An Apology To Dr. King

An Apology To Dr. King

My apologies to you, Dr. King.

Until this year, I did not fully recognize my offensive behavior. Like most white folk, I saw the celebration of your birth as a day off work rather than a moment of national reflection. I was unaware of how we’ve neutered the poignancy of your complaints, defanged the sharpness of your rhetoric and domesticated the wildness of your dream.  I did not realize that we celebrate your birth in order to avoid the circumstances of your death, that a white man silenced your voice with a bullet.  Until this year, I did not understand that this day – unlike Thanksgiving and Fourth of July – should not be a day of celebration, but a day of national mourning.

My apologies to you, Dr. King.

Until this year, I was oblivious to how I and so many other white people – conservative and liberal alike – have taken your name in vain. We have popularized our favorite quotes without reference to your consistent themes.  We have repackaged you as a good negro – patient, gracious, reasonable and respectful.  Though our grandparents thought you uppity, offensive and dangerous, we portray you as preferable to Black Lives Matter, implying you wouldn’t share their concerns, complaints or strategies.  Until this year, I didn’t comprehend how fully we’ve dishonored you.

My apologies to you, Dr. King.

To those of us who know so little about you and your concerns, I hear your complaint that, “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.” I acknowledge the shallowness of our interest and I apologize.

To those of us who blame the lack of economic progress by people of color on people of color, I hear your retort that, “It is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself up by his bootstraps.” “Many white Americans of good will have never connected bigotry with economic exploitation. They have deplored prejudice but tolerated or ignored economic injustice.” I acknowledge the callousness of our disdain and I apologize.

To those of us who criticize people of color when they take to the streets to demand justice, I hear your reminder that, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” I acknowledge the truth of your analysis and I apologize.

To those of us who accuse Black Lives Matter folk of being as extreme as the white supremacists, I hear your rebuttal that, “The question is not if we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?”  I acknowledge your condemnation of our false equivalencies and I apologize.

To those of us glory in our tolerance of people of color, offering them a smile and a handshake rather than the justice they so desire, I hear your conclusion that, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” I acknowledge your impatience with our lack of sincerity and I apologize.

To those of us who find the shooting of an unarmed black man by the police a statistically acceptable occurrence, I hear your indictment, that, “We must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.” I acknowledge your frustration with our lack of urgency and I apologize.

To those of us who think you would be pleased with our racial progress and complimentary to today’s white person, I hear your prophecy that, “I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice, who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”  I acknowledge the legitimacy of your fears and I apologize.

To those of us who have neutered, defanged and domesticated you, I hear your judgment that, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”  I acknowledge the fairness of your critique and I apologize.

Dr. King,  while you were willing to be arrested and jailed for what you believed, we have passively tolerated the reversal of many of your most hard fought victories.  If anyone is to blame for your unfulfilled dream, it is us.  Today, on this day of reckoning and mourning, I pledge to take your concerns, complaints and commitments more seriously, to be one of those white people who sees and hears you as you are and not as we would have you be.

My apologies to you, Dr. King.


I Don’t Hate White People

I Don’t Hate White People

Note to my white self…

You should be used to it by now.

It happens repeatedly. You acknowledge your personal struggle with racism and a white person – rather than admitting to their own racial prejudices – accuses you of self-hatred. You challenge racist attitudes and behaviors in white people and a white person – rather than addressing the malignancy of racial injustice – accuses you of being racist, of hating white people. Your accusers often follow their attack with a defense of white pride. They complain, “Why are white Americans the only ones who can’t be proud of their race and heritage?”

I know you were initially surprised by such responses. For you, honest self-examination is a sign of self-respect rather than of self-hate.  Acknowledging your personal struggle with racism has led to greater self-awareness.  You feel good about that. For you, challenging societal and systemic racism is an act of integrity. As a responsible adult, you intentionally critique the societal groups to which you belong.  You don’t simply defend them. You acknowledge their flaws and offenses, past and present.  You commit to correcting these ills and imperfections in yourself and in society.

You do not hate white people.

Most of your family, friends and acquaintances are white. You love and care about them.  What has changed in you is not your opinion of white people, but your appreciation for people of color.  You are slowly learning to love and care for them as well.  You no longer see them as alien and their complaints as irrelevant.  You are finally seeing them as fellow citizens, deserving of equality and justice. Racism, once an abstraction to you, has become a focus of time and attention.

As a white person raised in a historically racist society, it is your responsibility to carefully examine your attitudes and behaviors, to see yourself as you truly are. In examining your attitudes and behaviors, you will also become aware of how they permeate your society.  You will see your culture in new and often disturbing ways.  To refuse to acknowledge white cultural dominance and privilege would simply be intellectually dishonest. Understanding the racist themes within American history should not make you proud of your race or heritage.

This is the terrible truth.

You are part of a group of people who have historically and repeatedly done great damage and evil to those who were not white. That other groups of people might hate white people is understandable. Your response should not be self-hatred.  It should be embarrassment followed by regret and action.  If you love yourself and your white friends and family, you cannot perpetuate ignorance, apathy or justification.  You must change.  You must speak out.

Those who accuse you of self-hatred and of hating white people are defending a corrosive American myth, one in which white people are portrayed as generally treating people of other races fairly. They are upset at you because you are challenging this convenient delusion.  When another white person accuses you of racism, of hating yourself or of hating other white people, understand their motivation.  You are asking them to do something most people resist.  You are asking them to be self-reflective and culturally critical.  You are asking them to do something that you have experienced as difficult and painful.  You are asking them to be courageous.

This is especially frightening because at some deep level they are aware of their prejudices and privileges. They recognize that acknowledging what you are saying and writing will demand change on their part.  The myth of racial equity is so alluring because it absolves them of this responsibility.  It allows white people to do what we’ve been doing for hundreds of years – to blame the victim of our racism for their oppression.

Remember that. The proper pronoun when talking about white attitude and behavior is “we” and not “them.”  We white people who acknowledge racism and privilege and we white people who resist its reality have this in common – we all continue to richly benefit from a culture of white dominance and privilege. By rule, white Americans are racist.  That you have become aware of your racism is positive, but it is a beginning and not the end.  Your task – when it comes to being white – is to become an exception to the rule.

There are exceptions. There have been white people – throughout American history – who have recognized the injustice of racism and have radically aligned themselves with people of color.  While they have always been a small minority, they have often been instrumental in bringing about change, challenging the myths and delusions that sustain racism and white privilege.  Though they have often paid dearly for their disloyalty, they have persisted in the face of censure and condemnation.  Being told you hate yourself is of minor consequence.  In the past, those expressing your opinions were sometimes lynched or killed.  They would not be impressed by your acknowledgment of personal and societal racism.

They would respond, “What took you so long?”

Reflections of A Recovering Racist

Reflections of A Recovering Racist

I’ve spent the past week rereading the 47 essays I wrote in 2017 about racism and white privilege. I did so with the hope of better understanding my journey over the past twelve months. What had I learned about our society, about race and about myself? While I awoke to my racism and privilege seven years ago when I became the father to a black daughter, this year was the beginning of an intentional commitment to digging deeper, to serious self-examination, to cultural critique and to the sharing of this journey with my white friends and family.  As a reread my essays chronologically, I had several insights into what has happened in me over these past months.

Prior to this year, I was sadly ignorant about racism – past and present – in the United States. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”  (On Martin’s Day)  King was describing me.  This past year, I have discovered people, facts, historic events and systemic oppressions of which I was previously oblivious.  I learned that most white Americans are woefully uneducated and misinformed about racial relations – past and present – in the United States. (The Pretense of Ignorance)

During this past year, I learned about the 13th Amendment, (13th and the New Jim Crow) Katherine Johnson, (Hidden Messages) racial profiling, (Just The Facts) reparations, (A Reasonable Reparation) and the Reconstruction period (A Splendid Failure).  I’ve read the writings of W.E.B Dubois, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, James Baldwin and Ta-Nehesi Coates. (Between the World And Me) I’ve followed a half dozen blogs written by black men and women.  I’ve gone through white ally training with Showing Up For Racial Justice.  While I am hardly an expert, I am not as ignorant as I once was about racism and white privilege.  Unfortunately, in discovering my ignorance, I’ve also encountered a deep resistance to such enlightenment in other white people.

Acknowledging my personal racism and white privilege is especially difficult in a culture where so many of my white peers are convinced they are not racist or privileged. This year began with a post acknowledging my racism (I Am Racist) and ended with a post reminding myself of how far I have to go. (I Am Not A Hero). In between, I tried repeatedly to remind myself (I Say Racist Things) and others (One Last Attempt At Explaining Racism To White People) about how insidious racism can be.  Quite often, the response to my writings from white people has been indignation.  How could I accuse them of being racist? (Habitually Racist)

The responses to my post “How To Determine If Someone is Racist With One Simple Question” convinced me more than ever that the single greatest obstacle to racial reconciliation in the United States is the resistance of white Americans to taking any personal responsibility for racism – past or present. The comment section to that post is worth reading in both its ugliness and arguments.  This past year, I’ve had dozens of long exchanges and conversations with white people offended by my blanket statements about white people. (Are All White Americans Racist?)  I’ve also become more and more convinced that white people are universally responsible the racial problem in the United States.  None of us are immune.  At a very minimum, we have a responsibility to move beyond racism as an abstraction.

Until the past few years, racism and white privilege were largely abstractions to me. As much as I’ve read, studied and listened, it is nearly impossible for me to truly understand racism. (I Don’t Understand Racism) Though my daughter has given me a window through which to see racism more clearly, it is a window on a moving train.  One minute I see racism and privilege and then next minute I don’t.  However, occasionally, if I am paying attention, I can vicariously experience what people of color experience nearly every day.  (When I Knew)   Occasionally, if I am willing to look, I can see my white privilege. (White Privilege and the Redwoods)

However, the most profound moment of this past year didn’t take place intentionally. It happened on a summer walk with my daughter.  It occurred in a moment I would have completely missed if not for my growing awareness of my white privilege.  In my post entitled “The Umbrella,” I share a glimpse of both the latent racism of our society and the power of my privilege.  On that summer afternoon, the ugliness was no longer an abstraction.  It was palpable and real, frightening in its malignancy.  I am still reconciling myself to how differently my daughter and I experience the world.

Without being the father of a black daughter, I seriously doubt whether I would have taken the journey of this past year. No post made this more obvious to me than one entitled “Teaching Our Black Daughter About Our White Racism.”  The response to this post was remarkable.  Some of my white friends and family expressed deep concern about its conclusion – that my wife and I needed to be proactive in teaching our daughter about racism and – specifically – about our racist inclinations.  I was told several times that I was doing psychological and emotional damage to my daughter.

The responses from the parents – white and black – of black children couldn’t have been more contrary. Many parents of black children wrote me to echo my fears and encourage my commitment.  This post made me realize how easily white people confuse the situation in our culture.  The biggest threat to my daughter’s psychological and emotional well-being is not having racially aware parents.  The greatest obstacle to her success in life will be white people who pretend that racism is a rare and episodic event rather than a systemic problem.  Before becoming Ella’s father, I was one of those white people.

I need to keep listening, experiencing, reflecting and writing. I still have a lot to learn. (Reminders for Recovering Racists)  This is the primary objective of my blog – to share what I’ve learned from listening to people of color.  (I Need To Listen)  I have discovered that my life is better when it includes people of color. (I Need People of Color) What I have experienced in parenting a black daughter is broadly applicable. Life and society is more vibrant when it is inclusive and diverse.

I still have a lot to say. My interactions with other white people have exposed dozens of others issues that need to be addressed.  The list of future themes continues to grow.  I recognize my unique opportunity and responsibility to speak to other white people.  I will persist, even though many white people will not listen.  I do so because some white people will read and consider my words.  They will listen to me precisely because I am white.  I must use my privilege to confront issues that are often discounted when expressed by people of color.  It is the least I can do.

If you have shared this journey with me in 2017, thank you. I know it hasn’t always been easy.  Since I’ve often struggled with the writing, I’m certain many have found the reading challenging.  If I have offended, it was never my intent.  I have always been motivated by a one deep commitment – to create a world less offensive to my daughter and my grandchildren.

I Am Not A Hero

I Am Not A Hero

Note to my white self…

During the past year, you’ve received hundreds of responses from people either provoked or inspired by your writing.  Some have called you disloyal and racist, accusing you of inciting hatred and inflaming racial tensions.  Others have applauded your words with glowing accolades, calling you noble, wise, brave and heroic.  Be careful.  The accolades are more dangerous than the accusations.  Constantly remind yourself of these truths.

That you never use the N-word, tell racist jokes, or express deliberately racist opinions does not make you noble. It simply means you are not a bigot.  People who brag about not being blatantly racist imply – though they seldom realize it – that they’ve made some great sacrifice, that they’ve given up some white prerogative out of the goodness of their heart.  Ironically, thinking the absence of such behavior noble is the surest indication of deeply ingrained racism.

While I’m glad you’ve advanced beyond such shallow understandings of racial enlightenment, recognizing your unconscious racism and accepting your daily participation in white privilege does not make you wise. It simply means you’ve come to see what every person of color already knew about you.  You are hopelessly enmeshed in your white privilege.  While being aware of this reality is positive, don’t act like you’ve discovered something newsworthy.  If there were a headline, it would read, “Ignoramus Finally Looks More Deeply.”

That you speak out to your white peers about systemic racism and white privilege does not make you brave. It simply means you’re finally taking some responsibility.  As a white person, you risk very little in calling out and condemning such behavior. Ironically, your immunity to censure only emphasizes your privilege.  The brave ones are those people of color who stand up and speak out knowing the possible consequences.  You risk losing a few friends.  They sometimes risk their lives and livelihoods.

While I’m pleased you’re doing more than simply speaking out, attending Black Lives Matter events and contributing to organizations who are fighting on behalf of people of color does not make you heroic. It simply means you are being a decent human being.  Expecting accolades for such behavior – though you seldom realize it – suggests that people of color should be grateful for all you are doing.  Don’t expect credit for repaying a long overdue debt.

Be so careful.

There are two kinds of white ugliness. The first kind of ugliness is exemplified by those who claim or imply that black lives matter less than white lives.  It is easy to identify and condemn.  The second kind of ugliness is far more subtle.  It belittles people of color by implying that the respect that white people demand and expect of one another is a generosity when extended to a person of color.

Here is how to test whether you are guilty of this second kind of ugliness. Attend a Black Lives Matter rally and listen to what people of color are saying about white people.  When they are critical of white people, listen to your internal dialogue.  If you are defensive and outraged, you are likely experiencing your discomfort at not having your white generosity acknowledged.  You are not getting the credit you think you deserve for attending their rally.  They are not treating you as you’re accustomed; as a benevolent and enlightened white person.

You are not the guest of honor.

Your presence in the fight for equality and justice does not make you noble, wise, brave or heroic. It makes you empathic, someone willing to sit uncomfortably in the presence of someone else’s pain.  If what they say about white people does not apply to you, be glad.  If it does, be honest.  This, more than anything, is what people of color yearn for from white people.  In some ways, they are more comfortable with the blatant racist.  At least they know where they stand.

The greatest obstacle to racial reconciliation in America is in ending this second kind of white ugliness, the kind so pervasive in progressive and liberal circles. When supporting people of color is about feeling good about yourself, you have objectified people of color once again.  Like the slave owner, they are a means to your end.  They are the context for you to be noble, wise, brave and heroic.

In the story of the emancipation of people of color, you – as a white person – can play a role. Some have chosen to be the villains.  Many have chosen to be spectators.  A few have become allies and accomplices.  None are heroes.  That role rightly belongs to only one group of people – the people of color who’ve paid for their freedom and their civil rights with their blood, sweat and tears.

Old White People Need To Die

Old White People Need To Die

Growing up, I was taught to honor my elders, to acknowledge that their experience made them wiser in the ways of the world. For this reason, I internally cringe when I write the words, “Old white people need to die.”  It seems callous and disrespectful rather than what it is – a fair and reasonable analysis of the demographics in the recent elections in Alabama.

In Alabama, 74% of the voters for Roy Moore – a homophobic, racist, misogynist accused of sexually assaulting and harassing multiple teenage girls – were 45 or older. Since 92% of Moore supporters were white, we can safely conclude that a majority of older white people in Alabama either approved of or did not object to Mr. Moore’s opinions or actions.  In addition, we know from the exit polls that the older a white person was, the more likely they were to vote for Moore.  While only 36% of white people younger than 45 voted for Moore, nearly 60% of those older than 65 supported Moore.  This may explain the recently popular sweatshirts emblazoned with “F*ck Your Racist Grandma.”

White grandpas and grandmas are a big part of the problem in America. This shouldn’t surprise us.  A person who is seventy years old today was born in 1947.  This means they spent their most formative years growing up in a nation where black people were second class citizens, homosexuality was an abomination and women were considered the weaker sex.  While they may have reluctantly acquiesced to the cultural changes around them, this doesn’t mean their perspectives and prejudices have significantly changed.  Indeed, with age comes nostalgia.

I see this dynamic in my own father, a progressive liberal in his 70s. In these past few years, he has spent countless hours and thousands of dollars seeking and buying the cars he drove as a teenager.  While I find his obsession odd, I am increasingly thankful that his nostalgia is for the trappings of the past and not its values.  This is obviously not the case with many older white people in Alabama.  Roy Moore stated America was greatest during the days of slavery and they voted for him.  Donald Trump ran his whole campaign on a nostalgic theme of “Make America Great Again.”  The subtext of “Make America Like It Was During Your Childhood” was especially appealing to older white people.

This is not to say there aren’t millennials with racist and misogynist opinions. Most of the white supremacist marchers at Charlottesville were 45 or younger.  However, demographically, they are a decreasing minority.  Without old white people, Donald Trump would not have been elected and Roy Moore would not have come so close to being a US Senator.  While education and dialogue are important ingredients in shifting our culture away from its bigoted past, the chief contributor to social change in the next 25 years will be funerals.  Those white people born before the Civil Rights movement need to die.

We also need to stop electing old white people. Regardless of whether Trump or Clinton had won the election, the United States would have had its oldest elected president – an old white person.  Nostalgia aside, this is not a positive trend.  While cognitive decline begins at about the age of 45, we know that this deterioration accelerates after the age of 60.  I’ve seen this in my father and recognized the beginnings of this in myself.  I am not as sharp and creative as I once was.  I am more forgetful and less flexible.  You should not elect me to political office.

Unfortunately, in a society that can medically extend life span, we’ve enabled older people to remain in power and influence even when their mental capacities are in serious decline. We’ve created a society where people who grew up using typewriters and who struggle to navigate e-mail are being asked to make important decisions about net neutrality and cyberwarfare.  This should frighten us.  Regardless of what you think of Donald Trump today, you can rest assured that his mental faculties are not going to improve over the next three years.

Here is our dilemma. Right now in America, the vast majority of the wealth, voting power and political influence in the United States is in the hands of old white people who grew up in day when “colored” people drank from a different water fountain, when being gay was a crime and men were the “head of the household.”  Though some of these old white people are committed to creating a different and better world for their children and grandchildren, many are not.  They are only capable of looking backward. Until they die, they are a drag on the progress of our nation.

I say all of this aware that I may be accused of ageism.  So let me end with this clarification.  It is time to redefine what it means to honor our parents and grandparents.  We do not honor them by allowing their past prejudices and cultural calculations to persevere.  We honor them most by learning from their mistakes, honestly recognizing their limitations and building positively on the world they created.  And, for some of them, perhaps we honor them by refusing to drive them to the polls.  If there is age before which you should not vote, there should probably be an upper limit as well.

While I wish Roy Moore had lost the election in Alabama by a much larger margin, the demographics of the election give me hope. In 25 years, the people of Alabama may not vote like the people of California, but I expect they will no longer consider someone like Roy Moore as an acceptable candidate.  Those of his ilk and era will have died.  A younger generation, exposed to a vast, vibrant and divergent world through the internet, will gradually take power.  Raised in a multicultural nation, they will make America greater than it has ever been.

Where I Agree With White Supremacists

Where I Agree With White Supremacists

In about 1754 BC, a Babylonian king by the name of Hammurabi had his opinion on the proper human order chiseled onto a large stone. The Code of Hammurabi argued that God had placed him in power to enforce a society where men were considered superior, women were subordinate to men and most people – slaves – were so inferior they could be considered property.  For the next 3500 years, this was how most societies were organized.

In 1776 AD, Thomas Jefferson offered a new and controversial opinion about the proper order of humanity. In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson argued that “all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.”  While this more enlightened opinion was certainly a departure from thousands of years of human political thought, we shouldn’t celebrate it as a triumph of human emancipation.

Unfortunately, Thomas Jefferson probably meant “all males” when he wrote his declaration. His words were a challenge to the privileges of kings and nobility, but did little to alter the remainder of the Code of Hammurabi.  Women were still subordinate, unable to own property or vote.  Jefferson continued to own slaves.  Finally, he based his opinion on the same claim of divine authority.  Why was his opinion superior to that of Hammurabi?  God said so.  However, while Jefferson’s arguments were flawed, the Declaration of Independence was the beginning of a clash between two very different understandings of human order, a struggle which continues today.

The Code of Hammurabi has been – and still is – the worldview of many in the United States. Since 1776, those committed to including more and more types of people in the term “all men” have fought for greater equality against those who believe some – by virtue of their gender or the color of their skin – are superior to others.  Make no mistake; the Civil War was a violent clash of these two worldviews.  The Civil Rights movement was another battle in this effort to defeat a white supremacy built on the Code of Hammurabi.  What we are experiencing in the United States today is another skirmish in that conflict.  When Trump and his supporters say they want to “make America great again,” it is not a call to a Jeffersonian world where all people are equal and have certain unalienable rights.  Roy Moore and his like are calling for a return to a world where the Code of Hammurabi reigned.

As I’ve fought against the minions of Hammurabi over the past forty years, my opinions and arguments have shifted. For example, I once found solace and strength in the idea that the truth of equality was self-evident, ordained by a God who loved and valued every person equally.  Gradually, it became apparent to me that the claim of divine blessing has sustained rather than solved this conflict.  Both Hammurabi and Jefferson argued their worldview was ordained by God.

Sadly, in this clash of worldviews, God has been more of a team mascot than the arbiter of truth. History has shown that religions and sects have aligned on both sides of this conflict.  Racism and sexism – as well as God’s equal regard for all – have often been trumpeted by holy men.  The opinion of God seems largely irrelevant in this struggle.  If we are ever to resolve this conflict over the proper order of humanity, I suspect we have to look beyond religion for aid.

I no longer believe people were created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. Equality and rights are not attributes that are bestowed.  If women and people of color have taught us anything, they have demonstrated that equality and rights are the spoils of hard fought battles with the defenders of the Code of Hammurabi.  Perhaps God – or the idea of God – has given the oppressed and marginalized comfort and courage, but it is their blood, sweat and tears that have changed the world.

I have also come to question the validity of the idea of the equality of all people. In this, ironically, I am in agreement with white supremacists.  Not all people are equal.  Some are inferior.  While I believe every person has worth, I am absolutely convinced that many of the defenders of the Code of Hammurabi, of white supremacy and of white and male privilege are inferior human beings. They are not just. They are not good thinkers.  They are not reflective.  They are not well informed.  Indeed, they are attracted to the Code of Hammurabi precisely because it offers them an unfair advantage in a world where they fear competing with brilliant women and people of color.

In recent years, I’ve realized why many conservatives hate the theory of evolution so much. It is not that it challenges their view of God as much as it is an affront to their opinion about themselves.  Evolution does not care whether you are Christian, a white man or an American.  It bestows its blessings without discrimination.  All people are not born equal.  Some are more intelligent, creative, innovative, reflective and compassionate than others and the distribution of these talents has nothing to do with gender or race.  Creating a human order that denies or ignores this reality is detrimental to human society and progress.

This has become my primary objection to racism and sexism. Any understanding of the human order that suggests homogeneity is ordained or preferable is dangerous.  A society, company, or organization dominated by white men will always be inferior.  By excluding the brilliance and creativity of those who are other, it makes the same mistake of European royal families in the past.  Human evolution has determined that inbreeding always results in deformity and inferiority.  Diversity is a hallmark of evolution and the driver of human progress.

For this reason, I am not a proponent of equality for equality’s sake. I am a proponent of equal opportunity, for the leveling a very unleveled playing field.  I am an opponent of racism and sexism because these systems – based on an archaic and non-scientific code – diminish the opportunities for large portions of the human race to flourish.  White supremacy must be opposed, not merely because it is immoral, but because we now fully understand the importance of human diversity.  This is not a political opinion, but a scientifically proven fact.

This is where I and the white supremacists radically disagree. They believe America would be great if we could restore the dominance of white men.  They applaud pictures where all our political leaders are white men.  I find this dangerous and harmful.  A racially diverse nation is dynamic and vibrant.  Systemic racism and sexism make America far less than we can be.

I think white supremacists – though they seldom admit it – do understand this.  They realize at some deep level that – without inordinate power – they may struggle to compete.  When the marchers in Charlottesville chanted, “You will not replace us,” they revealed their deepest fear.  They did not say “you cannot replace us.”  They are smart enough to see the writing on the wall.  Without the Code of Hammurabi, they will be rightly replaced by women and people of color.  This will happen not because their replacements are inferior, but precisely because they are superior.

I hold this truth to be self-evident. All people are not created equal. We are born into an incredibly diverse world.  This reality is an opportunity and not a threat.  Allowing the most talented and thoughtful to lead is good for all of us.  If we are willing to give all people equal rights, then and only then will life, liberty and happiness flourish.

(Special thanks for Yuval Noah Harari, who juxtaposed and critiqued both the Code of Hammurabi and the Declaration of Independence in his fascinating book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. His thoughts provoked mine.)

Why White Men Should Feel Ashamed

Why White Men Should Feel Ashamed

November was an enlightening month.

In late October, I posted an essay entitled “How To Tell If A White Person Is Racist With One Simple Question.” Though my blog is generally read by a couple of thousand people, in this instance and to my surprise, my post generated over 120,000 views over the next few weeks.  I received hundreds of comments, many of which I could not approve because of their ugliness and profanity.  If I had any doubt about the premise of the post – that people’s negativity toward the question of reparations is a fairly good indicator of their blatant or latent racism – the response to the post dispelled them.

Throughout November, I engaged – both publicly and privately – in lengthy exchanges with angry, white men over the legitimacy of reparations and the present state of racial relations in America. These conversations led me to write two follow up posts outlining a reasonable approach to reparations as well as my own personal commitment. I also became more aware of the present and potential dangers of angry, white men.

During this encounter with white masculinity, I gradually realized the responses of angry white men to reparations echoed what I was hearing from other angry, white men about sexual harassment. As you know, November was also the month of Harvey Weinstein, Louis C. K., Charlie Rose, Roy Moore, Matt Lauer and Al Franken, of countless allegations of sexual assault and harassment, and of denials and justifications.  As I was engaging in one discussion while listening to another, the similarities in the responses became more and more obvious.  It was almost as if racist and sexually inappropriate men were reading off the same script.

Deny or Question the Veracity of the Injury

As I talked with white men about slavery and racial discrimination, I was amazed by how often they denied the existence of racism today. According to them, America was a level playing field and any disparities between blacks and whites were the fault of people of color.  Some actually argued that, if racism existed, they were its target. While no one claimed slavery didn’t happen, they were quick to diminish its impact. One man even quoted Muhammed Ali, who – while boxing in Africa – once quipped, “Thank God my granddaddy got on that boat.”  In this twisted manipulation of Ali’s opinions on racism, slavery was actually a positive historical event bringing Christianity and prosperity to black people.

This same willingness to deny or discount a past injury was echoed in many of the responses of men accused of sexual harassment. Even when the past harassment was acknowledged, men were quick to suggest that the incident was trivial, even unmemorable. Franken apologized, but admitted he couldn’t even remember the incidents. One defender of Roy Moore actually argued that Moore’s behavior was somehow similar to that of Mary and Joseph in the Bible. Moore wasn’t a creepy pedophile. He was a Biblical patriarch.

Question the Timing of the Injured Party

Those accused of sexual harassment were quick to question the timing of the allegation. They asked why, after so long, these women were finally claiming injury.  There was little recognition of how – if the accusations were as described – these men had used their power to intimidate and harass their victims, to even threaten them should they expose the injury. Ironically, our patriarchal culture makes it extremely difficult for women to expose sexual assault and harassment and then castigates them for their reluctance. Only the recent number of successful exposures has given some women the courage to speak out.

Angry, white men express similar irritation with the timing of calls for reparations. They too asked why, so many years after the end of slavery, black people were demanding reparations.  There was little recognition of how – for most of the past 150 years – powerful white men responded to calls for reparations with everything from laughter to lynching.  As with victims of sexual harassment, people usually expose past injuries when they feel some modicum of safety.  A nation that only apologized for slavery in 2009 shouldn’t be surprised by the sudden upsurge in calls for reparations.

Question the Motive and Character of the Injured Party

During my exchanges, I repeatedly heard reparations described as the strategy of “money grubbing black people.” Instead of legitimate compensation for centuries of economic exploitation, reparations were often defined as an injustice to white people.  According to this trope, white people are hardworking and responsible. Our affluence has nothing to do with past oppressive. Inversely, black people are greedy and irresponsible. Their present challenges are the result of their own flaws.  While only the most bigoted came right out and said black people were lazy, stupid or immoral, much of the rhetoric implied as much.  In the end, these arguments often ended by suggesting white people were the victims.

Most of the men exposed as sexual harassers would have us believe they – rather than their accusers – are the victims. The women are money grubbing liars motivated by a desire for fame. Often, in diminishing the credibility of their accusers, the unrelated or incidental failings of their accusers are paraded publicly.  While few men come right out and say these women are loose and immoral, much of the rhetoric implies as much.  Ironically, though the men deny assaulting or harassing the women, they also imply their accusers are the kind of women who invite or deserve such treatment.

Diminish the Impact of the Injury

Many of these men also suggest their actions were trivial, playful or even well intentioned. The injury, if acknowledged at all, is presented as minor. Moore asked the mothers for permission to date their daughters. Franken was just kidding around.  All Louis C.K. asked was that they watch.  If the women weren’t liars, they were certainly exaggerating or misconstruing what happened. The victims of sexual harassment are either portrayed as pathetic losers trying to pull down their superiors or – if they are deemed successful women – as evidence that the past assault and harassment didn’t impact their careers.

Those opposing reparations utilize this same paradoxical argument. On one hand, the success of a few blacks is offered as evidence that there wasn’t really any injury.  How can racism exist in a country where Barack Obama was elected president?  Those people of color who have not succeeded are examples, not of systemic racism, but of their own inadequacies.  The racism that cannot be ignored is trivialized as the bigotry of a few white supremacists.  Micro-aggressions aren’t real.  Most of what people of color report as racist is either exaggerated or misconstrued.

Reject Any Responsibility While Normalizing The Behavior

Ultimately, the goal of angry, white men – whether in talking about reparations or sexual harassment – is to avoid any personal or corporate responsibility. Either they didn’t do anything wrong or they have no responsibility for the actions of others. Yet often, in avoiding any culpability, they express sentiments that suggest they harbor the cultural and philosophical positions that undergird racism and sexism.

While they quickly condemn the most horrific examples of racism and sexism, they often follow these condemnations with justifications and excuses.  Boys will be boys. White people should be able to celebrate their heritage. It was just locker room talk or bar banter.  Men can be sexually harassed by women, too.  Whites are the victims of racism as much as people of color.  Sexual harassment is simply the by-product of gender equality and sexual freedom.  People of color need to toughen up if they want to succeed in a free society.  And on and on.

It was usually at this point in a discussion that I would withdraw from the conversation. What had started out as a discussion of an injury had ended up as a rationalization for a system which empowers men to injure the less powerful.  By the end of November, I’d realized what opposition to reparations and reports of sexual harassment had most in common – angry, white men.  These were men desperately defending the very privilege that makes racism and sexism possible.  I began to suspect those complaining the most were probably also men with past transgressions.

Time and again, in this past month, I have heard men say, “I will not feel guilty about being white.” Initially, I assured them this was not my intent, that I wanted them to take responsibility rather than feel guilty.  By the end of the month, after hearing other men declare that they would not feel guilty for being men, such complaints began to ring hollow. There is a certain kind of white masculinity that should deeply embarrass all men.  This distorted masculinity is not solely exhibited in the David Dukes and Roy Moores of America.  It is deeply ingrained in the psyche of millions of white American men.

As much as I wish it were so, racism and sexism will not be solved by reparations or the firing of countless sexual harassers, though both of these responses are necessary. Our culture will only begin to change when more men accept some responsibility for the white patriarchy that makes David Duke and Roy Moore possible. They are not aberrations. They are representations. It is far past time for white men to finally feel ashamed about how we, our peers and our forefathers have treated women and people of color.  No more excuses.  No more justifications.

We need white men strong and brave enough to publicly abandon both the vestiges and the privileges of white patriarchy.  These are men willing to acknowledge the injuries of the past and to accept their continued complicity in sustaining systems that oppress people of color and women.  If white men want to be proud, let it be a pride in their commitment to stand up – not in defense of other white men – but in defense of those who have been defenseless for too long.  Until we are willing to do this, shame on us.