Awakin Calls » john powell » Transcript
john powell: Othering and Belonging
Guest: john powell
Host: Chris Johnnidis
Moderator: Preeta Bansal
Welcome to Awakin Calls. Every Saturday, we host a conversation with an individual whose inner journey inspires us and whose work is transforming our world in large and small ways. Awakin Calls are an all-volunteer-run offering of ServiceSpace, a global platform founded on the simple principle that by changing ourselves, we change the world to create a more compassionate and service-oriented society. Thank you for joining us!
Chris: Good morning, good day and good evening to each of you, wherever you are calling in from around the world. My name is Chris and I'm honored to be your host for this week's Global Awakin Call. Welcome to all. Thanks for joining us. The purpose of these calls, as many of you know, is to share stories that help plant seeds for a more compassionate society while fostering our own inner transformation. We do this by holding collective conversations with guest speakers from all walks of life who inspire us to live in a more service-oriented way. Behind each of these calls is an entire team of ServiceSpace volunteers whose invisible work allows us to hold this space.
Today, our special guest speaker is john powell. Thanks again for joining today's call. We'll start with just a moment of silence to ground and anchor ourselves into this collective space we're co-creating.
Thank you all. Welcome again to our weekly Awakin Call, today in conversation with john powell. As an all-volunteer offering, each Awakin Call is a conversational space that's co-created by many invisible hands. One of those, our moderator Preeta Bansal, will begin by engaging in an initial dialogue with our speaker, john powell, and by the top of the hour, we'll transition into a Q&A and a circle of sharing where we'll invite all of your reflections and questions. I've opened up the queue on this conference call starting now, so if you hit *6 on your phone at any time, you'll enter the queue and then you'll be prompted when it's your turn to speak. You can also email us at ask, a-s-k, @servicespace.org or submit a question or comment via the webcast form if you're listening via the live webcast.
So our moderator today is Preeta. By way of brief introduction for Preeta, she spent her whole career at the highest levels of public service, law and the corporate world and academia, including serving as senior policy advisor in the Obama White House and as solicitor general of the State of New York, helping draft the constitutions of Afghanistan and Iraq as a federal human rights commission chair and U.S. diplomat, being on the senior management team of the world's largest bank and a partner in a major global law firm, and teaching at Harvard and MIT to boot. Now she is focusing on social change from the inside out, from small ripples rather than external mandates or norms, and from the heart as well as from the head. She is an active ServiceSpace volunteer and I am joyed and heartened to have you here on the call with us, Preeta. Thank you, and over to you.
Preeta: Thank you, Chris. It's a really deep privilege to be in conversation today with john powell. john is one of the foremost public intellectuals in the areas of civil rights, racism, ethnicity, housing and poverty. He's currently a Professor of Law and holds many other chairs and distinguished roles at UC Berkeley. He has introduced into the public lexicon the concepts of "othering" and "belonging." He describes that with “othering,” when a person is not seen, they are stripped not only of access to equal rights but of their very agency to act in and co-create the world. But he says that the opposite of “othering” is not "saming"; it's "belonging." Belonging is much more profound than access; it's about co-creating the thing you are joining, rather than having to conform or join into rules that are already set. The beauty of powell's vision is that he recognizes that racism has defined all of America, not just people of color. All have been harmed in this hierarchy of dominance and pernicious forms of "whiteness," as he calls it.
Yet we all desire to see and love others, he says. He declares that we all have each other and we all need each other. This belonging to each other and to the Earth is a well to be tapped and is in fact being tapped by many. And I have to add that I was touched, in reading about a recent interview in which he recalled the early debates around integrating school, where the white segregationist opposed integration because they worried (histrionically so, some believed) that black and white children might get to know each other and might marry each other and have babies. The response of the civil rights movement at the time was that “this is not about marriage.” But as john noted, the white segregationists were right: when you bring people together, they will actually learn to love each other. Some of them will marry and have babies and so it will actually change the fabric of society.
I was just chuckling to myself thinking "it's a funny thing what humans will do when left to their own devices, they'll actually love." And that's what co-creation and belonging are about. As john says, we're constantly making each other; embracing the other is going to change us and we're going to change the other. And if we do it right, we're going to create a bigger "we," a different "we."
So it's an incredible honor and privilege to have john with us. john, welcome.
john: Thank you. Nice to be here.
Preeta: So I thought we could just start a little bit with your vision of race in this country and then go back to how your own story informed that. I know in your life to date, you've been on the front lines of personally experiencing, thinking about, and helping our country make meaning of the concept of race, which in many ways was baked into our founding as a nation. I guess from the lens of some, arguably, there's been a grand story in this country of halting, always too slow, but nevertheless real racial progress in this country -- from ending slavery to eliminating legal segregation, to seeking integration, to working towards tolerance and diversity and maybe inclusion and equity. And I'm just wondering in your mind, as you have thought about this issue and you have lived it, what are the realities or limits of that narrative from your perspective? We can start with that.
john: It's a great question and thanks for the wonderful introduction. Effective yesterday, we commemorated the 400-year anniversary of the slave trade in the New World and English colonies. A lot has happened since then. And if you go back to the founding years ago, which is interesting, and it's obviously destructive and at the same time formative for not just the colonies but also for the world and certainly for the enslaved people -- but one of the things that came out of that, which is somewhat surprising, is that race as we know it didn't exist at that time. So one of the things that the slave trade created was a modern concept of race, and by some accounts the concept of white as a race didn't evolve until almost the end of the 17th century. So it was 66 years after the slave trade started that the concept of white evolved.
And so whiteness and fitness, blackness, or whatever, is not just given -- it's created. And it was created by the elites for a certain purpose. There was a big rebellion that involved both African workers, or former African workers and enslaved people, and British English indentured servants. They weren't "black" and "white" at the time; they were English and African for whatever part of Africa or tribe they were from. And they came together, and there was a wrinkle in it, but they came together demanding better conditions, demanding democracy, demanding the right to participate. The reason I said there was a wrinkle in it -- it's called the Bacon Rebellion -- they were also demanding access to Native American land. And they were relatively successful for a while, and the elite who actually were part of a corporation, were terrified about this and decided they had to create a wedge between the African workers and the English workers. And they started -- and that's when race really start taking hold. After the Rebellion, when they finally squashed it, they only punished for the most part the Africans -- they didn't punish the English.
So they started creating different conditions, different circumstances, and a different narrative, and then they eventually created something called the Slave Patrol, which was by some accounts the first draft in the world. They drafted, and the Englishmen who were barely above, if at all, their slave counterparts -- there was much more what we would call intermarriage in the relationship. The reason that’s important is that some people think it’s natural for people to want to be with their own, [but] there's no natural "us," and there's no natural "them." These are largely socially constructed and it took a while -- it didn't happen immediately because it seems so odd -- a few years later, they developed anti-miscegenation laws, which people thought of as strange. And think about it, you don't need a law saying two people can't marry unless two people are inclined to marry. The very need of the law reflects what you were saying -- that people were actually coming together. And so the new colonies created laws saying you can't come together, and when there was public marriage and people came together, they had public whippings and sometimes even hangings to send a message that this is not being tolerated.
So it's really important to understand that whiteness and white was the middle stratum and above that stratum were the elites, who even when they created first, created the concept of whiteness as a race, did not consider themselves as white. They were again the English elite. Then the role of this middle stratum was allegiance to the elites and patrol over and dominance over blacks. And variations of that have continued to this day. It's gone through many different iterations. There's a new one every year. So yes, many different iterations.
But to your larger point as well, this is actually when you strip people of their humanity, when you deny people their full participation, when you refused to actually see the divine in people that is called othering. And race is a very powerful way that's done in the United States. It was done for reasons to control. It was done to extract money and labor. So it was already sort of capitalism and racism combined. Today we sort of oftentimes say it is one or the other. From the very start, the two things were connected and still are. But there are other forms of othering as well. If we move around the world and even in the United States, we sometimes "other" people because of their religion, because of their language, because they're immigrants, because of their sexual orientation. We are very creative in finding ways to actually say that someone's not part of the "WE".
Preeta: That's fascinating. I've never heard that described in quite that way -- that whites were a middle stratum between English elite above them, which I believe you said were not really white, and "others" (blacks particularly) were beneath them. I'm curious how do Native Americans fit into this in the sense that when you said that race didn't really exist until 60 years after the slave trade. How did the so-called New World Europeans when they came to the new world see Native Americans?
john: Well, it's interesting because the interactions with Native Americans happened before the interactions with African people both in the colonies in the United States, but also in Mexico and Latin America. First actually, they tried to enslave Native Americans. It didn't work for a couple of reasons. One was the disease. The decimation of the Native Americans especially in places like Mexico was largely done by sending armies and people to kill them. But it was interesting to think of the Aztecs. When the Europeans first had contact with them, the Europeans were defeated. They went back to Europe to regroup and when they returned, 90% of the Aztecs had died. They died from the disease. Jared Diamonds writes about this in a book called Guns, Germs and Steel. The Europeans introduced germs that the Native Americans didn't have. Not just Native Americans but indigenous people did not have the resistance to fight them. So when they try to enslave them they simply didn't have the sort of physiological makeup to be effectively enslaved. Plus one of the things that made it hard to enslave them was that they were on their own land. So in terms of escaping, in terms of sort of disappearing into the land which was strange to the Europeans, they couldn't effectively follow them.
This is not a great design. It is a design, but it's also full of twists and turns as we sort of fumble through history. So to some extent, they then left the Native Americans, but for taking their land. And then later committing genocide in their direction. In terms of working with the land, initially cotton and the Caribbean sugar, you needed people who could stand the heat and people who could stand the disease. Unfortunately for Africans, they could withstand both.
These are sort of pragmatic decisions. They weren't ideological decisions, but then there's a whole ideology, or narrative, or story, that grew up around it.
Preeta: Fascinating. So how did this middling layer this middle stratum of whites, how did this process of "othering" and the creation of race harm them as well?
john: Well, it's interesting and there's a lot of literature on this. In some ways W.E.B. Dubois wrote about this, and people are writing about it today. But if you think about the United States for example, there's a book called "Fighting Poverty in the US and Europe: A World of Difference" by Alberto Alesina and Edward Glaeser. They’re two economists, and what they show is that the economic and health well-being in the United States, especially for that middle stratum white people is actually lower than their European counterparts. Just think about something like healthcare. We're one of the few "advanced industrial countries" that doesn't have health care. The United States is the only advanced industrial country right now where life expectancy is going down and not up including for white people. The suicide for whites, which is unusual, is very high. It's also equal now and to some extent even higher in some cases than it is in the black community.
The other very graphic example is Truman. When he was president, he proposed Universal Health Care. Think about this--this in the 40s, saying we need universal healthcare. The bill in congress almost passed. He had the votes, he was ready to get it passed and sign it into law, and then someone asked a question. Because Truman had integrated the troops. "If we have Universal Health Care and the federal government is involved, will the federal government require that the hospitals and health care facilities be integrated?"
Truman said yes, and the good people of the United States said we don't want it. We’d rather go without health care than to share space, to share contact on equal footing with blacks. And the health care was needed the most, though it was needed for the entire country, it was needed the most in the South.
And so this categorical, vitriolic position was hardest in South. The southern whites in particular--it hurt blacks as well, it hurt Latinos--but it also hurt southern whites. And even today when you look at many people who are most ambivalent or hostile to the Affordable Care Act, which some people refer to us Obamacare, which I think is a bad name, it is the people who need it the most--the white people who need it the most. It is the twisted logic as they call it, like the spite fence. When you build a fence to hurt your neighbor and in doing so you hurt yourself, but you’re still willing to do it to hurt your neighbor.
This is the history of the working class in the United States which has fewer rights, the unions are weaker, the wages are not as good, benefits.... Almost every indicator shows whites have actually suffered, and the suffering continues. And the obvious point of actually turning the suffering around would be to make common cause with their economic brother and sister, but they refuse to see them, often times, as brother and sister.
Now I should say, when I say "white" I need to be careful, because whites are a heterogeneous group. All the whites who support not having Health Care even if it means my family doesn’t have Healthcare, there are whites who have turned a corner.
There's nothing inherent in whiteness that makes this vitriolic position real. It's actually part of history that there have always been some whites, or people who are called “white,” who rejected this and have been on the side of anti-racism. But the dominant expression in whites, including from the elites, has been to foster this kind of separation in this kind of argument about how you can't make common cause with those people--which is what the argument was after the Bacon Rebellion in the 17th century.
Preeta: Fascinating, you know, I'm struck as you're speaking: even naming the issue or naming the so-called “problem” has a certain language of othering itself, in having to use the language of whites, blacks, all of this. I'm wondering, what's the role of naming? And how do you get to a society of belonging, with words that are more belonging-ish, so to speak, while still naming the reality?
john: Well, thanks this is interesting in a lot of ways. Some people have argued that since race is socially constructed, shouldn’t we just drop it? But first of all, this misses the implications of “socially constructed.” It's not individually constructed, it’s socially constructed, and if we really want to change it or get beyond it, we have to change the conditions that support it.
It's not just an idea. For example: the United States is very segregated, not just in terms of schools, but in terms of neighborhoods, in terms of where people worship, in terms of how people work. We had laws for many years saying that blacks could not actually have a job where they oversaw or were the manager of whites (it was a similar position, frankly, in terms of women). So--it’s an interesting thing. First you have to create the category, but then you have to create the conditions to hold the category in place. That takes a lot of work. And so we're constantly dealing with new ways of re-inscribing and new ways to challenge. Now “naming it” both helps re-inscribe it, but it also can help challenge it. So naming it can be liberatory and so when we say anti-racism (although I prefer “better concept”), and in terms of--
I gave a talk yesterday to talk about rejecting white supremacy, but I suggested that is not enough. We actually have to reject “human supremacy” and that is believing that humans are better than everything that is not human including animals or everything else on Earth that’s not Human. They are just here for our playfulness or exploitation. So naming it can entrench the problem, but it also can disrupt the problem. But a) we won't disrupt the problem just by naming it, and b) we won't keep the problem in place just by naming it. We have to look at our practices. We have to look at our laws, our policies, how we live, our norms, and institutions, our structures themselves, to reflect the kind of aspirations that as a society we want to have.
Preeta- As you talk about the issue of “naming it” --the two parts of naming it. On the one hand, it kind of keeps it intact, on the other hand you have to name it to get beyond it. I'm reminded of--I think it was Chief Justice john Roberts. He said in an opinion recently, which got a lot of reaction obviously on both sides, where he said, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race, is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” And he was saying that basically to say let's stop creating categories that provide anti-integration, anti-affirmative action, saying let's stop naming this. Let's just move on.
john: Right, he was actually proposing colorblind strategy. In the case, there were parents involved who were trying to integrate schools (in Louisville in Seattle) for black and white children. The school system basically said affirmatively it wanted to integrate schools and it looked at the race of the children in order to integrate them. Roberts comes back and said the State can't look at the race of the children because that's discriminatory. But what he didn't pay attention to--and Kennedy took him to pass on this in his concurrence, saying: we are not beyond race. The reality is that black children and white children live in different communities. And so if you don't do something to disrupt that, once institutions and structures are in place, they actually will do a lot of the work in terms of reproducing themselves, and if you're going to change that you have to be affirmative about it. And so Robert was being too cute by “haves,” right? It's like “I'm just not going to notice race.” It's like saying I don't notice that in many instances almost all the boards of rich corporations are run by white men, but I'm not going to notice that because that would be racist, but I'm not going to change that either. And I'm not going to notice that the wealth distribution by some projections based on current trends, you don't use a single indicator to describe people or even a personal well-being. But if you were to use a single indicator, it would be wealth. And by some accounts the black community by 2050-2060 will have either zero wealth or negative wealth. And that's if we do nothing.
Roberts would say, “Well, we should do nothing. We shouldn't notice the problem.” I think what James Baldwin said, “not every problem that we face can we solve, but we can never solve a problem unless we face it.” We have to face that we have this history, that it continues to define not only our past but our present, it continues to define who we are.
And then the last thing in terms of Roberts comment. We know now from the mind science, and from structures themselves, but most of the work in terms of “how we see each other”, it's not done at a conscious level. So when we look at empirical science in terms of “how we see each other in this country” we actually do categorize at an unconscious level along racial lines and other lines, and it has consequences, and we can't tell the unconscious to stop doing that. So again, I think Roberts is being at best disingenuous.
Preeta: So what does as a nation (and then I want to kind of touch more of the personal piece of this) but as a nation, what does healing look like to you and how do we get there? That’s the big question.
john: Yeah it's an important question. I have to say a couple of things. First of all, we have to recognize that we need to heal and it's not just personal. It's not just the healing of black people, healing of Native American people. It's basically the healing of the country. The country, I think, is in a deep state of morose. If you look at our well-being indicators, the United States is not anywhere near the top and there are recent articles showing two things: about 400 million guns in the United States are outside of the military. There are not four hundred million people in the United States. There are more guns than there are people and part of the very argument in favor of the second amendment was about concern of race and racism, concern of slavery, concern of slave revolts, so actually imparted and already cooked into the second amendment was this deep anxiety and fear. Now this fear and anxiety, I think, takes on different expressions. So we are not necessarily worried about a slave revolt anymore. But this is part of our national DNA. We are anxious and scared people and the way we try to solve it is not by doing yoga or meditating or going to therapy, is like “get a gun.” Literally Charleston Heston, which is a big advocate for guns literally says he “sleeps with a gun under his pillow”.
You know, you could wonder are you having restful sleep? And he says he's never been broken into, he's never been assaulted. In fact what research shows, is that people who – and when you think about the narratives, and there's some truth to it that gun violence is more active in certain neighborhoods and what we call “the inner city” (which is a terrible term)—the people who have the guns live the furthest away from those neighborhoods in a city. And so Charleston Heston is out in the middle of nowhere in a compound but he has all these guns. So yes, we do need to heal, and we need to heal as a nation, and really as a world.
But in the United States, we have to confront the hard edge of the racial hierarchy and the racial disease. It's not with Black people or Latinos and Native people or Asian people. Oftentimes when you have studies you look at the people who are victimized by these conditions and think about “how do we fix them?” That is not to say that there's not stuff that needs to be done. But the heart of racism in the United States is the concept of whiteness and white supremacy -- which is not the same as people who are phenotypically white. You have an increasing number of people who are phenotypically white, in America, who actually try to reject the institution of white dominance and white supremacy -- even as we have more people under President Trump, and President Trump himself, who are embracing those concepts.
So you have this complicated process going on and one of the difficulties is that people don't know how to do it, right? It's like people don't know how to heal. You could think of it as if I have asthma and I'm trying to heal myself, but the environment is toxic. So it's both a collective national problem on one hand, and an individual expression on the other. We can't heal until we recognize it. The United States, to this day, has never apologized for slavery. And by some accounts, slavery in the United States didn't really end until 1945. But whenever it ended, we as a country are still struggling with (1) just even recognizing it and (2) saying it was wrong. That seems like a small step. If we can't recognize, if we can't acknowledge our history, our past that's reflected in our present, then we can't really heal.
Preeta: I'm struck when you say that the issue of healing is not necessarily just that of Blacks, Latinos, etc. It's really those that are mired in the white supremacy. How do you help heal that middle stratum as you called it? In some ways recognizing that there was a sin of slavery, that there was a history of slavery -- I'm just wondering would that set them off further? What would it take to heal that group -- for them to also recognize the ways in which they were victimized and hurt?
john: Well, you know, it's interesting. Oftentimes, I tell a story of when I first met Joanna Macy, a Eco-Feminist, Buddhist activist. When I first met her, she said: "so john, tell me about yourself; what's your story?" My response to her, at the time, was "I have many stories, Joanna." She laughed and she said "yeah, I know; just pick one." I say that because we do have many stories. Slavery is part of, it's a defining part of us, but it doesn't completely encapsulate us. We're still writing our story. We can actually imagine and write a story – it has to be more than just words -- where we all belong. Sometimes, when I talk about belonging, people say, "yes, we have to create a space where we are interconnected." I say, "actually we don't; we have to create an awareness." The interconnection is already there. We don't have to create interconnections with each other or interconnection with the Earth. We're from the Earth. We are part of the Earth. The problem is, that we fail to recognize that. I talk about four splits that are part of certainly the United States and maybe Europe, to a lesser extent. It comes out of the same period of racism, colonialism, imperialism, exploitation -- in a split from nature; a split from the Divine, however one defines it; a split in separation from the Earth; and then separation from each other; and then the final one is the separation between mind and body. Each of those separations are wounds. Each of those cleavages need to be addressed and healed -- because we are part of each other; because we are connected -- not just to each other but to the Earth. We can't thrive and survive and have a wonderful life while the Earth is actually suffering.
Toni Morrison, wrote about this. She said, we spent a good deal of time looking at how slavery actually distorted and truncated lives of black people. And it did. But we paid very little attention of what it has done to white people. Part of this, and what Toni Morrison was saying was not an indictment. Just like saying you've been injured too. And how do we all heal?
Part of the fear, from some parts of America and particularly conservative white Americans, is that to talk about slavery is to criticize America. And to criticize them as white people. There's some truth about it. There's a critique about America, but it doesn't mean we don't own America, doesn't mean we don't love America, doesn't mean we don't care. In fact, caring, for those of us who have kids, it's like saying as I raise my child I'm never going to say anything critical to them. Really? To me that's not an act of love. That's an act of irresponsibility. That's why I always try to insist that the ideology of whiteness, which is extremely problematic, is not the same as white people. And to remember that there always have been, and always hopefully will be, with growing number of people who are called white, who actually support and believe in the idea of inter-connectedness and the idea of mutuality and the idea of equality and the idea of love. Sometimes when we talk about white people or even whiteness, we actually paint with too broad of a stroke. I think part of the healing, is not to simply call people out, but the calling in and to help people go through this process.
From our perspective I'm not big on simply engaging in making people feel guilty or ashamed or whatever. We've all done things that we wish we hadn't done. But we are not defined in our personal life and our collective life by a single act. None of us are, from my perspective, a hundred percent evil or bad, and none of us are a hundred percent good. We've all done things and we're growing, that's part of the life process. But we can only grow, again, if we recognize the need to grow.
Preeta: I love the way you said you would distinguish between the ideology of whiteness and white people. And I want to come back to that, so let's put a pin in that. But I want to move a little bit into your personal story because it's so powerful. You've obviously talked a lot in the past and also today about the need to shift from a paradigm of power to one of healing, where we are each able to grow into our own true power in a healthy way. And I'm just curious, your journey from being a sharecropper’s son, growing up in Detroit in the 40s, clearly disempowered externally by our social structures. How did you begin to grow into your own true power?
john: Well, it's interesting. A couple of things. One - I think we have to be careful how we use the word power right? There's power over and there's power with. And I think part of the fear and anxiety that a lot of right-wing people are feeling now is the sense of loss of power and a sense that the country was dominated by white people, really by white men, and now it's being challenged. There's a fear of loss of dominance. And that fear of loss of dominance is also tied to a sense of ontological death. It's like, “well if I can't control my wife, if I can't control black people, if I can control the border…” We don't think about these things consciously, but I think they inform how we live our lives.
Hobbes is considered the father of Western democracy, Western liberal thought. So if you read Hobbes, what he says is if you look at the world, and in the state of nature, we are in a constant state of war. It's all against all. And everybody wants to take your stuff. And so we come into society to actually protect our stuff from each other. The role of government is to help protect us from all the other people. But then he goes further and says - the problem is you can't really trust government either. Who's going to protect us from government?
And if you just read him and don’t put his name to it, you'd say -- this guy's kind of paranoid. [Laughs] He's like -- everybody's got too much stuff. And so one of the solutions to that, is you arm yourself to fight, in some ways to continue this war against all. That's sort of the American, the Anglo-American ethos. Rousseau looked out at the world as well (the French philosopher) and he said the world is a scary place. He said the way that we deal with this big scary world is we come together in solidarity and that's where we find peace. We don't find it in simply arming ourselves against everybody else. We come together with everybody else. So in terms of power, if you take Hobbes's position, power means essentially power over all the other things that are scary.
I like to say -- we love parks and we're afraid of the forest. We have all these children's stories about people going into the dark forest and then meeting a wolf or whatever. And what those allegories are saying is that we like parks because we control it, because we dominate it, because we plan it. We tell the plants -- you stay there and if not, I'll bring someone to prune you or cut you back. The forest is more organic. It's not under our control and that's scary. I think we have to shift from power over in the park to power with in the forest. We have to recognize we're in relationship with each other. And in that sense, power and solidarity and love are not in opposition. And we're not interested in dominating.
And I think for me, the way I got there (and I'm still getting there) is really from my family. I reject the story, which has actually been offered to me several times, of: family from the south, very poor sharecroppers, my father had to drop out of school when he was in the third grade when his mother died and go to work full time. He said if I listed some of the things in his life -- he's legally blind, there were times when we didn't have enough food to eat, or was cold -- it would sound like a really powerful story of lack, if not victimhood. There's a time when a furnace blew up in his face. Being from the south, you did everything. You didn't call a plumber or someone to fix your furnace. You did everything yourself. So he's working on the furnace in Detroit and it blew up in his face, burned all the hair on his body. We're driving around Detroit trying to find a hospital that will accept him because he's black and the hospitals are rejecting him. And he's an intense pain and suffering from these burns.
From that you would think that my father would be physically and emotionally scarred and angry and understandably so. But if you met him you would say -- the story you just told and the man I'm sitting in front of doesn't come together. He's one of the happiest, most contented, loving people on the planet. He's getting ready to celebrate his 99th birthday. And when you talk to him, he will tell you over and over again how blessed he is. When we were growing up, people would come to our house. He and my mom were like a magnet because there's so much love in the family. There were nine children and yet our house was always open to other people. Often times I grew up around not just my brothers and sisters but cousins and even strangers or people who would be called strangers. And that's where I come from. And that part of it, that joy. I could tell you more. I mean, literally, there have been times when doctors have announced my dad would be dead in a week and he just keeps coming back. Sometimes the doctors say -- it doesn't make sense. He should be dead, given what's happening with his body. They can't make sense of it. The way I make sense of it is he's the beacon of love and surrounded by love and the effect of that is so powerful.
In my own life, I had to go away from that and come back to it. There was a period of time when I was really consumed by anger, really consumed by the scourges of discrimination and racism. Really being overwhelmed by the sense of being always othered and feeling diminished in some way. But I didn't stay there. I was able to reclaim the foundation that was part of my family. So my story, I don't feel like there's really a break. It's like a continuation. And even today, my family is amazing... When we get together at Thanksgiving, there are five generations of powells all there. It ranges between a hundred and two hundred people, most of them family members, and we do things together. Learning to love and respect the connections that we have and the shared responsibility is taking the love that happened in my family. And as Cornel West said -- justice is the public face of love. “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public” (Cornel West)] So what does that mean in the world? And what does it mean in my personal life? I feel like the foundation came from the history of my family.
Preeta: Yeah, it's fascinating. You talk about a period where you were consumed with anger, as I imagine a lot of people in similar circumstances would be. What allowed you to move into that place of love? And relatedly, as you talked about your father, there are certain people that are just able to radiate love in the face of radical unfairness. Gandhi and Mandela were such people. Your father was such a person. How does that happen?
john: I had the pleasure of meeting Mandela. It's interesting; I don't think we really know. I mean, I have practices and I'll talk about them in a minute. But you know, we have to be a little bit careful and humble at the same time. And it's not to say that we shouldn't do the work that we need to do, the practice that we need. We should have some engagement, agency in our lives; but it would be a mistake to think the agency is complete. We're part of something that's so much bigger than us. And so a child has emotional trauma or a person gets dementia. Too often, somebody gets cancer and we say, well, they smoke -- as if we can reduce it to a single thing. It's their fault in some way. And same with positive things. So I did go through a period, a long period, maybe 20 years, where I really struggled. But I was also given some really incredible gifts: being graced by the family I was in, but also being graced in life. And I can't take full credit for it. Within that, again, I do have a contemplative practice that I've had since the 1960's. I try to, as often as I can, commune with nature. I care about people. I feel that I'm pretty even-keeled. I don't get, generally, terribly upset.
I always have been radically curious about life, about the world. And always find life sort of fascinating and it's not necessarily in a big way. I mean one of my most precious moments is watching a spider spin a web. And I remember it like it was yesterday. It was probably when I was in college and the spider was spinning a web and I spent probably an hour or two hours just watching. To me it’s one of the most beautiful things, one of the most powerful things. So the curiosity is not simply about removed things, but immediate things. But what happened in part, in the curiosity, is that I became curious about Chinese when I didn't know any people from China. That actually caused me to leave the church that my father was a minister of, which created a rupture in the family. But I started reading about Chinese and it's like -- who are these people? They're clearly not Christians. And so maybe they were approaching life in a way very different than us who were Christians.
It also meant, based on the doctrine of Christianity told by my father's church, you're going to hell. That seemed to be very problematic. Then later, I was reading about people from India. You sort of read it through Western eyes, but what I was told in the stories with various people, many of whom were starving and didn't have enough food, they refuse to eat cows. I was like well that doesn't make any sense, what's up with that? So I started reading about more and more about India. I grew up in Detroit, a black community. I didn't know any Chinese. I didn't know any Indians. But I was always a voracious reader, even at nine years old. Somehow, it came across that they had this thing of being connected to life. They believe in reincarnation, many of them, certainly Hindus, and they had this practice of meditation or contemplative practice and you couldn't really understand and appreciate their approach to life without having an experience of meditation. So I was skeptical. I was like, okay, well, it doesn't make sense, but I couldn't understand something just through a conceptual process. I didn't know if that was true, but I thought okay, I'll try it. So I started meditating. And I had profound experiences and then I ended up years later going to India and sitting with Goenka, who was a Buddhist meditation teacher and had a pretty profound experience. I'll just tell you the highlights of it. Every couple of days you would come and have a talk with Goenka. We would get up at like 4:00 in the morning and started meditating. Our last meal was at 11:00 in the morning. Each person was given one chapati. And Goenka -- I don't know if you've ever seen him -- he's a big man. I had all this this pent-up anger and cynicism in me. It was like there's no way he could be that big eating one chapati a day. I bet you he's sneaking in the kitchen at night having a full meal! My mind is just going [crazy]. We would come together, I'm sitting with him and he said, "so how's your meditation going?" and it's like “I'm not opening up to this guy. He's a charlatan.” I said "fine." And he says "well, if I've done anything intentionally or unintentionally to harm you, I ask you for your forgiveness." And I just started crying. When I went back and start sitting after that, I literally had this experience -- it's hard to explain -- but it's almost like it was a visual experience of all this anger and frustration and tightness. I could see it and experience it. I just watched it change and it kept changing. It transformed itself. Some other things happened, but I never had the relationship with anger after that that I had before. I hadn't anticipated that. I wasn't trying to make that happen. But in some ways, it brought me back to my dad. It allowed me that healing. My friends noticed it then and they worried because I was involved in social justice work and they worried that I was losing the edge of anger. Like "are you going to become one of those flower children?" So that took me on a different path of really trying to understand the relationship between social justice and spirituality and integrate them in a different way.
Preeta: Wow, that's fascinating. What a great story about Goenka. Coming back a little bit to the first part of our conversation and this part, I know you were careful to say "it's not just inner work," but I guess I'm curious, as you see it now and where you're drawn to participate now in terms of social change, what do you see is the role of inner work in bringing about the kind of social transformation we seek, versus work at that policy, structural level within the existing paradigm.
john: Yeah, that's a great question. You may have heard I've cited as a jazz cornet player named Don Cherry and he has his one song. He has this one song and in the song he says, "the inside is not, and the outside is too." It's like a Zen koan, right? And so I think our duality between inside and outside, while useful on some level, is actually false. It's actually interesting how it plays out. So, for example, I do a lot of work in terms of the mind science, sort of looking at how the conscious, the unconscious works. I helped start this group called Perception Institute which works with a lot of neuroscientists and neuropsychologists about the inner workings of the mind. There are a number of other groups of researchers and academics who look at structures and culture. There's sometimes a tension between those two groups, those who are doing what I think of as inner psychological, emotional work, and those who are doing this outer structural, and cultural work. I think that's false. I think that if you understand the unconscious, and the conscious, and the structures and culture, they're in constant communication. They're iterative. And we can go, we can lean in one direction or the other, but they're constantly communicating, and interacting, and shaping, and co-creating each other. That's how I think about it. I think that we have to lean back and forth. At times we may have to literally retreat. At times we may have to also act. If you think about it, that approach has been with us a long time, things like practice from theory. We're spiritual animals, but we're both within. Sometimes we only lean into the animal part and sometimes we try to separate the animal part from the spiritual part. I think we're both. These two communities still sometimes have an uneven relationship. The contemplative, spiritual community and the activist, social community don't really trust each other. I think that's unfortunate, although I was attracted to someone like Joanna Macy who was part of engaged Buddhism.
I do think for me, my practice is about the world where we're both inside and outside. We're called upon to bring those two things together. I think when they come together, it actually makes a big difference. In my external work, I write a lot about and think a lot about bridging, which is connecting people. You bridge partially through engaging in empathetic and compassionate stories, and practice, and listening. Compassion sometimes requires listening to and engaging in each other's suffering. Again, that's what caring is about. That's what healthcare should be about. Sometimes we look at the caring part of healthcare and what we're trying to address in terms of the world, is this vitriolic thing that denies our relationship with each other, that allows genocide, that allows building walls, that allows imprisoning people, that allows putting small children in cages, that then allows ravaging the Earth. Joanna Macy wrote a book called World as Lover, World as Self. To me, it's a beautiful title, but it also reflects what you're saying, that the world, and what I call the self-world -- the internal, and then there's external -- they're not even two different things. I do think they have to have different practices or sometimes. We may need to just go and be quiet or go to the ocean, but not stay at the ocean.
Preeta: As you talk about bridging and your work around that, I want to come back to this idea of the ideology of whiteness versus white people that we put a pin on earlier. I believe I read or heard that you're working with the Greater Good Science Center, perhaps to work on conversations and circles. Can you tell us a little bit about how we can bridge and show compassion for what you refer to as this middle stratum, composed of socially constructed white people? How can we help them heal, and how can that bridging be done, so they can see the suffering and feel compassion for their own suffering?
john: Yeah. I think that's really important. We do work with the Greater Good Science Center. So part of it is, I think the great teacher and the great connector in many ways is suffering, but not simply blaming our suffering on someone else -- I'm not saying that other people don't necessarily participate, but what we are taught from various traditions is that life involves suffering, and there's all kinds of suffering. Part of what people want is to be recognized, that being recognized or not being recognized is suffering in and of itself.
There's this Zulu word, which is Sawubona, which means "I see you" or "we see you." It's also interpreted as "the Divine in me sees the Divine in you," and as a corollary phrase, which says "I am because you are." So part of the thing for me is to open that space, right? Open that space to be willing to listen. And it's hard. You mentioned Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela was a consummate master bridger. Soweto was essentially burning because the children in South Africa did not want to be forced to learn Afrikaander as their language, to be taught instructions in the language of the oppressor. Nelson Mandela was on Robbens Island. He was asking his jailers to teach him Afrikaander, and I won't go through the whole story but when he got out of prison and was meeting with the general who's head of the South African Army, the general publicly explicitly believed in racial hierarchy. He also believed that whites could and should win the war and that blacks couldn't be trusted -- they were not fully human. Nelson Mandela had him at his home. He served him tea, and then when they started negotiating, the negotiations took place in Afrikaander, and it was what Robert Sapolsky (who wrote a book called Behave) calls "recognizing each other sacred symbol," which doesn't mean agreeing. The Civil War was still going on; Nelson Mandela had not turned in any guns -- he could always go back to fighting -- but he offered a bridge, even though this person had been responsible for the death of many of Nelson Mandela's family and friends. And the general agreed to a ceasefire and he said, "this Nelson Mandela could make anyone agree to anything." And then later the general made a comment, I think it was a eulogy for Nelson Mandela, and he gave it in Nelson Mandela's language of Xhosa.
So part of it is, I think, not coddling people, but seeing people. Also, in terms of bridging, I tell the story about Pastor McBride. When I talked to him about bridging, he said "So are you saying I have to bridge with the devil?" I said, "don't start there; start with short bridges, which might be family members, which might be people who you know but don't quite agree with, and as you get better at it, after you exercise that muscle, after you wake up that capacity in yourself, then you can start building longer bridges." But you also have to be very careful about who you consider the devil. King had this concept that when someone asked him about the segregationists and the white supremacists, he said, "I leave my light on my porch and I leave the door open, but I'm not going to go search for them." And so he's saying "I'm open to having this discussion -- I'm open to and I do accept that humanity -- but I'm not going to spend my time trying to convert them."
I think there are a lot of people who, a lot of white people who are both hurting and trying to figure out something different. And I think we do this together, not just with white people, but with gay people, with straight people, with Native people -- and we listen to each others’ stories, we engage in each others' stories, and we build a bigger story and a bigger "we." Instead what we do is that we insist that our story is the only one that really counts. So not just in terms of white people, oftentimes even in terms of people of color, it's like "well, but the experience of enslavement is the penultimate suffering." Well, Native Americans may not quite feel that way; they think, "well, you know, we were millions of people at one point and now our numbers have been decimated. We experienced genocide, and our land was taken, our religion was taken, our language was taken. That's the penultimate suffering." If you're the person who ... if you're living in northern Mexico, you say, "I went to sleep living in Mexico in my own country and I woke up and I was in the United States. I didn't move, they moved the border and then they told me I didn't belong, and all kinds of terrible things happened."
So the point is that it's not to actually say which story is worse, but that all stories are heartfelt and real and leave tremendous pain. So part of what I do, and I've done this with white people -- I was asked to go talk to some conservative whites in, I think it was Alabama in a rural area, about the Affordable Care Act, and a couple hundred of people came out. I don't know why they came because they were not happy to be there. I was questioning why I was there. Their body language, their face was like a scowl -- clearly not a person of color in the group, probably not a Democrat in the group -- it's like "why are you here?" And so what I did is I said, "let's talk about the Affordable Care Act, let's talk about your own lives. So how many of you have lost insurance because you lost your job? Please stand up. How many of you have children at home who the insurance company refused to insure because they had a pre-existing condition? Please stand up. How many of you have had the doctor prescribe something that you needed to live, and the insurance company said no, it was too expensive or the wrong drug? Please stand up. I asked a couple more questions -- and by now everybody is standing up. And then I said, "so how does this feel?" No arms are folded now. People are very animated and it's like "excuse my French, f'ing insurance companies, they're killing our families." And then I said "that's what the Affordable Care Act is trying to solve."
Everybody was engaged. I was no longer a black professor from outside of the area. I was actually someone witnessing and validating their suffering. And then I pivoted and started talking about blacks and Latinos. I didn't lose one person, but if I had started with just talking about blacks and Latinos and not acknowledging their own pain, and I didn't start by talking about white supremacy or white privilege -- I didn't try to shame them or blame them -- I started by seeing them, and once they were seen, they were willing to see others. So that's part of the thing -- the willingness to both actually see people and, if we can, to even love people again, not because of what they're doing but because of what they've been through, because we're all connected. And I know that's a heavy lift, and I talk about Mandela and Gandhi and others who -- and I'm not Mandela, you know, I don't know if I could have sat down with my enemy and spoken their language, but that's the aspiration. A friend of mine, Arthur Brooks, who's head of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, wrote a book that we talked about called Love Thy Enemy, from taking a passage from the Bible. It's a wonderful book. But, I also said to him that we have to be careful just with saying someone is our enemy, even if we have to take radical exceptions to what they're doing to us and to other people.
Preeta: Great. I'm going to turn it over to Chris. It's such a fascinating conversation. I had so many more questions. I would love to keep going, but I'm gonna let Chris jump in.
Chris: Yeah, thanks Preeta. There's a Greek expression coming up for me where we wish for a good appetite at the beginning of a meal. After a meal we say, kai kalí pépsi which means good digestion. I feel like I'm going to need a lot of wishes for good digestion. You integrate all of this richness. I wanted to address our callers. We have a bunch of folks on the line now. If you have a question you'd like to ask, you can put yourself in the queue by hitting *6 on your phone and there are also ways to send questions digitally by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or using the web form on the livestream. So, while we invite those to come in, Preeta, did you want to continue with another question.
Preeta: I just wanted to ask real quick, john, when you were talking about white people needing to feel seen, do you think Trump is seeing them? Do you think they feel seen by Trump? That's one question. I will just throw in another and you can answer these however you want. We've moved from a society that, in terms of its language, talked about diversity within workplace settings, to equity and inclusion. You've created this language of belonging. I'm curious what you think about the language of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
john: Let's start with the latter part of your question. I think they're good languages. They're limited for a number of reasons. I think we're in the process of changing our name because we're called a Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. First of all, many people understand equity as addressing disparities. That's not really what we're just trying to do. About addressing disparities, it basically normalizes what one group has. Then, how do we actually have the same thing? Oftentimes, no group has what they really have. Equity, as a lot of people understand it, is about redistribution. So the group that's favored in the discourse about equity, the assumption is that they have to give stuff up, which could be the case. But oftentimes everybody is suffering. So, in that sense, equity, especially if you're coming from a scarcity model, actually becomes a breaking exercise. You're saying one group has to give something up in favor of another group. Click on the group that has to give something up. I'm not feeling it. No one's noticing my pain. Again, I've talked to people like Angela Blackwell. She and I were very much involved in pushing out the concept of equity over equality. But, she says people misunderstand it and I think she may be right. That's how people understand that by and large and I think that's problematic. So I put something of either Equity 2.0 or referring to it as target universalism, which says: instead of saying I want what you have, what do we agree that we both should have? Then that's universal and then the targeting part of it is that in order for us to get there, we may need different pathways. We need to conserve resources. We have targeted approaches to get each of us to that Universal. That becomes a bridging strategy.
In terms of inclusion, again, a lot of people feel like inclusion is you're being invited to someone else's party or to someone else's institutions. The norms have already been set and the furniture is already been bought. They say when two people get married, especially if they're like in their 30s and they both have houses, family psychologists say it is better to sell both houses and get a third house. If you move in with one person's house, there's oftentimes a residue in the house. You can come in, but don't start moving pictures and don't mess with my clothes. They were given to me by my mother. I love these pots and pans. That creates a space of not belonging. You walk into my house, but you're still a guest. That's actually one of the debates in the United States. So the most conservatives argue that the country is not a country of immigrants where each wave of population is invited to help remake America. Some people argue that they were country of settlers that the country was sort of configured in terms of norms to practice and religion, by the settlers. Everyone else comes in as a guest and they are only welcomed here when they behave and cohere to the rules of the settlers. So, belonging is more of an immigrant model. It says all of us had to co-create this thing we belong to, not just for ourselves, but for everyone else as well. We have about the privilege and opportunity. We also have responsibilities. So, going back to what we talked about in the beginning of the conversation, those who worry that America's changing, they shouldn't worry. America is changing. The world is changing, but it doesn't have to be scary. It's not changing so that white people get replaced. No group dominates another group. That's when we recognize our profound interconnectedness. That's why we actually shift to the longing for belonging. It actually invites co-creating and acknowledges power is part of this-the power to co-create and the power to participate-one of the conditions that are really necessary to make that real.
Preeta: Fabulous. Thank you.
Chris: Thank you, both. We know we're in the last about eight minutes of our call. So, once again, inviting folks with questions. I'd like to pose a half-formed thought that might turn into a question to you, john, while we're awaiting those other callers. It's on the lines of healing. When you were sharing that story earlier of what sounded like a catharsis after that moment of Goenka inviting forgiveness or asking forgiveness, they reminded me of a previous caller we've had. You may be connected to sujatha baliga picking up a similar experience. We have had this theme of inner outer. I'm wondering what does a collective catharsis look like? What might it look like? What comes to mind for me is Dakota 38. I just learned that it's the largest mass hanging in US history under Abraham Lincoln. There's this beautiful film that was made about it. I'm not sure if it's come across your radar yet, but there's a scene at the end where (ear plugs if anyone hasn't seen it and doesn't want the spoiler) it really touched me. There's a moment of returning to this home site. Some native Americans, allies, and others rode on horseback to the site of this hanging and had this ceremony with the mayor who acknowledged that this harm was done and here's the key to the city. This moment of as you mentioned, acknowledgment also invited that forgiveness and peace, and how can we move forward from here? For me, I was just in tears witnessing that. It touched me I think very deeply personally and also on some felt sense of the collective level and I wonder what comes up for you as you think about as you contemplate, you know, what could collective catharsis possibly look like in this in our context in this country?
john: I think that's really important. And so I think that what that catharsis and/or healing will look like …we’ll have to evolve and I think we can start. We don't have to have the end game in our mind. In some ways, the most important thing is to have a real loving participation.
So I spent a little time in Germany. Germany is certainly not perfect. The history of the Holocaust is taught in school. There are memorials to Holocaust victims and survivors all across the city. I was in Berlin. They don't apologize. They basically say this is what we did. This is who we are and we're never doing it again and it creates a certain possibility for healing. I think the of the museum that Bryan Stevenson has created down in Montgomery, Alabama is similar. It's again, it's just to say not only do we kill people, we forgot them once we kill them. We remove them from our history. And so I think we have to re-insert them. We have to hear their stories and we do have to take collective responsibility. But also we have to think about, I said in my talk yesterday, that the past is the present and it's all about it, but it's not the future. We’re writing a future where we all participate in the writing and where we all belong.
That's the aspiration. So what do we need to do to actually have that healing as a nation? How do we bring people together? And we've seen examples of it. Leadership matters, culture matters, having people having contact, and structured conversations matters. You know, we didn't do enough but we did apologize for the Japanese internment. We didn't do enough but we did actually say here's a token, by giving them a small amount of money. And again, but we haven't done that with slavery. We haven't done it the large extent with Native people as well. And I think we can look around the world.
I think Canada is trying to do some things that are quite interesting with Native people. Not perfect, but if you go to the largest museums in Canada, the history of native people is not confined to some corner or to some basement. It's actually woven throughout every aspect, every part of the museum. And the reason I say that, is that it's not like Native Americans are no more. It's not like they're relic of the past. They're part of our future. We have to recognize what we did as a country and we have to all meet and then we have to say “so what would it take not just in terms of symbolism not just in terms of acknowledgment, but what would it take to actually allow both Native Americans and Native Canadians and us as a country to be whole?” and to ask that question seriously.
And so I think this engaging in questions in a deep way matters a lot. The famous American philosopher Marvin Gaye said, “Can I get a minute?” We all need to witness. We all need to be staying and so it's not surprising that Ralph Allison's book Invisible Man says that black people are injured over and over and over again but one of the ways is through invisibility.
So we have to bring people out of the shadows whether there's people who are in the closet because of the way they love each other or whether it's people who are disabled and certainly people who are black or on the border. And the last thing that was interesting to me is that again, the right-wing backlash that we're experiencing now is maybe a backlash that is trying to retreat to some imaginary past. I think we have to lean very deliberately into a future where we all belong not just here in the United States, but all over the world. We are willing to take avocados from Mexico. We're willing to take oil from the Middle East but not that willing to take the people and their culture. That's extremely problematic. Huh?
Chris: Yeah, thank you. A lot of work, as you mentioned earlier, to work on these conditions and allow for emergence.
john: Right and it should be part of our curriculum in school. I mean I'm so pleased that the New York Times is doing its Project 1619, but why isn't this part of school? Most people and certainly most white people but even people of color, don't really know much about our history.
Chris: john. You know, we're just approaching the end of our call. but we've had a few questions come in. I wanted to ask you if you had about five more minutes to address them before I ask you a final question or should I go to the final question now?
john: I can get five more minutes.
Chris: Alrighty, thank you. So I'll just read these two questions together and then I'll have one final question for you. So that the first question we read, this is from Mari from San Jose, “how do we widen our circle of acceptance to include the planet and all beings? Would you please speak to the assumed and accepted use of the planet and animals as commodity as “ other;” and then a question from Heather in Los Angeles: “How do those who truly want to see others, create spaces or conditions so that people will trust that it’s safe to be seen to be vulnerable?”
john: Both are great questions. I think is a process. I think a lot of things we can do in terms of acknowledging our connection with the planet and I think we can certainly learn from our indigenous brothers and sisters who in some ways had a tradition, a history of religion that actually organized around the deep relationship between the planet and who we are. There was one writer who wrote a book called Down to Earth and he says we have to stop saying we are people “fighting for nature.” So we are nature fighting for nature. And some people say, why do we have to click fight at all?
Unfortunately, I think a lot of stuff that comes out of Western tradition related to Genesis. God gave man domination over the Earth. Some can’t distinguish dominion from dominate. Now we have this crisis. I think one reason people have a hard time with climate change is not because they don't believe in it. It's that the fear of changing the way we live.
I would have to stop driving my gasoline car, I would have to stop flying across the country. It may be true but part of it is telling a story about acknowledgement of connection with Earth. It also suggests how to live a wonderful life that acknowledges that connection. Many people cannot imagine how we would live if we really acknowledged our connection to the Earth. So that's part of it.
In terms of the second question, Brown writes a lot about vulnerability and belonging. And so I think one of the things that I would like to put out and these are great questions, and I apologize for not being able to deal with completely your because of time. We actually are afraid of vulnerability. So we want conditions where there is no risk where we're insulated from vulnerability. I think we have to actually step into the space of connecting, celebrating caring about the other without a guarantee that they will respond back the way we want them to, without a guarantee that they will open up.
We have to do it while listening to them, we have to do it from a deep sense of “we're doing this because this is who we are. This is how we want to live our life. This is how we want to show up in the world.” Several years ago, Minister Farrakhan called forth the Million Man March, inviting African Americans to come to Washington to do some really important work around positive identity around African-American males. I was just semi- public figure, but I decided not to go. My friends were upset. They said, “Why aren't you going?” I could say I'm not going because of solidarity with my Jewish brothers and sisters. I could say, I'm not going because of solidarity with my gay brothers and sisters. I could say I'm not going because of solidarity with me with my female sister, but I'm not going because of me.
My connection with Jews, my connection with gays, my connection with women, my connection is these are my core values and so it would be in violation of my own values as well as my concern for these populations. There really is no other. That's just a construct, but you can't jump over that construct any more than you can jump over to construct a race.
Just find ways of doing that. You make some mistakes and there will be some clumsiness but do it from open heart and maybe do it like I said with bridging. Start off in a more modest way and if you have a platform, you use that platform and you will find people and opportunities to actually run that platform.
So thank you for the questions.
Chris: Thank you for taking more time. I apologize that we're not getting to all the questions that started to come in towards the end there, but we traditionally ask one last question. To our special guests and that is as you know, as a larger Awakin’ call and ServiceSpace community, how can we support your work in the world john?
john: Well, thanks for the question. First of all, it's not my work is our work. And so how do we come together and do this work? How do we work with issues of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, the ravishing of the Earth? I look at two things.
Take care. I mean take care of yourself cuz self-care is limited. We need to be in community. We need to be in relationship with each other but we also need to make space to care and be cared for. That can be any number of things like a movie with someone it could be getting a massage. You could be going out into the woods. It could be whatever but if you're doing this work, it can be hard, it can be sometimes dispiriting and depressing and so it's important to take care and to also find the moments of joy and fun while we do the work because this work is lifelong.
It's not going to end next week, it’s not going to end in the next election. We actually come together and do this work and we take care of ourselves and each other. I welcome an opportunity to explore this more in the future.
Chris: Thank you so much john for sharing your gentle and powerful wisdom you share with us today and we'll end the call how we began it, with just a moment of silence and this time to really feel into the gratitude for all the conditions that allowed us to be together today in this way. Thank you to everyone, especially to you john, now a moment in silence.
Thank you all, thank you Preeta, thank you john, thank you everyone for joining. I wish you all a beautiful rest of your day/evening.
Preeta: Thank you.
john: Thank you.
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