Author Archives: Alan Levin

Webinar: Staying Sane While Making the World Better

“What is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

–Mary Oliver

This is an invitation to take part in a free online series focusing on keeping a healthy balance while working to improve the conditions of the world. These one-hour presentations will be aimed at supporting those already active in the movements for justice, peace and Earth-care, and anyone seeking to find their way to be more involved or supportive.

As a psychotherapist and meditation teacher for over 45 years and a long-time activist since the Sixties, I have for several decades been working with those who seek to integrate spirituality, psychology and progressive social/political action. I believe that this holistic orientation, sometimes called “spiritual. sacred or holistic activism” is the path for truly shifting the consciousness that underlies injustice, war and the destruction of our home planet, Gaia, Mother Earth. It is the path for those seeking to sustain the courage, energy and attitude needed to help bend the moral arc of the universe towards true justice*.

I’ll be doing this through Zoom and will send the invite link to those who request it by replying to this message. Following is a flyer that describes some of the themes that will be part of the series. I hope you feel inclined to give it a try.

Added note: All actions for justice must consider the healing of past injustice. In this regard it is important to recognize that we live on land taken by violence and honor those first peoples and their descendants. Here is a resource for finding out something about who lived on the land you now occupy. https://native-land.ca


STAYING SANE WHILE MAKING THE WORLD BETTER

ONLINE GATHERING  EVERY OTHER MONDAY
   STARTS   –   SEPT. 21   –   7:30 EASTERN TIME

This will be a series of one-hour sessions, each focusing on an aspect of the main theme, staying sane while making the world better. We will focus on teachings and practices with two essential goals: 1) not going crazy or getting stuck in depression or anxiety in response to what is going on in the world, 2) finding a full bodied, fully human, fully YOU way to take an active part in the transformation the world needs. Each session will include an introductory talk, a meditative/inner work experience, and a chance for questions. All sessions will be presented with a holistic view integrating body, mind and spirit.

Below is a tentative outline describing some of the topics we will focus on. Changes will likely be made as things unfold and I receive feedback, comments and suggestions. We are at a pivotal point in human history, we are all feeling it in one way or another, we are all being called to be who we are and do our part.

I offer this for free to activists or anyone who is wanting to become more active but has not yet found a way.

1- Intention – Why do we do what we do? Intention is what determines what we pay attention to and it is what moves us to do what we do. Being able to make our intentions clear and conscious is essential. Wisdom traditions tell us that we each have a unique, core intention or purpose for our lives, but we have to recognize and choose it. We will look at how we can open and align with that core intention. We will also shine light on and recognize the unconscious intentions that distract and sabotage us and move us towards confusion, anxiety, depression and/or destructive behaviors.

2 – Your body and your mind as your primary responsibility – We all need to make our own bodies and minds a first priority. People frequently share the simple metaphor of being on an airplane when there is a problem, the oxygen masks drop down, and you first put on your own and then help children and others. Yet, most folks, especially those helping others, don’t operate this way. We will experience specific methods to bring caring and healing attention to the well-being of your own body and take responsibility for the state of your mind. It’s been said, “Be the peace you want to see in the world.” Let’s BE that.

3 – Being with and Dealing with heavy emotions – It is quite human to react to the things happening in the world with anger, sadness, guilt or shame. There is nothing wrong with that. It is how we respond to these emotions within ourselves that determines how they affect our physical and psychological health, and our effectiveness in our work. We will work with practices for looking inside, sharing in group ceremony or ritual, and finding empowerment in the energy of all our emotions.

4 – Finding your ecological self – You are not alone. You are part of a family, a community, humanity, and the community of living beings of all the realms that are with us here on Mother Earth. Though you may feel alone at times, this reality of inter-relatedness is always a fact of life. Yet, just as our minds have been conditioned to see through the lens of patriarchy and white superiority, we have learned to experience ourselves as separate from and a higher form of life than the rest of nature. We will seek to reawaken to a more unbounded sense of who we are and find support for our activism from the web of life of which we are part.

5 – Being the Peaceful Warrior – The Warrior, as an archetype or aspect of our true nature, works to support and defend an individual organism, group or natural system. While most people associate it with violence, it is more profoundly expressed by the non-violent activists who devote time and energy for social justice and peace, and to protecting and sustaining our natural world. It is a part of your nature in the way your immune system protects your body. It is what gives us the strength to carry on the struggle for a better world. We can learn to call on it for what we are called by our soul to do.

6 – Finding Your Unique Part – Few things are more frustrating than receiving dozens of messages, each calling for help related to a piece of the puzzle of world suffering, and knowing you cannot respond to them all. How to decide? Where to place your attention, your money, your time, your energy? We will share some ideas and exercises for answering these questions. We will also draw on ways of finding guidance that comes from the wisdom traditions of our ancestors.

7 – Empathy for the “Enemy” – Many of us struggle with feeling hate towards people whose ideas and behaviors are repugnant to us such as White supremacists, misogynists, homophobes or Donald Trump and his allies. There is an almost instinctual feeling of hate towards those who hate. It’s easy to repeat the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” But it’s sure not easy to do. Let’s look at how we can be in this world with haters and not poison ourselves or anyone else with more hate.

And lots more if there is interest!

We start Monday at 7:30 Eastern Time, Sept. 21st (International Peace Day and Autumn Equinox) and will meet every two weeks. Attend when you can. I’ll plan to record and make available for those who miss the live event. Email me for link to participate: alevin@SacredRiverHealing.org

Yoga with “45”

(whose name is best left unspoken)

(Note: In 2003, I wrote the following message which I have only slightly edited to reflect that there is a different President and circumstances. I hope it is helpful for some of you.)

For a good while there has been a groundswell, almost a tidal wave of interest in yoga. Yoga studios are open in storefronts everywhere. Yoga is being brought into the executive suites. Video tapes of yoga teachers are selling in supermarkets and chain video stores (a bit outdated, substitute streaming services). The word, from 10,000 years back, is now mainstream. 

I may not have to tell you that yoga, in addition to including stretching exercises that help the body relax and release stress, is a path towards spiritual wholeness. It is a way to move towards union with one’s true nature, the compassionate essential nature of living free of attachment and the entrapments of the reactive mind. There is a belief that when practiced with expanded awareness of the entire planet, its benefits are brought to all living beings.

Well, practitioners are about to have a powerful opportunity to practice yoga in a most challenging, and potentially life-transforming way, and at no charge. The upcoming Republican convention will culminate on Aug 27th with when President 45 will be giving his acceptance speech. It will be televised. He will, among other things, make his case for what he has done to this country and the world over the past three plus years. This is the opportunity for your practice. 

If you choose to watch this event, you will be challenged to maintain awareness of conscious breathing, observe your body deeply, stay centered in the heart of compassion, and allow images, thoughts and emotions to pass through your mind without clinging to them. The benefits of doing this will be enormous, both for your own growth and the entire planet, perhaps having an influence on whether or not he is re-elected.

 From my own practice and teaching experience, I want to share a couple of suggestions. I realize that I take the risk that some will think this is  “New Age” pablum. But as I see it, our civilization’s notions of what is real are as much in question as the politics of narcissism, fear and greed that have been dominant. The truth is, I could not be more serious about the depth and significance with which this process may be held. I offer these 12 suggestions to you for your consideration. Take of it only what resonates for you and feel free to pass it along.

Caution: If you are quite well established in your practice you may choose to do this alone. But most people will find that a group setting brings the necessary support for safe practice. Prepare by agreeing on your intentions. Practice lightly and with good humor.

1) Find an appropriate posture that best allows you to stay aware of your body, a comfortably straight back is good. Allow yourself space, and give yourself permission to move and stretch as your body needs.

2) It’s a good idea to prepare with a deep centering meditation prior to the viewing. You may want to do some movement to discharge tension. Center your awareness in the area of your heart or heart chakra, and allow love to radiate throughout you and the room, including the TV. Recognize the presence of others who share your intention, even those who are not physically with you.

3) As the President is introduced and you first see his face, remind yourself that the Spirit that pervades everything – the Source of Life – is within and all around you, and within and all around him. At the same time, be aware of any reactions that you are having: contractions in the belly, nausea, rage, the urge to flee, scream or break something. Open to these feelings and thoughts, and breathe. Especially be aware of your body. Breathe and relax. Do not be afraid if you feel a sense of empathy. He is, after all, a man, a man caught in a web of immense, almost incalculable influences from sources we barely fathom.

4) As he speaks, pay attention to his face. Notice his eyes, mouth and lips especially. They will help you see more clearly where he is coming from. This will also help you to be aware of your own reactions. Breathe. Stretch and relax. Don’t judge yourself for any emotions or images that appear in your mind. Let them be.

5) Remind yourself that you are watching a television or computer device. When your mind starts to pick up a stone to throw at the image on the screen, remember this: This machine is made largely of petro-chemicals (oil) and it is consuming electricity coming from energy sources that are part of a global empire, an empire expanding at the expense of the life of this planet.  Acknowledge that you are complicit in the human activity behind this man and what he is advocating. So am I.  Breathe. Let the tension soften. Accept how imperfectly you are able to release the contractions in your body that result from judgementalism. Accept the degree of release you are currently feeling. Breathe.

6) Open to recognize the forces that are behind and all around this man.  What do they feel like?  Do you have a name or image of what they look like?  Perhaps they are the same forces that are behind his apparent friends in Brazil, China and Russia? Perhaps they are the forces that sometimes work through you and me, perhaps  right now. Breathe. Consider the intensity of being really in the grip of these forces. Perhaps images that come from the Tolkein trilogy or Harry Potter will come to mind. Perhaps you’ve heard of Wetiko? Recognize how your body and mind react in the face of this. Call on your strength to stay in your heart and feel the light of compassion. Let tears or rage rise and let all feelings be in the fire of your peaceful intention.

7) Remember that we are in the flow of time and that as you breathe the present is forming into the future. The quality of your mind, your thoughts and intentions are helping shape the reality that is becoming, just as is the mind of 45. Be aware of what you are putting into the system. Know that you can be responsible for your thoughts. Breathe. Release judgement of yourself for not being perfect at this.

8) Continue to look at 45 and listen to his voice. If you find it difficult to stay centered, invoke the presence of all the peaceful warriors that have sought to bring humanity to more harmonious consciousness and behavior through teaching, healing, the arts, and through organizing activist movements. Remember your ancestors. Breathe.

9) When curses and gestures of rage are felt, notice how they effect your body. If you contract, move into that and exaggerate it, then release. If feelings of helplessness and grief arise, be aware of your breath and feel the strength of the life force within you.

10) Be aware of the people of color, the refugees, those currently demonized and made to seem “other” by this man. Be aware of the animals, plants, rivers, oceans and land. Picture as clearly as you can, the faces of actual men, women, children, babies separated at borders, abused by police and disempowered by the system of thought 45 promotes and amplifies. Be aware of the tens of thousands of  young American men and women who are required to enforce his commands and fight for him. Consider their families and your own relationship to these people. Allow whatever feelings you have to rise up into your full awareness. Let the awesome tide of suffering be in your view and in your heart. There is an ancient Jewish prayer that I find helpful in such moments: Shiviti Adonai L’negdi Tamid. “I invoke the presence of the Holiness of Life throughout and around me at all times.”

11) When 45 says “God Bless America”, remind yourself of the highest, deepest Reality that truly does bless ALL that is and helps that which it blesses to become more awake to the boundless love of the Source of life.  Feel that in yourself and in all your relations. Bring your hands to prayer position in front of you and bow humbly to that Presence even in this man.

12) Allow time to continue to be with the feelings and thoughts you are having during and after the speech. Allow your thoughts to gradually open to the question of what it is that you are called to do about what you are experiencing, about what is going on.  If you are with friends, perhaps a healthy discussion would help.

Perhaps you can do something to help.

Namaste (I bow to the divine spark within you)

Race: Where We’ve Been, Where We Are

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair.
Be hopeful, be optimistic.
Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year,
it is the struggle of a lifetime. 

“Never, ever be afraid to make some noise
and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”  

—  John Lewis

I was getting prepared to send a message recommending you see “John Lewis – Good Trouble,”  the wonderful, biopic film about John Lewis, when I heard about his passing. I’d also recently read much of his graphic novel trilogy on the civil rights movement, MarchIt brings deep insights and reminders of that short but intense period in the centuries long journey for America to come to terms with just what we have done and are still doing.

John Lewis really believed and lived as though love is the answer to hate, a love that is not afraid of hate; a love that is fierce and strong and willing to confront hate. As the tributes pour in I am, like some friends, suspicious of those coming from those who opposed him at every turn. On the other hand, when I try to imagine John Lewis’s view, I see the possibility that there is a crack in even the stone cold, racist heart that lets the light in. It will come crashing through, if just for a moment, in the presence of a life being lived in righteousness.

We’ve yet to see how the unprecedented awakening that is happening now will play out. The consciousness that moved those who beat John almost to death more than once is still here. The economic and political systems that manifest that consciousness are still here. There is no way forward but to fully face what we as a nation have done and make it right. The word “reparations” has been a non-starter for mainstream America for a lot of reasons, yet now it is beginning to emerge as a legitimate, if not necessary, medicine for the wounds that have been inflicted.

I’m posting below an article, “What is Owed,” by Nikole Hannah-Jones.  I think it sheds light on this as clearly as I’ve seen it. (It’s somewhat long, but I think very much worth your time).

I grew up with liberal parents who supported the “civil rights movement” yet were steeped, as I became, in the assumption that White people were superior to non-White. Just a simple fact that it took me years to actually face. As our eyes are opened to our part in contributing to, or having stood by as our brothers and sisters suffered injustice, may we find the wisdom, empathy and strength to free ourselves and others from the grip of the virulent virus of white supremacy. In that work, may we truly learn from and embody the nonviolence and fierce love to which John Lewis committed his life.

May his journey continue in peace.

(I really hope you take the time to read the following article. I think it should be required reading for every American. If you go to the link you can see the article with many photos illustrating the history and present reality. ~Alan)

“What is Owed,” by Nikole Hannah-Jones

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/06/24/magazine/reparations-slavery.html?smid=em-share

It feels different this time.

Black Americans protesting the violation of their rights are a defining tradition of this country. In the last century, there have been hundreds of uprisings in black communities in response to white violence. Some have produced substantive change. After the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, uprisings in more than 100 cities broke the final congressional deadlock over whether it should be illegal to deny people housing simply because they descended from people who had been enslaved. The Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race, gender and religion, among other categories, seemed destined to die in Congress as white Southerners were joined by many of their Northern counterparts who knew housing segregation was central to how Jim Crow was accomplished in the North. But just seven days after King’s death, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the act into law from the smoldering capital, which was still under protection from the National Guard.

Most of the time these uprisings have produced hand-wringing and consternation but few necessary structural changes. After black uprisings swept the nation in the mid-1960s, Johnson created the Kerner Commission to examine their causes, and the report it issued in 1968 recommended a national effort to dismantle segregation and structural racism across American institutions. It was shelved by the president, like so many similar reports, and instead white Americans voted in a “law and order” president, Richard Nixon. The following decades brought increased police militarization, law-enforcement spending and mass incarceration of black Americans.

The changes we’re seeing today in some ways seem shockingly swift, and in other ways rage-inducingly slow. After years of black-led activism, protest and organizing, the weeks of protests since George Floyd’s killing have moved lawmakers to ban chokeholds by police officers, consider stripping law enforcement of the qualified immunity that has made it almost impossible to hold responsible officers who kill, and discuss moving significant parts of ballooning police budgets into funding for social services. Black Lives Matter, the group founded in 2013 by three black women, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, saw its support among American voters rise almost as much in the two weeks after Floyd’s killing than in the last two years. According to polling by Civiqs, more than 50 percent of registered voters now say they support the movement.

The cascading effect of these protests has been something to behold. The commissioner of the N.F.L., which blackballed Colin Kaepernick for daring to respectfully protest police brutality, announced that the N.F.L. had, in fact, been wrong and that black lives actually do matter. (Kaepernick, on the other hand, still has no job.) HBO Max announced that it would temporarily pull from its roster the Lost Cause propaganda film “Gone With the Wind” — which in classically American fashion holds the spot as the highest-grossing feature film of all time. NASCAR came to the sudden realization that its decades-long permissiveness toward fans’ waving the battle flag of a traitorous would-be nation that fought to preserve the right to traffic black people was, in fact, contrary to its “commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry.” Bubba Wallace, the only full-time black driver at the sport’s top level, who had called on NASCAR to make the move, drove victory laps in an all-black stock car emblazoned with the words “#BLACKLIVESMATTER.”

Multiracial groups of Americans have defaced or snatched down monuments to enslavers and bigots from Virginia to Philadelphia to Minneapolis and New Mexico, leading local and state politicians to locate the moral courage to realize that they indeed did have the power to purge from public spaces icons to white supremacy. Even the University of Alabama, the place where Gov. George Wallace quite literally stood in the schoolhouse door to try to block the court-ordered admission of two black students, a place whose Grecian-columned campus and still largely segregated sororities pose the living embodiment of Dixie, is removing three plaques honoring Confederate soldiers and will study whether to rename buildings holding the monikers of enslavers and white supremacists after a student-led campaign garnered more than 17,000 signatures.

Unlike so many times in the past, in which black people mostly marched and protested alone to demand recognition of their full humanity and citizenship, a multiracial and multigenerational protest army has taken to the streets over the last month. They’ve spread across all 50 states in places big and small, including historically all-white towns like Vidor, Texas, where as recently as 1993 a federal judge had to order its public housing integrated. Shortly after, white supremacists ran out of town the handful of black people who had moved in. That Vidor, Texas, which remains 91 percent white and 0.5 percent black, held a Black Lives Matter rally in early June. In countries as disparate as England, Brazil, Kenya and Turkey, crowds pumped fists and carried signs with George Floyd’s name.

And this month, a Monmouth University poll showed that 76 percent of Americans, and 71 percent of white Americans, believe that racial and ethnic discrimination is a “big problem” in the United States. Just a few years ago, little more than half of white Americans believed that. The numbers in the Monmouth poll were so high that it left some political scientists questioning the poll’s quality.

“This number is crazy,” Hakeem Jefferson, a Stanford University political scientist, told me. “When I saw it, I thought, ‘This is a polling error.’ So I did what good social scientists do. I opened the methodological report, worried that they had done a weird sampling. But this is high-quality data.”

It is hard in the midst of something momentous to pinpoint exactly what has caused it. What we’re seeing is most likely a result of unrelenting organizing by the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s the pandemic, which virtually overnight left staggering numbers of Americans without enough money to buy food, pay rent and sustain their businesses. For many white Americans who may have once, consciously or unconsciously, looked down upon this nation’s heavily black and brown low-wage service workers, Covid-19 made them realize that it was the delivery driver and grocery clerk and meatpacker who made it possible for them to remain safely sequestered in their homes — and these workers were dying for it. Black Americans, in particular, have borne a disproportionate number of deaths from both Covid-19 and law enforcement, and many nonblack protesters have reasoned that black people should not have to risk their lives alone in taking to the streets demanding that the state not execute its citizens without consequence. And as they did, white Americans both in the streets and through the screens of their phones and televisions got a taste of the wanton police violence that black Americans regularly face. They saw the police beating up white women, pushing down an elderly white man and throwing tear gas and shooting rubber bullets at demonstrators exercising their democratic right to peacefully protest.

With so many Americans working from home or not working at all, they have had the time to show up to protests every day. These protests not only give Americans who are not black a moral reason to leave their homes after weeks of social isolation; they also allow protesters to vent anger at the incompetence of the man in the White House, himself a product of this nation’s inability to escape its death pact with white supremacy, who they sense is imperiling this terribly flawed but miraculous country.

It has been more than 150 years since the white planter class last called up the slave patrols and deputized every white citizen to stop, question and subdue any black person who came across their paths in order to control and surveil a population who refused to submit to their enslavement. It has been 150 years since white Americans could enforce slave laws that said white people acting in the interest of the planter class would not be punished for killing a black person, even for the most minor alleged offense. Those laws morphed into the black codes, passed by white Southern politicians at the end of the Civil War to criminalize behaviors like not having a job. Those black codes were struck down, then altered and over the course of decades eventually transmuted into stop-and-frisk, broken windows and, of course, qualified immunity. The names of the mechanisms of social control have changed, but the presumption that white patrollers have the legal right to kill black people deemed to have committed minor infractions or to have breached the social order has remained.

In a country erected on the explicitly codified conviction that black lives mattered less, graveyards across this land hold the bodies of black Americans, men, women and children, legally killed by the institutional descendants of those slave patrols for alleged transgressions like walking from the store with Skittles, playing with a toy gun in the park, sleeping in their homes and selling untaxed cigarettes. We collectively know only a small number of their names: Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Kendra James, Breonna Taylor, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Aiyana Stanley-Jones and Tanisha Anderson are just a few.

And because of what is happening now, George Floyd’s name will forever stand out since enough Americans have decided that his death mattered.

What has spawned this extraordinary reckoning, the fire this time, was our collective witness of what must be described without hyperbole as a modern-day lynching. In his 1933 book, “The Tragedy of Lynching,” the sociologist Arthur F. Raper estimated that, based on his study of 100 lynchings, white police officers participated in at least half of all lynchings and that in 90 percent of others law-enforcement officers “either condone or wink at the mob action.” The nonchalant look on Officer Derek Chauvin’s face — as, hand in pocket, for 8 minutes 46 seconds, he pressed his knee against the neck of a facedown black man begging for his life — reminds me of every callous white face captured in the grisly photos taken in the 1900s to mark the gleeful spectacle of the public killings of black men and women.

It devastates black people that all the other black deaths before George Floyd did not get us here. It devastates black people to recall all the excuses that have come before. That big black boy, Michael Brown, must have charged the weapon-carrying officer. Eric Garner should have stopped struggling. Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend had a weapon in her home and shouldn’t have shot at the people who, without a knock or an announcement, burst through her door. We’re not sure what Ahmaud Arbery was doing in that predominantly white neighborhood. Rayshard Brooks, who in the midst of nationwide protests against police violence was shot in the back twice by a police officer, just shouldn’t have resisted.

It should devastate us all that in 2020 it took a cellphone video broadcast across the globe of a black man dying from the oldest and most terrifying tool in the white-supremacist arsenal to make a vast majority of white Americans decide that, well, this might be enough.

We, now, have finally arrived at the point of this essay. Because when it comes to truly explaining racial injustice in this country, the table should never be set quickly: There is too much to know, and yet we aggressively choose not to know it.

No one can predict whether this uprising will lead to lasting change. History does not bode well. But there does seem to be a widespread acceptance of the most obvious action we could take toward equality in a nation built on the espoused ideals of inalienable, universal rights: pass reforms and laws that ensure that black people cannot be killed by armed agents of the state without consequence.

But on its own, this cannot bring justice to America. If we are truly at the precipice of a transformative moment, the most tragic of outcomes would be that the demand be too timid and the resolution too small. If we are indeed serious about creating a more just society, we must go much further than that. We must get to the root of it.

Fifty years since the bloody and brutally repressed protests and freedom struggles of black Americans brought about the end of legal discrimination in this country, so much of what makes black lives hard, what takes black lives earlier, what causes black Americans to be vulnerable to the type of surveillance and policing that killed Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, what steals opportunities, is the lack of wealth that has been a defining feature of black life since the end of slavery.

Wealth, not income, is the means to security in America. Wealth — assets and investments minus debt — is what enables you to buy homes in safer neighborhoods with better amenities and better-funded schools. It is what enables you to send your children to college without saddling them with tens of thousands of dollars of debt and what provides you money to put a down payment on a house. It is what prevents family emergencies or unexpected job losses from turning into catastrophes that leave you homeless and destitute. It is what ensures what every parent wants — that your children will have fewer struggles than you did. Wealth is security and peace of mind. It’s not incidental that wealthier people are healthier and live longer. Wealth is, as a recent Yale study states, “the most consequential index of economic well-being” for most Americans. But wealth is not something people create solely by themselves; it is accumulated across generations.

While unchecked discrimination still plays a significant role in shunting opportunities for black Americans, it is white Americans’ centuries-long economic head start that most effectively maintains racial caste today. As soon as laws began to ban racial discrimination against black Americans, white Americans created so-called race-neutral means of maintaining political and economic power. For example, soon after the 15th Amendment granted black men the right to vote, white politicians in many states, understanding that recently freed black Americans were impoverished, implemented poll taxes. In other words, white Americans have long known that in a country where black people have been kept disproportionately poor and prevented from building wealth, rules and policies involving money can be nearly as effective for maintaining the color line as legal segregation. You do not have to have laws forcing segregated housing and schools if white Americans, using their generational wealth and higher incomes, can simply buy their way into expensive enclaves with exclusive public schools that are out of the price range of most black Americans.

It has worked with impressive efficiency. Today black Americans remain the most segregated group of people in America and are five times as likely to live in high-poverty neighborhoods as white Americans. Not even high earnings inoculate black people against racialized disadvantage. Black families earning $75,000 or more a year live in poorer neighborhoods than white Americans earning less than $40,000 a year, research by John Logan, a Brown University sociologist, shows. According to another study, by the Stanford sociologist Sean Reardon and his colleagues, the average black family earning $100,000 a year lives in a neighborhood with an average annual income of $54,000. Black Americans with high incomes are still black: They face discrimination across American life. But it is because their families have not been able to build wealth that they are often unable to come up with a down payment to buy in more affluent neighborhoods, while white Americans with lower incomes often use familial wealth to do so.

The difference between the lived experience of black Americans and white Americans when it comes to wealth — along the entire spectrum of income from the poorest to the richest — can be described as nothing other than a chasm. According to research published this year by scholars at Duke University and Northwestern University that doesn’t even take into account the yet-unknown financial wreckage of Covid-19, the average black family with children holds just one cent of wealth for every dollar that the average white family with children holds.

As President Johnson, architect of the Great Society, explained in a 1965 speech titled “To Fulfill These Rights”: “Negro poverty is not white poverty. … These differences are not racial differences. They are solely and simply the consequence of ancient brutality, past injustice and present prejudice. They are anguishing to observe. For the Negro they are a constant reminder of oppression. For the white they are a constant reminder of guilt. But they must be faced, and they must be dealt with, and they must be overcome; if we are ever to reach the time when the only difference between Negroes and whites is the color of their skin.”

We sometimes forget, and perhaps it is an intentional forgetting, that the racism we are fighting today was originally conjured to justify working unfree black people, often until death, to generate extravagant riches for European colonial powers, the white planter class and all the ancillary white people from Midwestern farmers to bankers to sailors to textile workers, who earned their living and built their wealth from free black labor and the products that labor produced. The prosperity of this country is inextricably linked with the forced labor of the ancestors of 40 million black Americans for whom these marches are now occurring, just as it is linked to the stolen land of the country’s indigenous people. Though our high school history books seldom make this plain: Slavery and the 100-year period of racial apartheid and racial terrorism known as Jim Crow were, above all else, systems of economic exploitation. To borrow from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s phrasing, racism is the child of economic profiteering, not the father.

Numerous legal efforts to strip black people of their humanity existed to justify the extraction of profit. Beginning in the 1660s, white officials ensured that all children born to enslaved women would also be enslaved and belong not to their mothers but to the white men who owned their mothers. They passed laws dictating that the child’s status would follow that of the mother not the father, upending European norms and guaranteeing that the children of enslaved women who were sexually assaulted by white men would be born enslaved and not free. It meant that profit for white people could be made from black women’s wombs. Laws determining that enslaved people, just like animals, had no recognized kinship ties ensured that human beings could be bought and sold at will to pay debts, buy more acres or save storied universities like Georgetown from closing. Laws barred enslaved people from making wills or owning property, distinguishing black people in America from every other group on these shores and assuring that everything of value black people managed to accrue would add to the wealth of those who enslaved them. At the time of the Civil War, the value of the enslaved human beings held as property added up to more than all of this nations’ railroads and factories combined. And yet, enslaved people saw not a dime of this wealth. They owned nothing and were owed nothing from all that had been built from their toil.

Slavery’s demise provided this nation the chance for redemption. Out of the ashes of sectarian strife, we could have birthed a new country, one that recognized the humanity and natural rights of those who helped forge this country, one that attempted to atone and provide redress for the unspeakable atrocities committed against black people in the name of profit. We could have finally, 100 years after the Revolution, embraced its founding ideals.

And, oh so briefly, during the period known as Reconstruction, we moved toward that goal. The historian Eric Foner refers to these 12 years after the Civil War as this nation’s second founding, because it is here that America began to redeem the grave sin of slavery. Congress passed amendments abolishing human bondage, enshrining equal protection before the law in the Constitution and guaranteeing black men the right to vote. This nation witnessed its first period of biracial governance as the formerly enslaved were elected to public offices at all levels of government. For a fleeting moment, a few white men listened to the pleas of black people who had fought for the Union and helped deliver its victory. Land in this country has always meant wealth and, more important, independence. Millions of black people, liberated with not a cent to their name, desperately wanted property so they could work, support themselves and be left alone. Black people implored federal officials to take the land confiscated from enslavers who had taken up arms against their own country and grant it to those who worked it for generations. They were asking to, as the historian Robin D.G. Kelley puts it, “inherit the earth they had turned into wealth for idle white people.”

In January 1865, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman issued Special Field Order 15, providing for the distribution of hundreds of thousands of acres of former Confederate land issued in 40-acre tracts to newly freed people along coastal South Carolina and Georgia. But just four months later, in April, Lincoln was assassinated. Andrew Johnson, the racist, pro-Southern vice president who took over, immediately reneged upon this promise of 40 acres, overturning Sherman’s order. Most white Americans felt that black Americans should be grateful for their freedom, that the bloody Civil War had absolved any debt. The government confiscated the land from the few formerly enslaved families who had started to eke out a life away from the white whip and gave it back to the traitors. And with that, the only real effort this nation ever made to compensate black Americans for 250 years of chattel slavery ended.

Freed people, during and after slavery, tried again and again to compel the government to provide restitution for slavery, to provide at the very least a pension for those who spent their entire lives working for no pay. They filed lawsuits. They organized to lobby politicians. And every effort failed. To this day, the only Americans who have ever received government restitution for slavery were white enslavers in Washington, D.C., who were compensated for their loss of human property.

The way we are taught this in school, Lincoln “freed the slaves,” and then the nearly four million people who the day before had been treated as property suddenly enjoyed the privileges of being Americans like everyone else. We are not prodded to contemplate what it means to achieve freedom without a home to live in, without food to eat, a bed to sleep on, clothes for your children or money to buy any of it. Narratives collected of formerly enslaved people during the Federal Writers’ Project of the 1930s reveal the horrors of massive starvation, of “liberated” black people seeking shelter in burned-out buildings and scrounging for food in decaying fields before eventually succumbing to the heartbreak of returning to bend over in the fields of their former enslavers, as sharecroppers, just so they would not die. “With the advent of emancipation,” writes the historian Keri Leigh Merritt, “blacks became the only race in the U.S. ever to start out, as an entire people, with close to zero capital.”

In 1881, Frederick Douglass, surveying the utter privation in which the federal government left the formerly enslaved, wrote: “When the Hebrews were emancipated, they were told to take spoil from the Egyptians. When the serfs of Russia were emancipated, they were given three acres of ground upon which they could live and make a living. But not so when our slaves were emancipated. They were sent away empty-handed, without money, without friends and without a foot of land on which they could live and make a living. Old and young, sick and well, were turned loose to the naked sky, naked to their enemies.”


Just after the federal government decided that black people were undeserving of restitution, it began bestowing millions of acres in the West to white Americans under the Homestead Act, while also enticing white foreigners to immigrate with the offer of free land. From 1868 to 1934, the federal government gave away 246 million acres in 160-acre tracts, nearly 10 percent of all the land in the nation, to more than 1.5 million white families, native-born and foreign. As Merritt points out, some 46 million American adults today, nearly 20 percent of all American adults, descend from those homesteaders. “If that many white Americans can trace their legacy of wealth and property ownership to a single entitlement program,” Merritt writes, “then the perpetuation of black poverty must also be linked to national policy.”

The federal government turned its back on its financial obligations to four million newly liberated people, and then it left them without protection as well, as white rule was reinstated across the South starting in the 1880s. Federal troops pulled out of the South, and white Southerners overthrew biracial governance using violence, coups and election fraud.

The campaigns of white terror that marked the period after Reconstruction, known as Redemption, once again guaranteed an exploitable, dependent labor force for the white South. Most black Southerners had no desire to work on the same forced-labor camps where they had just been enslaved. But white Southerners passed state laws that made it a crime if they didn’t sign labor contracts with white landowners or changed employers without permission or sold cotton after sunset, and then as punishment for these “crimes,” black people were forcibly leased out to companies and individuals. Through sharecropping and convict leasing, black people were compelled back into quasi slavery. This arrangement ensured that once-devasted towns like Greenwood, Miss., were again able to call themselves the cotton capitals of the world, and companies like United States Steel secured a steady supply of unfree black laborers who could be worked to death, in what Douglass A. Blackmon, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, calls “slavery by another name.”

Yet black Americans persisted, and despite the odds, some managed to acquire land, start businesses and build schools for their children. But it was the most prosperous black people and communities that elicited the most vicious response. Lynchings, massacres and generalized racial terrorism were regularly deployed against black people who had bought land, opened schools, built thriving communities, tried to organize sharecroppers’ unions or opened their own businesses, depriving white owners of economic monopolies and the opportunity to cheat black buyers.

At least 6,500 black people were lynched from the end of the Civil War to 1950, an average of nearly two a week for nine decades. Nearly five black people, on average, have been killed a week by law enforcement since 2015.

The scale of the destruction during the 1900s is incalculable. Black farms were stolen, shops burned to the ground. Entire prosperous black neighborhoods and communities were razed by white mobs from Florida to North Carolina to Atlanta to Arkansas. One of the most infamous of these, and yet still widely unknown among white Americans, occurred in Tulsa, Okla., when gangs of white men, armed with guns supplied by public officials, destroyed a black district so successful that it was known as Black Wall Street. They burned more than 1,200 homes and businesses, including a department store, a library and a hospital, and killed hundreds who it is believed were buried in mass graves. In 2001, a commission on the massacre recommended that the state pay financial restitution for the victims, but the State Legislature refused. And this is the place that in the midst of weeks of protests crying out for black lives to matter, Donald Trump, nearly 100 years later, chose to restart his campaign rallies.

Even black Americans who did not experience theft and violence were continuously deprived of the ability to build wealth. They were denied entry into labor unions and union jobs that ensured middle-class wages. North and South, racist hiring laws and policies forced them into service jobs, even when they earned college degrees. They were legally relegated into segregated, substandard neighborhoods and segregated, substandard schools that made it impossible to compete economically even had they not faced rampant discrimination in the job market. In the South, for most of the period after the Civil War until the 1960s, nearly all the black people who wanted to earn professional degrees — law, medical and master’s degrees — had to leave the region to do so even as white immigrants attended state colleges in the former Confederacy that black American tax dollars helped pay for.

As part of the New Deal programs, the federal government created redlining maps, marking neighborhoods where black people lived in red ink to denote that they were uninsurable. As a result, 98 percent of the loans the Federal Housing Administration insured from 1934 to 1962 went to white Americans, locking nearly all black Americans out of the government program credited with building the modern (white) middle class.

“At the very moment a wide array of public policies was providing most white Americans with valuable tools to advance their social welfare — ensure their old age, get good jobs, acquire economic security, build assets and gain middle-class status — most black Americans were left behind or left out,” the historian Ira Katznelson writes in his book, “When Affirmative Action Was White.” “The federal government … functioned as a commanding instrument of white privilege.”

In other words, while black Americans were being systematically, generationally deprived of the ability to build wealth, while also being robbed of the little they had managed to gain, white Americans were not only free to earn money and accumulate wealth with exclusive access to the best jobs, best schools, best credit terms, but they were also getting substantial government help in doing so.


The civil rights movement ostensibly ended white advantage by law. And in the gauzy way white Americans tend to view history, particularly the history of racial inequality, the end of legal discrimination, after 350 years, is all that was required to vanquish this dark history and its effects. Changing the laws, too many Americans have believed, marked the end of the obligation. But civil rights laws passed in the 1960s merely guaranteed black people rights they should have always had. They dictated that from that day forward, the government would no longer sanction legal racial discrimination. But these laws did not correct the harm nor restore what was lost.

Brown v. Board of Education did not end segregated and unequal schools; it just ended segregation in the law. It took court orders and, at times, federal troops to see any real integration. Nevertheless, more than six decades after the nation’s highest court proclaimed school segregation unconstitutional, black children remain as segregated from white kids as they were in the early 1970s. There has never been a point in American history where even half the black children in this country have attended a majority-white school.

Making school segregation illegal did nothing to repay black families for the theft of their educations or make up for generations of black Americans, many of them still living, who could never go to college because white officials believed that only white students needed a high school education and so refused to operate high schools for black children. As late as the 1930s, most communities in the South, where the vast majority of black Americans lived, failed to provide a single public high school for black children, according to “The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935,” by the historian James D. Anderson. Heavily black Richmond County in Georgia, for instance, did not provide a four-year black high school from 1897 to 1945.

The Fair Housing Act prohibited discrimination in housing, but it did not reset real estate values so that homes in redlined black neighborhoods whose prices were artificially deflated would be valued the same as identical homes in white neighborhoods, which had been artificially inflated. It did not provide restitution for generations of black homeowners forced into predatory loans because they had been locked out of the prime credit market. It did not repay every black soldier who returned from World War II to find that he could not use his G.I. Bill to buy a home for his family in any of the new whites-only suburbs subsidized by the same government he fought for. It did not break up the still-entrenched housing segregation that took decades of government and private policy to create. Lay those redlining maps over almost any city in America with a significant black population, and you will see that the government-sanctioned segregation patterns remain stubbornly intact and that those same communities bore the brunt of the predatory lending and foreclosure crisis of the late 2000s that stole years of black homeownership and wealth gains.

Making employment discrimination illegal did not come with a check for black Americans to compensate for all the high-paying jobs they were legally barred from, for the promotions they never got solely because of their race, for the income and opportunities lost to the centuries of discrimination. Nor did these laws end ongoing discrimination any more than speed limits without enforcement stop people from driving too fast. These laws opened up opportunities for limited numbers of black Americans while largely leaving centuries of meticulously orchestrated inequities soundly in place, but now with the sheen of colorblind magnanimity.

The inclination to bandage over and move on is a definitive American feature when it comes to anti-black racism and its social and material effects. A joint 2019 study by faculty members at Yale University’s School of Management, Department of Psychology and Institute for Social and Policy Studies describes this phenomenon this way: “A firm belief in our nation’s commitment to racial egalitarianism is part of the collective consciousness of the United States of America. … We have a strong and persistent belief that our national disgrace of racial oppression has been overcome, albeit through struggle, and that racial equality has largely been achieved.” The authors point out how white Americans love to play up moments of racial progress like the Emancipation Proclamation, Brown v. Board of Education and the election of Barack Obama, while playing down or ignoring lynching, racial apartheid or the 1985 bombing of a black neighborhood in Philadelphia. “When it comes to race relations in the United States … most Americans hold an unyielding belief in a specific, optimistic narrative regarding racial progress that is robust to counterexamples: that society has come a very long way already and is moving rapidly, perhaps naturally toward full racial equality.”

This remarkable imperviousness to facts when it comes to white advantage and architected black disadvantage is what emboldens some white Americans to quote the passage from Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech about being judged by the content of your character and not by the color of your skin. It’s often used as a cudgel against calls for race-specific remedies for black Americans — while ignoring the part of that same speech where King says black people have marched on the capital to cash “a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’”

King has been evoked continuously during this season of protests, sometimes to defend those who looted and torched buildings, sometimes to condemn them. But in this time of foment, there has been an astounding silence around his most radical demands. The seldom-quoted King is the one who said that the true battle for equality, the actualization of justice, required economic repair.

After watching Northern cities explode even as his movement’s efforts to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act came to fruition, King gave a speech in 1967 in Atlanta before the Hungry Club Forum, a secret gathering of white politicians and civil rights leaders.

King said: “For well now 12 years, the struggle was basically a struggle to end legal segregation. In a sense it was a struggle for decency. It was a struggle to get rid of all of the humiliation and the syndrome of depravation surrounding the system of legal segregation. And I need not remind you that those were glorious days. … It is now a struggle for genuine equality on all levels, and this will be a much more difficult struggle. You see, the gains in the first period, or the first era of struggle, were obtained from the power structure at bargain rates; it didn’t cost the nation anything to integrate lunch counters. It didn’t cost the nation anything to integrate hotels and motels. It didn’t cost the nation a penny to guarantee the right to vote. Now we are in a period where it will cost the nation billions of dollars to get rid of poverty, to get rid of slums, to make quality integrated education a reality. This is where we are now. Now we’re going to lose some friends in this period. The allies who were with us in Selma will not all stay with us during this period. We’ve got to understand what is happening. Now they often call this the white backlash. … It’s just a new name for an old phenomenon. The fact is that there has never been any single, solid, determined commitment on the part of the vast majority of white Americans to genuine equality for Negroes.”

A year later, in March 1968, just a month before his assassination, in a speech to striking, impoverished black sanitation workers in Memphis, King said: “Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?”


As we focus on police violence, we cannot ignore an even starker indication of our societal failures: Racial income disparities today look no different than they did the decade before King’s March on Washington. In 1950, according to a forthcoming study by the economists Moritz Schularick, Moritz Kuhn and Ulrike Steins in The Journal of Political Economy, black median household income was about half that of white Americans, and today it remains so. More critical, the racial wealth gap is about the same as it was in the 1950s as well. The typical black household today is poorer than 80 percent of white households. “No progress has been made over the past 70 years in reducing income and wealth inequalities between black and white households,” according to the study.

And yet most Americans are in an almost pathological denial about the depth of black financial struggle. That 2019 Yale University study, called “The Misperception of Racial Economic Inequality,” found that Americans believe that black households hold $90 in wealth for every $100 held by white households. The actual amount is $10.

About 97 percent of study participants overestimated black-white wealth equality, and most assumed that highly educated, high-income black households were the most likely to achieve economic parity with white counterparts. That is also wrong. The magnitude of the wealth gap only widens as black people earn more income.

“These data suggest that Americans are largely unaware of the striking persistence of racial economic inequality in the United States,” the study’s authors write. Americans, they write, tend to explain away or justify persistent racial inequality by ignoring the “tailwinds that have contributed to their economic success while justifying inequalities of wealth and poverty by invoking the role of individuals’ traits and skills as explanations for these disparities.” They use the exceptional examples of very successful black people to prove that systemic racism does not hold black Americans back and point to the large numbers of impoverished black people as evidence that black people are largely responsible for their own struggles.

In 2018, Duke University’s Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development published a report called “What We Get Wrong About Closing the Racial Wealth Gap” that examined the common misperceptions about the causes of the racial wealth gap and presented data and social-science research that refutes them all.

The study shows that the racial wealth gap is not about poverty. Poor white families earning less than $27,000 a year hold nearly the same amount of wealth as black families earning between $48,000 and $76,000 annually. It’s not because of black spending habits. Black Americans have lower incomes over all but save at a slightly higher rate than white Americans with similar incomes. It’s not that black people need to value education more. Black parents, when controlling for household type and socioeconomic status, actually offer more financial support for their children’s higher education than white parents do, according to the study. And some studies have shown that black youths, when compared with white youths whose parents have similar incomes and education levels, are actually more likely to go to college and earn additional credentials.

But probably most astounding to many Americans is that college simply does not pay off for black Americans the way it does for other groups. Black college graduates are about as likely to be unemployed as white Americans with a high school diploma, and black Americans with a college education hold less wealth than white Americans who have not even completed high school. Further, because black families hold almost no wealth to begin with, black students are the most likely to borrow money to pay for college and then to borrow more. That debt, in turn, means that black students cannot start saving immediately upon graduation like their less-debt-burdened peers.

It’s not a lack of homeownership. While it’s true that black Americans have the lowest homeownership rates in the nation, simply owning a home is not the same asset that it is for white Americans. Black Americans get higher mortgage rates even with equal credit worthiness, and homes in black neighborhoods do not appreciate at the same rate as those in white areas, because housing prices are still driven by the racial makeup of communities. As the Duke University economist William Darity Jr., the study’s lead author, points out, the ability to purchase a home in the first place is seldom a result of just the hard work and frugality of the buyer. “It’s actually parental and grandparental wealth that facilitates the acquisition of a home.”

It’s not because a majority of black families are led by a single mother. White single women with children hold the same amount of wealth as single black women with no children, and the typical white single parent has twice the wealth of the typical two-parent black family.

To summarize, none of the actions we are told black people must take if they want to “lift themselves” out of poverty and gain financial stability — not marrying, not getting educated, not saving more, not owning a home — can mitigate 400 years of racialized plundering. Wealth begets wealth, and white Americans have had centuries of government assistance to accumulate wealth, while the government has for the vast history of this country worked against black Americans doing the same.

“The cause of the gap must be found in the structural characteristics of the American economy, heavily infused at every point with both an inheritance of racism and the ongoing authority of white supremacy,” the authors of the Duke study write. “There are no actions that black Americans can take unilaterally that will have much of an effect on reducing the wealth gap. For the gap to be closed, America must undergo a vast social transformation produced by the adoption of bold national policies.”

Darity has been studying and advocating reparations for 30 years, and this spring he and his partner, A. Kirsten Mullen, published the book “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the 21st Century.” Both history and road map, the book answers the questions about who should receive reparations and how a program would work. I will not spend much time on that here, except to make these few points. Reparations are not about punishing white Americans, and white Americans are not the ones who would pay for them. It does not matter if your ancestors engaged in slavery or if you just immigrated here two weeks ago. Reparations are a societal obligation in a nation where our Constitution sanctioned slavery, Congress passed laws protecting it and our federal government initiated, condoned and practiced legal racial segregation and discrimination against black Americans until half a century ago. And so it is the federal government that pays.

Reparations would go to any person who has documentation that he or she identified as a black person for at least 10 years before the beginning of any reparations process and can trace at least one ancestor back to American slavery. Reparations should include a commitment to vigorously enforcing existing civil rights prohibitions against housing, educational and employment discrimination, as well as targeted investments in government-constructed segregated black communities and the segregated schools that serve a disproportionate number of black children. But critically, reparations must include individual cash payments to descendants of the enslaved in order to close the wealth gap.

The technical details, frankly, are the easier part. The real obstacle, the obstacle that we have never overcome, is garnering the political will — convincing enough Americans that the centuries-long forced economic disadvantage of black Americans should be remedied, that restitution is owed to people who have never had an equal chance to take advantage of the bounty they played such a significant part in creating.

This country can be remarkably generous. Each year Congress allocates money — this year $5 million — to help support Holocaust survivors living in America. In backing the funding measure, Representative Richard E. Neal, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said in 2018 that this country has a “responsibility to support the surviving men and women of the Holocaust and their families.” And he is right. It is the moral thing to do. And yet Congress has refused for three decades to pass H.R. 40, a bill to simply study the issue of reparations. Its drafter, Representative John Conyers Jr., a Michigan Democrat and descendant of enslaved Americans, died in 2019 — during the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans enslaved in Virginia — without the bill ever making it out of committee.

There are living victims of racial apartheid and terrorism born in this country, including civil rights activists who lost their homes and jobs fighting to make this country a democracy, who have never received any sort of restitution for what they endured. Soon, like their enslaved ancestors, they will all be dead, too, and then we’ll hear the worn excuse that this country owes no reparations because none of the victims are still alive. Darity and Mullen call this the “delay until death” tactic. Procrastination, they say, does not erase what is owed.

The coronavirus pandemic has dispatched the familiar lament that even if it is the right thing to do, this nation simply cannot afford to make restitution to the 40 million descendants of American slavery. It took Congress just a matter of weeks to pass a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill to help families and businesses struggling from the Covid-19 shutdowns. When, then, will this nation pass a stimulus package to finally respond to the singularity of black suffering?

Colossal societal ruptures have been the only things potent enough to birth transformative racial change in this country, and perhaps a viral pandemic colliding with our nation’s 400-year racial one has forced that type of rupture today. Maybe it had to be this way; this deep and collective suffering was necessary for white Americans to feel enough of the pain that black Americans have always known to tilt the scale.

With Covid-19, black Americans face a financial catastrophe unlike any in nearly a century. Black Americans had already lost the largest share of their wealth of all racial groups as a result of the last recession and have struggled the most to recover. They are the only racial group whose household median income is less than it was in 2000. Today already more than half of black adults are out of work. Black businesses are withering. Their owners were almost completely shut out of the federal paycheck-protection program — just 12 percent of black and Latino business owners who applied for the small-business loans received the full amounts they requested, according to a Global Strategy Group survey last month. Nearly half the respondents said they would most likely shutter permanently within six months. Black children are expected to lose 10 months’ worth of academic gains because of school closures, more than any other group, and yet they attend the schools with the least resources already, schools that will have even fewer resources as states slash spending to make up for budget shortfalls. One in five black homeowners and one in four renters have missed at least one home payment since the shutdowns began — the highest of all racial groups.

The pandemic, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, a scholar of social movements and racial inequality at Princeton University, told me, “has pulled what is hidden and buried on the bottom to the surface so that it can’t actually be ignored. It is a radicalizing factor because conditions that have been so dire, now combined with revolts in the street, might lead one to believe that not only is the society unraveling, but it might cause you to question what foundation it was built upon in the first place.”

Race-neutral policies simply will not address the depth of disadvantage faced by people this country once believed were chattel. Financial restitution cannot end racism, of course, but it can certainly mitigate racism’s most devastating effects. If we do nothing, black Americans may never recover from this pandemic, and they will certainly never know the equality the nation has promised.

So we are left with a choice. Will this moment only feel different? Or will it actually be different?

If black lives are to truly matter in America, this nation must move beyond slogans and symbolism. Citizens don’t inherit just the glory of their nation, but its wrongs too. A truly great country does not ignore or excuse its sins. It confronts them and then works to make them right. If we are to be redeemed, if we are to live up to the magnificent ideals upon which we were founded, we must do what is just.

It is time for this country to pay its debt. It is time for reparations.

Nikole Hannah-Jones is a staff writer for the magazine. In 2020, she won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary for her essay about black Americans and democracy. She is the creator of The 1619 Project, which won the National Magazine Award for public interest and a George Polk special award this year. She is also a 2017 MacArthur fellow.












Got Time? Stand Up for Justice

“If you are free, you need to free somebody else.
If you have power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”
   –Toni Morrison

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez became the first and only District Attorney in New York to release data on who has been arrested for social distancing violations and the results paint a grim reality. 40 people have been arrested. 35 were black, four were Hispanic, and just one was white. Despite making up only 25% of the population, Black people received more than 87% of arrests for social distancing. And this is only based on a small percentage of data released by DA Gonzalez in his district in Brooklyn.

My previous post was, “Got Time? Sit Quietly for a While.” Still a good idea in my view. But as with breathing, there is a time for inhaling, going in, and a time for exhaling, going out. A time to Be and a time to Do. If there is a message in the Covid-19 visitation, it’s that humanity needs to take more time to go within and find peace, AND to step up and out and act more with strength and compassion to bring peace and justice to this world.

The mistreatment and abuse of people because of their skin color, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation or gender comes out of fear, but also a belief that those people are essentially inferior. White male supremacy has been with us for centuries and it will take time, a long time, to undue that ignorance from the hearts and minds of all of us. But we can more quickly end the institutional systems that make it possible for people with privilege and power to act against those they deem less than. It will take those of us with privilege examining ourselves for the seeds of racism implanted in our psyche. It will take those of us with privilege standing up, speaking out, and supporting and joining those groups in the struggle for racial justice.

I’ve received so many beautifully written messages and posts that express the pain, frustration, rage, and fatigue of Black people who fear for themselves and their children, fear of participating in simple, normal activities in America. Many of the messages include lists of 5, 10, 15 or more things that White people can do to help. I’ve included here just a few quotes and a list of ideas for all of us to consider and take action wherever possible.

A personal story: In 1966 I participated in a sit-in to integrate a small restaurant in Gainesville, Florida, off the campus of the University. A White man took a seat next to me and was so filled with hate he could barely stir his coffee. His grin, the look in his eyes, his shaking hands and his hateful threats are unforgettable. My experience was nothing compared to the Freedom Riders and others, many of whom were beaten and burned and killed in those years. But I tasted the hate, and it’s just so painful to see it still alive today snuffing out the lives of Black people, one after another. How can we let this go on? As I’ve heard a number of times: it’s not enough to not be racist, we need to be actively anti-racist.

The vigils, marches and other forms of protest going on now are a hopeful sign that there is in fact an awakening happening. Please help keep it alive and strong by lending your support. At the bottom of this message are two links to people who do excellent trainings, (at this time online) for White people regarding racism. Please check them out.

peace with justice, justice with peace,

“…we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly ‘normal’ — whether it’s while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park.”
                                                                             –Barack Obama

“…………….this latest crisis precipitated by overt racism, along with the corona virus pandemic and the climate crisis, are all interwoven forces pushing to face the truth of the pathology of what we have created and how we need to do it differently if we want to create a healthy and just, peaceful, beautifully diverse, Win-Win World For All, which is the only way it is going to work for we are all in the same life-boat together.   May enough of us wake up and work together in respectful cooperation to make it be so.  Have no doubt about it, this is spiritual work of the first degree. If not you and me, then who?  If not now, when?
                                                                             –T0m Pinkson

“What deep possibility is activated now, with mass cries to finally see centuries of dehumanization, trauma, and brutality toward people of color as a monstrous crime against life? The disruption of a dominant worldview is unfolding. We witness the extraordinary power of ordinary human beings, allied to bring forth a shift of consciousness. 
                                                                            –Geneen Marie Haugen

From the “Movement for Black Lives” (These are issues that you and I can support through sending messages to elected officials and voting to elect those who are supportive).

“We call on localities and elected officials across the country to divest resources away from policing in local budgets and reallocate those resources to the healthcare, housing and education our people deserve. More officers, guns, jails and prisons are not a solution to longstanding problems of racial disparities, injustice and police violence.  We demand police free schools across the country and an end to the use of police officers in public universities. All public Institutions designed to serve the people, must cut ties with the police in the interest of public safety.

We demand an end to the war against Black people. Since this country’s inception there have been named and unnamed wars on our communities. We demand an end to the criminalization, incarceration, and killing of our people.

This includes:
An immediate end to the criminalization and dehumanization of Black youth across all areas of society including, but not limited to; our nation’s justice and education systems, social service agencies, and media and pop culture.

This includes an end to zero-tolerance school policies and arrests of students, the removal of police from schools, and the reallocation of funds from police and punitive school discipline practices to restorative services.

An end to capital punishment.

An end to money bail, mandatory fines, fees, court surcharges and “defendant funded” court proceedings.

An end to the use of past criminal history to determine eligibility for housing, education, licenses, voting, loans, employment, and other services and needs.

An end to the war on Black immigrants including the repeal of the 1996 crime and immigration bills, an end to all deportations, immigrant detention, and Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) raids, and mandated legal representation in immigration court.

An end to the war on Black trans, queer and gender nonconforming people including their addition to anti-discrimination civil rights protections to ensure they have full access to employment, health, housing and education.

An end to the mass surveillance of Black communities, and the end to the use of technologies that criminalize and target our communities (including IMSI catchers, drones, body cameras, and predictive policing software).

The demilitarization of law enforcement, including law enforcement in schools and on college campuses.

An immediate end to the privatization of police, prisons, jails, probation, parole, food, phone and all other criminal justice related services.

Until we achieve a world where cages are no longer used against our people we demand an immediate change in conditions and an end to all jails, detention centers, youth facilities and prisons as we know them. This includes the end of solitary confinement, the end of shackling of pregnant people, access to quality healthcare, and effective measures to address the needs of our youth, queer, gender nonconforming and trans families.
                                                                   –Movement for Black Lives (M4BL)
                                                                   https://m4bl.org/about-us/

For White people seeking to understand racism and become better allies:

The Center for the Study of White American Culture (CSWAC) http://www.euroamerican.org/About/Who-We-Are.asp

Doing Our Own Work: White People Learning, Healing, and Acting for Racial Equity*
https://dianegoodman.com/public-workshops/

~Alan

Got Time – Sit Quietly Awhile

“We can only have insight and wisdom when our vision is clear. 2020 is the year for that vision. For generations into the future, people will remember you as heroes and sheroes for your sacrifice and your vision.”
               –”Commencement talk” from Sister Boi Nghiem to class of 2020

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
       
–Arundati Roy

A thread of wisdom is weaving its way through all the pandemic confusion and fear: this time, this Covid-19 time, is giving each of us (and humanity as a whole) the chance to reinvent ourselves. From the social and political systems that we have taken for granted, to the patterns of inter-personal relating, to the understandings of who and what we are and what we are here for; everything is up for review. What better time than now.

Spiritual teachings have always offered us the pathways and methods for seeing more deeply into ourselves, beyond, above or behind our ego personality, to a truer, more awakened way of Being. We live in a time that allows us to hear the voices, and sometimes see and be with, people who have devoted their lives to these teachings from the different lineages of the world . They are able to share with us what can truly be called medicine for our minds and hearts. What better time than now.

Responding to the needs of the many people seeking solace in their grief, fear, anger and confusion, there are now many daily offerings of guided meditations by experienced teachers. I’ve gathered together some that have come my way and want to share them with you. Please save this as a resource and share widely. What better time than now to deepen your practice of meditation and attunement with the true nature of the one you are, and to find the peace and strength to face all that is arising around and within you.

May you and all beings be healthy, safe, happy and free.

Sister Boi Nghiem lives at Magnolia Grove Monastery in Batesville, Mississippi, (one of several monasteries in the world founded by Thich Nhat Hanh. In this video “dharma talk” we have a beautiful expression of the consciousness of wisdom, happiness and compassion that comes from devoted meditative practice. Addressed to graduating seniors, but relevant to us all:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhipUITeVWM

Sharon Salzberg is a widely known and beloved teacher of meditation. She has been offering free teachings online during the pandemic and has generously created a site with many other free or low cost teachings available on a daily basis. This is an amazing resource:
https://www.sharonsalzberg.com/covid-19-resources/?fbclid=IwAR1xRjD4Pkdl9iuk_aEiulIO4rHKwXZYgsSLVijiIc0fZXh-Jfg9zdi5dLo

Krishna Das is a world traveling chant master and teacher of meditation. He is offering what he calls “Chai and Chat” sessions online. Some are for a nominal fee. (Everyone still has to pay rent). This link is for one on June 6th, and you can find others dates from there. 
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/group-chainchat-with-krishna-das-india-tickets-106136920386?aff=enews

Dr. Tom Pinkson (Tomás), offers a weekly online talk and exchange, “Live Love Now – Soul Support in the Time of Covid-19”.  Tomás apprenticed for many years with Huichol shaman and presents prayerful, inspiring messages of  “wisdom guidance from Great Spirit to enrich your life.” This is a Facebook gathering:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/874420176244116/about/

Jonathan Gustin, is the founder of Purpose Guides Institute and its new projects: Climate Change & Purpose, and Pandemic as Practice.  At the following link is an interview with Joanna Macy on these subjects and you can get more information about his online meetings by sending a message toinfo@purposeguides.org
https://www.purposeguides.org/free-webinar-pandemic-as-practice-1#unique-id

By the way, Sharon Salzberg, Tomás Pinkson and Krishna Das each are featured with extensive interview in  Crossing the Boundary – Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths, available at CrossingTheBoundary.org.

Catastrophe & Opportunity

Earth, isn’t this what you want? To arise in us, invisible?
Is it not your dream, to enter us so wholly
there’s nothing left outside us to see?
What, if not transformation,
is your deepest purpose? Earth, my love,
I want it too. Believe me,
no more of your springtimes are needed
to win me over—even one flower
is more than enough. Before I was named
I belonged to you. I see no other law
but yours, and know I can trust
the death you will bring.

See, I live. On what?
Childhood and future are equally present.
Sheer abundance of being
floods my heart.

     – Rainer Maria Rilke (from the Ninth Duino Elegy,
 translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)

There is a very difficult notion to express clearly and wisely.

When an individual is in pain, (or as with the pandemic, for a whole population), to even hint that it’s “really anopportunity” can be infuriating and painful. Those who are suffering right now from the illness itself, those on the front lines of “essential services,” or those deeply impacted by the social and economic responses to the pandemic deserve our empathy, our support, our prayers…period. They don’t need to be told, “Hey, this is really an opportunity for us all to grow into a better world.”

But a great many of us are sitting or working in relatively safe and comfortable conditions and have the time to take a deep look and assess where we are and where we are headed. We may direct attention to the broader meaning of what is happening and possibly find ways to effect the course of human life going forward. The catastrophe, the immense suffering of the Covid-19 pandemic, may be an opportunity for a wake-up to create a better world.

No one knows the future. But it does seem clear that there are forces that will attempt to use this moment to advance totalitarian controls of the population and increase the wealth and power of a small number of people at the expense of everyone else. At the same time, there are signs of increasingly empowered voices that seek to advance a transformative vision and bring about a society based in compassion and living in greater harmony with Mother Earth.

The spectrum of possible futures lie at or between these poles. The question for each of us is where are we putting our attention and energy.

I’ve included here three essays that were sent by way of Kosmos Journal, an online journal dedicated to global transformation integrating psychology and spirituality with social and political change.

Below that, I’ve copied a story from the New York Times that offers an example of our global inter-relatedness and an expression of empathy and reciprocity between a Native American tribe and the people of Ireland.

Three Essays from Kosmos on COVID-19

Searching for the Anti-Virus | Covid-19 as Quantum Phenomenon by Martin Winiecki – The author brings focus to the ideas that physical disease is not separate from our mental and emotional nature and that subjective experience is not separate from objective reality. He states, that, ” If we exclusively fight the symptoms without exploring the deeper root, we might survive the disease but other symptoms are still likely to materialize.”
 

True Health | What if the Virus is the Medicine? by Julia Hartsell and Jonathan Hadas Edwards – This essay urges us to look at the potential for this being an initiatory process, “There is the hope that what is dying is the caterpillar of immature humanity in order that the metamorphosis yields a stunning emergence. That whatever survives this collective initiation process will be truer, more heart-connected, resilient and generative.”

Coronavirus Spells the End of the Neoliberal Era | What’s Next? by Jeremy Lent – Taking both a spiritual and political look into ‘what’s next,’ Lent shares historical accounts of radical shifts in ‘what is possible’ and offers us a look at where we may or may not go now. On the positive side, he offers these elements of the opportunity: a fairer society, ecological stabilization, the rise of “glocalization,” and compassionate community.

===============

A story of reciprocity and empathy:

By Ed O’Loughlin and Mihir Zaveri in the New York Times

Published May 5, 2020 Updated May 6, 2020, 6:55 a.m. ET

DUBLIN — More than 170 years ago, the Choctaw Nation sent $170 to starving Irish families during the potato famine. A sculpture in County Cork commemorates the generosity of the tribe, itself poor. In recent decades, ties between Ireland and the Choctaws have grown.

Now hundreds of Irish people are repaying that old kindness, giving to a charity drive for two Native American tribes suffering in the Covid-19 pandemic. As of Tuesday, the fund-raiser has raised more than $1.8 million to help supply clean water, food and health supplies to people in the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Reservation, with hundreds of thousands of dollars coming from Irish donors, according to the organizers.

Many donors cited the generosity of the Choctaws, noting that the gift came not long after the United States government forcibly relocated the tribe and several other American Indian groups from the Southeastern United States, a march across thousands of miles known as the Trail of Tears that left thousands of people dead along the way.

“I’d already known what the Choctaw did in the famine, so short a time after they’d been through the Trail of Tears,” Sean Callahan, 43, an Apple administrator in Cork City who made a donation, said on Tuesday. “It always struck me for its kindness and generosity and I see that too in the Irish people. It seemed the right time to try and pay it back in kind.”

“Thank you, IRELAND, for showing solidarity and being here for us,” one said on the GoFundMe page.

Gary Batton, chief of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, said in a statement on Tuesday that the tribe was “gratified — and perhaps not at all surprised — to learn of the assistance our special friends, the Irish, are giving to the Navajo and Hopi Nations.”

“We have become kindred spirits with the Irish in the years since the Irish potato famine,” he said. “We hope the Irish, Navajo and Hopi peoples develop lasting friendships, as we have.”

Cassandra Begay, communications director for the fund-raiser, said in an interview on Tuesday that Irish people appeared to have found the charity effort through posts on Twitter, including one on May 2 from a reporter at The Irish Times, Naomi O’Leary. Ms. Begay, a member of the Navajo Nation, said over the past 48 hours, more than $500,000 had been donated, with most of the money coming from Ireland.

“The Choctaw ancestors planted that seed a long time ago, based off the same fundamental belief of helping someone else,” Ms. Begay said. “It is a dark time for us. The support from Ireland, another country, is phenomenal.”

A high prevalence of diseases like diabetes, scarcity of running water and homes with several generations living under the same roof have enabled the virus to spread with exceptional speed in places like the Navajo Nation, according to epidemiologists. The Hopi reservation is surrounded by the Navajo Nation.

It is not surprising that the ordeals of Native American tribes resonate in Ireland. It is estimated that one million Irish people, mainly poor tenant subsistence farmers, died of hunger or disease from 1845 to 1849, and another million emigrated in that period or shortly afterward.

The famine was among the first humanitarian crises to be reported in the early days of global media, which helped spur donations to Ireland from around the world. In addition to the donation from the Choctaw, money was raised from prisoners in Sing Sing, former slaves in the Caribbean and convicts on a prison ship in London.

The Choctaws were the first tribe to be relocated during the Trail of Tears, starting in 1831, with thousands dying and many starving.

Years later, the Choctaws learned of the Irish potato famine and “a great empathy was felt when they heard such a similar tale coming from across the ocean,” according to the Choctaw Nation’s description of its bond with the Irish.

Choctaw people then gathered together $170 to send to Irish people in 1847, the equivalent of more than $5,000 today.

“When our ancestors heard of the famine and the hardship of the Irish people, they knew it was time to help,” Mr. Batton wrote in 2017.

The sculpture commemorating the Choctaws’ generosity was dedicated in 2017 in Midleton, Ireland.

Prof. Diarmaid Ferriter, a historian at University College Dublin and co-author, with the writer Colm Toibin, of the book “The Irish Famine,” said that awareness of the Choctaw donation to Irish famine relief had increased sharply since the commemoration of the 150th anniversary in 1995.

The president of Ireland at the time, Mary Robinson, had visited the Choctaws in Oklahoma to thank them. Two years ago, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar also paid them a visit.

“It showed how far the famine resonated that it reached people 4,000 miles away who had themselves recently suffered terrible deprivation and clearance from their land,” Professor Ferriter said. “There is a belief that the famine has never been forgotten here, and it has made Irish people more likely to make common cause with other marginalized people.”

The money donated by the Choctaws was distributed in Ireland by members of the Quaker community, who are still remembered for their leading role in famine relief. More recently, Choctaw representatives have taken part in the annual Famine Walk in County Mayo, which commemorates a forced march in terrible weather by hundreds of starving people hoping for government

Introducing #CovidInspirations

“May All Beings Be Happy
May All Beings Be Safe
May All Beings Everywhere Be Free”
                     –Buddhist Prayer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DzPTHstpJ2I
                –(link to Jennifer Berezan and friends beautifulrendition)

         Since my last  post “We Are Not Alone,” I’ve received many appreciative responses along with poetry and messages that also point towards the possibility of this being a much needed transformative moment for humanity. I’ve put together a site at medium.comhttps://medium.com/@covid.inspirations, that brings some of these together and hope you will find them inspiring and helpful.

I understand fully the fear, anxiety, and actual physical suffering that this pandemic engenders. I also understand that it is quite possible for humanity to take this time to spiral further into a destructive course, one already underway, that many of us have been calling attention to for years. My intention, and I believe the intention of the writings at the site I’ve created, is not to gloss over the reality, but to foster the strength to face this reality with open eyes and the willingness to make the changes required.

I do believe that we as a species must meet the reality we have created with a new way of seeing. We need to let go of the modern era’s sense of certainty and the post-modern era’s tendency to nihilism and cynicism.  This is no easy task. Just as we have been basted in sexism and racism, we have been raised in a world that only believes in what can be weighed and measured and the certainty that we are separate from each other.

As we take the precautions necessary to stop the spread of the pandemic, let us also be mindful of this important work on ourselves. This is only the beginning.

Help spread inspiration https://medium.com/@covid.inspirations

These are the times that try our ability to stay aligned with our Souls. As the Covid-19 virus pandemic has spread and unprecedented actions are taken to control or minimize the spread, some people have responded with unprecedented beauty, wisdom and compassion……” See: https://medium.com/@covid.inspirations/these-are-the-times-98ef4b07718b

–Alan Levin

We Are Not Alone

It seems clear that the pandemic of the Covid-19 virus is amplifying a pre-existing condition; the pandemic of fear and anxiety that has already spread across the world. In times of crisis, we tend to look to the established powers to help guide and support us. These powers – local, regional, national and international –are formed through political processes and informed by the various methods of scientific inquiry. A difficulty we now face is that both our political and scientific thinking is dominated by an old paradigm of reality that may have reached the point where it can no longer be effective.

Something that the modern political and Western scientific mind fails to take into consideration is that we humans are not alone. I’m not simply saying that we have community among and with other humans; but that as humans, we are part of a much larger family of beings that also have a say in the future that is unfolding. I’m speaking of the jaguars and lions, elephants, geckos, condors and eagles, whales and dolphins, to name just a very few of the multitude of animal creatures. There are the rainforests, boreal forests, tulips, banisteriopsis cappi, and mushrooms of the plant world. There are the great mountains and oceans. There is Mother Earth. And there is a multitude of tiny bacteria and viruses all over and inside everything. Who is to say that they don’t have a say concerning the future?

Indigenous people worldwide, including the ancestors of Europeans, saw not only life, but consciousness, intelligence, in all that is listed above. Only in the last several centuries have humans, especially in the West and North, considered humans to be the only intelligent life form on Earth. During this period, using that very special human intelligence, we have brought ourselves to the brink of self destruction while also destroying myriads of other life-forms. Now, just as it seems the our situation couldn’t get any scarier, some tiny agent from the natural world comes along and is shaking the very foundations of our civilization. Broadway is shut down. Baseball, basketball, football and hockey – down. Concerts, schools, community gatherings – down. Gatherings to protest what is going on – down.

Nature works in mysterious ways Her wonders to perform, (to paraphrase from the Christian hymn). Are we going to start paying attention to Her more respectfully, more intelligently, more empathically? Or are we going to continue down our fear-based and arrogant pathway, trying to control what is infinitely more wise and powerful than us? She could dispense with us with a giant hiccup. She wants us here, or we’d have been gone long ago.

Beliefs, (which form the cognitive basis of our paradigm of reality) die hard. But pressure and pain from forces outside ourselves are sometimes a catalyst for reconsidering what we think is true. Quite a few years ago, I led a group of folks on a wilderness quest in the high desert of Southern California. On the first night, after we had all settled some distance apart, each under his or her tarp, a fierce lightning storm struck. There were Joshua trees and pinion pine scattered like lightning rods all around us and we were surrounded by ridges of stone. The lightning struck every few seconds and the roaring thunder was constant, seemingly interminable. In the morning it was quiet and we shared our experiences of the night. Even the professed atheists confessed to praying during the night to something or someone that in that brief moment seemed to really be there protecting us. There is an old saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”

I’m not predicting what will happen. I don’t know and I’m ok with that. Maybe this one moment of worldwide fear will turn out to be a bump in the road. Maybe it will be a catalyst for positive social, economic and political change. But I do sense an awareness growing in us as people that goes beyond the political ideologies that justify and perpetuate so much human conflict. I feel it in myself. As I let go of my sense of certainty and open to the counsel of the life all around me with a humble and open heart, two things shift: I feel the possibility that this will all turn out ok; I recognize that in this moment, I am OK.
There is and will be pain, and it behooves us all to pay attention, be wise and help those in need. At the same time, for our own sake and for all life, there is a need to step back and open to a new frame for seeing what is happening on Earth. We need to stop treating nature like a tinker toy or as a simple child that knows not what s/he needs. She is more than what we are in our little body/mind selves; she is wiser and more powerful. Perhaps there is a blessing in disguise of “social distancing.” We will take time with nature in the quiet and solitude that allows us to listen to Her, ask for guidance, and align our lives with the family of life.

Watch Out! The Woo-Woo, Wacko, “New Age” is Gonna Get Ya! And She’s Running for President

This is my response to the mostly mocking, ridiculing and fear-based mainstream and social media focus on Marrianne Williamson. To start with, while most of those doing the ridiculing would deny that anything like telepathy exists, they are the first to tell us they KNOW why she is running: (to make money, sell books and get attention, of course). I’d love to give these writers mirrors for their egos.

Then there’s the shock at the phrase, “dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred ….” as if it is an expression of something alien, occult and just plain weird.  Does anyone not immediately know exactly what she is talking about? Does political speech have to be that devoid of the language of the human heart that it can’t relate to those words? Even the modest approval she is occasionally given for her intelligent policy positions and psychological insights into politics is always hedged with some reference to her “wacky new-age ideas.”

So what is the “new age” anyway. While my Google search brought up several somewhat objective accounts of the very loose movement/network/zeitgeist, they all seemed to leave out “the Aquarian Age” of the Sixties. Didn’t folks see “Hair?”  Back then, as I recall, many of us believed that there was a shift happening in the world and people were going to change from a competitive and survival-of-the-fittest mindset to a more loving, earth friendly, non-hierarchical world.  Naive, yes, especially in the sense that we would thought it would all happen very quickly and without effort. But this Aquarian spirit was a major impetus, if not the primary force, behind the environmental movement, holistic and integral medicine, new forms of psychological and mental health treatment, organic farming, reforms in education, and the embrace of sexual expression and varied forms of identity. See Marilyn Ferguson’s The Aquarian Conspiracy.

As things evolved in the Seventies and Eightees, what started to be called the “new age” movement continued to grow even outside the realm of counter-culture hippies. From my insider perspective, the primary unifying principle was the belief that humans could transform their own consciousness to a higher and more loving place and that this would (or could) spread and change the world. There would be, (or we could help bring about) a paradigm shift in human thinking and behavior, between us as humans and between humans and all life. What a concept!

As people extended their openness to new and different ideas, to think more outside the box, there was and continues to be an exploration of the older, even ancient, ideas of astrology, the I Ching, Tarot, and other symbolic maps of consciousness. The study and practice of Eastern spirituality and mystical forms of Western wisdom traditions became widespread. Alternative forms of healing, acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal medicine, yoga, tai chi, were seen nearly everywhere. None of these are inherently ‘new age.’ Most are very old or ancient.  Carl Jung, among many eminent scholars and visionaries of the modern world treated them with great respect. 

Deep, revolutionary movements have a way of being trivialized, coopted, commercialized, distorted. The “new age” has gone through all of that and the term is mostly now used as a pejorative applied to just about anything or anyone superficial, naive, flaky.  I’ve done it myself. But Marrianne Williamson? NOT!  Read or listen to what she actually says in full context. 

As she gets more attention, there is a new trend among liberals to not just dismiss her as flaky and irrelevant, but dangerous! Something along the lines of, “Her new-age stuff may seem innocent enough, but it hides a pernicious cult of individualism which ends up blaming and shaming people for their poverty and illness.” “It’s really right-wing in its essential teachings.” 

This is an accusation made by some against all religions. But there is a deep question here for all spiritual and religious movements. While atheists have Ayn Rand espousing the value of selfishness, spiritual movements can fall victim to the same egoic impulse that they aim to cure.  Spiritually oriented people outside of traditional religious institutions have been discussing for decades this tension between the notion of individual liberation of oneself and the seemingly opposing call to be involved in the struggles for justice, peace and harmony with Mother Earth. While there are spiritual teachers and groups that do emphasize the former, as someone very involved in this myself I am aware that the preponderance of movement is towards a deeper and wiser integration of both human needs. And for decades, Marrianne Williamson has been at the forefront as a teacher and leader of the movement to bring spirituality into the service of healing individuals, communities and the world. 

Her courage in crossing into the dark, yes DARK pit of politics and media to bring a message of light and hope and an honest progressive political agenda deserves respect. Vote for who you like, but listen to what she says and hope the other candidates do as well. If she is not President, perhaps she can head the Department of Peace. And if she is neither, she will have still accomplished a great deal.

May the Force and Light be with you, Marrianne, in your noble quest.

Rev. Martin Luther King – Spiritual Activist

In the modern secular world, it takes courage to cross the boundary from watching the events of the world, to becoming an activist in bringing about change and transformation of the direction of society. Likewise, even for those immersed in a religious tradition, there is a boundary to becoming a truly spiritual being. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. crossed both of those boundaries and changed our world. I was honored to be asked to write a piece about him for the Fellowship of Reconciliation which I’ve linked to here.

Rev. Martin Luther King – Spiritual Activist

                                                                                    –Alan Levin

“Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hate never yet dispelled hateOnly love dispels hate.” – Buddha (from the Dhammapada)

 

With an iconic figure such as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose brief life shook this nation forever, people pick and choose what they want to see of his multi-faceted legacy.

Currently we have the literal whitewashing of his very radical message as politicians who want to discredit affirmative action and impose voter I.D. laws use quotes from Martin Luther King to justify their supposed “color-blind” objectives.

On the other hand, activists of the Left often overlook the fact that Reverend King was a truly religious, spiritual man. He was a Christian. But more so, he was a holy man in the prophetic tradition that transcends any one religion.

I have no knowledge of King’s inner life, but from what I do know of his life and statements, he regularly sought counsel from the divine within for guidance and tried to walk and talk in alignment with that.

 

I do not know if he ever studied formal meditation from Eastern teachers, but he found deep friendship, mutual respect and admiration with Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. It was after his talks with Nhat Hanh that Dr. King came out publicly against the Vietnam War. In 1967 Dr. King nominated Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In any case, King found from his inner sojourns, his reflections and prayers, his own unique understanding and expression of many of the deepest teachings of spirituality, East and West.

Everything is interconnected. Everything affects
everything else. Everything that is,
is because other things are.
–Basic Buddhist teaching of Dependent Origination

“All I’m saying is simply this: that all mankind is tied together; all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be – this is the interrelated structure of reality … And by believing this, by living out this fact, we will be able to remain awake through a great revolution.”

–Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Commencement Address at Oberlin College, 1965)

 

His call to, “remain awake” as a primary goal testifies to the importance King placed on consciousness, not just our behavior as humans, as activists. He wanted us to be awake not just to the suffering, or even the systemic causes of suffering, but awake to the nature of reality. In this, he is in alignment with His Holiness the Dalai Lama: “What the world needs is a spiritual revolution.”

I believe Dr. King understood from his own experience the need to take time to cultivate that spiritual consciousness, to cultivate a heart filled with compassion and love in the face of injustice, hatred, and violence. This cultivation is the very heart of meditation.

King’s good friend Thomas Merton, the Roman Catholic monk, deeply involved himself in Eastern philosophy and spirituality. He counseled us to “withdraw into the healing silence of the wilderness … not in order to preach to others but to heal in (ourselves) the wounds of the entire world.” And yet, King did preach once he felt his voice was a channel for that greater whole.

Somehow, through his inner searching and his confrontation with the realities of the world, King realized for himself that freedom from the fear of death is the promised land of spiritual work, the realization of the greater awareness that lies beyond the phenomenal world. What else could he have experienced that brought him to say:

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land.”

As I was writing this, a good friend, Sister Dorothy Maxwell, sent me a profound article, “The Ecology of Prayer” by Fred Bahnson in Orion Magazine. In it, Bahnson quotes the seventh century Saint Isaac of Syria, “An elder was once asked, ‘What is a compassionate heart?’ He replied: ‘It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons and for all that exists.’”

Surely, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was actively engaged in transforming his heart towards that fuller compassion through his meditations, his prayers, and his activism. Surely, it is our task to carry on that work.

Alan Levin is cofounder of Sacred River Healing. A member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Alan is involved in a range of initiatives in New York’s lower Hudson Valley that engage the intersections of racial justice, peacemaking, ecological sustainability, mind-body healing, and spiritual awakening.

Photos: (1) Rev. King with Thich Nhat Hanh in June 1966, courtesy of FOR Archives & Plum Village Monastery; (2) Photo by Bob Fitch, used with permission, FOR Archives.