The Rev. Elaine G. Gehrmann

The Rev. Elaine G. Gehrmann


A sermon delivered by

the Rev. Elaine G. Gehrmann

February 21, 2016

Unitarian Universalist Church of the Monterey Peninsula

490 Aguajito Road

Carmel, CA 93923


First Reading

In 1966, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave the Ware Lecture at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly. His talk was entitled, “Don’t Sleep Through the Revolution” This is an excerpt from that speech:

“There is another thing that the church must do to remain awake. I think it is necessary to refute the idea that there are superior and inferior races. We must get rid of the notion once and for all that there are superior and inferior races. It is out of this notion that the whole doctrine of white supremacy came into being, and the church must take a stand through religious education and other channels to direct the popular mind at this point, for there are some people who still believe this strange doctrine. Now, fortunately, I'm sure you don't have any Unitarian Universalists who believe this but I think some of my Baptist brothers around the South believe it and I would like to get you to help me out with some of my brothers. It's a strange notion that has made for a great deal of strife and suffering. Both the academic world and the disciplines of science have refuted this idea. … There may be superior and inferior individuals in every race, but no superior or inferior races. In spite of this, the notion still lingers around. …

Today's arguments are generally placed on more subtle cultural grounds, for instance: "the Negro is not culturally ready for integration. If you integrate the schools and other areas of life, this will pull the race back a generation." And another: "The Negro is a criminal; you see he has the highest crime rate in any city." So the arguments go on ad infinitum. Those who use these arguments never say that if there are lagging standards in the Negro community—and there certainly are—they lag because of segregation and discrimination. They never go on to say that criminal responses are environmental, and not racial. Poverty, ignorance, economic deprivation, social isolation breed crime in any racial group. It is a tortuous logic to use the tragic results of segregation as an argument for the continuation of it. It is necessary to go to the causal root to deal with the problem. So it is necessary for the church, through all of its channels of education and through all of its work, to guide the popular mind, and rid the community of the notion of superior and inferior races. We've all seen enough to refute this idea. We've seen Negroes who have given inspiring examples of ability to rise above the shackles of a difficult environment. They have justified the conviction of the poet that "fleecy locks and black complexion cannot forfeit nature's claim." Skin may differ, but affection dwells in black and white the same.”

Second Reading

A poem by Danez Smith,

Dinosaurs in the Hood

Let’s make a movie called Dinosaurs in the Hood.

Jurassic Park meets Friday meets The Pursuit of Happyness.

There should be a scene where a little black boy is playing

with a toy dinosaur on the bus, then looks out the window

& sees the T. Rex, because there has to be a T. Rex.

Don’t let Tarantino direct this. In his version, the boy plays

with a gun, the metaphor: black boys toy with their own lives,

the foreshadow to his end, the spitting image of his father.

Forget (Fuck) that, the kid has a plastic Brontosaurus or Triceratops

& this is his proof of magic or God or Santa. I want a scene

where a cop car gets pooped on by a pterodactyl, a scene

where the corner store turns into a battle ground. Don’t let

the Wayans brothers in this movie. I don’t want any racist stuff(shit)

about Asian people or overused Latino stereotypes.

This movie is about a neighborhood of royal folks —

children of slaves & immigrants & addicts & exiles — saving their town

from real-ass dinosaurs. I don’t want some cheesy yet progressive

Hmong sexy hot dude hero with a funny yet strong commanding

black girl buddy-cop film. This is not a vehicle for Will Smith

& Sofia Vergara. I want grandmas on the front porch taking out raptors

with guns they hid in walls & under mattresses. I want those little spitty,

screamy dinosaurs. I want Cicely Tyson to make a speech, maybe two.

I want Viola Davis to save the city in the last scene with a black fist afro pick

through the last dinosaur’s long, cold-blood neck. But this can’t be

a black movie. This can’t be a black movie. This movie can’t be dismissed

because of its cast or its audience. This movie can’t be a metaphor

for black people & extinction. This movie can’t be about race.

This movie can’t be about black pain or cause black people pain.

This movie can’t be about a long history of having a long history with hurt.

This movie can’t be about race. Nobody can say the n-word (nigga) in this movie

who can’t say it to my face in public. No chicken jokes in this movie.

No bullets in the heroes. & no one kills the black boy. & no one kills

the black boy. & no one kills the black boy. Besides, the only reason

I want to make this is for that first scene anyway: the little black boy

on the bus with a toy dinosaur, his eyes wide & endless

his dreams possible, pulsing, & right there.

Sermon: “#BlackLivesMatter” by Rev. Elaine G. Gehrmann

Last June, at our Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly in Portland, Oregon, we approved the 2015 Action of Immediate Witness entitled “Support the Black Lives Matter Movement.”

Last Thursday, President Barack Obama held a meeting at the White House to bring young Black Lives Matters activists, including Brittany Packnett and DeRay McKesson together with long-time leaders of the civil rights movement, including congressman John Lewis and Rev. Al Sharpton. According to an article in the Guardian, “the meetingwas convened to discuss the administration’s efforts to reform the criminal justice system, as well as the process of building trust between law enforcement and communities. Both issues disproportionately affect black Americans, who are more likely to be incarcerated, experience police brutality or be killed by the police than are white Americans.”

President Obama praised the young Black Lives Matter leaders and said, “They are much better organizers than I was when I was their age, and I am confident that they are going to take America to new heights.” He also said that “the degree of focus, seriousness and constructiveness” they show reminds him of older civil rights organizations.

The Guardian said, “For some, the meeting stamped a new seal of legitimacy for a younger generation that to date has not had the same access and influence in Washington that some figures of the 1960s civil rights struggle were eventually able to win.”

When Fox News reported on the White House meeting, it showed video footage of riots and looting, not the peaceful protests of Black Lives Matter activists.

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “black lives matter”? Who do you picture when you imagine a Black Lives Matter activist? Are you as confident as President Obama that they are going to take America to new heights?

Black Lives Matter. It’s a phrase that conveys a lot in just three words. In October of 2015, my partner Axel, our daughter Sophia, and I went to Ferguson, Missouri. At one point, in a crowd of people near the makeshift memorial to Mike Brown, I noticed an elderly black man nearby, who looked up and saw a sign a young white woman was carrying in front of him, which said ‘Black Lives Matter.’ (which was not yet the familiar phrase it is now) . I could see him do a double-take as he read it, and he then started nodding, and tapped her on the shoulder, pointed up to the sign, and still nodding, he said, “yeah, that’s it, that’s it.”

That’s what he wanted to be acknowledged, that’s what it all boils down to… black lives matter. In its most simplistic form, that’s what people all over the U.S., and also around the globe, people whom we have classified as black, as other, as not white, they want to know and to experience that their lives matter… and matter as much as anyone else’s.

Alicia Garza, a co-founder of the Black Lives matter movement, writes,

“I created #BlackLivesMatter with Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, two of my sisters, as a call to action for Black people after 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was post-humously placed on trial for his own murder and the killer, George Zimmerman, was not held accountable for the crime he committed. It was a response to the anti-Black racism that permeates our society and also, unfortunately, our movements.

Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”

(A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement, written by Alicia Garza and published by the feminist-wire-collective, on October 7, 2014)

There’s a lot of great information on their website— Whether you think you agree with them or not, check it out, to see what they are actually saying. There’s another website you should check out also,, where you can find out more about our local group of white anti-racists, founded by our own beloved JT Mason.

Noelle Lilley said, “A common misconception of the Black Lives Matter movement is that people who support this cause are saying that other lives don't matter. This is simply not the case. Just like Breast Cancer Awareness Month isn't saying that we should forget about other cancers. Just like Save the Amazon Rainforest charities aren't saying that no one cares about other forests. …Black Lives Matter is not meant to create division. Black Lives Matter is not meant to be anti-white or anti-police or anti-anything. It is simply trying to shed light on injustices that the black community goes through every single day.” (The State Press 09/01/15 8:07pm)

Comedian Arthur Chu, noticing how people were changing #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter on Twitter, asked his followers if they would run through a cancer research fundraiser and shout out “THERE ARE OTHER DISEASES TOO.”

Julia Craven, in a blog post entitle, “Please Stop Telling Me That All Lives Matter” points out--

“Non-black kids aren't being killed like black kids are. Of course I'd be just as pissed if cops were gunning down white kids. Duh, but they aren't. White assailants can litter movie theaters and bodies with bullets from automatic weapons and be apprehended alive but black kids can't jaywalk or have toy guns in open carry states?” (11/25/2014, the blog huffington post)

* * *

In an article in the Dec. 17, 2013 issue of The Atlantic magazine, Bobby Constantino, a young white former district attorney, who came to see the racial disparities in those who were charged with crimes, decided to undertake his own experiment. First he walked around Brownsville, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, which was known for its large rate of stop and frisk actions by police. He was carrying a poster size stencil and two cans of spraypaint, and just possessing those items is a crime in New York. He walked from Brooklyn to Wall Street all the way to City Hall, passing by approximately 200 policemen, some far away and some close enough to touch.

He writes, “Though I was conspicuously casing high-profile public targets while holding graffiti instruments, not one of them stopped, frisked, searched, detained, summonsed, or arrested me. I would have to go further.

“I walked up to the east entrance of City Hall and tagged the words ‘N.Y.P.D. Get Your Hands Off Me’ on a gatepost in red paint. The surveillance video shows me doing this, 20 feet from the police officer manning the gate. I moved closer, within 10 feet of him, and tagged it again. I could see him inside watching video monitors that corresponded to the different cameras.

“As I moved the can back and forth, a police officer in an Interceptor go-cart saw me, slammed on his brakes, and pulled up to the curb behind me. I looked over my shoulder, made eye contact with him, and resumed. As I waited for him to jump out, grab me, or Tase me, he sped away and hung a left, leaving me standing there alone. I’ve watched the video a dozen times and it’s still hard to believe.

“I woke up the next morning and Fox News was reporting that unknown suspects had vandalized City Hall. I went back to the entrance and handed the guard my driver’s license and a letter explaining what I’d done. Several police officers were speaking in hushed tones near the gates, which had been washed clean. I was expecting them to recognize me from eyewitness descriptions and the still shots taken from the surveillance cameras and immediately take me into custody. Instead, the guard politely handed me back my license, explained that I didn’t have an appointment, and turned me away.

“I went home and blogged about the incident, publicizing what I’d done and posting pictures, before returning to the guard tower the next day, and the next, to hand over my license and letter. Each time, the guards saw a young professional in a suit, not the suspect they had in mind, and each time they handed me back my license and turned me away. On my fifth day of trying, a reporter from Courthouse News Service tagged along. At first skeptical, he watched in disbelief as the officer took my license, made a phone call, and sent me on my way.”

Bobby Constantino didn’t look like a criminal.

On the tv show, “What Would You Do,” which is a more recent variation of the old show, “Candid Camera,” there is an episode where they set up a hidden camera in a public park, with a bicycle locked to a sign, and then show an actor going over to the bike and trying to steal the bike, first with a hammer, then saw, then use a large boltcutter to cut off the lock. They repeat this scenario three different times, with three different actors. The first actor is a young white male, and several passersby do stop and ask him what he’s doing, and he responds he’s trying to get the lock off the bike, one asks him if it’s his bike, and he responds, not exactly, he then continues and at several points he asks an onlooker if they ‘happen to know whose bike this is?’

In the course of an hour, over 100 people pass by, but only one couple tries to stop him.

The second actor is a young African American man, dressed exactly as the young white man was... and within seconds after beginning to try to remove the lock, an older white man confronts him, and within minutes a crowd gathers, calling the police, and taking photos of him. They set up the scenario again, and this happens several times, each time involving a number of people yelling at him and calling 911 and reporting him.

The third actor is a young white woman, who is blond and quite attractive...

Not only does no one call the police, several men offer to and insist on helping her remove the bike lock and chain, even as she admits that it’s not her bike... “Please, let me help you steal this...”

The point of the episode is that we do have biases in terms of what we notice and how we interpret what we notice... we make assumptions about guilt and innocence, criminality, entitlement, and worth.

* * *

Jim Wallis, in his new book America’s Original Sin says,“It is indeed time to right the unacceptable wrong of black lives being worth less than white lives in our criminal justice system. Of course, all lives matter, but ‘Black Lives Matter’ is the message that most needs to be heard right now. The broken relationships between law enforcement officials and their communities are deeply felt and very real. How law enforcement interacts with communities of color raises fundamental, legitimate issues that must be addressed by the nation if we are to move forward. The changes we need in both policies and practices must be taken up in detail…Our neglect has led to anger and hopelessness for many in the new generation, but the activism from that same generation will also help lead us to new places.”

Prof. Judith Butler of UC Berkeley says, “One reason the chant “Black Lives Matter” is so important is that it states the obvious but the obvious has not yet been historically realized. So it is a statement of outrage and a demand for equality, for the right to live free of constraint, but also a chant that links the history of slavery, of debt peonage, segregation, and a prison system geared toward the containment, neutralization and degradation of black lives, but also a police system that more and more easily and often can take away a black life in a flash all because some officer perceives a threat.”