Category Archives: Blog

All Blog posts

One Brave Angel – Ciaran O’Connor

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
–Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address (before the Civil War)

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
–Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address (as the war was ending)

Are there Angels, Aliens, Beings that reside in other dimensions? Are we humans able to contact them, communicate and commune with them in ways that would be of benefit to ourselves and this planet? Even to entertain this question seriously, one would have to cross a series of mental boundaries set by the Western, secular and scientific mindset of reality.

Are many of the people who embrace and support Trump actually decent, moral and intelligent men and women? For a liberal or progressive person, it would involve crossing a boundary of beliefs and attitudes to even consider this. Likewise from the other direction.

I had a conversation with someone who has crossed both those boundaries and is also helping others to do the same, especially regarding the latter issue. Ciaran O’Connor is one of the leaders of Braver Angels. Braver Angels is one of the organization that I’ve spoken about (see: https://youtu.be/PhSPDyFnEfo) and written about (see: http://www.crossingtheboundary.org/talk-with-your-enemy-dialogue-about-dialogue/ ) that brings folks from polarized political and cultural viewpoints together for what I call bridge building of the heart. They call this reducing affective depolarization – being able to disagree strongly about ideas, but not hate or disrespect the person with the opposing views.

I’ve participated in a number of Braver Angels workshops and recently began a one-to-one series of meetings with a conservative, Trump supporter arranged through Braver Angels. These meetings have carefully structured outlines for the encounters. In all my experiences with BA I’ve found myself challenged. At the same time I’ve found myself gaining a more expanded sense of appreciation for the people on “the other side” and grown in my ability to speak of my progressive ideas without anger or disrespect.

Ciaran has been with Braver Angels since its very early days and has helped it grow to where now it has thousands of members and has reached many thousands on both sides of the political divide. I admire how he models the attitude and skills of healthy dialogue involving complex and usually divisive issues. He does this through his own podcast and through Braver Angels style panel “debate/discussions” on very contentious issues of the day.

I was also very interested (and pleased) to hear from Ciaran that he has explored altered states of consciousness through both meditation and psychedelics. In my interview with him, he talks about how these experiences have helped him in his life. He’s also talked of experiences that opened him to the possibility of relating to non-physical beings as allies in our work to make the world better. He and I agree that this reawakening to the indigenous and shamanic worldview may be an important key to resolving the crises of our time.

Whether you are yet a believer in the presence of Angels or believe that humans can act more like “angels” courageously and empathically, I think you will find my interview with Ciaran O’Connor stimulating.

Here is a link to my YouTube conversation with Ciaran O’Connor: https://youtu.be/4TnRNDGlWz4

Thoughts on Drugs

“Any drug can be used successfully, no matter how bad it’s reputation,
and any drug can be abused, no matter how accepted it is.
There are no good or bad rugs;
there are only good and bad relationships with drugs.”

                         ― Andrew Weil, M.D.


“The difference between passion and addiction
is that between a divine spark and a flame that incinerates.”

               ― Gabor Maté,

“By banning psychedelic research
we have not only given up the study of an interesting drug or group of substances,
but also abandoned one of the most promising approaches
to the understanding of the human mind and consciousness.”
           –Stan Grof


I’ve been thinking about writing about drugs for the longest time. There is so much to say and it’s also hard to keep up with the changing mood of the public at large and the slower but noticeable changes taking place in public policy. So it’s been hard to know where to begin.

But now, the New York Times has published the sanest, most sensitive, rational and clear and…did I say, SANE, article on drugs that I’ve yet seen in the mainstream media. As I read it, little wows kept going off in my mind. Wow, this person really gets it, the whole picture: the stupid waste and destruction of the war on drugs, the false assumption that some drugs are inherently addictive, harm reduction, legalization, cultural appropriation of native cultures, the healing and spiritually awakening potentials of psychedelics, and more. The author even managed to write about all this without what has become the required disparaging note about Tim Leary, even offering a respectful observation of Leary’s insight about set and setting (which, in fact, this is all about – see below).

At the bottom of the article I found out the author is Michael Pollan, which then made sense. He’s the best selling writer about food who then wrote about his exploration of psychedelics in his book, How to Change Your Mind, and has made psychedelic journeys a best selling experience. I say that respectfully. I’ve been closely aware of what Pollan calls “the underground psychedelic movement” (as distinguished from the “above ground” much smaller, but growing, network of government sanctioned research studies at various university medical schools). Pollan’s book has brought folks who may or may not have done some acid or shrooms “back in the day” out seeking psycho-spiritually or shamanically guided experiences with entheogens (the now preferred word for psychedelics). And I think that’s a very good thing (for the most part – again, see below).

Suffice it to say, I highly, highly recommend you read Pollan’s article, “How Should We Do Drugs Now?”  https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/09/opinion/sunday/drug-legalization-mdma-psilocybin.html?referringSource=articleShare

AND, let me take advantage of this moment of sharing the lucid writing of Michael Pollan to segue into offering some of my own thoughts on the subject that I hope you find interesting.

 Coming back to set and setting. Basically, this means that a psychedelic (for example) does not contain in itself the states of consciousness that people experience with them. Rather, they are catalysts for what is happening with the mix of the setting (all that is out around the person – people, sound, environment, etc.) and the set (all that is within the person – expectations, fears, hopes, beliefs, intentions, etc.). In truth, and Pollan does say this, this is happening all the time with everything that we experience. Our inner world is meeting with the outer world and producing an experience.

When I was teaching a class on chemical dependency treatment at several schools in California in the 90’s, I developed a model that I feel applies to everything we relate with whether drugs and alcohol or people, places, things, or even processes or activities like sex, exercise or eating. The idea is that we relate with a quality of consciousness, a mindset, that defines and makes the relationship into one that is very destructive or very helpful, even sacred.

These kinds of relationships can be thought to exist on a continuum from addiction to spiritually awakening. And the interesting thing is that almost anything can be used in any of these ways, depending on the set and setting. Andrew Weil, whose classic on the subject, From Chocolate to Morphine, gives numerous examples of the ways that different cultures (settings) have made use of substances that we think of as destructive and addictive (e.g.: opiates, coca, tobacco) in healthy and sometimes sacred ways. If we only know about the unhealthy ways people in our culture have related to them, we tend to think the substance is inherently bad.

I portray the continuum of relationship this way:

______________________________________________________________________________
Addiction     Abuse      Recreation       Learning/Creative        Sacred/Spiritual

Fo another example, it’s not too hard to see how one can have a kind of relationship with another human being that falls within any of these descriptors: addictive, abusive, recreational, etc.. Likewise with sex, exercise, food (or certain foods), or any substance. It’s all in how we relate.

Some folks seem able to use substances recreationally that other folks abuse or use addictively. For some people, the healthiest way to be with a certain substance may be to only use it ritually or ceremonially with a clear intention, or not at all. I once worked with a medical doctor who was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. In a visionary experience he came to see that he loved tobacco but that the healthiest way for him to relate with it was to put a small amount in a bowl on an altar and not smoke it. He stopped smoking from then on.

As marijuana legalization is now the rule in a growing number of states, and will likely be legal nationally before long, it’s a good idea to recognize that pot (like very legal alcohol) is not an innocuous substance. It can indeed be abused and people can be addicted. That in no way means it should be illegal or criminalized. People need to learn to form healthy relationships with it if they are going to use it. To quote Tim Leary again, “Just say KNOW.” Know what you are doing and how you are doing it. Pot can relax and help sleep, it can be fun, it can inspire creative, artistic work, it can be used to amplify spiritual discovery. It can also be used to numb the mind, amplify depression and stunt motivation. To say it one more time: it’s how we relate with it.

With stronger psychedelics now becoming mainstream, we should also be aware of some dangers. Inexperienced users taking potent substances in chaotic settings and untrained “guides” setting up shop to lead sessions may very well lead to dangerous and harmful events and be a setup for another backlash.

All that said, I am one of those who find the upsurge in interest in the healing and spiritual awakening uses of psychedelics to be a very good thing. I know it may be a stretch to say, but it may be the primary thing that will keep humanity from driving over the cliff. But I’ll leave that for another day.

One last thing. Here is a great place to go for understanding the care and mindset that goes into a healthy guides orientation for “holding space.” Please see The Guiding Presence: https://theguidingpresence.com/.

Crossing Boundaries for Peacebuilding – Paula Green

“It is time to let go of the notion
that we are independent individuals and disconnected nations.”

— Paula Green

“Our survival depends
on a significant portion of the human race
accomplishing a change in worldview,
from one of patriotic and tribal loyalties
to loyalty to life itself.” 

—Paula Green

My interest in crossing boundaries goes back many years, focusing on individuals who adopted whole new belief systems and practices from the ones in which they were raised, to groups reaching across the chasms that divide them from other groups and finding common ground and appreciation.

In my last message I brought some focus to the work of Paula Green and the project Hands Across the Hills that brings together liberals from Western Mass. with Trump supporters from coal country Kentucky. Since then I’ve had the privilege of interviewing Paula and we had a wonderful conversation which is available on my YouTube channel at https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLBTcFhpF_7838Ckgn-8rf508QrjEqc9GA. Please listen in when you have some time. Paula is truly an amazing “peacebuilder” as she calls her work. She founded the Karuna Centerwhich developed projects all over the world helping build bridges between people in areas wracked by violence and war. That work took her to Burma, Bosnia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Nepal and Israel/Palestine.

She also established the CONTACT program, Conflict Transformation Across Cultures, which brings people from conflict areas around the world together for training in peacebuilding and meeting and learning from each other. 

About Hands Across the Hills, Paula has said, “I believe, the project offers hope in a time of national despair.” We all can benefit from more hope

There is much to learn from Paula’s work and how it relates to our own consciousness. As she says, “Our challenge is to understand …and take responsibility for our role in the dance. The harm of mutually destructive simplifications reminds us to monitor our own steady stream of judging and dividing, a far more productive investment than trying to change others.”  We would all do well and benefit from learning to monitor our own stream of judging and dividing.


Neo-Hasidic Visionary – Art Green

“Tradition is a profound echo chamber
of the countless generations of its faithful
reaching into antiquity.”

“We are creatures of a natural world
that is itself a multi-colored garbing of divine glory.”

“I have learned to express the universal truth
in the language of Jewish tradition.”

                       –Arthur Green



Arthur Green went from being raised in a secular (in this case, atheist) Jewish home to become one of the leading lights among those re-infusing Judaism with a deep mystical experience that is universal in nature and devoid of the rigidity commonly associated with Orthodoxy.

He refers to his path as Neo-Hasidic, drawing on the mystical teachings of the great masters of the early Hasidic tradition and bringing them into alignment with life in the modern and post-modern world. Arthur has a voice of authenticity and makes no pretense of being a guru (or even rebbe) but rather teaches and shares from his own study, practice and experience.

He was a founding dean of the non-denominational rabbinical program at Hebrew College in Boston, where he still teaches and he has authored over seventeen books. I read Judaism for the World -Reflections on God, Life, and Love preparing for my conversation with him. There is something so real and honest and deep about the Judaism he describes that I can honestly say I am drawn to look again at the study and practices of the Jewish lineage.

We spoke of the very common phenomenon of Jews seeking deep spiritual experience through other spiritual/religious paths such as those I interviewed for my own book, Crossing the Boundary – Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths. We also spoke of his early experiences with psychedelic substances through which he found, along with his friend and mentor, Zalman Schachter, an experiential confirmation of the mystical teachings of Judaism and all world religions. You can view a full half-hour interview with Arthur and Rabbi Zak Kamenetz on this subject which took place at the “Jewish Psychedelic Summit” in April of 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHZqwQiuO0A

My conversation with Art ranged along many lines including ideas about Jewish identity, the Soul, the role of tradition and ritual, the perennial philosophy, Israel/Palestine, and the One and the many. It is part of a series of Crossing the Boundary interviews I am doing with people who have crossed boundaries for their own good and the good of all life. You can see the the full list of them here: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLBTcFhpF_7838Ckgn-8rf508QrjEqc9GA

And here is my interview with Art Green. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did talking with him.
https://youtu.be/C9LrA9fX_os

Photography for Hebrew College web site and publications.

Hasidic Child to Education Activist

(See video interview at https://youtu.be/7yHxCqejlVU)

Ultra-Orthodox Jews have shifted from being seen as a quaint, odd but innocent presence, mostly but not exclusively in New York, to a political power block at the center of numerous controversies. Their very high birth rate makes them the fastest growing of all Jewish sects in the U.S. (and Israel). As their population expands, they have taken over increasing areas of New York City, Rockland County, and small towns upstate. They have been able to roll over resistance from previous residents of those areas and present challenges regarding environmental regulations, residential zoning laws, school boards, and other issues.

However, while their population expands explosively, so does the growing number of those who seek to leave the fold when they are able. That ability to leave is hampered by the fact that children raised in the very insular ultra-Orthodox world often speak little English and have few skills for navigating the world outside. While this is not true of Modern Orthodox families, the more extremely fundamentalist schools of the ultra-Orthodox, (yeshivas) provide very little secular education (math, civics, science, history). As well, the students are taught to fear the outside world. A young adult seeking to find their way outside the boundary of the enclave faces not only intense family and community pressure, but a lack of knowledge on how to communicate, find housing and work.

Despite the fact that New York and most other states have requirements for all schools, including religious ones, to teach English and secular studies, the political power of the ultra-Orthodox has caused even liberal mayors and governors to look the other way. Along comes one yeshiva boy who couldn’t take it any more. Naftuli Moster was raised with 17 siblings in a very conservative sect of the Hasidic world in Borough Park, Brooklyn. His journey, starting with an interest in psychology, led him on an odyssey that put him in conflict with family and community and to his founding of YAFFED (Young Advocates for Fair Education).

YAFFED has taken on the task of advocating for young people who attend yeshivas to receive the state mandated time and attention to secular education. While he and his organization have received a great amount of recognition and awards, the actual progress has been minimal. Political leaders seeking re-election fear the voting block of thousands of ultra-Orthodox mobilized by their rabbinic leaders. The ultra-Orthodox leaders fear that if their youth were educated properly, more would find their way to live outside the very confining norms and traditions of their community. That fear may be well founded, but preventing kids from receiving a full education is both immoral and illegal.

Many popular books have portrayed the very difficult and sometimes dangerous road to leaving the ultra-Orthodox world. There are memoirs such as, All Who Go Do Not Return by Shulem Deen and the hilarious Foreskin’s Lament by Shalom Auslander. Also, several mainstream movies, such as “Unorthodox” and “One of Us” give a stark picture of the challenge in crossing that boundary to the outside world they’ve been raised to see as “the other.”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Naftuli as part of my Crossing Boundaries series. We explored his life as a child growing up leading to his slow transition to a very different kind of life and dedicated activism on behalf of those young people still in the Hasidic yeshivas. You can view the full interview here: https://youtu.be/7yHxCqejlVU.

Resources:

YAFFED: https://yaffed.org/

Footsteps (the only organization in North America that assists people who wish to leave or explore leaving ultra-Orthodoxy). https://footstepsorg.org/

New York Times article on Naftuli and YAFFED: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/23/nyregion/a-yeshiva-graduate-fights-for-secular-studies-in-hasidic-education.html

Tribute to Ralph Metzner

(Painting by Susan Wright)

“The introduction of LSD and psychedelics into the culture
produced a transformation of the entire culture,
the consciousness of the culture.”

                 –Ralph Metzner

“For years I’ve followed a principle:
Read anything Ralph Metzner writes.”
                 –Larry Dossey


“You have pulled the whole thing together
in a truly illuminated and illuminating way.”

                               –Joseph Campbell (about The Unfolding Self)

“…….When I asked him how to experience this teaching, he closed his eyes and his body seemed to de-materialize. Part of him went up and up in stages and then slowly came back down. …When he came back down, he told me to follow him to his cabin and he led me through an experience in which I felt all the negativity, doubt, fear, shame and pain that I’d been carrying for my whole life cleansed from my body, cell by cell, cleansed by a stream of white light. I felt clearer than I’d ever felt, confident and certain that this was the path for me to follow. Ralph (Metzner) had initiated me into the spiritual lineage of Agni Yoga and what would be a 45 year relationship with him as well as a meditation practice I use to this day.”


Ralph Metzner died two years ago and his birthday was last week, May 18th. The experience I recount above is part of an article for a Festschrift (tribute book) for Ralph that is being lovingly edited by his wife, Cathy Coleman. The piece above is about my first encounter with him in 1969 where he led a retreat on “Maps of Consciousness” and introduced me to the Western esoteric practices of Agni Yoga. I can honestly say that two years after his death I think of him every day. No one has been as important in my spiritual journey.


Ralph was a scholar, a prolific writer of books and articles, lecturer, teacher and ceremonial leader of inner experiences which were participated in by perhaps thousands. His influence in the fields of transpersonal and eco-psychology was profound. But to many of those of us who worked with him, nothing compared to his unique and innovative approach to guiding altered-state experiences with sacred medicines. Ralph was the teacher of teachers, the guide for guides, the shaman for shamans in the underground movement of entheogenic (psychedelic) experiences.


Ralph was the third, much lesser known of the three men from Harvard renowned for blowing the lid off the secret study of psychedelics. Tim Leary went on to be an icon of the wild side of the counter-culture while Richard Alpert became Ram Dass and brought Eastern spirituality to millions. Ralph took a quieter road and became deeply involved in disciplines of esoteric practices and finally integrated those with psychedelics bringing about his unique form of teachings and guidance. His legacy includes books which are filled with both scientific information and instructions for the use of: MDMA (Through the Gateway of the Heart), Ayahuasca (Ayuhasca-Sacred Vine of Spirit), Mushrooms (Teonanacatl-Sacred Mushroom of Visions), DMT and 5-Meo-DMT (The Toad and the Jaguar) as well as an all-inclusive manual (Allies for Awakening – Guidelines for productive and safe experiences with entheogen).


A master of shape-shifting and consciousness, he could also maintain his work as a psychologist, a teacher and dean at the California Institute of Integral Studies, and beloved husband and father. His books and articles took in-depth looks at consciousness studies, the roots of war and violence and the meanings of many of the world’s mythologies, metaphors and symbols.


The depth of his insights makes for more dense reading than most popular spiritual books. But my guess is that many of them will become classics for those seeking to penetrate beyond the superficial understandings of consciousness and spirit. For Ralph, the alchemical work was not an intellectual exercise. He practiced what he preached and transformed himself decade by decade. I miss him and yet know and feel he is still here.


For more information about Ralph and for many of his books, visit the website he developed for Green Earth Foundation: https://www.greenearthfound.org/.


As celebration of his birthday, Green Earth Foundation announced that what I think is his most comprehensive work, The Unfolding Self, has been made into an audio book. You can see more and order it here: https://www.pipewellstudios.uk/.

Talk With Your Enemy? Dialogue about Dialogue

“How do we vigorously disagree with political positions and destructive actions while refraining from dehumanization and self-righteousness?….

The harm of mutually destructive simplifications reminds us to monitor our own steady stream of judging and dividing, a far more productive investment than trying to change others.”

        –Paula Green, founder of Hands Across the Valley

“If feelings about our political adversaries can be represented on a spectrum, our objective is to move Americans from hatred or disdain to respect & appreciation.”
–from Braver Angels website

“…today’s crises demand that we aim for what King called “positive peace,” with justice for all, rather than civility, which is sometimes used as a cudgel to uphold an unjust status quo”
–Joseph Bubman, founder of Urban Rural Action 

I’ve been a meditation teacher since the mid 1970’s and a licensed therapist since 1985. I think of myself as skilled in communication and resolving conflicts. I have worked with people to resolve conflicts within themselves and in their personal relationships. But I have to admit to being a slow learner in being able to talk with people who disagree with me politically, especially if they are conservative or right-wing.

A helpful teaching for me is that we are not our ideas. I am not my beliefs and therefore neither is anyone else. People are far more than any particular idea that they happen to believe. This is especially true of political thinking involving abstractions, complex sets of ideas that often have little to do with the deeper values and intentions that move a person through life.

But we are living in a world where political beliefs have become a rigid form of identification of who we are. Beliefs about people with differing views tend to be placed in boxes labeled with stereotypes that ignore the many facets and dimensions of the individual. This polarization plays a major role in tearing the country apart and is an obstacle to any efforts to actually solve the many problems we face including racial and gender justice, the needs of refugees, poverty, and the ecological crises.

So I’ve been looking into groups that are seeking to help de-polarize the culture. I gave a talk about one very successful effort, Braver Angels, which you can view at   https://youtu.be/PhSPDyFnEfo.

Another group with a similar focus, Hands Across the Valley, has been bringing liberals from Western Mass together with conservatives from Kentucky for deep encounters and human bridge-building. As Paula Green, who founded the Hands group states, “What can we progressives learn from how we are perceived by others that is worthy of self-examination and potentially modifying our views? How do we vigorously disagree with political positions and destructive actions while refraining from dehumanization and self-righteousness? In my work as a peace builder overseas, I learned to recognize dignity as fundamental to human well-being and its absence as a contributing cause to social ills ranging from self-rejection to hatred and war. Since dignity is not self-appointed but is confirmed and upheld by others, a harmonious society requires we grant it to one another…..

“Our challenge is to understand this dynamic and to take responsibility for our role in the dance. The harm of mutually destructive simplifications reminds us to monitor our own steady stream of judging and dividing, a far more productive investment than trying to change others.”

This last sentence is especially worth noting as it calls attention to the importance of the psychological and spiritual work we need to do on ourselves, to free ourselves from our own destructive impulses.

An interesting challenge to the idea that all we need is civility between the polarized groups appears in an article in YES! Magazine, “Building Bridges Without A Foundation for Peace Won’t Work”

Joseph Bubman, who founded Urban Rural Action, , writes, “We bridge-builders often identify civility as the goal—polarization is the problem, incivility is the diagnosis, and civil dialogue is the solution. If we just bring everyone to the table, the thinking goes, then we can unify. We can heal by accepting a “negative peace,” as Martin Luther King Jr. described the absence of tension in an unjust society.

“But today’s crises demand that we aim for what King called “positive peace,” with justice for all, rather than civility, which is sometimes used as a cudgel to uphold an unjust status quo.

“We must recognize that we ourselves are actors within the conflict context—what we say and do (and don’t say or do) affects the context. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking we can or should be “neutral.” When violent extremists desecrate our democracy and we demur lest we face criticism for appearing biased, we are not being neutral—we are normalizing political violence. Instead, we should champion American values of peaceful expression and democratic participation.

“At worst, our bridge-building efforts champion superficial civility, celebrate false unity, and uphold an unjust status quo. But at our best, we can expand movements to advance peace, justice, and democracy. Indeed, the future of America depends on it.”

Among other things, Bubman was reacting to a “debate” held by Braver Angels where one side was arguing that the election was stolen, a view he sees as untrue and destructive. But how to address the millions of people who disagree? So there is conflict about how to resolve conflict. No surprise. I recommend reading and learning more about Braver AngelsHands Across the Valley and Bubman’s Urban Rural Action.  

At another point, Bubman does says, “Better conversations alone won’t address complex societal problems, but complex societal problems can’t be addressed without better conversations.” Who can argue with that?

The groups mentioned here all attempt in somewhat different ways to foster better conversations and I do think we all very much need to learn the skills for doing that. You are invited to join me this next Monday in my webinar series Staying Sane While Making the World Better. We’ll focus on all this there. Hope to see you Monday, April 26, 7:30 PM EDT.  https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81129871531?pwd=YWl1QVlPd0twWHV4a3VGN3d3MDNmZz09

Another important key I’ve been working with is to remember that the intention of conversation is not to persuade but to understand.

If you want to begin or further your understanding of  “the other side,” some recommendations are:

The Flip Side https://www.theflipside.io/
(sends daily summaries of the news from both sides):

All Sides – https://www.allsides.com/unbiased-balanced-news

More in Common – https://www.moreincommon.com/

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.