for a future that holds promise for each person. We can pause for a few moments to feel sad, overwhelmed and discouraged. We are human. But then we have to take a breath, regroup and keep pushing forward.
Here are just some of the lesser-known social justice pioneers I appreciate:
- Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve as a member of a U.S. president’s Cabinet and a champion of those with less class advantage.
- South African students who mobilized and led the 2015-17 #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movements that fundamentally changed the landscape of higher education in South Africa.
- U.S. racial justice heroes like John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Ella Baker, Callie House and Fred Korematsu, Lupe Anguiano and Chrystos (Menominee)
- Frank Bowe who worked to help people with disabilities
- Modern-day and historical women’s rights activists like Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul and Emmeline Pankhurst
- Environmentalists like Nnimmo Bassey
Who are the modern-day and historical (s)heroes who inspire you to stay the course when you feel like giving up? Share yours in the comments below.
*The gun lobby is bankrolled by people and companies with deep pockets. Some contributors to the still powerful National Rifle Association have been Remington Outdoor Company (formerly Freedom Group), Smith & Wesson, Beretta USA, Springfield Armory, and Sturm, Ruger & Co. as well as accessories vendors MidwayUSA and Brownells (Violence Poverty Center). Individual contributors include more than a dozen wealthy Russians. The NRA, in turn, lines the campaign coffers of politicians willing to do its bidding.
“George Floyd protest” by vpickering
Critical Race Theory, or CRT, is an academic and legal framework that denotes that systemic racism is part of American society — from education and housing to employment and healthcare. Critical Race Theory recognizes that racism is more than the result of individual bias and prejudice. It is embedded in laws, policies and institutions that uphold and reproduce racial inequalities.
— Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
Critical Race Theory, or CRT, became the new rallying cry for people on the far right in 2021. A year before, there were rumblings against the highly academic and legal framework. But the rhetoric reached an entirely new level when then-President Donald Trump signed an executive order in 2020 prohibiting federal agencies from conducting diversity, equity and inclusion training. He justified his order by claiming that such training represented reverse racism and were part of the left’s efforts to indoctrinate people into its way of thinking through CRT.[i]
By falsely calling any discussion of racism, white supremacy, inclusion and/or equity CRT, those spreading this false narrative have succeeded in convincing even moderates – and not a few liberals – that the concept is divisive and harmful for children and harmful for American society as a whole.
Causing Harm and Shame
According to Florida Governor Gov. Ron DeSantis, CRT teaches kids to hate each other and is “state-sponsored racism.” Texas Senator Ted Cruz suggests that CRT causes white children to feel shame, shame that some of his fellow conservatives say can cause mental illness in these children. According to Spectrum News, Cruz tells fellow conservatives that they can spot CRT in texts that use the word “equity” frequently.
Armed with this misinformation, thousands of parents have stormed school committee meetings across the United States. The situation became so extreme that Reuter’s news agency commissioned a study on the issue. It reveals that more than half of the 31 school boards contacted said they had added extra security at meetings, limited public comment or held virtual meetings when in-person gatherings became too chaotic. (The 31 school boards contacted were just a microcosm of those actually affected.) In Loudoun County, Va., a letter was sent to one of the adult children of Brenda Sheridan, a school board member. It threatened to kill Sheridan and her child unless she left the board.
Sadly, the disruption has been rewarded. According to a Time.org April 14, 2022, article, 42 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching CRT or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism. Seventeen states have imposed these bans and restrictions either through legislation or other avenues. Some ask parents, teachers and/or administrators to “turn in” teachers or professors who teach CRT or some of its supposed concepts. Voice of America reports that a bill passed in Indiana “permits parents to bring complaints and legal action against schools.”
But is CRT actually causing this harm and shame or is it our country’s inability at best and outright refusal at worst to deal honestly with racism and the long-term results of white supremacy?
I argue that in the hands of people like Cruz and DeSantis, CRT stands for Conservatives’ Revisionist Truthlessness.
Dr. Greg Ganske, former congressman from Iowa and a vocal CRT critic, seems to contradict his own anti-CRT stance when he argues that CRT has two common themes. According to Ganske, CRT maintains that white supremacy preserves power through the law, and the relationship between law and racial power must be transformed.
But maybe Ganske is simply being honest. As a plastic surgeon and former political operative, he has benefited from the power that white supremacy has brought him, and perhaps he does not want laws to change to level the playing field and provide the dreaded “equity” that those waging war against CRT malign and fear.
CRT foes fear the racial awakening brought about by the murder of George Floyd. For many white Americans, the Floyd video was the first time they saw the effects of the raw racism that has plagued our country for centuries. As they marched through the streets, white Americans and others around the world committed to ending racism and white supremacy, understanding the damage that racism does to them as well. That commitment sparked fear in the hearts and souls of people who believe that the end of white supremacy will siphon off their power.
Personally, as someone who works on issues of class and racial justice, I do not see equity through a zero-sum lens. I do not believe that because you have enough I must go without the things that I need. I think we can both have our needs met – with enough left over for getting not only what we need but some of what we want also.
I do believe, however, that some people, institutions, nations or world regions might take so much that there is little left. That is where CRT comes in and provides a process by which we can make America, and the rest of the world, truly great.
How Does CRT Work?
When Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor at UCLA and Columbia, coined the phrase Critical Race Theory in 1989, she saw it as a tool to explain how laws and legislation in the United States are deeply rooted in systemic racism. [ii]
For example, in the early 1700s, shortly after the first Africans were brought to the United States, laws were passed to make it illegal for enslaved people to learn to read and write. Slavery was enshrined in the Constitution in 1787. The Naturalization Act of 1790 denied citizenship to anyone who was not white. The 1800s alone, saw the passing of myriad anti-white legislation, including the Chinese Exclusion Act, Indian Removal Act, Jim Crow laws and many more.
Racist laws continued well into the 1900 and 2000s. One example of this is the game-changing legislation that provided housing loans for WWII GIs. Written into the legislation was language explicitly denying loans to African American veterans. Another example? Alabama did not alter language that prohibited miscegenation until 2000.
Recent anti-CRT laws are just the latest in legislation intended to continue inequity and racism. But instead of causing division, CRT helps us understand that racism is indeed baked into the history of the United States and provides the framework that can help us bring about racial healing together as a community.
The Way Forward
Seeing exactly how laws and societal practices have normalized and institutionalized racism allows us to craft legislation which can undo the harm caused. Just as important, it helps us face the truth as a nation, see the scope of the problem and change practices – and hearts – as well. In the words of Mari Matsuda, a law professor at the University of Hawaii and an early developer of critical race theory, “We have a serious problem that requires big, structural changes; otherwise, we are dooming future generations to catastrophe.”[iii]
Ultimately, CRT will have the opposite effect of the one fear mongers predict. Instead of making white children and people feel bad, it will motivate them to continue to work with BIPOC peers to help the United States to live up to its ideals. We can be the shining beacon for the world that the writers of the Constitution – despite their own shortcomings – envisioned for the generations before them.
And, yes, I am down on the way some people use CRT, when it mean Conservatives’ Revisionist Truthlessness.