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.


DACA Was Not The Dream

DACA Was Not The Dream

I am an enthusiastic supporter of the Dreamers, the 800,000 undocumented young adults who have lived nearly all of their lives in the United States. In any just society, these young people, who were brought into the United States by their parents while minors, should not be held responsible for the actions of their parents or the gridlock of our political system over immigration policy. Sending them “home” to countries most of them don’t even remember is cruel and unusual punishment. For most of them, the United States is the only home and culture they’ve known.  No ethical person, regardless of their position on immigration, can justify their deportation.

However, I am not a fan of DACA.

Even President Obama, in establishing the DACA program, admitted it was a stop gap measure designed to clarify the legal status of the approximately 65,000 undocumented young people graduating from US high schools every year. While DACA made it possible for these young people to obtain a driver’s license, attend college and find employment, it actually created an unsustainable and unjust status for these young people.  Mr. Trump was right to suggest that Congress should come to some bipartisan agreement on their status.

Consider the Faustian bargain offered to DACA participants. They were allowed to remain in their homeland as long as they accepted a diminished and unequal status.  They can work and pay taxes, but are denied many services.  They must pay into social security though they are denied access to its benefits.  They can attend college, but must pay a higher tuition without any loans or assistance.  They can live in US, but they cannot vote.  They can only leave the US with permission.  If they are arrested, they can be denied due process and immediately deported.  Every two years, they must pay $500 to renew their participation in this charade.

This is what we have offered these young people who’ve attended our elementary schools, who’ve graduated from our high schools with honors, who’ve excelled on our sports teams, who’ve entered our armed forces, who’ve worked in our companies and who’ve fully assimilated into our culture. While many of them seem genuinely appreciative of the DACA program, they shouldn’t be. It is not just or fair to punish them for the crimes of their parents.  They deserve much better.

Those who want to send them away make Uncle Sam into a father who refuses to acknowledge his illegitimate children. The illegitimacy does not reside in the children, but in circumstances beyond their control.  Only the conditions of their birth are questionable. In every other way, they are legitimately American.  Indeed, they fit the conservative litmus test for a “good” immigrant.  All of them speak English.  Most have little or no allegiance to their country of birth.  They are fully committed to our values. They understand themselves as Americans.

Though most conservatives will not admit it, their chief flaw is the color of their skin. They are not white.  It is this, though it is seldom acknowledged, that makes them so frightening to those who would have them deported. They threaten white supremacy and must be racially profiled and demonized.  Fortunately, while Trump and his administration have tried to justify rejecting immigrants of color as being dangerous and criminal, the DACA participants stand as 800,000 counter arguments to that racist rhetoric.  We call them dreamers because they so perfectly exemplify the American dream of taking advantage of this land of freedom and opportunity. Rejecting them makes a mockery of our cultural myths and values.

Those of us protesting the termination of the DACA program need to be very careful. In opposing this action by the Trump administration, we need to oppose the injustice of their status and not defend the legitimacy of the program.  The goal of our efforts should not be the restoration of the DACA program, but the creation of a path to citizenship for these young people.  Anything short of this could inadvertently create the foundations for an American apartheid, where a whole class of people is given a permanent second class status.

The United States will continue to debate our immigration policy and process. We can disagree about how to best guard our borders.  We can design better ways of meeting our economic needs without encouraging undocumented workers.  These are all valid and important discussions.  What we cannot do is punish these children for our own ambiguity.  If our elected representatives in Congress refuse to protect the Dreamers, they have no real commitment in the American dream.

Why People of Color Deserve More Lollipops

Why People of Color Deserve More Lollipops

Recently, when giving lollipops to two of my grandsons, the youngest said, “Papa, you gave my brother a lollipop yesterday and I didn’t get one. Can I have two today?”  Before I could respond, his older brother replied, “That wouldn’t be fair.”  Without any thought, I sided with my oldest grandson and said, “What happened yesterday doesn’t matter. Today, you both get one lollipop.”

I’ve thought a lot about that exchange, especially in the days since the Department of Justice announced an investigation of colleges and universities for discrimination against white students in admissions. In essence, the Department of Justice hopes to reverse the practice of affirmative action and its goal of increasing the number of people of color in higher education.  Critical of this decision, I’ve wondered if I handled the situation with my grandsons correctly.  My response to my younger grandson was remarkably similar the attitude of the Department of Justice.  What happened in the past doesn’t matter.  Equality is only measured by what is happening today.

At least in the situation with my grandsons, the inequality between the number of lollipops was merely happenstance. I love my grandsons and have always treated them both generously.  If my younger grandson had been with me the previous day, I would have given him a lollipop.  Unfortunately, if we’re talking about racial discrimination, there is a mountain of evidence that not all of Uncle Sam’s nephews and nieces have been treated with equal generosity.  If lollipops represent the resources our nation has allocated for specific groups, we who are white have been given far more lollipops than others.  In such circumstances, what does fairness look like today?

Like many people in the United States, my two grandsons disagreed on what equality should look like. The younger, aware of a historic inequality, was asking me to rectify an injustice.  He was arguing that equality could be measured over two days as easily as over one.  The oldest, aware of an immediate inequality, was demanding a judgement limited to the present moment.  He made his complaint of injustice even though he knew that – when measured over two days – he would be the recipient of one more lollipop than his brother.

My oldest grandson’s strategy is one of the pillars of systemic racism. When we who are white argue that what happened in the past doesn’t matter, we are not arguing for equality and fairness; we are defending our advantage.  When we say college admissions should be administered blindly today, we are intentionally ignoring the historic reality that Lady Justice was peeking from behind her blindfold in the past.  Though she systemically denied justice and opportunity to minorities for centuries, we act as if those facts are irrelevant.  Everyone should be judged by their merits.

However, when this argument is judged by its merits, it fails horribly.  Limiting the measure of equality to the present is an arbitrary decision.  In criminal cases, our courts often address past injuries.  Indeed, for some serious crimes, there is no statute of limitations.  Sadly, our unwillingness to address past racial injustices implies we don’t see these injustices as serious or criminal.

Equality without a memory is almost always unjust.  Once Lady Justice peeked from behind her blindfold to deny people of color of their rights, she can’t escape behind it when they complain.  Pretending there is a level playing field is a lie designed to protect white privilege.  A Department of Justice that suddenly requires colleges and universities to be completely objective makes a mockery of what it purportedly defends – justice.

My younger grandson’s plea for a second lollipop represents the legitimate complaint of people of color across America. He knew – probably because his brother proudly announced it – that his older brother had received something he had been denied.  Confronted with an obvious opportunity for that injustice to be rectified, he made a fair request – give me what I was previously denied.  He hoped that his grandfather would see the righteousness of his appeal.

I failed him.

I wish I could say I denied him a second lollipop because I didn’t want him to ruin his dinner, but that wouldn’t be true. I chose to give each grandson one lollipop, not because that was just, but because that was easiest.  I knew, once my older grandson complained, that to give my younger grandson a second lollipop would result in a conflict.  Once he proclaimed, “That wouldn’t be fair,” I was cowed.  Limiting equality to the present moment was the easiest decision.

I lied to my youngest grandson.

What happened yesterday does matter, especially when we’re talking about centuries of slavery, the genocide and marginalization of the Native Americans, decades of Jim Crow, the exploitation of migrant workers and countless other injustices.  While it is certainly easiest to limit equality to the present moment, it is seldom just.  When our courts try to ignore the past, they nearly always multiply its injuries.

I wish my older grandson had responded to his younger brother’s request with kindness. If he’d said, “Papa, he’s right. He should get two lollipops,” I would have quickly agreed to their request for restitution.  When this didn’t happen, I did what our legislatures and courts have done for far too long.  I took the easiest route, the one least likely to solicit the complaints of those who have previously had the advantage.  I missed an opportunity to teach my grandsons about the complexities of justice.

I don’t know what the courts will do when the Department of Justice challenges the practice of affirmative action, but I fear they will do what I did. They will weigh the resentful complaints of white people and do what is easiest.  They will limit justice to the present moment rather than do the far more difficult work of trying to remedy their past indiscretions.  They will pull the blindfold tight in order to avoid seeing the obvious – their complicity in injustice.

Thanks to my grandsons, I see my responsibility. I need to do what I would have wished of my oldest grandson. I will advocate for an application of justice that is  measured by decades and centuries.  I will acknowledge the legitimacy of calls for some kind of restitution.  I will say, “They’re right.  They deserve more lollipops.”

Choosing Sides In Charlottesville

Choosing Sides In Charlottesville

In most situations, there is value in finding middle ground. Society is complex and solutions are seldom simple.  There are often multiple perspectives.  We are wise to consider various points of view, to resist the temptation to choose a side.  We must seek compromise and unity.  In most situations, these things are true.

Not in Charlottesville.

In most situations, people should be allowed to express their point of view, even if it be offensive and immoral. We are a country that champions freedom of expression.  We value the public square and the free exchange of divergent opinions.  We tolerate even our uglier voices.  In most situations, these things are true.

Not in Charlottesville.

In most situations, the President of the United States should avoid taking a side. They should seek to represent all the people of the United States.  They should condemn in the strongest terms, any egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, regardless of the source.  In most situations, the President should maintain objectivity.

Not in Charlottesville.

Let’s be clear about what happened in Charlottesville. White supremacists and Nazis gathered by the thousands to flex their political muscle, convinced they were newly empowered to terrorize and intimidate. They came with shields, weapons and torches.  They reenacted the rallies of the Ku Klux Klan and reminded us of the Kristallnacht of Nazi Germany.  They chanted their hatred for people of color and for Jews.  They did not come seeking middle ground.  They were not interested in the free exchange of opinions.  They came to do violence to the very fabric of our nation.

Mr. Trump, in his remarks yesterday, implied there was hatred, bigotry and violence on both sides of the confrontation in Charlottesville. This is a false and dangerous equivalency.  On one side was a group of people committed to all the ugliness above.  On the other side were people opposed to this immoral and abhorrent philosophy. Though Mr. Trump doesn’t seem to understand it, the choice in Charlottesville is clear and straight forward.  Which side are you on?

One side sees white people as a superior race deserving of special status and privilege.

The other side sees all people as equal, endowed with the same inalienable rights.

One side looks back on the days of the Southern Confederacy and the reign of Hitler’s Third Reich with nostalgia.

The other side looks back at these historic periods as atrocities.

One side hates all those who are not white, blaming others for their own inadequacies.

The other side values a diverse culture, celebrating our various unique contributions.

One side came to Charlottesville convinced many Americans, perhaps even the President, share their racist viewpoint.

The other side came to demonstrate most Americans do not.

Yes, both sides chanted their opinions. Both sides screamed their disdain for their opponents.  Both sides perpetrated acts of violence.  But do not make the mistake of our President.  This does not in any way or form make both sides equally culpable for the deaths and injuries in Charlottesville.  One side was an attack on human decency.  The other was in defense of human goodness.

In the days ahead, be prepared for the attempts to spread the blame in Charlottesville.  Some will avoid the necessary task of choosing sides. These efforts are both unnecessary and suspect.  If you cannot see which side to align with in Charlottesville, your moral compass is broken.  The blame for what occurred belongs in one place and one place only.  It belongs with the white men who organized this rally and who thought yesterday would begin the restoration of a more racist America.

Not in Charlottesville.

Not now.

Not ever.

The Walls That Divide Us

The Walls That Divide Us

When I was a boy, my parents moved our large family from a town to a farm. We went from a small house with a small yard to a house on eleven acres of fields and woods, with a small pond and a creek running through it.  For my three brothers, my sister and me, the move was magical.  Our first summer there was one of adventure and exploration.  We spent our days clearing trails through the woods and building small wooden bridges over the creek.  We also became acquainted with our neighbors, of which we had one.

Our new home shared a lane with one other house, inhabited by a young married couple with no children and a swimming pool. My siblings and I quickly decided to become fast friends with Roger and Eilene and their pool, visiting them several times each day.  We were certain they would like us and utterly devastated when – a few weeks after we arrived – Roger built a tall privacy fence between their house and ours.

When we asked my father why Roger and Eilene had built the fence, he avoided the obvious answer that young married couples don’t usually fantasize about sharing their lives and their pool with five very noisy and nosey children. Instead, he said, “There are two kinds of people in this world – people who build walls and people who build bridges.  Roger and Eilene are the wall building kind and we’re the bridge building kind.”

I’ve remembered my father’s words often throughout my life. Time and again, I’ve encountered people and situations where the dividing line has often been between wall building and bridge building.  I’ve seen this in issues of politics, race, economics, gender, religion and sexuality.  I’ve also realized that most of us are taught to be one or the other.  Neither I nor any of my siblings have ever built a fence between our yards and those of our neighbors.  We understood that what you build is a reflection of a deeper attitude toward life.

Ironically, in my formative adult years, I watched another conservative Republican president – Ronald Reagan – spend a lot of time talking about walls. Only his mantra was “Tear down that wall.”  I vividly remember when the world celebrated the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and all that it represented.  Conservatives and progressives alike recognized that any wall that keeps poor and oppressed people from freedom and opportunity is to be hated and opposed.  Back then, it was the Communists who were chanting “Build that wall.”

I suppose that’s why I worry so much about our President’s desire to build a wall on our southern border. I fear our country is changing and not for the better, that what we want to build is a reflection of a deeper malaise, of a not so subtle shift from being a nation of bridge builders to being a nation of wall builders.  Does this desire to build a wall represent a deeper inclination to build walls between people of different politics, race, economics, gender, religion and sexuality?  This seems a fairly easy case to make.

Early estimates for the cost of building the border wall run anywhere from $15 to $25 billion dollars, with past performance by government construction projects suggesting we error on the higher number. Other projections suggest manning, monitoring and maintaining the wall could require an additional billion dollars each year.  This would make the wall a $35 billion dollar investment for ten years of “protection” from poor and oppressed men, women and children seeking freedom and opportunity. More damning, this priority on wall building will mean the paltry $320 million dollars of foreign aid we have previously provided to Mexico will end.  In the first quarter of the Trump presidency, we gave less than $1 million dollars in assistance to battling poverty in Mexico.

As a director of a community development organization – CoCoDA – which does work in Central America, I have to wonder what would happen if – instead of a wall – we invested $35 billion dollars in schools, clinics, roads and housing in Mexico and Central America. After all, another way to eliminate illegal immigration is to eliminate its necessity.  I’d feel so much better about the use of my tax dollars if I knew they were going to building something that will enhance human lives.  But then again, I’m bridge builder.

However, in the end, it is not the financial cost of the wall that most concerns me. We are a rich nation and can afford to build a wall.  What I fear is the cost to our national psyche.  What are we teaching our children about the world and our place in it?  Will the walls we create to “protect” ourselves eventually become our prisons, keeping us from seeing, understanding and relating to the rest of the world?

When I was a boy, Roger and Eilene built a wall between their home and ours. It made it much harder for my siblings and me to visit them when they were swimming in their pool, but we persisted.  A couple of years later, they sold their home and moved.  While I don’t know how much we contributed to that decision, I suspect their wall didn’t accomplish what they hoped.  That is my experience with walls.  They seldom provide what we desire.

When Condemning Genital Mutilation Is Racist

When Condemning Genital Mutilation Is Racist

I am universally opposed to genital mutilation. It does not matter to me if your religion considers the alteration of the human sexual organs divinely ordained or your culture finds it morally defensible.  I think it should be against the law and physicians and parents who mutilate the sexual organs of their children should be punished.  I applaud the nearly universal condemnation of Jumana Nagarwala, the Muslim emergency room physician, arrested for committing female genital mutilation on several young girls.  I also think much of this public outcry is racist.  It is more about the hatred of Muslims than concern for these children.

Why would I make such an outrageous statement?

As a victim and perpetrator of religiously ordained and culturally approved genital mutilation, I find it suspect when Christian and Jewish Americans who circumcise their sons suddenly become ardent opponents of genital mutilation. If altering the sexual organs of Muslim children is so appalling, how do we justify what we do?  How are our justifications for circumcision any nobler than Muslim justifications for a clitoridectomy?  Both procedures are based on religious and cultural opinion rather than good science.  And why do we use a medical term like circumcision for what we do and a pejorative term like mutilation for what some Muslims do?  Circumcision is clearly the mutilation of the male genitalia.

Let me make this clear. I am not defending the actions of Jumana Nagarwala or the parents of the children she mutilated.   I universally oppose genital mutilation.   Therefore, I cannot ignore the hypocrisy of Christian and Jewish Americans using this incident as one more opportunity to demonize Muslim people, many of whom also oppose genital mutilation.  This is racist.  I will also oppose attempts by some Muslim people to defend genital mutilation as culturally relative and worthy of tolerance.  My opposition to their argument is not racist, if it is based on a universally applied principle.

I understand this is a subtle distinction, but it is an important one as we sort through issues of culture, privilege and racism. As a white, male American, I must be very careful of what and whom I critique.  My privileged position makes is easy to identify and condemn the flaws in others.  I must be constantly aware of how my prejudice impacts my opinions.  As I make judgments of other people, I must carefully sort out those judgments that are racist from those that are moral.

For example, when I began attending public school graduations at my children’s urban schools, I was forced to examine my judgments of the black families sitting around me. They were loud and boisterous, interrupting the proceedings with cheers and shouts.  Initially, based on my cultural preferences, I judged them rude and obnoxious.  Only later did it occur to me that high school graduation, which I had grown up seeing as normative and expected, is a cause of great celebration for a marginalized group.  My judgment of them was racist.

On the other hand, raising children in a diverse setting, I also became aware of the higher levels of the use of corporal punishment by black parents. In black culture, the physical punishment of children is often tolerated, defended and even celebrated.  Though there are some good explanations for why many black parents utilize corporal punishment, I oppose corporal punishment for children.  I oppose this behavior in parents of all races and ethnicities.

This moral position does not give me the right to target black parents for my condemnation. That would be racist. There are plenty of white parents who still whip their children.  It does, however, allow me to oppose any argument that defends corporal punishment as either a black cultural distinctive or a conservative Christian hallmark.  I don’t care what your parents, religion, or culture taught you.  Beating your child is wrong.

The problem, whether we’re dealing with genital mutilation, corporal punishment, or a variety of other human behaviors, is when we condemn another group or race for a behavior we tolerate. When we do so, we are speaking out of racial prejudice rather than moral outrage.  Our responsibility, first and foremost, is to address the acceptance and prevalence of that behavior in our own group or culture.  Looking through the windows of someone else’s house only distracts us from our own housecleaning.

This is why I find the Facebook posts calling for Jumana Nagarwala’s punishment in the ugliest terms so disturbing. It smacks of hatred and racism.  Racism is most dangerous when it wraps itself in moral indignation, focusing on another group’s imperfections rather than on our own complicity.  When Christian and Jewish American’s finally abandon our fixation on altering male genitalia, I will be less suspicious of our condemnations of Jumana Nagarwala.

Redecorating the White House

Redecorating the White House

I need to pace myself. As my friends of color remind me, the race for justice isn’t a sprint; it is a grueling marathon.  They worry that the surge of interest in justice and equality may be the fad of the day and not a cultural shift.  That is a fair critique.  When it comes to fighting for justice, most white people are out of shape.  Having never had to walk up hill or against the wind, we grow exhausted quickly.  So I need to pace myself.

I cannot attend every march, protest or meeting. I cannot read every article. I cannot generate outrage for every Trump action. I cannot focus on every injustice. My black daughter-in-law wrote these words to me after the election,

“This whole “racism” issue is new to you. For me, it is a constant in my life.  You cannot let your newfound knowledge and first-hand experiences of racism consume you. There is nothing good that will come of that. You cannot change the world despite your best intentions to make it a better place for your daughter. It breaks my heart that she will have her own experiences, because despite how far we have come, we still have not gone far enough. My advice is to seek joy, seek love, and find reasons to smile”  

I appreciate her advice. I’m slowly learning how to be both passionate about justice and life.  Too often, in these past three months, I’ve allowed my anger and depression about the election of Donald Trump to diminish other parts of my life.  While I don’t want to return to my past complacency, I also want to find some balance. How do I discern between what is ugly and what is an actual threat to liberty, justice and democracy?

In sorting through the words and actions of the Trump administration, I’m trying to determine the appropriate level of outrage – to pace myself. I can’t treat every tweet as a national crisis.  I’m sorting Trump actions into three categories – redecorating, remodeling and gutting the American political and cultural system.  Trump has the right to redecorate the White House, but he doesn’t get to gut it.


While I oppose many of Trump’s executive orders, they are mostly redecorating. Executive orders move the furniture, repaint the walls, change the pictures and alter the curtains.  This can still have a profound effect on the building.  You can change a space from warm and inviting to cold and unwelcoming.  However, redecorating doesn’t alter the structural integrity of the building.

Think about it. Most of Trump’s executive orders rescinded the executive orders of President Obama.  While these orders can do damage to people, they do not forever change our democratic system.  Indeed, they are part of our system.  We allow our presidents – for better or worse – wide discretion when it comes to implementing our laws.  Those of us who applauded many of President Obama’s orders need to accept Trump’s right to make his own.

We also need to remember how temporary those orders can be. If Trump can rescind the actions of the Obama administration, the next president can rescind those of Donald Trump.  While it is appropriate to oppose the executive orders of Trump, I try to remember that they are redecorating.


I am more afraid of how Trump and a Republican Congress could alter our democracy. Passing or changing our laws is not redecorating.  That is remodeling.  New laws knock out a wall, add a new room or change the location of doors and windows.  These changes have a more permanent effect on the building.  They can alter how and who can use the building.  Adding a ramp allows more people into the house.  Destroying one leaves certain people outside.

Remodeling can be dangerous. If you remove a weight bearing wall, you can destroy the structural integrity of the building.  It can collapse and kill those inside.  Remodeling can also be helpful.  In my opinion, Obamacare – which was a law rather than an executive order – shored up a section of our building that was in peril of collapse.  Even the Republicans seem to realize this as they cautiously attempt to dismantle it.

So, as much as I am monitoring Trump’s executive orders, the laws passed by this Congress deserve my fuller attention. Laws can significantly alter our democracy in both positive and negative ways.  When both Trump and the Republican Congress agree on something that is ugly or unjust, we need to resist.

We also need to hope our system of checks and balances works, that the courts continue to protect that system from laws that might destroy it. While the Supreme Court is an imperfect institution, it has generally kept our democracy from crumbling.  The courts have the ability to challenge both executive orders and newly minted laws.  They are the building inspectors.  The recent challenge to Trump’s executive order on immigration gives me some hope.


What should keep all of us awake at night are attempts to gut the democratic system. Some aren’t satisfied with redecorating or remodeling.  They hate the building.  They want to tear it down and replace it with something more to their taste.  They want to build a new structure and surround the grounds with a high wall.  Where our present system is open and inclusive, they want a fortress with dungeons.

Gutting a system can happen in a variety of ways. If Trump or the Congress ignore the courts, they are gutting the system.  If they give themselves powers they’ve never had, they are gutting the system.  If they use their present power to alter the Constitution, they are gutting the system.

The question is not whether Trump can make executive orders or the Congress can pass laws, it is whether they are constitutional.  Do they increase the liberties we presently enjoy as Americans or do they decrease them?  Do they reserve these liberties for some while denying them to others?  These are the questions we should ask ourselves each time we see an executive order, law or governmental action.

I cannot find the energy to oppose every executive order, every bill and every action of Donald Trump and our government. I can accept that not every action of my government will please me.  I can oppose the present redecorating and remodeling while respecting the right of my opponents to govern. What I cannot tolerate is any action that would forever alter our democratic foundations.

Donald Trump is a guest in the White House. As a guest, he can redecorate and even remodel.  He cannot gut the building.  Ultimately, the house belongs to us.