By Rabbi Michael Lerner | June 10, 2020 (tikkun.org)
Protest for Justice, March for Peace
Many Americans have begun to understand that overcoming racism requires a transformation of the systems and teachings and structures of our society. Yet few have been willing to articulate exactly what changes are needed. Building on the platform of Black Lives matter, we at Tikkun, our movement for a society based on love and justice (see the book Revolutionary Love: a Political Manifesto to Heal and Transform the World), and our interfaith and secular humanist welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives, put forward the program below as a starting point for discussion about what it would mean to change our societal arrangements to support the dismantling of racism in the 21st century. If after reading this article below you want to engage in a discussion of it, join our zoom based Torah study this coming Saturday morning where we will discuss these issues as part of the analysis of the assault on Moses for having a Black wife (or lover)–info for that at beyttikkun.org
Our anti-racist program includes creating an educational system and transforming media and the legal system so that undermining racist ideas and practices becomes one of their central goals. We will provide material support and champion those institutions and social practices that are most successful at fostering respect and caring for previous targets of racism. And we will foster education and public policies that help people understand why racism is counter to their interests and why solidarity with Black and Brown peoples and other groups that have been systematically excluded, marginalized, and targets of violence actually serves their interests and values.
If we want a loving and caring society that truly values the lives of Black and Brown peoples, and all people of color, we need to recognize and come to terms with how our country was founded and the impact of the past policies on the present. We also need to acknowledge and transform present day policies and practices that are discriminatory. The issues addressed in our Path to a World of Love and Justice are all relevant to the issues of institutional and individual racism in our society. Without a fundamental challenge to the economic and political practices of capitalist society there will always be some groups left out or left far behind, and those people will be encouraged by the most wealthy and powerful to find a scapegoat in some “other,” so it is unlikely that racism can be eliminated without this larger transformation. But, on their own, the policies we’ve suggested in the other parts of our program and even the emergence of a powerful transformative movement aimed at the goals of the New Bottom Line are inadequate to address the harm and trauma with which Black and Brown peoples live.
Even while celebrating those who have taken to the streets to protest racism, we are simultaneously witnessing at this time in history a continuation of the pervasive fear of black bodies and a denial that black lives matter; this is coupled with a rise of white terrorist and hate groups that no political party challenges, increasingly brutal and often racist police forces influenced by right-wing extremist worldviews, and the impotence of the news media and police to unveil the existence of underground hate groups that are becoming more visible and vocal. Today, blatant racism and violence, particularly against African Americans, Native Americans and Latin Americans, are manifesting in the form of extrajudicial police violence and killings, a school-to-prison pipeline that has resulted in more African American people in jails than were enslaved in the past in our country, the dumping of toxic waste and chemicals in communities where Black, Brown and low-income and poor white people live, unequal educational opportunities beginning before children even start kindergarten, and so much more.
Manifest destiny and American exceptionalism justified the genocide of Native Americans and deadens protest against present racist policies that keep Native Americans on reservations. These principles still inform and drive domestic and foreign U.S. policy resulting in oppression and violence at home and abroad. America’s ruling elite continues to use war to expand territory, to gain access to resources, and to increase its power. The military industrial complex leads to profits for private industry at the expense of the safety and welfare of Black and Brown communities at home and abroad.
Racism, however, is not only a structural problem built into the economic, political, and cultural heritage of our societal institutions, but also a psychological issue. It becomes particularly prominent when large numbers of people are alienated and in pain because they feel “dissed” by the society in which they live. They experience this pain because they buy into the ideology of the competitive marketplace with its insistence that we live in a meritocracy in which we “create our own reality” and hence we have no one to blame for the pain in our lives but ourselves. The resulting painful self-blaming is often dealt with through alcoholism, drug abuse, or other forms of addiction, but the pain remains.
In response to that pain, reactionary movements or leaders come forward and tell people that the reason for their pain is because of some “Other” (primarily African Americans or Latino/a, but also refugees of every sort, Muslims, LGBTQ people, feminists, Jews, or even all liberals or progressives). As Tikkun editor-at-large Peter Gabel puts it, racism and other forms of “othering” allow people to develop a “false self” in which they imagine themselves as worthy and powerful through seeing themselves as members of an idealized “white race” that provides them with a substitute sense of worth and value covering over their inner emptiness and sense of valuelessness. Yet because this sense of collective value is what Gabel calls “false” or imaginary, many people feel constantly under attack from an imaginary demonized “other” which in the historic context of the U.S. is African-American people, Latin, Muslims, Jews, or immigrants or refugees who they imagine are “taking over” and trying to recreate the experience of humiliation that already gives many white people deep pain and has led to the highest rate of suicides among middle aged white men. To undo this dynamic will take fundamental transformations in the way we organize our society so that people no longer feel humiliated. To move in this direction, we will need millions of people to be trained in empathic communication so they can help others dismantle their inner self-blaming, recognize that their alienation is caused by the values and daily operations of the competitive marketplace, and mobilize people to change that economic system. The Network of Spiritual Progressives offers such a training in what we call “prophetic empathy” on zoom (info and signing up to get information about the next training at spiritualprogressives.org/training).
Institutional racism is maintained also by the largely unconscious assumption of white supremacy that is internalized by many white people in white dominant societies around the world, though particularly in the U.S.. Overcoming the racism embedded in U.S. educational, legal and other systems requires white people to actively commit to becoming aware of the white supremacy that permeates their lives, exposing it, understanding how it diminishes the humanity of white people, and seeking to undo it.
We believe that the system of racism, sold to whites as “privilege,” actually hurts white people, divides them from people of color who are badly needed as allies to overcome poverty, homelessness, unfair distribution of wealth, and also demeans their own humanity and creates fear and distrust throughout their lives. No—this “privilege” of whites is actually a curse. We must not participate in a general demeaning of white people in this society or ignore the ways in which their lives have been negatively impacted by living in a society that uses racism to pit groups against one another. We refuse to perpetuate divisions based on race, class, gender, or ethnicity. We recognize that unity amongst all peoples, badly needed to overcome the variety of oppressions and distortions of living in a society based on selfishness and greed, cannot be fully achieved without dismantling racism. The vision of “a caring society” put forth in Rabbi Lerner’s book Revolutionary Love, would lift up all peoples. That requires not only a change in consciousness, but also a fundamental transformation of our economic and political systems. Keith Ellison, Attorney General of the State of Minnesota, who indicted the 4 policemen in Minneapolis who murdered George Floud, indorsed Rabbi Lerner’s book this way: “The caring society is the only realistic path for humanity to survive, and in Revolutionary Love Rabbi Lerner lays out a powerful and compassionate plan for building that caring society. I love this book. Please read it and join with others to build the movement that can enable these ideas to reshape our society that so badly needs this vision.” (To read the endorsements by Gloria Steinem, Cornel West, Medea Benjamin, Ariel Dorfman, Riane Eisler, Henry Giroux, and others, go to tikkun.org/lj).
Yet the transformation needed cannot be achieved by attempting to recreate socialist forms that speak to economic equality but miss the deeper transformations in how we relate to each other, to the Earth, and to our own inner development as loving and caring human beings. To address these systemic problems, we believe we need a New Bottom Line so that all our institutions are determined “successful” or “productive” or “rational” based on whether they prioritize the well-being and needs of the people who live in our country and the world and the planet itself, rather than whether they maximize money and power. And, in addition, we need to engage in specific activities and adopt particular policies that address the problems that constitute or unconsciously perpetuate racism.
AMONG THE STEPS A LOVING AND CARING SOCIETY WILL TAKE:
- Reparations for slavery and the past destruction of Native American populations.
- A guaranteed income for every adult in this society sufficient to pay for healthy food, housing in healthy living conditions, clothing, energy bills and transportation, and a “living wage” for all working people.
- A Global and Domestic Marshall Plan that re-directs monies from our Gross Domestic Product to communities that have suffered from unfair distribution of resources and wages, including white, black and brown working class people in the U.S. and around the world, and also “undocumented” workers and all migrant laborers who work in our fields, hotels, etc. who have then been deported to their native lands, separating and devastating families.
- Equal funding for all public and private childcare centers, preschools and schools no matter where they are located in the U.S. or the income level of the families that are served by those schools. If wealthier parents are allowed to provide better schooling, better paid teachers, more options for study and for individualized attention at the schools which their children attend, their children will inevitably have greater resources than those who have gone to less funded schools. If parents know that the schools serving the poorest communities set the standards for what their own children will be offered in public and private schools, they will have a stronger incentive to make sure that all schools have these same benefits that are now primarily available to school districts with higher incomes and private schools partially financed by wealthy parents.
- Higher level salaries for teachers who teach in communities with lower average incomes than the wealthier communities to ensure that all schools have highly qualified teachers.
- Required courses at every level from 4th grade through college that explain to students the legacy of slavery, discrimination, classism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and their ongoing impact on the lives of all of us today. Such courses will teach techniques to address racism, empathic communication, and insights that help in overcoming racism.
- Media must dedicate at least one quarter of their prime time viewing to shows that aim to creatively challenging racist practices, prejudice and biases.
- Create a truth and reconciliation commission to generate a highly visible public tribunal to put our country on a path toward truly facing and healing the legacy of slavery and the treatment and slaughter of Native Americans, and the ongoing discrimination we see today.
- To help ensure that schools become learning environments for all children rather than school-to-prison pipelines for some, we support the adoption of restorative justice as a primary form of response to wrongdoing in schools and in the criminal justice system as a whole.
- Funding for jobs, education, and housing for people being released from prison.
- In recognition that many police departments have unequal policing that results in the loss of liberty and life for black and brown peoples all over this country, every community that has a police force which has faced significant numbers of complaints about systematic abuse or profiling of African Americans or other minority groups must establish a publicly-elected police review commission that has the power to fire both individual police and replace the leadership of that police force, and the ability to impose heavy civil fines or criminally indict police and police leadership for violating the civil rights of people within their jurisdiction.
- Mandatory training for police officers in anti-racism, bias and prejudice and comprehensive screening and vetting of applicants to help ensure that police officers are not racist. Mandatory training in de-escalation and nonviolent responses when conducting stops and arrests.
- Any surveillance equipment that police departments request must be reviewed by a civilian board that includes members of the communities that are and will be impacted. If body cameras are used, any tapes from those cameras must be made available to family and community members when an officer’s actions are in question.
- A wholesale rethinking of policing including demilitarizing of police forces, reducing and eventually eliminating higher levels of surveillance, and creating more transparency, accountability and transformative and restorative policing and justice models.
- Full access, guarantees and protections of the right to vote for all peoples through universal voting registration, automatic voting registration, pre-registration for 16-year-olds, same-day voter registration, voting day holidays, enfranchisement of formerly and currently incarcerated people, local and state resident voting for all undocumented people, and a ban on any disenfranchisement laws. Criminalization of all attempts by government or private organizations which seek to prevent people from voting, or from voting by mail, or by not providing adequate voting places for people of color or poor people, or undermining voting by mail, or who come up with other ways to prevent voting by people of color or other disenfranchised populations.
- In recognition that poor and disempowered communities often bear the brunt of environmental devastation and destruction, we promote the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that, among other things, mandates that all corporations with incomes of greater than $50 million a year have to prove, once every five years, a satisfactory history of environmental and social justice to a jury of ordinary citizens who can hear testimony from people throughout the world who are impacted by that corporations practices.
- These are places to start. We must also encourage public celebrations of communal solidarity and caring for others not yet fully part of our communites. Through music, dance, art, rituals, and other paths that speak to the heart, we shall create a new ethos of caring across all racial, gender, religious, and national lines and unite the human race to take on our most serious challenge: repairing the environment from two hundred years of abuse.
ABOUT RABBI MICHAEL LERNER
Rabbi Michael Lerner holds a Ph.D. in philosophy (1972) and a second Ph.D. in psychology (1977), is editor of Tikkun www.tikkun.org, executive director of the Institute for Labor and Mental Health, rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls in Berkeley, chair of the international Network of Spiritual Progressives, and author of 12 books, most recently Revolutionary Love published by the University of California Press (more info about this book at www.tikkun.org/lj). Lerner was recently described by Professor Cornel West of Harvard U. as “one of the most significant prophetic public intellectuals and spiritual leaders of our generation” and Keith Ellison, Attorney General of the State of Minnesota, says: “The caring society is the only realistic path for humanity to survive, and in Revolutionary Love Rabbi Lerner lays out a powerful and compassionate plan for building that caring society.” Talking about his book Revolutionary Love, Gloria Steinem, a founding editor of Ms. Magazine, says “Michael Lerner takes the universal qualities wrongly diminished as ‘feminine’—caring, kindness, empathy, love—and dares to make them guides to a new kind of politics that can challenge the cruelty, competition, and dominance wrongly elevated as ‘masculine.’ Revolutionary Love opens our minds and hearts to a fully human way of living and governing.”