From UUC’s Racial Justice Team
Supporting one another in our ongoing learning is a key function of UUC’s Racial Justice Team. Our team member Judith Wood offers a valuable reflection in response to a photo that accompanied a recent Gateway article regarding the June 30th immigration justice protest.
Learning in Public: My Latest Lesson in Anti-Racism
By Judith Wood
July 17, 2018
This week I was given the gift of a teachable moment, thanks to another UUC member. I feel very fortunate to be trying to walk the walk within this beloved community, among people I can trust to support me and keep me accountable along the way. I stumbled recently, and with their help, I will keep on walking the path of justice work as best as I can.
In preparation for an immigration support rally last winter, I made some signs and took them with me to Westlake on a drizzly day. I wrote the following messages and carefully covered them with contact paper so they would be at least somewhat water resistant:
No Ban No Wall
We Love Our Muslim Neighbors
No Human is Illegal
We Are All Immigrants.
On June 30 I grabbed the signs and my umbrella and headed to Mt. Vernon to join a friend who is active in the immigrant rights community there. In doing so, I didn’t yet recognize the difficulty with that last phrase.
Even though my ancestors willingly came to this country from other places, I know perfectly well that this is not universally true. Indigenous people have a claim to this land that goes back thousands of years and they are clearly not immigrants. Africans brought here as slaves did not choose to immigrate and their descendants carry this trauma in their very bones. The words “We Are All Immigrants” may ring true to some ears, but this phrase actually perpetuates the mythology of our colonial history and represents a hurtful erasure of other important truths.
I’ve spent the past few weeks in many conversations about family separations at the US border and our country’s deep and painful history of family separation – of enslaved families and Native American families in particular, as well as families split by incarceration of both adults and children. How can I understand these truths and still carry the sign? Our societal programming runs deep and it tripped me up, despite my best intentions. I offer my apology and hopefully an example of what it looks like to learn in public.
If we want to change the world we must speak and act boldy – and we may not always live up to our own expectations when doing so. My activist’s heart is hurting, but this experience has given me an opportunity to practice humility and accountability. Let’s all keep moving forward together.
Ed. note: I am entering this comment on behalf of Marion, who emailed it to me in response to the above post.
I’ve been a pledging friend of UUC for a long time and receive the Gateway. Wanted to say I appreciate your article in the latest issue about the problem with “We Are All Immigrants.” I’m an Appalachian person who rolled all the way out here eventually. Currently I’m a member of the Westside UU Congregation, and prior to that I was a charter member of the Rainier Valley UU Congregation.
My ethnicity is Appalachian, and racially I’m mixed. Melungeon on my mother’s side and apparently part Native on my father’s side as well. I also have a lot of European ancestry, some arriving during the 1600s through Jamestown. The Johnny-come-lately ancestors came to America in the late 1700s, mostly through Philadelphia. My traceable family tree is Appalachian going back 14 generations. One of these years I want to take the time to go down to the genealogy center at NAAM and get some help trying to find out if it’s possible to trace the African-American ancestry in my mother’s paternal line, which looks to be present, but a long time back–may have come in during the late 1600s.
I’m an internal migrant in the U.S.; the culture here is not my native culture. In Seattle it’s taken for granted that I’m white, but in real life my Melungeon heritage and Appalachian ethnicity had profound impacts on my earlier life, back East. I overtly refused to keep my place, which is how I ended up leaving. Things are more nuanced than black and white where I grew up, and like most people there my family didn’t have much money. So in some senses it’s true that I’m an immigrant, and in other senses, not at all.
Part of my ancestry (including my surname) is Scotch-Irish, and those people were not necessarily voluntary immigrants either. The English cleared them off their clan territories in Scotland and transported them. Some were brought to America directly, and some to Northern Ireland to reclaim farmland where the Irish had been cleared. Then 2 or 3 generations later the English cleared many Scottish families out of Ireland to put English people on the farms, and that’s when my Kee ancestor took ship for America.
This stuff is so much more complex than most people have any notion of. It’s understandable that UUs fall into the trap of simplistic categories here, especially in a place like Seattle where white settlement is so recent and many people have living memory of relatives who were born in another country. I’m not a Euro-American and I find it laughable when people refer to me by that label. Europe, for my ancestors to which it ever applied, was a very long time ago.
But I’m white. How white, depends on which context I’m seen in, and a very few have noticed the mixed ancestry just from taking a good look. My last naturopath here noticed it from looking at the pattern of health issues, family history, bloodwork, blood pressure and other lab results; then she took a good look and told me I had to be of Native ancestry. Yup. I just can’t know for sure which tribes. And no. I never lived on a reservation. But the life expectancy in the neighborhood where I grew up looked much the same. And so there you have it. I’m more American than apple pie.