We’re Good, Now.

I’ve been thinking about this question: Can I still wear/eat/drink/listen to/shop at/buy X if the designer/founder/store/musician/artist did/said something racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic? What about redemption?

PC: Jose Revuelta

The short answer is no. Don’t do it. If you have to ask…the answer is pretty clear.

The complicated answer is, everything is tied up in systems and structures of power that marginalize and oppress (ahem, capitalism). So we may very well be left with nothing to support, and everything to abandon.

That’s not an excuse. I’m not listening to Morrissey again, let alone pay to see a concert. Not that I ever did, or would. That’s just an example of a simple answer to the question.

Here is where I’m doing more deep thinking. Nike just put out an ad with Colin Kaepernick, featuring this tagline (parodies abound already): “Believe in something. Even if it means losing everything.” Fox News was offended, suggesting this is a great thing. Nike’s stock fell. But in the long term, is this good for business? Is this continuing the exploitation of athletes of color for the benefit of white corporate greed? That’s where my caution comes. I don’t mean to suggest this ad is only about making money…but I do, because it’s an advertisement! Supporting Kaepernick not only as an athlete but an activist and a person of color willing to sacrifice his work is a great thing. Supporting a corporation with a very abusive history is not. So just because Nike is “woke” now…

What about Nike’s history of horrific labor conditions- including using hazardous chemicals and child sweat shops? Do we ignore these atrocities in favor of supporting a movement?

In this questioning, two points guide my thinking. The first is, forgiveness is irrelevant and not something I feel empowered to offer, but sustained change can make a difference (not saying Nike specifically has changed for the better). According to more recent reports, Nike has attempted to change some of their unethical practices. Does this mean they’re off the hook? Absolutely not. Sharing the ad is important because it means taking up space where a racist or misogynist ad could be. It means I need to constantly question where I spend my resources and realize nothing is entirely pure.

Which leads to the other point. There is no room for complacency here. Questioning every purchase, every donation, even where I spend my time on a daily basis is crucial. It may seem extreme, but supporting a coffee shop that participates in and advances gentrification in a low-income, historic neighborhood is a choice that has an impact.

Supporting companies and people who do have a positive impact is important too, I believe. Recognizing that everything is inter-related, standing for something is important. Activism isn’t always about “losing everything,” it’s about putting our skills and talents to work to create change in every sector. If everything is about sacrifice, it can be difficult to find anything worth fighting for. Activism and movement-building are messy and often provoke questions without answers. I think the best strategy is to engage with the questions, listen, and work to change our own behavior in ways that benefit our communities. Dare I say, Just Do It.

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Lightning Storm

Last night I watched a fantastic Incubus show right underneath a glorious and terrifying lightning storm. I drove 300 miles to Phoenix from San Diego yesterday morning, through the desert, along the steel wall that separates Baja California and Sonora from the United States. Border patrol stopped me, asked to search my trunk, and I said “no.” The agent listened. I went on my way unharmed.

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Photo by David Moum on Unsplash

2000 miles away, some of my greatest heroes stood arm in arm facing men with riot gear and automatic weapons. They weren’t police. These heroes are the clergy of our time. They’re pastors and preachers. Scholar activists. I admired a picture of them standing linked together, singing and praying while just feet from them violence erupted and a young woman lost her life as a terrorist plowed his car into the crowd. Their prayers and songs are heard. They were echoed this morning in churches around the country, and will be this week in many forms of sacred space.
I’ve found such hope in the writings and teachings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. He was an activist, exiled from his home country and now helps people from all nations understand that Buddhist practice requires us to recognize we are all connected. Our suffering is bound up together, and thus we must show up and care for each other.
Sometimes it feels as though my faith has told me not to get attached to the fight for justice. At the root this teaching points to attachment as the core of suffering, and I believe this to be true. But turning off the thirst to learn and simply exist ignorant from the real suffering in my country at this moment does not lead any closer to Nirvana, it only lulls me into false notions of self-care as the only necessary form of practice. We come to the cushion to find awareness of ourselves, and this is called a “practice,” not “our life.”

Because the world is waiting for us when our sit is over. Sitting helps us to be mindful in the action, to remain unattached to outcomes but stand hopeful that love will prevail.
I’m proud of the religious and spiritual leaders for recognizing that they have voices. I was thinking today about the Civil Rights Movement and subsequently the internment of 120,000 Japanese immigrants and American born citizens, two moments that feel both far in time and close in context. We might read about the leaders who ushered change and progress in textbooks, or hang pictures in our offices years from now. But they show us a great example of remaining present in this moment, armed with the texts and words of timeless prophets and teachers, focused on saving lives today.
The lighting storm terrified me. It lit up the sky as if we sat trapped in an electric glass bubble, and the thunder boomed directly on top of us. I kept looking to my right to see if I could run for it. The band had left the stage, and I wanted to book it to my car. But I stayed in my seat, feeling safer among the crowd. The cheers and shouts around me reminded me I wasn’t alone, even if I was terrified. We are not alone in this fight, we have arms to link and songs to harmonize. I am grateful for every pulpit that spoke truth today, especially to call us in.

A Fractured Vision

Taking a 6 am bus is pretty committed. Or silly. I’m not totally sure which. Anyway, at 6 am our bus left Boston for NYC, so I could make it in time for the Revolutionary Love Conference at Middle Collegiate Church. I was looking forward to this gathering for several reasons, including getting to meet the Revolutionary Love Fellows for the first time in person, hearing from many of my activist and organizer heroes, and finally getting the chance to visit Middle Church. The conference focused on racial justice and specifically, how we might make love a public ethic in a time of great division.


As more speakers took the stage- Valarie Kaur, Van Jones, Brian Maclaren, Dr. Eboni Marshall Turman, Dr. Traci West- the crowd filling the sanctuary listened and learned, cheered and encouraged. I felt myself experiencing a sense of joy and belonging that I haven’t for a long time. This is not to say that the content of every speaker’s message was uplifting- in fact, they shared some downright despairing stories and facts. The urgency to do this work together- the work of intersectional racial justice- is not at all overhyped. Yet the authenticity of each person on the stage inspired me to believe I can do the work without knowing all the answers. Perhaps without knowing any answers at all.


During one of the first panels, Anurag Gupta challenged us to imagine a world without racial bias. Gupta is the CEO of Be More America, an organization that trains leaders to examine and let go of unconscious bias.

“Close your eyes,” he asked us. “Imagine what this world would look like.”

I have to admit something- this was an extremely difficult exercise for me. I imagined the big loud streets right outside the church I sat in, in the middle of New York City. If you’ve ever walked down 2nd Avenue on the Lower East Side, you know the cliches are true. There aren’t many places you can smoke hookah at bar owned by an Egyptian man that sits next to world-famous Japanese restaurant on one side and a Halal Indian market on the other. You can meet one million kinds of people in New York City- and yet, this romantic picture does not do justice to the injustice. It would be so easy to sing the praises of diversity without recognizing the bias, the racism, the bigotry. I couldn’t fully imagine a world without the bias, which both scared me and then, empowered me.

One thing I know for sure is that eliminating bias cannot eliminate our differences, any single one. The danger of creating a more similar society is far worse than one in which people must grapple with particularities. As the conference carried on, I realized each person’s vision for fighting racism and bias is not the same- in fact, some of the ideas shared vehemently disagreed with others spoken.

So perhaps the question “what does the world without bias look like” is better asked, “what does A world without bias look like,” recognizing that even the vision must fracture. As Becky Bond and Zack Exley write in Rules for Revolutionaries, “the revolution isn’t handed to us on a silver platter.” We are inventing the mechanism as we build it. The important thing is not to agree completely, but to utilize the variety of gifts we hold to work toward the vision. We learn along the way.