Unknown Freedom

Intercultural Sensitivity is Hard, part 2

It's been a few weeks now since Juneteenth, and the Fourth of July is here. I am noticing the contrast. When independence was declared, word spread quickly and everywhere. When emancipation was proclaimed, it took two and half years to reach Texas.

Imagine that it has been decreed that you are free -- yet you don’t know you are. Actually, isn't that our condition? We are inherently free – as surely as, as our first principle proclaims, our worth and dignity is inherent. Yet the message of our freedom hasn't reached into all the corners of our consciousness. So we trudge on in bondage.

This Juneteenth story is an allegory for our lives today.

A story from the Buddhist tradition tells of a father who was dying. He called in his only child, a dissolute youth whom he knew would waste away the family wealth on gambling and pleasures. He gave the son a coat, and said, "You’re about to get all my wealth. It’s yours to do with whatever you choose – no stipulations. I only ask you to promise me one thing: that you will never sell, give away, or wager this coat." The young man promises. Shortly, the old man dies, the son inherits. Just as his father had foreseen, the son begins squandering his inheritance. Within two years, he has lost everything and is homeless and penniless. He did, however, keep the one promise. He still has the coat. One night, as he’s preparing to sleep along a street, he’s rolling up the coat to make a pillow and notices a hard lump in the lining. He opens the seam and discovers a priceless jewel his father had put there.

We live impoverished, not knowing that all along we are carrying a jewel beyond price. This priceless jewel is in fact our birthright – a birthright of freedom. Yet our freedom can be obscured from us.

Freedom is relational. The master is as enslaved as the slave, even if not subject to the physical abuses, and that does matter. When the news was read in Galveston on June 19, 1865, the slaves were jubilant and the masters shocked, yet in a very real way they were both emancipated – emancipated from bondage to unhappy roles, emancipated to discover new ways of relationship of mutuality and flourishing.

We are all in this together, and what we do to another we do to ourselves. Because freedom is relational; because every interaction we have with every other person can function to restrict ourselves and them or it can help liberate us and them; because we all have some kind of power, and we can use it against itself to diminish itself, or we can use it to nourish and expand shared power, what we call power-with rather than power-over; because power-over is always at the same time powerlessness-under; because freedom is for most of us the half-won, half-discovered blessing, and we need each other to proclaim the further emancipation – we have work to do.

Because faith without works is dead; because it will not do to simply say, “go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill,” go, be emancipated; because we need each other to reach the promised land; because the kingdom of god is within us, yes, but equally it is between us and among us – we have work to do.

Because otherwise identical resumes today yield a 50 percent greater chance of being invited for an interview if the applicant’s name is stereotypically white than if the name is stereotypically black; because black renters learn about 11 percent fewer rental units and black homebuyers are shown about one-fifth fewer homes; because blacks and whites use illegal drugs at the same rate, but African Americans are arrested on drug charges at a three times higher rate; because 14 percent of nonhispanic white children are growing up in poverty while 40 percent of African American children are – we have work to do.

Unitarian Universalists have been struggling with how to do the work of dismantling racism for as long as I can remember. We have been noticing that our congregations usually look a lot whiter than their surrounding communities and have been trying to figure out what to do about that for as long as I can remember. So far we haven't made a lot of progress. We still have work to do.

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This is part 2 of 5 of "Intercultural Sensitivity is Hard!"
See also
Part 1: Juneteenth
Part 3: A New Approach
Part 4: Denial, Polarization, Minimization
Part 5: Go 90

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