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Race: Where We’ve Been, Where We Are

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

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

—  John Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

May his journey continue in peace.

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

“What is Owed,” by Nikole Hannah-Jones

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

It feels different this time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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












Got Time? Stand Up for Justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

peace with justice, justice with peace,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An end to capital punishment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Alan

Got Time – Sit Quietly Awhile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catastrophe & Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Essays from Kosmos on COVID-19

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

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

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

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

A story of reciprocity and empathy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Martin Luther King – Spiritual Activist

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

Rev. Martin Luther King – Spiritual Activist

                                                                                    –Alan Levin

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Sorry, Thich Nhat Hanh

Some events trigger memories revealing what a really long strange trip this has been. Beliefs that I once held to steadfastly have fallen away like the leaves of Autumn and are no longer held by the branches of my mind.

Recently I hosted a screening of the film, “Walk With Me” about renowned Zen meditation master Thich Nhat Hanh.  Thay (teacher), as he is called by his students, is the Vietnamese monk who was at the center of “the third force” during the Vietnam War, a non-violent Buddhist movement for peace. He founded the Order of Inter-Being and  developed what is known as “socially engaged Buddhism.” I have the deepest respect for him and appreciate how many lives he has helped awaken to the teachings of the dharma (the wisdom teachings of Buddha), and how to apply these teachings to one’s personal life and the social change movements for a better world. I am indebted to him for his ongoing stream of shared insights and his transmission of the great peace that is at the heart of what we all seek, the true nature of being.

But my first encounter with Thay in 1966 was not an experience of respect, peace or even civility. At that time, I was a student at the University of Florida and spent much of my time traveling throughout the state visiting with groups on and off college campuses. I was involved with organizing farmworkers, people living in poverty, support for civil rights and the growing Black Power movement, and for student rights on campus. But the most primary focus of my attention was resistance to the Vietnam war and the draft.

Vietnam occupied my mind daily and I was actively engaged in debating the issues in front of the University library, passing out leaflets, and organizing peace demonstrations. My views, along with much of the student new left, were that the U.S. was fighting an imperialist war of aggression against the people of Vietnam who were seeking to be liberated from foreign control; the only solution was immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. I was 22 years old, and I tended to think that what I believed was the truth.

So when I learned that the University was going to host a speaker from Vietnam, a Buddhist monk involved in an alternative peace initiative, I planned to attend. I knew nothing about Buddhism, but was suspicious of all religions. I also was skeptical of any “alternative” to the idea that U.S. troops needed to withdraw immediately. At his talk, I felt annoyed that there was a very large audience, much larger than anything our anti-war movement could ever bring out. I didn’t really listen to what he said, but was focused in my mind, preparing to challenge his views with my more radical (true) position.

After his talk, a group of students gathered around him in the lobby asking questions. I moved into the crowd, took a breath and spoke critically, confronting him on why he wasn’t condemning the U.S. more, why he wasn’t joining the liberation forces in Vietnam fighting against the invading U.S. military. That was it, my first encounter with Thich Nhat Hanh. I don’t know what he said in response. I wasn’t listening. I walked away feeling a mix of pride and uneasiness. I didn’t even bother to learn his strange name.

A number of years later, I had embarked on a spiritual quest myself and started questioning everything I thought was “real” about myself and the way I saw the world. At some point in the 1980s I became aware of the Vietnamese teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, and his work with engaged Buddhism. I learned that during the war he had been under attack by the South Vietnamamese government (U.S. allies). Yet, after the victory of the National Liberation Front (Vietcong) he was forced to leave his homeland. The “liberation” forces were too threatened by his teachings of non-violence and compassion and instituted repressive measures against the Buddhist schools and monasteries.

 

The more I learned from his writings and talks about engaged Buddhism the more resonance I felt. Though I was not a member of a Buddhist lineage, I was open to the basic teachings. I was also developing my own sense that any true spiritual practice ought not separate us from the struggles for peace and justice, but rather guide us to be involved in ways that are authentic and effective. Though I had great admiration for Thich Nhat Hanh, I still didn’t remember our first encounter. The truth is, I can’t remember when I made the connection. I do remember that it was a jaw dropping kind of moment. I got in Thich Nhat Hanh’s face and dissed him? WTF!

Part of me wanted to rationalize or minimize the event. I told myself that “the person I was in 1966 was not who I am now.” That person even went by a different name, “Nik,” (my nom de guerre of my radical days). Yet, I felt weird, embarrassed. I knew quite well that while the sense of “I” can change, even radically transform, the I that I am now still has to take responsibility for my past deeds. This man had sacrificed so much while witnessing the devastation of his people and terrible violence by both sides. He came to this country on a mission hoping to appeal to the people of the U.S. to stop their military campaign and instead provide genuine assistance to the people. I, the I that I was then, treated him disrespectfully, rudely and arrogantly. Though I doubt I harmed him in any lasting way, I feel that for my own peace of mind I need to apologize. I’m sorry, Thich Nhat Hanh.

Perhaps, in making amends, I can also share a lesson for others. We are all too easily captivated by beliefs, especially when they give us a sense of identity and tribal connection with strong emotional bonds. Out beliefs, after all, are only thoughts, bubbles of mental energy. When we identify who we are with our thoughts, we tend to have separative feelings towards those with different beliefs. Watching or listening to the news today, I feel the waves of anger, fear, blame, and the win/lose judgements of zero-sum thinking. I choose to withdraw power from the part of me that reacts in that way. I choose to open my heart/mind to the teachings that come from all spiritual traditions, spoken thusly by Guatama Buddha, ““Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.” Crossing the boundary from ideological fixation to love is a great liberation. This is the teaching of the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, to whom I deeply bow.

An historical note:

After first remembering my encounter of 1966, I went to the library and internet and searched around for articles about Thich Nhat Hanh and his visits to this country. I think I partly hoped It was a “false memory.” I found out that in 1966, Thich Nhat Hanh did indeed come to the U.S. on a speaking tour promoting his message of peace through non-violence and negotiations. He spent time with Thomas Merton and also Dr. Martin Luther King. He urged Dr. King to speak out against the war, and shortly afterwards, Dr. King gave his famous Riverside Church address publicly making the case against the war. (You can hear it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OC1Ru2p8OfU; one of his greatest and most historic speeches.)

On his ’66 visit to the U.S., Thay attended conferences and peace rallies and spoke at a number of universities. Though my specific experience at the UF in Gainesville was not mentioned, I found at least two references with accounts like this:

“At a huge anti-war rally in 1966 a young man suddenly yelled, ‘Why are you here? You should be in Vietnam fighting the American imperialists!’ In other words, Nhat Hanh said, the man wanted him to fight, to kill Americans. He answered, ‘Well, I thought the root of the war was here—in Washington—and that’s why I have come.’”*

and,

“During this tour when an angry young American stood up at a meeting and told him that he should be at home where the war was, he responded that he was speaking in the U.S. because the roots of the war were there, and it was these roots that needed attention.** 

From the context of those quotations I am pretty sure they weren’t referring to my experience in Gainesville, Florida. Likely, these were my comrades of the time, like-minded angry young “radicals” certain their thoughts were true.

Since that time, Thich Nhat Hanh has travelled the world helping to bring awareness of the roots of violence and injustice, beyond Vietnam. He has devoted his life to helping each of us confront the inner tendency that comes from greed, hatred or ignorance and to instead choose to cultivate compassion. I smile in recognition of his forgiveness of all transgressions.

You can see more about his work and learn how to support it here: http://thichnhathanhfoundation.org/blog/2017/11/6/anger-work-is-peace-work

*”The Buddhists Had the Answer to the American War in Vietnam” by Larry Calloway http://larrycalloway.com/hanoi/

**from “Return to Vietnam of Exiled Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh by John Chapman, Modernity and Re-enchantment: Religion in Post-revolutionary Vietnam, edited by Philip Taylor. p.303

Through the Wall of White Supremacy

The United States was founded as a white nationalist country, and that legacy remains today. Things have improved from the radical promotion of white people at the expense of all others, which has persisted for most of our history, yet most of us have not accepted the extent to which white identity guides so much of what we still do. Sometimes it seems that the white nationalists are most honest about the very real foundation of white supremacy upon which our nation was built.”

                                               –R. Derek Black (godson of David Duke)

It is up to each of us to question the worldview of our parents and whatever sense of  tribal identification they pass on to us. We must find within ourselves what truths to hold and what to toss out. Some adopt without question their parents’ ideas or conversely reject them through unconscious rebellion. Others take a more balanced approach, and through a rational process of evaluation or through a process of spiritual discovery, discern for themselves what is valuable from what is destructive, sort the good from the bad, (which can sometimes be very bad).

I am always heartened by the courage of those who find themselves in a world in which they no longer want to live, and choose to step out, cross what often feels like a great psychological boundary. I tend to listen closely to their observations of the minds and hearts contained in the world they left. This is essentially the theme of this blog and my book Crossing the Boundary. A few days ago, I saw a piece in the New York Times that gave me that feeling of deep appreciation and drew my close attention. Among the many articles and opinion pieces on the White Supremacist/Neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, and the remarks by our Madman in Chief, there was one by R. Derek Black, the son of one of the leaders of the White Nationalist movement and a godson of David Duke.

In his piece, “What White Nationalism Gets Right About American History,” he makes clear his rejection of his White Supremacist roots. But he also shares deep insights into the thinking of those in that group and the truth they do hold. The truth is that their core belief in white supremacy has indeed dominated the history of this country until very, very recent time and is still very present throughout our society.

The bold statement above, from a man immersed in White Supremacist culture since childhood, is to me a cautionary message for all of us who feel we are immune to the feelings and thinking of this truly disgusting ideology. It was the explicit and/or implicit view of the culture in which our own consciousness was nurtured and developed. This insidious infection of the mind has almost certainly entered into our hearts and we will only begin to be free of it through acknowledging its present existence.

I am curious to know the process that Mr. Black went through to liberate himself from his racist conditioning, insofar as he has. It would help shed light on how we can all question our most firmly held beliefs. Humanity appears to many observers, to be going through a major shift in consciousness. Certainly, we are liberating ourselves, albeit fitfully, from old notions of tribal, racial and gender superiority, I would suggest we also need to question the notion of human superiority over the rest of nature with whom we share this world. To do this, we need to cultivate awareness of our own mind and sense of identity and learn the methods of transformation that are the gifts of our spiritual ancestors.

I strongly recommend reading R. Derek Black’s piece here:https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/19/opinion/sunday/white-nationalism-american-history-statues.html and which I’ve copied below.

                                                                 –Alan Levin


My dad often gave me the advice that white nationalists are not looking to recruit people on the fringes of American culture, but rather the people who start a sentence by saying, “I’m not racist, but …”

The most effective tactics for white nationalists are to associate American history with themselves and to suggest that the collective efforts to turn away from our white supremacist past are the same as abandoning American culture. My father, the founder of the white nationalist website Stormfront, knew this well. It’s a message that erases people of color and their essential role in American life, but one that also appeals to large numbers of white people who would agree with the statement, “I’m not racist, but I don’t want American history dishonored, and this statue of Robert E. Lee shouldn’t be removed.”

I was raised by the leaders of the white nationalist movement with a model of American history that described a vigorous white supremacist past and once again I find myself observing events in which I once might have participated before I rejected the white nationalist cause several years ago. After the dramatic, horrible and rightly unnerving events in Charlottesville, Va., this past weekend, I had to make separate calls: one to make sure no one in my family who might have attended the rally got hurt, and a second to see if any friends at the University of Virginia had been injured in the crowd of counterprotesters.

On Tuesday afternoon the president defended the actions of those at the rally, stating, “You also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” His words marked possibly the most important moment in the history of the modern white nationalist movement. These statements described the marchers as they see themselves — nobly driven by a good cause, even if they are plagued by a few bad apples. He said: “I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists.”

But this protest, contrary to his defense, was advertised unambiguously as a white nationalist rally. The marchers chanted, “Jews will not replace us”; in the days leading up to the event, its organizers called it “a pro-white demonstration”; my godfather, David Duke, attended and said it was meant to “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump”; and many attendees flew swastika flags. Whatever else you might say about the rally, they were not trying to deceive anyone.

Almost by definition, the white nationalist movement over the past 40 years has worked against the political establishment. It was too easy for politicians to condemn the movement — even when there was overlap on policy issues — because it was a liability without enough political force to make the huge cost of associating with it worthwhile. Until Tuesday, I didn’t believe that had changed.

We have all observed the administration’s decisions over the past several months that aligned with the white nationalist agenda, such as limiting or completely cutting off legal and illegal immigration, especially of Hispanics and Muslims; denigrating black communities as criminal and poor, threatening to unleash an even greater police force on them; and going after affirmative action as antiwhite discrimination. But I had never believed Trump’s administration would have trouble distancing itself from the actual white nationalist movement.

Yet President Trump stepped in to salvage the message that the rally organizers had originally hoped to project: “George Washington was a slave owner,” he said, and asked, “So will George Washington now lose his status?” Then: “How about Thomas Jefferson?” he asked. “Because he was a major slave owner. Now are we going to take down his statue?” He added: “You’re changing history. You’re changing culture.”

Until Trump’s comments, few critics seemed to identify the larger relationship the alt-right sees between its beliefs and the ideals of the American founders. Charlottesville is synonymous with Jefferson. The city lies at the foot of Monticello and is the home of the University of Virginia, the school he founded. Over the years I’ve made several pilgrimages to Charlottesville, both when I was a white nationalist and since I renounced the ideology. While we all know that Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence, which declared that “all men are created equal,” his writings also offer room for explicitly white nationalist interpretation.

My father observed many times that the quotation from Jefferson’s autobiography embedded on the Jefferson Memorial is deceptive because it reads, “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these [the Negro] people are to be free.” It does not include the second half of the sentence: “Nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them.”

Jefferson’s writings partly inspired the American colonization movement, which encouraged the return of free black people to Africa — a goal that was pursued even by Abraham Lincoln during the first years of the Civil War.

The most fundamental legislative goal of the white nationalist movement is to limit nonwhite immigration. It is important to remember that such limits were in place during the lifetimes of many current white nationalists; it was the default status until the 1960s. In the 1790s, the first naturalization laws of the United States Congress limited citizenship to a “free white person.”

Legislation in the 1920s created quotas for immigration based on national origin, which placed severe restrictions on the total number of immigrants and favored northern and western European immigration. It was only with the civil rights movement of the 1960s that the national origin quota system was abolished and Congress fully removed the restriction favoring white immigrants.

I’m not offering these historical anecdotes to defame the history of the country. I’m not calling for Jefferson’s statue to be removed along with the Confederate memorials. I do, however, think it is essential that we recognize that the white nationalist history embedded in American culture lends itself to white nationalist rallies like the one in Charlottesville. If you want to preserve Confederate memorials, but you don’t work to build monuments to historical black leaders, you share the same cause as the marchers.

Until Tuesday I believed the organizers of the rally had failed in their goal to make their movement more appealing to average white Americans. The rally superimposed Jefferson’s image on that of a pseudo K.K.K. rally and brought the overlap between Jefferson and white nationalist ideas to mind for anyone looking to find them. But the horrific violence that followed seemed to hurt their cause.

And then President Trump intervened. His comments supporting the rally gave new purpose to the white nationalist movement, unlike any endorsement it has ever received. Among its followers, being at that rally will become something to brag about, and some people who didn’t want to be associated with extremism will now see the cause as more mainstream. When the president doesn’t provide condemnation that he has been pressed to give, what message does that send but encouragement?

The United States was founded as a white nationalist country, and that legacy remains today. Things have improved from the radical promotion of white people at the expense of all others, which has persisted for most of our history, yet most of us have not accepted the extent to which white identity guides so much of what we still do. Sometimes it seems that the white nationalists are most honest about the very real foundation of white supremacy upon which our nation was built.

The president’s words legitimized the worst of our country, and now the white nationalist movement could be poised to grow. To challenge these messages, we need to acknowledge the continuity of white nationalist thought in American history, and the appeal it still holds.

It is a fringe movement not because its ideas are completely alien to our culture, but because we work constantly to argue against it, expose its inconsistencies and persuade our citizens to counter it. We can no longer count on the country’s leader to do this, so it’s now incumbent upon all of us.

Crossing the Blood/Brain Barrier – Psychedelics and Spirituality

THIS IS A REQUEST FOR HELP: If you already know the value of my book, Crossing the Boundary: Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths, please help me spread the message to more people. If you have already read it, you know that it offers, through the lens of Jewish boundary-crossers, universal wisdom teachings that move us towards a more compassionate sense of who we are and what we are doing here. At this time of intensifying fear-based tribalism, I am hopeful this book is good medicine. 

       I would greatly appreciate it if you would please forward this message to two or three friends with a word about the value of the book. If you’d like to buy a copy for yourself or a gift for a friend, that would be wonderful. Please note the discount rate through the end of the year. Signed copies of the book can be purchased at www.CrossingTheBoundary.org. Great gift for Christmas, Chanukah, Solstice or just for a plain gift of love. 

        I continue to expand on the theme of crossing boundaries through this blog and I hope you enjoy and find value in the post below.

Special offer through the end of the year –
$20 plus shipping.

Purchase Book here: www.CrossingTheBoundary.org

Peace and blessings,

Alan Levin

www.CrossingTheBoundary.org

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It came as a surprise to some, (but certainly not all) readers of Crossing the Boundary to find that most of the fourteen spiritual teachers in the book (plus myself) had significant experiences with psychedelics that began or enhanced their spiritual journey. Several speak of their ongoing use of such substances in sacramental ways as part of their spiritual practice. 

Nothing in this message is meant to encourage anyone to take psychedelics. They are, after all, illegal. I write this only to open the discussion to what stands out so strongly to many readers of Crossing the Boundary and yet is something I chose not to emphasize in previous publicity descriptions of the book.  I confess this may have been due to my own shyness with the controversial nature of the subject. But, it seems the cat is coming out of the bag, or a better way to say it is: the mushroom is popping up out of its hidden underground mycelial web.

So many books and articles have been written about psychedelics that it amazes me that most Americans are still unaware of them as serious tools for consciousness expansion and spiritual development. Recent articles in the New York Times  and Scientific American  are reporting on the very promising research being done with psychedelic substances for treatments of PTSD, depression, addiction, and quality of life for people with cancer. Often overlooked, though hiding in plain sight, is the fact that accompanying the positive therapeutic results of any of these treatments, there is the frequent, (if not close to universal) report of spiritual, religious or mystical experiences in the treatment sessions. Many report that it is that experience that provided the force of the therapy. 

Indeed, while many people continue to take psychedelics for recreational purposes, enjoying the many sensory and emotional pleasures of the experience, a strong subset have continued the deeper, psychologically mind-expanding and spiritual explorations that psychedelics can enhance. Folks involved in this work now generally refer to the substances themselves as “medicines” and use the term entheogen (bringing forth the divine from within) rather than the often demonized or trivialized term, psychedelic (suggesting for many people that you see groovy patterns of color moving around). It’s quite clear from some of the accounts of those I interviewed for Crossing the Boundary, that entheogens often provide, in the right setting, the deepest of openings to whatever it is we call higher consciousness, Oneness, Spirit, the Divine, or God. 

Some will still argue that the experience people have with psychedelics/entheogens is not a “valid” spiritual experience because it is induced by a drug. This notion runs counter to the statements of the many spiritual teachers and students who have had experiences of transcendant and mystical states with both entheogens and long periods of meditation or prayer and testify to their being essentially equivalent. 

There is also the very interesting study that followed up on what is known as the Harvard “Good Friday Experiment” of 1962. For his PhD in Religion, Walter Pahnke led a controlled experiment to determine whether psilocybin generated genuine mystical experiences. Briefly, Pahnke administered both psilocybin and a placebo to a group of 20 divinity students and recorded their reports. The findings were that most of those who took the psilocybin reported religious or mystical experiences whereas there were none in the control group. The follow-up study, headed by Rick Doblin of MAPS, (The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) was done 40 years later. Doblin was able to find many of the original “Good Friday” participants (many having become religious leaders) who all reported the 1962 experience was their first true religious experience and was as “valid” as any later experience. For a fascinating detailed account of this study, see: here.

An even more significant validation of the link between spirituality and entheogenic plants and substances is the testimony of the many spiritual teachers who acknowledge with deep respect the positive effects such experiences had on their journey. Among these are Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, Huston Smith, Ram Dass, Stanislav Grof, Ralph Metzner, Jack Kornfield, Bill Wilson (founder of A.A.), and a very long list could follow. See Zig Zag Zen  for some excellent discussion about this from a wide range of teachers as well as art by Alex and Allyson Grey  (Allyson is featured in Crossing the Boundary). As mentioned above, almost every one of the well respected teachers in Crossing the Boundary attribute entheogenic experiences as a primary key to their opening to deep spiritual practice.

The depiction in the alchemical drawing used as a basis for the cover of my book can easily be seen as the dissolving or peaking through the boundary of one’s cultural conditioning to a larger universe, the expansion of consciousness. (The original is above and the one adapted by artist, Michael Green, for the “Jewish” version is below.) We all may ask, what lies beyond the current boundaries of our belief systems and mind-habits and how can we open our hearts and minds to a larger sense of ourselves.

It certainly seems clear that we are at a critical time in the evolution of human consciousness. If, as so much evidence indicates, people are moved to greater states of compassion, unity, joy and transcendence through ingestion of these substances in carefully prepared settings, then shouldn’t getting them out of the locked vaults of government prohibition be a primary goal for us. It behooves us to support research into the appropriate uses and potential dangers and learn from the indigenous societies that have incorporated their use into their sacred ceremonies. 

I offer the links below to offer just a few of the many significant books and resources for understanding the subject of psycho-spiritual growth, healing and entheogens: 

Cleansing the Doors of Perception: The Religious Significance of Entheogenic Plants and Chemicals by Huston Smith .

10 minute video of Stan Grof describing his first LSD experience  Dr. Grof, it is safe to say, is the most respected researcher of psychedelics and consciousness studies.

Green Earth Foundation: Here you can find Ralph Metzner’s many books on the subject which are a treasure trove of information about the different substances used for psycho-spiritual growth and include his razor sharp insights into these experiences and their meaning. 


Psychedelic Gospels
(research on the use of psychedelics in early Christianity).

The Ketamine Papers (accounts of the use of ketamine for healing and transformation). 

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Through the Buckskin Curtain – Embracing Indigenous Spirituality

b270cec1dc134cceb98f25795c1da365 The intense struggle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, led by Native Americans, highlights the original and continuing “sin” of the United States of America, the genocidal treatment of the indigenous inhabitants of this land and the centuries of betrayal of agreements. But it also offers us a possible pathway for the rectification of many of our present dilemmas, moving us to be guided by the wisdom of indigenous spirituality, respecting and honoring the sacredness and intelligence of the natural world.

 

The encampments at Standing Rock alongside the Cannonball River that feeds the Missouri have brought together a multi-cultural movement that recognizes the leadership of Native American tribal elders and activists from over 300 Indian Nations. They have come together in a non-violent and spiritually centered movement for protecting the water and land. They have specifically defined their actions as protective rather than as protest. From their spiritual perspective, the true function of the Warrior is to protect, whether in reference to the body, the community, the nation, or the planet.

 

Stepping back from the particulars of this struggle to protect the land and water sacred to the Lakota Sioux and stop the continued expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, it is important to recognize the significant inclusion of the indigenous spiritual attitude with social justice and environmental activism. This wider and deeper view of the human relationship with Spirit and Nature, e.g., calling attention to the sacred fire, sacred water, sacred sky, sacred Mother Earth, not just in words, but in the way we feel and the way we move about, is transformative and infectious. It holds keys to the healing power needed to shift humanity from the destructive trajectory we seem locked into.

 

How we as individuals and as groups of social justice and environmental activists learn from these ancient ways that are connected to Mother Earth herself, needs to be made very conscious. It will not be helpful (in fact it is disrespectful) to mimic the practices of Native Americans. But we can learn to re-awaken what is indigenous (innate) in all humans, the mutual and respectful sense of holiness in Creation and Creator, whether we currently experience them as distinct or as One. This sensibility has been covered over by a radical over-emphasis on the rational, logical, thinking-mind devoted to technological control of our environment and ourselves. What is being called forth is a heart-centered and holistic way of being and relating, one of communion-with rather than control-over.

 

Through the centuries of subjugation, native peoples have passed along the practices, stories and songs that sustain this consciousness in each region and on each continent. We immigrants have the opportunity to listen to them and hear the resonant tones of our own indigenous ancestors calling from within, finding our own pathways towards a balance of the elements of the web of life. Along the way, it’s important that we not confuse embracing “indigenous spirituality” with exploiting or coopting the objects, rituals and ceremonies of specific tribes or peoples. Native Americans are understandably very sensitive to this abuse. In “Native American wannabes: Beware the Weasel Spirit,” Lou Bendrick points out that, “Members of the Lakota tribe have declared war on exploiters of their ancient spirituality. Their declaration states that they have ‘suffered the unspeakable indignity of having our most precious Lakota ceremonies and spiritual practices desecrated, mocked and abused by non-Indian ‘wannabes,’ hucksters, cultists, commercial profiteers and self-styled ‘New Age’ retail stores and … pseudo religious corporations have been formed to charge people money for admission into phony ‘sweatlodges’ and ‘vision quest’ programs …’”

 

On the other hand, I personally know a number of White, Black and Latino women and men who have submitted themselves to decades of rigorous, disciplined education under the guidance of Native American elders and have been sanctioned to practice and teach certain aspects of those traditions. In my interview with Tom Pinkson, (see Crossing the Boundary – Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths), he describes his initial passing through the buckskin curtain when he began studying and being tested by a Native American teacher which led up to his decade-long apprenticeship with Huichol shamans in Mexico. Ken Cohen, also interviewed in Crossing the Boundary, studied intensively for many years with his teachers, Keetoowah, Rolling Thunder and Grandmother Twylah Nitsch, and was initiated and adopted by a tribal clan. These two, and quite a few other White (in this case, Jewish) men and women, respectfully entered into a relationship with indigenous spiritual teachers and tribes and only practice and teach what they have been given permission to share.

 

Though few will feel called to cross that boundary so deeply, by embracing an indigenous spiritual outlook the environmental and social justice movement is shifting the very mindset in which it has viewed the problems and solutions it addresses. We are finding ourselves gazing up at the sky, sitting by the sacred fire, getting down on our knees and kissing Mother Earth as we face those of our brothers and sisters who have forgotten what they have lost, forgotten what they’ve forgotten.

 

For more information see the Standing Rock Sioux Nation website: http://standwithstandingrock.net/

 

A personal observer’s account of the activity at the encampments: Mark Johnson’s, “Standing Rock #NoDAPL. It’s not so complicated, But it is complex.” http://clbsj.org/news/2016/11/23/standing-rock/

 

A deep mythological/archetypal/political view, “History in the Making at Standing Rock.” By Paul Levy: http://www.awakeninthedream.com/standing-rock/ 

 

A look at the growth of the indigenous spiritual focus in the environmental movement: “The growing indigenous spiritual movement that could save the planet.”https://thinkprogress.org/indigenous-spiritual-movement-8f873348a2f5#.u1q1rzood

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