by Stacy Craig
“If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Crafted by a group of Aboriginal rights activists from Queensland, Australia in the 1970s
On May 21, I was on a video conference with the Climate Change Task Force, which is facilitated by Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes. A ‘Zoom-bomber’ entered and started playing hideous, racist music, with the N-word being repeated over and over. Since the meeting was open to the public, and the task force is large, it took a while for the meeting coordinators to mute the intruder and remove them from the meeting. The meeting went on as if nothing had happened.
Four days later, George Floyd was arrested on suspicion of using counterfeit money. George had been an athlete in high school, a rapper, and was working security in a nightclub before he lost his job due to the COVID-19 shutdown. During the arrest, Officer Derek Chauvin used a hold method where he placed his knee on the back of George’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. The incident was captured on video and shows George beginning to bleed from the nose. We hear him call that he can’t breathe. We hear him call out for his mother, who died two years ago. We see his body go limp. The knee stays on the neck, despite pleas from onlookers. Following his death, riots and protests have broken out all over the world, with a clear message: we cannot go on as if nothing has happened.
A few years ago, Pastor Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta (the church were Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the pastor), wrote, “If white churches and their pastors will not stand in solidarity with the poor and against deep structures of racial injustice such as America’s prison-industrial complex, ‘the new Jim Crow,’ then they will have demonstrated that they are every bit as much invested in the maintenance of white privilege and white supremacy as were their forebears of a different era…theology that is not lived is not theology at all.”
For a long time, the black church has been speaking out about the issue of a justice system that treats people of color differently than white people. To put it very simply, Unitarianism means we come from a common source; Universalism means we share a common destiny. In the middle of this, our experienced lives, there is a common injustice for people of color in America. Are our UU beliefs false, or is it our lived experience that must change for us to have a theology that can hold up to Warnock’s critique? For too long, we have all been doing what we did in the climate change task force meeting. As Lt. Governor Barnes said, we soldiered on.
I’m done soldiering on. Police brutality against people of color can change. How do we do this? This powerful quote reminds us: “If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” This isn’t a race issue, or a people of color issue, this is an issue of what it means to be human. We come from a common source, we move to a common destiny; truly, our liberation is bound together.
At the memorial service for George Floyd that was held in Minneapolis, Reverend Al Sharpton asked all who gathered to stand in George’s name and say: get your knee off our necks. He called for this to be when we make America great for the first time.