Remarks presented at the Cambridge Hiroshima/ Nagasaki commemoration, August 5, 2018
Thank you for being here today for this important commemoration and for giving me the opportunity of speaking. I bring you greetings from First Church Boston Unitarian Universalist. Four years ago on August 9th, the anniversary of the United States dropping the second atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri. In February of the next year, 2015, Peace Action held its Annual Meeting at First Church and included a panel on racism as one of the workshop offerings.
The racism workshop was well attended and following it a number of us began thinking about forming a Racial Justice Working Group within Peace Action. In planning for this WG we made a list of connections between racism and US history and wars. First on this list of connections is the fact that our country was founded on killing indigenous people and taking their land and on racialized human bondage, ie racial slavery. Recently I heard another way of stating these brutal realities in a talk sponsored by the Friends Committee on National Legislation and given by Salih Booker, the President and CEO of the Center for International Policy. “”genocide and slavery were the first foreign policy” of the US. (Booker also identifies ‘globalized apartheid’, a phrase he uses to describe the power structure of the world with a white small minority dominating.) On our list of connections between racism and war we also stated that “racism is inherent in the US use of the atomic bomb on the Japanese people.”
Over the past 3 years we members of the Racial Justice Decolonization Working Group have found that educating ourselves about the history of racism in the US has been necessary since this history is not something we learned in school. We have read remarkable books/articles related to this topic: including The Indigenous People’s History of the United States (historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz), The Third Reconstruction (Rev. Dr. William Barber), “The Case for Reparations” and also Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates), African Americans Against the Bomb (historian Vincent Intondi), “The Souls of Poor Folks” (Institute for Policy Studies), and “Deepening Anti-racism in the Peace Movement” by Veterans for Peace Executive Director Michael McPhearson.
Through our reading we learned that white supremacist thinking had been established by law in the British colonies. Later, throughout the history of the United States, white supremacist thinking has been embedded in all US institutions, with our legal and so-called ‘justice’ system the most dramatic example of the elimination of black freedom, rights, and lives.
Although you might expect that reading these texts has been depressing and discouraging, and at times it has been, I think we all have experienced, and for certain I have experienced that it has also been inspiring and uplifting. And I think this is in part because it is a relief to hear the truth, to stop being deluded about our history, and to begin to think about ways to take responsibility for changing institutions and policies which have traditionally privileged white people and held back people of color.
In the article we read by Michael McPhearson, “Deepening Anti-racism in the Peace Movement” he talks about police killings and the militarization of the police. But then he goes on to say this:
“…we as peace activists must understand that the central question is not militarization of the police. That is an outcome. Racism is fundamental to how the West wages war today through dehumanization. The foundation for that dehumanization abroad is dehumanization of brown and black people here at home, via domestic policy and socialization. (What is called for) is different than simply confronting police misconduct and militarization. Confronting White supremacy gets at the root of why the misconduct and militarization is acceptable. Confronting home grown racism (and Islamophobia as another example), undermines the dehumanization that provides justification for the collateral damage of drone strikes, so-called precision bombing, torture and indefinite detention.
At this time of remembering the terrible destruction and hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the US use of nuclear weapons in Japan in World War 2, it is thought-provoking to consider that without the ideology of dominance, dehumanization, and hatred that is white supremacy, it is possible that this cruel chapter of US history may not have occurred.
The great writer and observer of racism in the US James Baldwin whose birthday we celebrated this past week said: “White people are trapped in a history they don’t understand.” Our reading on the topic of racial justice suggests he got that right! Baldwin also said: “The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.”
By strengthening anti-racism in the peace movement we can raise awareness about how our culture today dehumanizes everybody, but especially people of color here at home and around the world. We can undermine the recurring, unthinking acceptance of Americans of the deaths of people in Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Japan, and here at home as we see that humans everywhere, in our segregated cities, at the border, and on tribal lands are fully human and deserve to live in peace.
“The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.”