White Supremacy? Black Lives Matter? Let’s Talk About Charlottesville

I was in Bali teaching a writing retreat the day of the United States Presidential election in 2016. For the first time in my life, I felt ashamed to be an American. When I first arrived in Bali, the taxi drivers would ask me where I was from and I’d say, “California.” They’d respond with things like, “Oh . . . naked naked sexy Hollywood.” I’d say, “No, not that California.” After the election, they’d ask where I’m from, I’d say “California,” and they’d say, “Ah . . . Donald Trump.”


Never before in my life have I ever considered leaving the United States. Maybe, I thought, my daughter, her father, and I could just move to Bali, put Siena in the Green School, and expatriate. I know every country has its problems, and I’m not naïve enough to think I wouldn’t run into all kinds of challenges in Bali, but I did entertain the idea.

After more consideration, I came home. Leaving my beloved country didn’t feel quite right either. It felt like a kind of escapism. Maybe, I considered, my country needs me as one of the many grounding forces of love, tolerance, and fierce love. Maybe it was my calling to use my platform and influence to speak out against polarization on both sides, to be a peacemaker, to preach the power of unconditional love and zero tolerance for hate, to ask Trump voters “What’s it like to be you?” and truly care about what motivated them to elect this president. Maybe instead of dividing into the left wing or right wing camps, I could be a voice for no camps.

In order to deal with my shock, grief, and anger, I planned my return to the US by taking my daughter on a tour of 12 National Parks, which represent the nature-soaked part of America that I love most. My daughter and I prayed in every National Park, praying for peace, praying that people on all sides would open their hearts and come together in love and unity. During that trip, I held in my heart the point of view my friend Charles Eisenstein wrote about in this brilliant blog about ending the story of separation that attracted Oprah’s attention and led to her inviting Charles to speak on Super Soul Sunday. Then I held on to my optimism and hoped for the best, feeling a kind of excitement that many allies in the revolution of love might be called out of complacency and into action.

All Lives Matter

Right now, in the wake of what just happened in Charlottesville, it is crystal clear that we are being called to come together. White, Black, Native American, or immigrant, all lives matter equally. Black lives matter. Native American lives matter. Immigrant lives matter. Muslim lives matter. Jewish lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter, and no one race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or political point of view matters more or less. I don’t get triggered, like many do, when African-Americans proclaim “Black Lives Matter.” Yes. They do. And if we need to call it out as a separate thing to make up for the intense traumas perpetrated even now against our African-American brothers and sisters, so be it. I don’t need to carry a picket sign claiming “White Lives Matter” because I know white lives matter in this country. It is very clear to me that I have benefited from the white privilege that comes from being a white girl raised in the South, where my adopted African-American sister was treated very differently than I was. It was clear to me that white privilege was not just about money or power or status. It was about my freedom to walk through a Georgia town without getting harassed by strangers, a freedom my sister did not have. I am happy to use my voice and my power to proclaim “Black Lives Matter,” because they do.

All Men Are Created Equal?

As Americans, I think it’s time that we stare deeply into an inconvenient truth. This country espouses equality and freedom and operates from a Declaration of Independence and a Constitution intended to uphold it that claims, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Yet, the inconvenient truth is that we are a country built upon white supremacy, a country without much apology about committing horrific acts of genocide and violations of personal freedom in the name of white privilege, a country that built itself upon the extermination and degradation of the Native American race and the theft of their land, a country whose founders were mostly slave owners.

In a Facebook Live video after the Charlottesville domestic terrorism attack, Brené Brown comes right out and says what is blatantly and painfully obvious, that America was built upon a foundation of white supremacy, that we give lip service to how all men are created equal, but that our actions have proved that we do not actually practice this ideal, even now. She also points out that we must must must talk about white privilege in the most pointed, uncomfortable, and honest way. (Watch the brilliant video here.)

When Donald Trump ran a campaign on the slogan “Make America Great Again,” what his campaign was really promoting was a return to white supremacy, a return to the white man’s dominance over other races, the female gender, religions that aren’t Christian, and LGBTQ sexual preferences. So why are we surprised that white supremacists are coming out of hiding and feeling emboldened to be more public with their hate? Why are we surprised that our President is blaming “both sides” for what happened in Charlottesville and only half-heartedly condemning the hatred, racism, and intolerance spewed by the white supremacists? Yes, we have a right to be outraged. We must speak out against hate groups. We must make our HELL NO clear and enforce consequences when domestic terrorism ensues. But make no mistake about it. Just because we voted for an African-American President doesn’t mean white privilege isn’t alive and well. If we don’t nip this in the bud, what is to stop us from recreating Nazi Germany?

Pain Underlies Our Polarization

When you listen to the rhetoric on both sides, it’s clear that there’s a deep pain underlying the triggered sentiments. I know I feel outraged. I was with my sister and her African-American boyfriend when we found out about the torch march in Charlottesville, and I found myself feeling the need to apologize on behalf of my race. I felt, as I have often felt, genuinely ashamed to be white. We were all grieving together as we watched the movies The Help and The Color Purple to remind ourselves what our African-American brothers and sisters have been through, so that we might never forget. I cried and cried through both movies. My friends, we cannot, simply cannot, forget where we’ve been.

Even still, I can’t bring myself to hate the haters. I don’t believe that some people are simply irredeemably evil and that the white supremacists rallying around my country can be written off as soulless, toxic, bad people. I have to believe that the white supremacists must be hurting, just like the counter-protesters are hurting, just like the African-Americans are hurting. I can only imagine that they were raised to hate, and that if I were raised the way they were, I might be one of those haters too.

It’s easy to get self-righteous, to congratulate myself and my progressive Marin County colleagues for being more enlightened (and therefore more good) than those white supremacists and the people who defend them. It would be easy to write them off as simply ignorant, repulsive, and disgusting. But I can’t quite bring myself to cling to some self-righteousness notion that casts me and my friends as noble defenders of love and truth and condemns white supremacists (or Trump voters in general) as irredeemably evil monsters that we must hate. As Martin Luther King, Jr said, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

I’m not condoning evil, hateful, behavior or suggesting that we shouldn’t take a stand and try to stop it. I’m not supporting how our normally tweet-happy President spent days equivocating before finally coming out with a half-hearted condemnation of the white supremacists intolerable behavior. (Notice how quick he was to condemn the Islamic terrorist attack in Barcelona today, when a terrorist plowed into the crowd, killing 13 and injuring 100 more.) I’m also not trying to employ some kind of spiritual bypassing that uses spiritual platitudes like “It’s all good” or “It’s all an illusion” or “Everything happens for a reason” to bypass our despair, anger, dismay, and grief.

I’m only asking that when we get understandably triggered by hateful action, we notice our reactivity, pause, look deep into our hearts, and ask, “What would love do?” This is not a call for passivity. Love can be ferocious, like the fierce love of a Mama Bear protecting her cubs. But love cannot exist in the presence of hatred. Until we can come back to love, we will be powerless in our efforts to effect true transformation and healing.

Will Americans Stand for Love? 

The quest for Civil Right is not over. We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. Let us not delude ourselves into thinking we can make America great again by hating each other. Let us be willing to consider that, as much as we have achieved as a nation, perhaps America was never that great and that we as a country we are getting what we deserve as we become the laughing stock of the world, tumbling off our pedestal as a global superpower and showing ourselves for what we really have been all along—a greedy, materialistic, consumerist country built upon white supremacy, fueled by the military-industrial complex, ascending upon the aching backs of slave labor and global bullying, and willing to bomb anyone who doesn’t play nice with us in the corporate/oil sandbox. I still love my country, but I think we are outgrowing what our country has stood for. It is time to stand for love, reunion, and true equality.

As the story of who we are as a nation crumbles, things are getting intense, and if you’re even remotely sensitive, you’ll feel a hurting thing deep inside of you. This thing that is hurting is in need of healing.

Charles Eisenstein writes, “We are exiting an old story that explained to us the way of the world and our place in it. Some may cling to it all the more desperately as it dissolves, looking perhaps to Donald Trump to restore it, but their savior has not the power to bring back the dead. Neither would Clinton have been able to preserve America as we’d known it for too much longer. We as a society are entering a space between stories, in which everything that had seemed so real, true, right, and permanent comes into doubt. For a while, segments of society have remained insulated from this breakdown (whether by fortune, talent, or privilege), living in a bubble as the containing economic and ecological systems deteriorate. But not for much longer. Not even the elites are immune to this doubt. They grasp at straws of past glories and obsolete strategies; they create perfunctory and unconvincing shibboleths, wandering aimlessly from “doctrine” to “doctrine”— and they have no idea what to do. Their haplessness and half-heartedness was plain to see in this election, their disbelief in their own propaganda, their cynicism. When even the custodians of the story no longer believe the story, you know its days are numbered. It is a shell with no engine, running on habit and momentum.”

The Trauma of Genocide

It is well known that the German people carry a legacy of shame that resulted from the “ethnic cleansing” of the Holocaust. In 1945, Carl Jung wrote an influential article about the German collective guilt, introducing the term “collective guilt” to the German people and asserting that, for German psychologist, “it will be one of the most important tasks of therapy to bring the Germans to recognize this guilt.” [Jeffrey K. Olick, Andrew J. Perrin (2010), Guilt and Defense, Harvard University Press, pp. 24–25.]

Although most white Germans alive today had nothing to do with murdering millions of innocent Jews and other minorities, there is still a generational wound among the German people that is still healing. At least the German people are trying to heal that Nazi wound, owning this collective guilt, making efforts to atone for the sins of their fathers and mothers, and trying to make amends. At least it is widely accepted that what happened in Nazi Germany was a crime against love.

Yet in the United States, the genocide that was perpetrated upon the Native Americans and the slavery and domestic terrorism aimed at African-Americans is still not fully owned, claimed, or healed. We are not doing a good enough job ending the trauma and making amends to our threatened immigrant brothers and sisters or standing with the innocent Muslim Americans who are subjected to racial profiling and hate crimes. As Americans and citizens of Planet Earth, we must come together and say, “Brothers and sisters, we are so so so sorry. Let us make it right.” Even if it means we must give up some of our white privilege and go overboard to help equalize matters, it is time for us to come together as One People. This doesn’t mean whites don’t have a right to get their needs met too. It means all lives truly do matter. It means we all need to take care of one another’s needs, to join our hearts and our resources and reclaim the tribe of the human race, without preference for race, gender, or sexual identity.

What Can We Do?

In a class I led yesterday about the Charlottesville terrorism, I asked an African-American physician and a Native American lawyer what those of us who have been on the receiving end of unfair levels of white privilege might do to help. The doctor said, “Befriend a person of color, not just as a token gesture. Really love someone of color. Get to know what it’s like to be them.” The lawyer echoed her suggestion. It might sound like a small thing, too small to make a difference. But maybe we can start there. Ask a Muslim person or a gay person or a Native American person or a Black person or a white male, “What is it like to be you?”

I think truth and reconciliation is in order. We need to talk about what hurts and listen generously to one another, even if it’s hard to listen to a hate-spewing KKK member or a self-righteous, pseudo-spiritual, abusive-to-the-abuser counter-protestor. We need to befriend people of different races and be curious when we ask, “What is it like to be you?” We need to listen. We need to feel their pain in our own hearts. We need to apologize, even if we didn’t personally perpetrate those crimes against humanity. We need to witness our own shadow parts, the parts we have disavowed and send into exile, the parts that might have grown into a white supremacist if we had been subjected to the same traumas and conditioning they were. We need to realize “There but by the grace of God go I.”

We need to tell our stories and hold space for those stories to be witnessed with generous openhearted care. We need to call upon our faith to comfort the scared parts in ourselves and use that inner security to look out for our brothers and sisters who feel unsafe right now. We need to be allies, even if it’s hard to resist the temptation to polarize.

Whether you’re one who has enjoyed the benefits of white privilege or one who feels victimized by your lack of it, let us come together—in love, in prayer, in shared intention. As this historic solar eclipse comes our way, let us join together with optimism and hope for unity as we all gaze upon the same sun and moon that shine their light and reflect the darkness within us all.

I love you all,

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