(c) Doug Slagle, Minister to the Gathering at Northern Hills, All Rights Reserved
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Soon after I purchased my home in Florida nine years ago, I held a party for new friends I’d met. Most of them were gay men. As the group toured my yard, I explained that I’d bought the house from a lesbian couple. One guy in the group laughed and asked if I had drained and re-filled the pool, and disinfected the house, after I moved in. The group laughed at the joke. I, however, was horrified. I told them the lesbian couple were lovely people, that they were leaders in the local gay rights movement, and the joke was not funny. There was an awkward silence and then the guy apologized. But I’ve remembered his open prejudice ever since.
That highlights for me how even within a group that has been the target of hatred and persecution, there is prejudice toward others. For those who are victims of discrimination, it seems they ought to be the least likely to discriminate. Sadly, that’s not true. I’ve heard lesbians make similar jokes about gay men. I also know there are many within the LGBTQ community who demean effeminate or flamboyant men, masculine acting women, and transsexuals. They hate in the same way they have been hated.
This dynamic also plays out with some people of color. Colorism is a term applied to discrimination by blacks, hispanics and Asians against persons of their own ethnicity. The term was originated by black author Alice Walker who defined it as “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.” Lighter skinned blacks are often more favored by some blacks and studies show that for many African-Americans, white culture has conditioned them to see lighter skin tones as more attractive.
The feminist movement is equally guilty of in-group discrimination. For many years, feminism was largely a white, middle class female effort to address sexism. It ignored, however, the fact that white middle-class women experience marginalization very differently from that felt by black or a hispanic women. Some white feminists assume paternalism is the primary form of oppression against which they fight – without understanding or addressing the intersection of multiple forms of prejudice some women experience – and which must also be addressed.
What these facts highlight for me is the related nature of any manifestation of hate and prejudice. I’ve spoken about a dark vestige of the human character before – that all people have innate egotism. At our core, we can be selfish and self-focused. Our egos often determine our thoughts and actions. Ego and fear of losing out to someone else dominates our minds. Too often we act and feel as if we are entitled and superior. It’s a “me, me, me” mindset.
This explains why marginalized groups and persons often discriminate against others. When someone is made to feel diminished, he or she then diminishes another – all in order to feel they are better than someone else. White wealthy men can marginalize poor white men who can marginalize black men who can marginalize gay men. That’s a simplistic generalization but it’s rooted in fact.
Our current President is perhaps the culmination of selfishness and egotism. A billionaire white man expresses open hostility and prejudice toward women, the poor, blacks, hispanics, gays, the transgendered, the disabled, Muslims and many others. His hostility is the loudest voice of white, Christian, straight, wealthy men. They fear they’ll no longer be the dominant force in the world. They try to hold on to their status and power by pitting oppressed groups against one another – poor whites against poor blacks, both of those groups against immigrants, white feminists against black feminists, Christians and Jews against Muslims, gay men against lesbians, both of them against the transgendered, etc, etc. Encouraging people to hate one another based on religion, skin color, gender or sexuality is a time-worn way to sustain those at the top.
What results is widespread intersection of bias. Those at the lower ends of our culture feel the sting from several forms of discrimination. That intersectionality, as it’s been called, does not create a hierarchy of discrimination but rather recognizes some people face many forms of hate. A black, lesbian woman, for instance, faces marginalization from three different fronts. Her experience is not the same as that of white women or that of white homosexuals.
And that speaks to the title and intent of my message – “Rainbow Resistance.” Since hatred and discrimination take many forms, even within marginalized groups, and since it is all motivated by a dynamic of ego and selfishness, then I believe resistance to the root causes of prejudice is the answer. Instead of separately resisting sexism, homophobia, racism, and anti-immigrant prejudice, I believe we must confront bias at its most basic level – as a form of selfish egotism that places the individual above the well-being of all people. Rainbow resistance, for me, means we must confront what causes any and all forms of bias.
To do that, I believe humanity must undertake a cultural leap forward – much like many people did during the Enlightenment period of the 17th and 18th centuries. Nations and people during that time threw off the shackles of Kings and aristocrats and undertook a momentous shift toward democratization and natural human rights. Nations and people today can undertake a similar leap forward – perhaps motivated by the outrageous bigotry exemplified in the President. We need a rainbow form of resistance that addresses the selfishness and hate that lurks in all people. We must make a dramatic shift into an era of one true, global, human family.
That cultural leap forward should be much like the Enlightenment shift – an historic change founded not on negativity, but founded instead on positive and uplifting ethics of universal love and inclusion. My vision of rainbow resistance is one not motivated by what we are against but instead by what we are for – that we are capable of evolving away from a me-centered mindset toward one of a we centered love. We must teach this from the moment a child is born and make it a defining ethic for how people should live.
Reverend William Barber, who has spoken to several UUA General Assemblies and who is a leader of the Poor People’s Campaign, encourages something very similar. He recently said this: “We can choose to be the moral defibrillators of our time and shock the heart of this nation and build a movement of resistance and hope and justice and love.”
This time period in which we currently find ourselves is frightening. Many politicians and the President often express bigotry and anger toward fellow Americans and fellow humans that is difficult to stomach. For most of us, it’s sickening. But as I said earlier, that is just a manifestation of our culture – one that often celebrates the lowest common denominator of hatred. And this happens on both the left and right. Roseanne Barr’s disgusting and racist remarks were rightly punished. But why wasn’t the liberal comedian Samantha Bee punished for her hateful vulgarity toward Ivanka Trump? Why is Kathy Griffin, another comedian, praised for saying, “When conservatives and the President go low, I go lower.” That’s a horrible shift from the ethic Michelle Obama encouraged – “when others go low, we must go high.” For me, there is no morality, no respect, no human-to-human extension of dignity when we demean and humiliate another person – even to those with whom we fundamentally disagree. As the famous song goes, “Where is the love?”
As humans, we demean and feel entitled to vent anger at anyone who crosses, disagrees with, or mistakenly offends us. The Golden Rule is no more practiced in our world than is universal peace. And if it seems like I’m pointing a finger – I am. At myself. I can fall into the same sinkhole of anger and self-righteousness as anyone else. “I’m right. You are wrong. I hate you for your opinions.”
Miguel de la Torre edited a compendium of articles in a recently released book entitled Faith and Resistance in the Age of Trump. Articles in the book cover a range of social justice issues, how our President is acting against them, and what must be done in response. The tone in the articles is not negative but rather inclusive and positive – echoing what I believe should be how we resist. Discrimination is evil no matter to whom it is directed and people can either divide themselves based on false hierarchies of discrimination, or else they can recognize the common poison that it is toward all marginalized groups. And we must address it with a common cure – what I call a Rainbow resistance of humility, respect and most of all love.
In the Bible, the rainbow is a positive symbol of god’s promise to take care of us. The Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition used that same symbol to proclaim we are all one, and that we rise or fall based on how we treat one another. Gilbert Baker’s rainbow flag, the one he originated as a symbol of LGBTQ Pride, was intended to say the same. If I love another man, I’m still a human worthy of your respect. If you worship Allah, you are a human deserving of dignity. If you’re a woman, you are a fully equal human next to any man. If you are an evangelical Christian or a conservative Republican – someone who disagrees with most of my spiritual and political views – you are still my beloved brother and sister. If you’re black, hispanic, Asian, or a blend of some or all, you’re a beautiful human creation.
Rainbow Resistance is thus about addressing egotism and selfishness – the root causes of prejudice – with messages of cooperation and love. It’s about sublimating the self and leaping forward into a new era of mutuality – to respect each other and work as one. Indeed, Rainbow Resistance is not so much against bigotry as it is for kindness and coming together. If the world truly became a kinder place – one where people no longer yelled at, demeaned or felt superior to another, then I believe ALL forms of prejudice would vanish.
Several months ago the Victoria, Texas Mosque was set afire by arsonists and burned to the ground. A few churches in the area immediately offered their buildings as a worship place for members of the Mosque. One of those churches was the Unitarian Universalist church of Victoria.
Recently, someone driving their car near that UU church lost control and crashed into its Sanctuary. It was terribly damaged and will take months to rebuild. That congregation had nowhere to worship until last Sunday when the Victoria Mosque opened its newly rebuilt building for use by the UU congregation. “Our building is your building,” the Mosque’s Imam said. “Just turn out the lights when you leave.”
Such small gestures of love from these two congregations, but what wonderful acts of rainbow resistance love!
Perhaps Robert Kennedy’s most famous quote is, “Some people see things as they are – and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not.”
Michael Tacy will soon perform a song that I requested of him. It’s a Hawaiian man’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” – a mashup of Judy Garland’s version of the song and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” The song’s simplicity and beauty struck me, as I hope it will for you.
While Michael sings it, reach over to someone near you, greet them, hold their hand, or just offer a warm smile….and then close your eyes. As you hear the song’s lyrics, dare to dream of things that never were – things like universal love and respect – and ask…“Why not?”
If you’re like me, I hope you’ll also ask, “Why not let universal love and respect begin with me – right here, right now?” Resolve to yourself, “I will always do my best to act humbly, banish anger, and love generously.”
Let’s now take ourselves, with Michael’s help, over the rainbow, way up high, to a place where blue birds fly, where clouds are far behind, and where dreams that we dream really do come true.