Finding the Racist in All of Us

On a Saturday not long ago my wife and I decided to have a late breakfast at a local breakfast joint. After working at the office in the morning, catching up on paperwork, we walked up the street to the restaurant. Nearly noon, Saturday was turning into a warm fall day. The sunlight was bright and wispy clouds accented the blue sky.

At the entrance we traded open doors with another couple. The waiting room chairs were full with young Native American men fingering their mobile phones. The couple in front of us were seated and waited patiently at a podium that stood next too a long counter filled with pastries and other baked goods. A moment later we were seated near the front of the restaurant.
Employees bustled around us. Soon a waiter greeted us and asked for our desired drink. I noticed the group of young Native men, they looked to be high school age, had grown to about 8 or so. The host asked the young men if they wanted to be seated. They said “no” that they were waiting on more of their party.

 

The restaurant was busy. Customers and staff were in constant flux as new customers arrived for seating. Others were up and paying the cashier. The staff briskly walked back and forth from the serving floor to the kitchen and back again.

I happened to notice a short grey-haired man standing at the podium looking around impatiently. He seemed uncomfortable and slightly agitated. He stood 15 feet away next to the podium. He wore a red t-shirt with an athletic team logo on the front. The logo was an Indian man in full headdress and the team mascot was the “Chieftains”.

Almost immediately I wondered if the young Native men noticed the shirt. With so much being discussed in the news about the appropriateness of using mascots depicting peoples in negative ways or the prospect of usurping cultural icons from indigenous people I wondered if the young men felt passively harassed by such a bold display. Clearly the man lacked sensitivity around race and racial bias.

The host stepped quickly past our table and addressed the middle-aged white man. The man deftly pivoted and walked over to the waiting area. Absolutely, the young men would have seen the caricature of the Indian on the chest of the white guy. Surely, they felt the ping of racism as the man stood right in front of them. He began talking to them. The young men slowly rose. I wondered if they might say something to this white man of privilege who clearly pilfered their heritage, their tradition, their culture.

 

Unexpectedly, the boys, now grouped around the older man, bent their collective ears toward the man and followed him past the podium, past our table and toward a long table that had been setup. I suddenly realized that the white man of privilege was a coach and evidently coached a high school cross country team named the Chieftains. These young Native men were the Chieftains.

I spent a few days thinking about this very normal, very common occurrence, a coach traveling with his team to a sporting contest. The event got me to thinking about myself. I learned a few things about myself. I learned:

I am prejudice. With little evidence I judged a white man wearing a t-shirt disparaging an Indian leader as a racist. I created a narrative for the man (and the young men) out of thin air. Had it been a black man with young black men, or white, or Asian, would I have come to the same wrong conclusion?
I applied a large social narrative, a social structure defined by a national conversation on race, to a situation in this restaurant with hubris. It is as if to say that I know a racist when I see one.
And, yes, racism does exist. It exists in many forms and is embedded in some of our most sacred institutions. It needs to be a national conversation. It needs to be a local conversation as well.

Finally, here some advice to myself:
Do not jump conclusions. 
Be mindful.
Do not generalize.
Treat each person as an individual.
Treat each situation individually.
Approach everything with an open heart.
Diversify your life.

An Evening With Jim Scott

A few weeks ago, the evening of Tuesday in June, Jim Scott graced our fellowship with his music and stories. Jim is a composer, guitarist and singer. He has committed his music to a celebration of peace, and justice, and a green earth. He is perhaps best known to UUs as the author and composer of "Gather the Spirit," number 347 in our hymnal.


As an amateur guitarist for 51 years, I have a deep appreciation for the skilled playing of that instrument. The concert last Tuesday did not disappoint. Jim has been a member of the Paul Winter Consort for years. He moved easily through the various styles of folk, blues, Latin rumba and high-brow classical. His command of his guitar, and the passion in his soul, and his lovely singing voice, all combined to create a musical event that touched our own souls.


And, in true coffee-house fashion, Jim interspersed his music and singing with stories about musicians he has known and with whom he has performed. Jim told stories about Pete Seeger, even supplying the audience with impersonations of Seeger's voice, and descriptions of Seeger's eccentricities. It was an evening I will remember for a long time. Big "thank you's to Katie Frooman and Ken Vogele for making all the arrangements for this concert, including an impressive display of snacks at intermission set out by Katie.


You can stay in touch with Jim's work and travels by finding Jim on Facebook.com/Jimscottmusician.

The Polite Excuse

Lately and in the context of the national political debate being told over and over again by the various media outlets I have become an angry man. The vitriol flowing from Presidential candidates has reached a level beyond my memory of past political campaigns. Yes, the mountain of falsehoods and accusatory statements comes from both major political parties. Perhaps it is my bias, but the conservative candidates seem to be making more incredulous statements. They are obviously competing for media attention in an attempt to appeal to a base of hostility and rage.

They usurp our media, our politics, and our country. They tend to hoard our attention. When I am not careful, alert to the addiction, I find myself being drawn into their conversation despite the near complete lack of value. I get angry. I find myself sitting in judgement and my attitude, one of disdain, toward them (and their followers) becomes dismissive. I find myself being hostile and full of rage.

Governor Dennis Daugaard

Governor Dennis Daugaard

A young woman in our Fellowship frequently surprises me with her  knowingness. She works for a local NGO that tends to support initiatives that protect the environment, protect small farmers (local agriculture), and promote renewable energy. In other words, she advocates for liberal issues. She works in Western South Dakota. Lest you forget, Western South Dakota is a fortress of conservatism: likely one of the most conservative regions of the country. My friend works with folks of all types including the state legislature, local city leaders, and regular citizens to promote the ideals of the NGO.

What surprises me most about my friend is that she is half my age and seems to exude twice my wisdom. In a recent program at our Fellowship she denounced the ideas of the conservative movement, the evangelists of the American right wing, and the media that obfuscates the truth with nuanced talk that furthers a conservative political movement. And, while she denounced the ideas of the right she embraced the humanity of the right. She talked about their fear, the eventuality of their fall from power and privilege, and their rage stemming from their fear. She advised patience, kindness, and tenderness to us sitting in the Fellowship.

Her presentation to our Fellowship occurred three months ago. Today, I am still left in awe at her open heart and sage wisdom. She, who works with singular-minded legislators, people entrenched in preserving the status quo, she who is charged with Sisyphus-like tasks of persuading people of privilege to change, rises up in the midst of their conservative, most powerful institution, and preaches love. She encourages me to politely excuse myself from the mindless rabble of the 24-hour news cycle, to embrace the stuff of substance like the quiet of the outdoors, the persistance of nature, the tenacity of love. She tells us to find OUR place in the national narrative, hold steady, and brace ourselves with love and the natural.

Longing for a Simpler Life

Yesterday morning I woke to daylight and a warm bed. I consider myself a lucky person. However, after a moment my chest tightened as I started to enumerate the activities planned for the day. I rose out of duty and with a fog of anxiety. I hurried through the house and its minor disasters toward the shower and a begin to a busy day.

There were activities that must be completed. I had to work. I had a few household chores to complete. I had shopping to finish and dinner to plan.

I had banking to do. I had work duties that required attention. Friends were calling asking me to coffee. I felt obligated to check the news, a mistake. News stories described cruel crimes by humans against humans, natural disasters, and celebrious hijinks. I refocused myself toward work of the day and left the news feeling powerless and melancholy.

After rushing through the day in an self-prescribed regimen of busy work I reached my home to find my mini-disasters remained mini-disasters and that they unceremoniously dotted throughout the house. I set myself to cleaning, dusting, sweeping, and scrubbing.

With the cleaning completed I only had dinner to plan and execute. Dinner came together in a frustrating fashion after I realized that I missed an ingredient. I looked forward to my reward in a Netflix binge of a television series. By 11pm I was tired enough to attempt to sleep. 

This morning I awoke to daylight and a warm bed. I almost immediately began formulating a simple day for myself. In my head I worked through how I hoped my day would reveal itself as in a manner of the curtains at a movie theater unveiling the screen. I looked forward to seeing my day unfold.

I chose to not check the news. I chose to hold the work hounds in my head at bay. I chose to focus the day on myself: my health, my mind, and my spirit. The Sirens of work began to call to me with text-dings and emails-beeps. With a deep breath I thought through the absolute necessities of the work day. I planned to meet those immediate needs as a first priority. I happily gave the morning to work; my afternoon was reserved for my health and I worked out, the reservation for my mind manifest itself in meditation and deep breaths, and my spirit took flight in a long walk in the hills of a nearby forest.

Dinner was small, simple and lovely. My simple evening consisted of music and reading. At 10pm I stretched before heading off to bed. I laid in the dark room and in my warm bed thinking about the past two days. I decided that I was my own worst enemy. Day One could have been Day Two had I the conviction to attend to myself. I slept like a log.

Welcome

Welcome to the Black Hills Unitarian Universalist Fellowship’s new website. It has been in the works for months. We hope you find it helpful in your pursuit of the truth. To start this blog off on the correct foot I wanted to revisit some of the things that make the Black Hills UU’s special. Let’s assume you know nothing about the Black Hills. We can begin there.

The Black Hills is an ancient mountain range on the western border of South Dakota. The Lakota people have held the Black Hills (Paha Sapa) as a sacred place for hundreds of years and it has been called “the largest public graveyard” by one of our Native American members as it holds the remains of their ancestors and has held them for hundreds of years.

Within 10 minutes someone driving west from the foothills that start in Rapid City will be immersed in the Ponderosa pine forests that blanket the ancient mountains. Rivers and streams meander their way down the mountain and spill into small mountain lakes alive with trout. The wild life in the Black Hills includes Whitetail Deer, Mule Deer, Elk, Mountain Lions, Turkey, Big Horn Sheep, and Mountain Goats. Hawks, Owls, Eagles, Grouse, Kingfisher, Herons are common visitors to the Black Hills.

For humans, the Hills offer trails for hiking, camping, and some off-road vehicles. Trails run from Lead/Deadwood in the North to Wind Cave National Park in the South. The trails vary in length from 1.5 miles to over 100 miles long. The Mickelson Trail stretches over 100 miles and is a favorite for mountain bikers.

We, the Black Hills Unitarian Universalists, find our spiritual interests complement our curiosity about the world around us. We find comfort in the natural. We are hikers and campers. We are hunters and outdoors people. Our worldview reinforces our commitment to change. We work to limit the harsh effects of mining and oil production that affect our natural beauty. We work to preserve the rights of individuals and the indigenous peoples that live alongside of us. Our commitment to justice for people and equality of people in our community distinguishes the BHUUF as an active liberal voice in a conservative environment.

Please join us in this life adventure where we are empowered through the natural to actively live the Seven Principles in our home, the Black Hills of South Dakota.