racial justice today.

29 Feb

Racial Justice Today
A sermon delivered on Feb. 26, 2012, at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY
by the Rev. Dawn Cooley

Listen to this sermon here.

The Healing History Academy is a six-month study-and-action group of 25 Louisvillians of diverse ages, backgrounds, and neighborhoods that began meeting in August 2011.

Healing History Academy was convened by the University of Louisville’s Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research. Its purpose? To study and discuss local and U.S. racial and social history of the 20th century and its impact on current social inequalities.

Activities have included film screenings, book discussions, live performances, lectures, civil rights history tours, and much dialogue among the participants.

The goals of the Healing History Academy have included:

  1. increased knowledge about the history of Louisville’s Civil Rights Movement and how it affects each one of us today;
  2. better understanding of how we can come together across our differences;
  3. leadership skills, new friendships and the opportunity to share this knowledge with a larger network.

My project – this sermon series, discussions on video.

How do we work to build the beloved community – with justice and equity for all?

  1. Where are we building (sand/rock) – our history
  2. What are some of the barriers –  white privilege
  3. Have to tear down what already exists…Not a clean slate we start with

Racism – interwoven into other oppression forms

Post racial? Trying to argue we are:

  • Supreme Court hearing case about use of race in college applications (University of Texas)
  • racism in the US being dead and buried (quote from online blogger)

Nope. Don’t live in a post racial world.

  • “chink” in the armor – ESPN
  • racist messages and acts of vandalism infected the healthcare debate 2.5 years ago
  • Covert rather than overt/li>

Colorblind (someone brought up last week) denies the issues

  • local gay bar owner posted an imagine likening pres obama to a chimpanzee comes from not understanding history and being blind to important ways people are treated differently/have different opporttunities.

If we want to work to build the beloved community, it is to our detriment that we ignore this reality.

10 areas of oppression in which race is a primary motivating factor:

1. Immigration

  • Who do you picture when you hear “illegal immigrant”?
  • Mainstream political conference recently had a panel discussion on “The Failure of Multiculturalism: How the Pursuit of Diversity is Weakening the American Identity” (facilitated by a white nationalist)
  • Black Immigrants and African-Americans

2. Wealth Gap

  • Median net worth of white households is 20x that of black households
  • 2005-2009 Inflation adjusted median wealth plummeted
    • 16% for white households
    • 53% for black households
  • Home crisis affected minorities more, as more of their wealth is tied to home equity
  • In 2009, median wealth in households:
    • white household: $113,149
    • black household: $5,677

3. Housing

  • 45% of Louisville residents live in extreme racial segregation
  • Middle class blacks live in poorer areas than whites of similar economic status
  • Poor whites live in much better neighborhoods than poor blacks
  • Only 6% of Jefferson County is zoned for multifamily housing
    • Guess where it is?
      • District 8 (Highlands)
        • 0 public housing units
        • 0.5% section 8 voucher
        • 1% subsidized housing
      • District 4 & 6 (40203)
        • 50% subsidized housing

4. Health Equity

  • African-Americans have higher rates of diseases linked to controllable factors:
    • asthma
    • heart disease
    • cancer
  • Blacks receive poorer quality of emergency room care than whites
  • There is something wrong when you can categorize someone’s future prospects based on their race or their zip code

5. Food Justice

  • West Broadway has highest concentration of fast food in all of KY
  • Same area has fewest full-service grocery stores per capita
  • Food Deserts: many low-income neighborhoods and communities of color have been systematically deprived of access to healthy and sustainable food
  • Which is easier to find in your neighborhood?
    • Fresh Produce
    • Tobacco/Alcohol/Fast Food

6. Environmental Justice

  • Rubbertown in West Louisville
    • 11 title 5 chemical companies (meaning the EPA regulates)
    • Need for measuring in local neighborhoods, not miles away

  • Park Duvalle, Chickasaw:
    • Don’t go outside when there is an odor
    • Sniff out the source


If you overlay a map of Louisville like the one on your order of service cover, you will find a direct correlation between:

  • number of vacant properties
  • properties in foreclosure
  • concentration of fast food
  • mortality/disease rate
  • poverty rates
  • poor air quality
  • black population

7. Public Schools

  • “It is simply not possible to advocate for ‘neighborhood schools’ or even reduced busing in a community as racially segregated as metro Louisville without reinstituting segregation because our neighborhoods are not integrated.”
  • Empirical study of the effects of segregation on young African-Americans making the transition from school to work found that the elimination of residential segregation would completely erase black-white differences in earnings, high school graduation rates, and employment.
  • April 18 – State Supreme Court will hear arguments about the new school assignment case.
  • “If we lose, JCPS will re-segregate”

8. Education Gap

  • Compared to 15 other similar cities, Louisville is 13th in terms of minority education attainment
  • More people are getting bachelors degrees
    • Gap between black & white attainment has RISEN in the last decade

9. (Un)Employment

  • 2010 Unemployment
    • Blacks: 16%
    • Whites: 8.7%
  • Tim Wise: White people are suffering now in part because they were indifferent to the suffering of others, and indifference will catch up to you. Black people have had double-digit unemployment for years but white people didn’t do anything 20, 10 or even 5 years ago. And now they say “Oh shit.”

10. New Jim Crow/Disenfranchisement

  • US has highest rate of incarceration in the world
  • As of 2011, only two states, Kentucky and Virginia, continue to impose a life-long denial of the right to vote to all citizens with a felony record
    • For five straight years the KY House of Representatives has passed a bill that would let voters decide whether to amend the state constitution so that felons convicted of all but the most serious crimes would automatically have their voting rights restored when they complete probation or parole or serve out their sentence.
    • For five years, the KY Senate has killed it.
    • HB70 is up for vote now. Call your representatives!!

  • More African-Americans under correctional control (prison, jail, probation, parole) than were enslaved in 1850
  • In 2004, more African-American men were disenfranchised due to felony disenfranchisement laws than in 1870 (the year the 15th amendment was ratified)
  • The US imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.
  • Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans.
  • Mass incarceration is the most damaging manifestation of the backlash against the Civil Rights movement.

If we want to work to build the beloved community, it is to our detriment that we ignore this reality.

What do we do?

  1. Awareness
  2. Dialogue
  3. Action

Have to step into our fear. Ignoring it won’t make it go away.

Music takes us on a journey today:

  • We’ll build a land. Who is we? Took on new meaning for me after the war in Iraq.
  • We must be one – all people, all races – interdependent web
  • Need to build a new way

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