I voted for Ronald Reagan twice to be president.
The next time I could vote, I voted for Jesse Jackson.
If I was to write the story of my spiritual, social, and political transformation in two short sentences, those two would be it. Those two sentences are the metaphor for a social transformation that continues inside of me, even to this day.
This essay is the story of that journey.
What follows is a winding tale that could very easily been seen as one long and self-aggrandizing exercise in “virtue signaling.”
That’s not my intent at all, and I want to say that clearly at the outset.
I am not looking for praise, or scorn.
I am not looking to be comforted with “attaboys.”
My intent is confessional in nature, and I hope you can read what follows in that light. My intent is to hopefully be helpful in a national dialogue we are currently having in our nation about White people, and especially about White men.
Therefore, the primary “audience” here is other White men, but I certainly welcome any and all who wonder about how White men might, “evolve” on issues of issues of equality, justice, and inclusion.
For several years now I have said that I believe America has a “White man” problem.
The more blunt way of saying this is that we have a “White Supremacy” problem.
Some White men are working to understand their power, privilege and position in our country. They are working to come to terms with the concept of White Supremacy and their own internalized sense of superiority.
Some of us are listening to others —Women, People of Color, the LGBTQ community— and are “working on our stuff” to one extent or another. We are trying to find their place…standing next to others, and not lording over them.
But, if I may be blunt, not many of us are.
Certainly not enough of us.
Many of us White men are still very much overly sensitive to criticism and prone to what has been rightly called “White Fragility.” I have most certainly been guilty of “White Fragility” from time to time. No doubt even recently. (As I said: this journey is ongoing…)
But I do I understand myself to be privileged in ways that Women, POC, the LGBTQ and other religious faiths are not.
I try to work on my privilege.
I fail often.
I work on it some more.
I fail some more.
In other words, in no ways do I intend to be seen as someone who has “arrived,” or has found great wisdom that others must embrace. What I intend to do is to share my journey, in the hopes that others might be willing to share theirs…so that we might further a desperately needed conversation among White men.
So, again, I hope you read this entire essay as confessional, and not an attempt at gaining your sympathy or virtue signaling.
In fact, because of my own self-identity today, sharing some of this feels very vulnerable and embarrassing. Those of you know have only known me as a progressive minister and activist may be disturbed by some of the following.
I suppose my overall point is that I believe in “conversion” because I have experienced it. (To use a theological term…)
Over the course of my adult life, I’ve been in a long process of social and spiritual conversion….and of unpacking my own sense of privilege and power. (Remember: I am a Christian and a minister. I completely understand that this language feels foreign, fake, or like a cop-out to those outside my tradition…)
My journey can be told in terms of my theological and social views. And it can be told using the markers of presidential campaigns. This essay does both.
I’m in no way attempting to suggest that Republicans are evil, or that Democrats are perfect. In fact, one of the insights that’s come to me in writing this is just how far way both parties truly still are from multi-racial, multi-gendered, and multi-faith society. (More about that near the end…)
Therefore, I will speak about a political transformation —about those first two sentences on this essay— because those sentences are but a METAPHOR for the deeper social and spiritual transformation…and not the other way around.
With all that tortured prolegomena, let’s begin…
Now and then, when some White man says something especially insensitive or does something horrific —like shoot up a Walmart— my dear Wife will turn to me and say, “How did you get to be the way *you* are?”
Which is another way of saying: “How come you’re not like those other White guys?”
I grew up in very conservative Far North Dallas. Everybody I knew was a Republican. Everybody I knew was a “Conservative.” It was the the late 1970s and early 1980s. I graduated high school a year into Reagan’s first term. I was eighteen on election day, and so I voted for Ronald Reagan in my first election.
I would have never occurred to me to vote for anyone else. I did not know any Democrats. I did not know any People of Color, although we had a few at Richardson High School where I was a student.
Thankfully, the one bit of my life that was more “moderate” was church. I was very active in my Methodist church young group. But we were most definitely not “liberal” by any means. And we we also most definitely not evangelical or fundamentalist.
(I’m grateful to have completely avoided organized fundamentalist religion as an adherent, even though it was clearly growing at the time and Dallas was something of an epicenter…)
My sense is that most of the Conservatives I knew considered themselves “moderate Republicans.” That was certain my Father…at least by that time. He had been a rabid anti-communist in the 1950s. He went to demonstrations as a young man.
But Nixon had deeply troubled him. Nixon had burned him out on politics and social movements. By the time I was in high school…like most of the parents and children I knew…we were all “moderate Republicans.”
That followed me to college. I was still quite conservative. Ronald Reagan reigned supreme.
During my time in school, I literally had a poster of a Nicaraguan “contra” up on my wall of my dorm room. I recently Googled that very picture, and post it here for you to see.
Again, I am deeply ashamed to for you to see it. Many of my more progressive friends —especially my mentors who have been involved in the struggle for justice in Central America— may be horrified to see this poster, and imagine what it means that I had it on the wall of my dorm room.
This is, as I’ve said, this is a part of my confession.
This is to help you see my journey.
You should know that I did not think very deeply about any of the issues in Central America. My Father had been an anti-communist, therefore I was too.
I suppose, looking back, I thought the picture of this “contra” was cool…in a kind of “Apocalypse Now” way. Yes, that movie was supposed to be a meditation on the horrors of war. But as a high school kid, I’d seen it as “cool.” This “freedom fighter” was like Martin Sheen, in my mind.
The honest truth is that it was all “image” and posturing. This in itself is only possible due to White privilege, of course. But it makes me wonder about the young men in our day who seem to obsessed with images of war and violence. They don’t really know violence, but they are fascinated by it.
Again, I really didn’t know much about the war, or money to support “Charley.” I never attended college Republican meetings. I didn’t know much about what Reagan was doing, or the illegality of supporting it through a poster like this.
This kind of thing was what young men, in my conservative tribe, were doing back then. I share this picture, because more than anything else I could write, it helps you see who I was then.
But during that time, I started attending church at First Methodist in Austin. I would eventually become very active there, serving as college class president for two years. Sunday after Sunday, I sat in the balcony of that church and heard Rev. Jack Heacock preach sermons on liberation theology. He would talk about the struggle in Central America. He would talk about the poor people of El Salvador and Nicaragua.
I made fun of him in my head.
But another part of me was also listening.
I had two campus ministers who were incredibly important to me… Revs. Susan Sprague and Claudia Highbaugh.
They talked about their experiences as women…clergywomen…and Claudia about her experience as an African-American. Claudia, especially, listened to me. She loved and supported me…even as it was clear she thought I was young and naive. She didn’t judge me, but became my first real ministry mentor. Claudia Highbaugh, an African-American clergywoman of another denomination, is the single most important reason I ended up in seminary and as a minister today.
Even as I was making fun of Jack Heacock’s tortured pronunciations of “Nicaragua” and “Honduras” I was also listening. A part of it was seeping in. The theology of liberation was challenging me….angering me…pushing back on my little conservative, White male bubble.
I eventually took the Contra poster down. I started to question my values, even as I was afraid to admit that publicly.
But at the time the 1984 election, things were stiring in me. I believe it would be fair to say I was becoming disaffected with Republican social views.
It was my Christian faith that was leading me to question those “Conservative” social views.
It was reading, studying, and really learning about what Jesus said about ministering with the poor, the marginalized, the outcast.
On the West Mall –UT’s famous “free speech” area– I walked by tables full of information from people who believed very differently from me. I used to joke that there was “one of every kind of person” at UT. I now say “there was a club.”
In rows and rows of information tables, I learned about Christian fundamentalism, and the Moonies. I learned about Israel and Palestine. I learned about libertarians and socialists, Republicans and Democrats. Yes, it’s probably where I got that “Charley” poster, but it’s also where I got an inclusive eduction that utlimately changed my world. Encountering and meeting people from all over the world, of different races and religions. Their very existence was challenging. I was listening.
At one table, one “club” was talking about how Jesus wasn’t White. That was revolutionary too. I’d always known he was Jewish. But weren’t the Jews I knew pretty “White?” (This was my thought…)
But as the group on the West Mall pushed, given the proximity to Africa, there was a much greater chance Jesus was African than Germanic. (That was the point of the group…)
I know this is a strange, self-obvious insight now. But it was another of the more revolutionary things I learned on the West Mall.
Whatever Jesus looked like in real life, he didn’t look anything like me. Jesus, the historical Jesus, wasn’t White.
I also became fascinated with Jesse Jackson. Jackson was not only a politician, he was also a preacher. Jackson spoke, theologically and politically. He used language of liberation that I now realize was very similar to the sermons I was hearing from Jack Heacock.
Jackson talked of a “Rainbow Coalition,” and I was listening. HIs candidacy was the first time anyone seriously spoke to our multi-racial and multi-faith future. (A future we have still not realized, decades later…)
He was talking about a coalition of African-Americans, yes…but also of White, Brown, Women….the gay community…
I was fascinated because not only was it so much more diverse than anything I’d ever experienced in my White-conservative life, but also because included a place for me. The Rainbow Coalition was like the West Mall, only it was a theology and politics in action.
It was very appealing.
Jesse Jackson came to UT Austin quite a lot during primary season. I remember shaking his hand on a rope line at the “East Mall.”
And, I remember hearing him speak at the Student Union.
It was November 22, 1983. My friend Ed (another White guy) and I had decided to go and see Jesse speak. (I recently obtained a copy of the Daily Texan write up of the day, to insure that I was not exaggerating what had happened. I’m happy to say that the write up confirms my hazy memory…)
Looking back, that day changed my life.
We had seats back halfway back on the left side of the auditorium. It was PACKED to overflowing. The Daily Texan says there were 1,200 in the auditorium, and many more outside the closed doors.
For fear of a riot, the organizers had closed the doors. As Jackson took the stage, 500 more students pounded on the doors, rattling them and making a commotion over which Jackson could not heard. The doors were glass, and you could see the huge crowd…and how they were POUNDING on those doors and yelling.
I had never been in a situation like that. It felt like it might turn violent.
Jackson stopped his speech, walked down the long aisle (much to the chagrin of his own security and Secret Service detail) and opened the back doors. I could not hear what he said, but he was clearly addressing the crowd outside in the halls.
It became clear he was trying to get them to calm down enough so that the doors could be left open for all to hear.
The crowd agreed. The doors were opened so that all could hear and be included.
Jackson came back to the front of the room and re-started his speech.
I thought to myself, “Who IS this guy?!!”
Who has the power to confidently wade into that kind of tense situation, to diffuse it, and to all the while, keep his cool?
I’d never seen anything like it.
Again, I was so naive that I had no idea of his connection to Dr. King and the great civil rights struggle of the 1960s.
Jackson led the crowd in the “I am somebody” chant. And Jackson connected what he was doing with the struggle for Civil Rights in the 1960s.
The Daily Texan cites several quotes from his speech that day…
“In the 1960s we could not use the Woolworth, we could not use hotels and motels and students risked their lives to make America, America for everybody. That generation was great….This generation must never give up its right to dream.”
I was mesmerized.
Here was a man who was inspiring people in a way I had never seen from any politician or preacher…and who was talking about a multi-racial, Rainbow coalition…and one that might even have a place for ME. White men would not lead this coalition (clearly a Black man would be the leader….) but that the invitation he extended was to everyone…genuinely everyone.
That was revolutionary.
And the image of Jesse Jackson….walking to the back of that room…opening those doors…calming that crowd….that moment has stayed for me for three decades.
“Opening the doors for everyone…”
That —theologically, spiritually, socially— has been the primary calling of my life ever since.
Did I vote for a Democrat in the next election?
Did I suddenly identify as a “liberal” all of the sudden?
I did not vote for Walter Mondale.
Mondale was boring.
I could not imagine voting for somebody as boring as Walter Mondale. In fact, those same college Republicans —ever able to “spin” opinion– created this poster which also hung on my wall in the months prior to the 1984 election. Again, I’m a bit ashamed of this poster now, but the images helps you see where I was.
The main line that I resonated with was “he’s more boring than ever…”
Again, I am not proud of this. I am not proud of fact that I allowed something so shallow to affect my political vote. I was attracted to what Jesse Jackson said. But Jackson hadn’t won the nomination, and I could not vote for such a boring guy.
This is the level of thought that I put into my vote.
But, friends, I was stirred up…by Rev. Claudia Highbaugh…by Rev. Jack Heacock…by Jesse Jackson…Something was changing.
It would break open on election night, 1984.
That night, that same friend (Ed) and I decided to go see the a college Republican celebration at the Texas Union. (Again, we didn’t really attend these things regularly. But we were politically and socially curious kids…)
Walter Mondale had been crushed by Reagan. I had voted for Reagan once again.
We walked up to the bar that was in the ground floor of the Student Union (the drinking age was eighteen). And there —watching the returns on a first-generation big screen TV— were a bunch of blue blazered, khaki and top-sider wearing, college Republicans. They were mostly young White men, they were drinking a lot of beer, and they were yelling lustily at the results.
I cannot describe for you now just how disturbing it felt to me in that moment. Reagan had won in a landslide. Everybody KNEW he was going to win. (Mondale was boring.)
But these guys were shouting like a football team having just sacked the quarterback. There was a lustiness, in their crowd, like soldiers putting a head on a pike outside the castle.
“It was a LANDSLIDE, for Christsake,” I thought to myself….
“What the hell…”
There was something about that moment that broke me.
This should have been my tribe. I should have been right there in the midst of their testosterone-fueled celebration. But I watched them from the hallway, and call I can say now is, that I thought….
“This is not my tribe…”
I’m not cool with that kind of reaction to LANDSLIDE of that magnitude. I’m not cool with laughing at Walter Mondale, or making fun of Jesse Jackson and Black people. I was suddenly embarrassed by my Contra poster….that Mondale poster…all of it…
“This is not my tribe…”
It was a feeling, not a verbal thought I could have expressed.
I knew it in an instant.
I knew I had changed.
I knew I would never go back to that group, and to that room.
But, there was immediately a new problem…
Who was my tribe?
Who were my people?
Where was my place?
I didn’t have one.
I felt adrift and confused.
I knew what I wasn’t any more. I didn’t know what I was.
Then came Perkins School of Theology.
(Actually, what came first was having my heart broken open by a girlfriend who dumped me. That helped break me open, as I entered Perkins in the Fall of 1985…)
Perkins helped push this evolution into over-drive.
Now, I was studying liberation theologians. I was writing papers on Jon Sobrino and the Central American theology I had previously mocked.
Now, it made sense to me.
I was in a study group my first year, with women, a gay man, and an African-American man. And in that group, we wrestled with identity, power, gender, race….we did much more than just “study” for class.
That group prayed together. Argued. Pushed each other. Sought to understand each other.
I was listening…I was growing.
I became a Hall Director in the Residence Halls. I remember specific two events that transformed my social views even more. One was an “in service” where Rev. Michael Piazza, then of Cathedral of Hope, spoke to our residence hall staff. It opened my eyes to the plight of the gay and lesbian community.
Another seminal moment was a two-day training with Dr. Charles King. Dr. King was a nationally known trainer in race-relations. His method (I later learned) was to push, cajole and even berate White participants in his seminar. To the point at which he intentionally made them angry.
He then was able to show those White participants that our emotional reaction was exactly like the reaction of POC to White Supremacy. (In those days, nobody used either of those last two terms…)
A write-up I recently found online of Dr. King explaining his process this way:
“I have manipulated you. I have cut you off, I oppressed you, not let you speak. I made everything go according to my system. It dehumanizes a person. You felt guilt, shame and anger you didn’t show.You slowly lose your dignity . . .
That’s what he did for me in that seminar.
“Oh, crap,” I said.
Again, we didn’t use the words “White Supremacy.” But that’s exactly what he was modeling for us. For a few short minutes, he put us White people in the position of seeing how White Supremacy feels.
Again, scales fell off my eyes. My world was rocked. My knees buckled.
And in the midst of this, I first met Bill McElvaney.
If you know me well, you’ve heard me speak of just how important Rev. Bill McElvaney has been to my life. Next to my Father, he is the most important man I’ve ever known.
Bill was the man who showed me the way to a new “tribe.”
He modeled…he lived in his very being…what it means to be a different kind of White man.
Bill had his own story —a similar story of transformation— that captivated me and gave me hope. Bill had moved from being a young college student at SMU, who defended his fraternity’s segregationist policy in the 1950s, to a lone White minister marching from Grand Prairie to Dallas in MLK’s Poor People’s March in 1968.
Bill was also compassionated and committed to real justice for Central Americans as well.
He was my spiritual Father.
I have joked for many years that “Bill McElvaney showed me that you could be a White man from North Dallas, and turn out OK…”
That’s not really a joke. There’s a sense in which it’s literally true.
I desperately needed the hopefulness of his own confessional journey, so that I could take my own.
I could not have done it without him. (which is part of why I’m writing this, of course…)
And so it was that my theology, my politics, my entire cultural vision shifted.
I had a new vision of what it meant to be a White man, and how I fit in relation to everyone else around me. I had White male role models. I’d had experiences of my own privilege and power that had humbled me. (Some of which, I have not shared here for brevity…)
And so, when it was time to vote in the primaries of 1988, I voted for Jesse Jackson.
And let me pause to note just how revolutionary this was. Again, EVERYONE I’d ever known from my “home” (which was, of course, just miles away…) was still a Republican. Many were conservative Christians. Some of them, no doubt, would have been like those testoreone fueled guys on election night ’84. They would have made fun of Jackson…and me, no doubt.
This moment –voting for Jesse Jackson– was more than pulling a lever. It was a “break” with every White man I had known growing up. It felt incredibly good and right.
But! I must also admit, in that moment, how alone it felt too. I feel powerfully surrounded and blessed by progressive friends and family today, and that “tribe” inspires me.
But in that moment? Pulling that level…Democrat…Jesse Jackson…also felt like betrayal of everything my Father and my “tribe” had taught me.
This is one of the key points that I think perhaps some people looking in from the outside in miss. We are all tribal, to one extent or another. Even White men. What we learning, of course, is that the tribe of White men is incredibly lethal to everyone else…so we must change.
When some folks leave their religious traditions and join a new one, even if those newer beliefs are closer to their core personhood, they still sometimes feel guilty for leaving the “old” faith. (This is especially true for Catholics.)
My understanding, talking with friends of Color, is that sometimes when they move into the White world, there is a disorienting sense that comes, and a feeling they have betrayed their culture to live in the larger world.
Tribe, culture, religion, race…for all of us, these things go deep. Waking up from the dream of Whiteness can be disorienting. Whiteness is an illusion. A creation of White Supremacy itself. White men must take this journey. Please, don’t hear me hedging here.
But, in a way that seems ridiculous to me now, it felt then like a betrayal of the White tribe then. Maybe this is how people feel when they leave Catholicism? I don’t know.
Again, I’m not asking for sympathy for White men. I am suggesting that this dynamic I am describe here –this lonely, disoriented feeling– explains part of what I believe it appears to be so much more difficult for many of White men to take the leap.
We are trained to be White.
We are trained to be Male.
That means, we are trained to in charge…to LEAD…to expect that everyone else will follow us. Yes, it’s White supremacist. Of course it is. But it’s a cultural training that starts early in life, and unlearning and unwinding it is often confusing.
Here’s what I know. Jesse Jackson was an inspiration to me, and to other White young men like me, not just to a generation of African-Americans. He was a life-raft off the wreck of Whiteness for me. He helped row me toward a new place, socially, theologically, politically. Existentially.
And at that 1988 Democratic Convention, as he gave that incredible speech to rapturouse applause, he thundered “Keep Hope Alive…”
I wept for his courage and conviction.
I wept at how elusive his coalition and his dream clearly was…
It’s still far away, even today, of course. And that’s the point not to miss here. The Democrats of 1988 were not totally kind to Jesse Jackson. Some privately mocked him, even as he brought huge numbers of African-American voters permantely into the Democratic Party.
It’s a reminder of what I said at the outset. This whole essay is not an attempt to make Republicans look bad and Democrats look great, or to suggest superiority of one over another. In fact, quite clearly, both political parties are quite a long way from truly embracing the “Rainbow coalition” of Jackson’s dream.
But that dream?
It captured me then…and it still does now.
And it changed my life and gave me hope.
And that’s the story, right there.
That’s the long journey that I tell of the first two sentences in this essay.
I supposed it’s really just “chapter one.” A lot of time as passed since then, and the journey never ends. Being married to a Wise Latina has opened my eyes even further. I’ve heard her stories, and the stories of her family.
I’m constantly learning what I don’t know. I still failing. I’m sill surprised by the way White privilege rears its head in my life today.
I’ve listened to so many painful stories from church members and friends over the years —Women, People of Color, the LGBTQ community. They have taught me so much I did not know.
I could write five times as much as I have here about other times when I have failed —in the decades that have followed, or even the past few months— to live up to this new identity I believe I now have. And, there are other embarrassing stories about how my own White Privilege has reared its head…in ways that humble me and buckle my knees.
But I tell this story, because I am confident I am not alone.
Maybe you are a White man with a similar story. Maybe you are a White man who is, right now, for the first time, considering that you might be looking for a new “tribe.”
In the past year, I’ve been blessed to meet, off and on, with groups of White men who have similar stories of similar transformations.
I believe that when the Bible talks about “repentance” that this is what it is talking about. The Bible is talking about this kind of transformation and “turning in a new way.”
Whether the issue is homophobia, racism, sexism, White Supremacy…when the Bible speaks of “repentance,” that is the “turning in a new way” that believe it’s talking about.
It is, at the core, a spiritual process.
It takes constant work.
In Wesleyan language, it’s “going on to perfection,” and knowing that you might never get there completely. We are never done, especially in a society so completely dominated by White supremacy.
In my experience, the journey has not been of one, lightning bolt moment, that forever changed my life. Instead, it’s God working on me, through faith, to live as a different kind of White man…and as a White man WHO HAD NO MODELS.
It’s this last point I want to end with.
White men need new models.
We need a PATH through which we can see ourselves in a new way…and through which we can behave in a new way. In a society that still affords us great privilege, it’s very hard to do.
It’s still hard to see all the ways our privilege puts on “third base” and helps us believe we “hit a triple.” (Ann was talking about ALL of us White men, really…not just George…)
Look, many of you know me as very different from the man depicted in this essay.
Some of you, as I’ve said, may even be disturbed by some of what I’ve said here.
You perhaps know me as a progressive preacher who…
Was arrested in DC, in support of immigrants…
Performed Same Sex weddings in alleged violation of my church’s teaching…
Served on Planned Parenthood’s religions advisory committee…
Marches in a crap-ton of marches…and speaks out against White Supremacy…
Writes copiously on all these topics and more from a progressive spiritual point of view.
The point is, that to my Wife’s question “How did you get this way?”
Well, it’s complicated.
I know that I thank God those around me have allowed me the space to grow, change, and move to a new place. I thank God that they have seen my “repentance” as genuine…and they have judged me by my actions, and not by my past.
What I’m trying to illustrate is that it’s a challenging path to find..because, really, society does not give White men mentors and role models to take this kind of a journey.
Society certainly does not reward this kind of journey. Perhaps this is why relatively few men feel either the desire, or the willingness, to take it.
As for me, I thank God for all the mentors and moments along the way…
For Revs. Susan Sprague, Claudia Highbaugh, and Jack Heacock…
For Jesse Jackson…
For Dr. Charles King and Rev. Michael Piazza…
For Rev. Bill McElvaney…and Dr. Zan Holmes…
For Dennise and all my social justice friends from the present day.
For small groups of men I know on similar journeys, with whom I can share stories and experiences.
They’ve allowed me “in” to a new “tribe” where I don’t have to act like the boss, or be in charge, but where I can —in the language of liberation theology— “accompany” everyone as we move forward together.
I see my calling as being that of using the platform God has given me to do just this kind of ministry and sojourning.
I do wonder, however: What might have happened if I had been *condemned* along the way?
What might have happened to me if I hadn’t had all these mentors and s/heroes? What might have happened to me, if compassionate people of color, Women, gay people had not only pushed me out my comfort zone, and forgiven me when I badly stumbled?
I might be in a very different place.
I shudder to think, but maybe I’d be a Trump guy. I can’t rule it out.
Marc Maron said something that’s stayed with me for months in his podcast with Brene Brown. It was a throw-away line that I’ve been pulled back to, time and time again.
He said that in modern America it seems that conservatives “never apologize” and that progressives “never forgive.”
There was something that struck me as deeply true about that.
On the left, there can be a terribly unforgiving streak.
White men deserve to be scorned for much of our history, and our current behavior. But it’s the “never” part that gets me.
I’m no longer a conservative. (and I haven’t been for decades now…) So I can’t speak to the “never apologize” part (although it rings true…).
But the “never forgive” part rings true on the left. There’s a hardness on the left, and I wonder if (and here I’ll become a theologian) we can really move forward unless we can find space for White men to apologize…space to move to a new place….space to stumble and fail. (Yes. It has to be genuine…of course…)
Isn’t that what we all actually hope for?
That we all “progress” in some way, to some new place?
Progressivism, in its very nature, implies a “moving forward” to a “new place.” That, by definition, will mean leaving behind an old place and old ways of being.
But that process, in and of itself, seems to move circuitously…not in a straight line.
Two steps forward. One step back.
I believe in progress. But I also now believe the idea of “straight line” progress is a dangerous fantasy.
If we have learned nothing else the past few years, it’s perhaps this last point. We are constantly learning and re-learning —at a societal and personal level— the lessons of how to live into a truly multi-racial, multi-gendered, multi-faith…diverse future.
I thank God that I am not judged (by those who know me today) by my actions in the past.
Maybe some will judge me now.
Maybe you will think my “conversion” has not been painful enough, or that this is all an exercise in “virtue signaling.”
Maybe all I know in the end, is this…
Jesse Jackson had it right.*
I’m not talking about the vision of a specific political party or presidency. I’m talking that vision that captured so many of us back in the day…of a Rainbow coalition with room for all.
In the end —whomever we are—we all need some kind of hopeful models that we can aspire to…some kind of hopeful future that we can embrace that includes a place for us all, so that we can leave behind our past. Or at least, so we can move forward in some way.
All those years ago, Jesse Jackson was speaking to a kind of multi-racial, multi-gendered, multi-faith coalition that America is only NOW starting to make real. We haven’t made it real YET. But we’re at least having interesting conversations about it. I think we’re starting to see it from here.
But that very vision, which I saw as so hopeful in the primaries of 1988, is deeply threatening to White men. It’s certainly threatening to White supremacy.
I’m confident —nearing 100 percent certainty— that this is what’s created the phenomenon of Donald Trump. His moral licensing is giving permission to a new generation of White nationalism and racism that should disturb us all.
I don’t have all the answers. Or maybe any of them. I know White supremacy will be a continuing challenge, and that it’s very existence could lead some to suggest that White people be silenced completely and be ushered of the stage.
If I may…and I do this very carefully…I think that would be a mistake.
All I can tell you is decades ago now, Jesse Jackson spoke to me. I watched him quite literally open the doors and welcome in everyone.
And that has been the abiding “dream” of my spiritual and political journey ever since.
That is the hopeful, and still unrealized, future of our nation.
Our future coalitions will undoubtedly be led by African-Americans, Women, members of the LGBTQ and Latinx communities, and many others. And that is good, and beautiful, and HOPEFUL.
So, to all of us whomever you are, whatever your politics, would suggest that at least from a “vision” point of view:
Jesse Jackson had it right.
If you are a White man, I invite you to join me on this continuing journey of repentance and living in a new way.
If you are everyone else, I cannot tell you what to do, or how to treat us White men.
We deserve much of your scorn and anger.
But I hope you can believe that some of us are trying.
When you can, I hope you might offer some of us your forgiveness as you see us living in a new way.
Even if you cannot, or even if the language of forgiveness makes no sense to you, I commit to continuing with walk with you, to “accompanying” you, anyway.
Thank you all for the ways you can hear this story, and can fold it in to American’s multi-racial future.
* (with all his own flaws and foibles, and I do NOT mean to minimize his personal flaws by praising his strengths…)
4 thoughts on “Jesse Jackson Had It Right”
Great read. I loved this! Truly. And, thank you for showing us all what white men can aspire to. Thanks again!
Eric, thanks for sharing your evolution experience. I am one who has been blessed beyond measure by you, Denise and Maria. Your years at Northaven still bears beautiful fruit.