Community Podcast Commusings The Lab EMAIL US Login

Ending Racism in One Generation with Justin Michael Williams

podcast Sep 08, 2020

During this summer of reckoning on social justice, Justin Michael Williams took a step back from his social media and realized that in the flood of traumatizing news we were losing our ability to see a future bigger than our circumstances. So he wrote a long article titled Ending Racism: How to Change the World in One Generation. In this episode, he discusses that hopeful piece and reminds us to be ready for our solutions to actually work.

You can read Justin’s article at EndingRacismTogether.com


Jeff: Cool. Okay, so here we go. Hey, Justin Michael Williams, welcome back to the Commune Podcast. Thanks for being here today.

Justin Michael Williams: Thank you so much, brother, I'm really excited to be back here with you.

Jeff: Likewise. And we are speaking today specifically because you have just written an article that is getting widely circulated on the interwebs entitled Ending Racism: How to Change the World in One Generation. And I know I've seen this article which posits a unique, optimistic and hopeful vision for eradicating racism in our time.

Jeff: And it is, I would say, anachronistic to the general tenor of the debate or the discussion happening in our country at large. And I'll just, as a means to kind of set up our discussion and get into your article, I'll just place it in a bit of context, which is one of the reasons why I find it particularly unique.

Jeff: Obviously, we've had a summer of reckoning on social justice and race issues like we haven't seen in multiple generations, I suppose starting with the murder of George Floyd on May 25th, and here we are on August 31st, just a week and a day after Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times. And kind of between those goalposts, as a country we've seen protests that have involved the estimates I've seen 30 million people-

Justin Michael Williams: Wow.

Jeff: ... which makes them the biggest protests ever that I have been able to actually find or discover. And the nature of those protests have, I think, indicated a lot about where we are in America. Certainly, the movement for black lives has generated more mainstream support than ever. And there is data that I have pulled which I may share later in our discussion around both the support and honestly the growing opposition to the movement.

Jeff: And we've seen protests largely peaceful, but not always in 300 plus cities across the United States. We've seen the deployment of federal agents to cities like Portland. We've seen some municipalities and cities make some efforts to address police violence with defund the police measures, but honestly, a number of them have stalled or been walked back.

Jeff: And this is offset against the backdrop of an election year and a global pandemic in which culture and identity politics is taking center stage. So amidst all of that, somehow you found it in your soul, in your mind, in your heart, to write an extraordinary article about ending racism in our time. So explain how you did that, how you found that.

Justin Michael Williams: You know, Jeff, just hearing you with that few minute recap, I'm like sitting here actually with my head down and just anchoring into it and my eyes closed and like, "Wow, shit." Like this has been a big few months, and it's going to continue to be a big few months. And the truth is, for me, what happened is I had a moment of a complete energetic meltdown with all of it.

Justin Michael Williams: I was sitting in the apartment that I was staying in during COVID, that was temporary for me because my book tour got counseled and all the mess of COVID. And I was sitting in this apartment and I had this moment where it was just after George Floyd had been murdered, and I was so upset. I mean, I was so upset.

Justin Michael Williams: And as a black man just being completely traumatized, I was watching the video and then almost immediately after it happened and the news broke about all of it, being asked to say something about it and give a statement. And I remember this moment feeling like, "Ah. Like, what am I going to say?"

Justin Michael Williams: Like I'm so worked up. There's this part of me that's like, "Burn the whole system down," and there's a part of me that's like, "No peace," and there was a part of me that's ... There was all these disparate parts that were just at war within myself. And I remember I ended up doing a podcast episode with, I was in West Hollywood right near all the protests that were happening here in LA, and there were actually helicopters circling. You can hear them in the back of the podcast episode that I did, trying to figure out what to say.

Justin Michael Williams: And then after that happened and I was able to come through and let my voice come through in a strong way, I just kept feeling this sense that if I was going to really say something I wanted to say something that wasn't just in response to what the media was showing me as truth. Right?

Justin Michael Williams: And this was something that we all know, I think everybody listening. Like obviously there's a lot of propaganda hidden and subconscious, whatever, behind the media and what we're being shown. And a part of what I really believe, Jeff, is that obviously the news and what we're seeing online gives a lot of attention to the extreme polarized sides of the equation, and what I really believe is that most people are actually kind of somewhere in the middle.

Justin Michael Williams: Like most people, when they're not being forced to pick between extremes, when that's not the two options being presented as the only options, most people, including black family members that I have and friends that I have, when they're pulled out of that context of, "Here are your two options," the most polar opposites, and we find ourselves somewhere in some ways in the middle. And obviously it's a spectrum and we find ourselves in different places. And so what I decided to do and I had the complete privilege of doing is, I actually was in Big Sur at Esalen, and I gave myself permission to completely shut off the news, the media, for three weeks.

Justin Michael Williams: And at first I felt completely irresponsible doing it, I had to do some reckoning within myself, I was like, "How, me, somebody who has a voice in this time do this? So important to be disconnecting," and I said, "No. I'm disconnecting from the media, but I'm not disconnecting from what's happening in the world. I'm not disconnecting energetically or even in conversation from what's happening, but I'm disconnecting from this constant barrage of stuff being thrown at me."

Justin Michael Williams: And I did that with one intention, to say, "If I am truly using this time to disconnect with the purpose of seeing what arises, what naturally arises within me that isn't a response to what social media or the media is showing me, what would that be?" And I didn't have an intention, I didn't think I'm going to write an article on ending racism, I didn't know what it was going to be, I just was present with what will arise.

Justin Michael Williams: And this is what arose, very slowly, piece by piece, with thousands and thousands of words that are unused and didn't make it into the article and lots of thoughts and deliberation on my part, and I came out with this message of hope. I came out with this message of hope, because I think one of the things that is happening right now is as we are being just traumatized over and over and over and over, we're losing our ability to see a future that is bigger than our circumstances. And if we can't see a future where our possibilities are bigger than our circumstances, we are in big trouble.

Jeff: Yeah. And I suppose our reality or our human experience right now, as you say, is dominated by our experience on social media and also what we're receiving from the news. And those experiences I would categorize as hyperbolized and generally quite vitriolic and negative.

Justin Michael Williams: Totally.

Jeff: And from the news side because I suppose cynically that's what gets clicks and views, and from the social media side because it just is not a forum that accommodates conversation or nuance, and if there is ever a topic that requires that, it's this one. And so this is why I love the podcast, honestly, because I believe that you can actually have conversations that transcend the meme or the quote card or the performative, and get into the heart of matter. And that's why I also resonate with your article because it's long. And I don't mean to scare people off, it's not-

Justin Michael Williams: It's not that long.

Jeff: ... too long to read.

Justin Michael Williams: It's 20, 30 minute read, yeah.

Jeff: Yeah, and it requires some thought. And you can't come into it without being ready to think and to take in inventory, so that's why I appreciate-

Justin Michael Williams: And I want to say Jeff too, like that was really intentional because so when we were ... So I didn't have a length in mind that I wanted it to be. I knew I didn't want it to be a book, but just it's a 4,000 word article, some people read it in 15 minutes, some read it in 30 minutes, depending on how fast or slow you might read.

Justin Michael Williams: And when we were considering publishing it, I had talked to a few major, major publications about putting it out and they all loved it, but they said, each of them said the same thing, they said, "This is amazing, and the only way for us to publish this is if you cut it short, and I think you cutting this short would be the worst possible thing you could do for this article."

Justin Michael Williams: And I appreciated that, that I was getting a decline from these major media things that I don't think I'm allowed to name, but saying, "We support you, and this is important, and it's important that it's this long, we just don't have the format for it." And it is because right now a lot of the conversation around race and racism and police violence and this is reduced to headlines and memes.

Justin Michael Williams: And you're right, it's not enough. And it almost polarizes us more sometimes because you see one meme and you're like, "Yeah, I agree with that," but it's like, you know, and then you're still on this side of the fence and then you're like see another one, "Oh yeah, well, that must be right too. Oh, well, now I agree with that." And it just kind of, again, like you said, doesn't allow for the nuance that the conversation really requires.

Jeff: ... No, and it creates a binary structure for looking at the issue, whether ... And it forces in some ways people to take sides, like, "I'm for BLM," or, "I'm against BLM," or wherever you end up landing. And obviously-

Justin Michael Williams: It shows you ... Sorry. I was just going to say before we get too far off of this is, a good example of this was I remember when the hashtag DefundThePolice first happened. And my audience is very diverse. Like I have spiritual white women mixed with like young Gen Z activists and all over the world, and I remember a lot of people saying, "What do you think about this?" and I remember thinking, "Ah, this hashtag. Like, I wish this wasn't the hashtag."

Justin Michael Williams: And this shows the danger of everything being reduced to a hashtag. Because I had done the short video, it was a minute and a half long, not long by any stretch of the imagination on Instagram saying, "Hey, everybody, I just want to explain DefundThePolice because I actually think if more of you know what this means then I think more of you will be more in favor of it than not."

Justin Michael Williams: But the hashtag isn't doing it justice, it's about reallocating resources, which happens all the time, and here's science that proves in studies of what makes things safer. And so I'm not telling people to support or not DefundThePolice, but I'm just proving a point that the hashtags themselves can sometimes even cause a bigger problem than the issue that we're actually talking about.

Jeff: Right, completely agree, and I had the exact same reaction to that particular hashtag. In fact, in some of my more cynical moments, I attribute it to a Republican think tank, just because if there's anything that you want to use to freak people out who put a lot of stake in law and order, it's the notion that there will be no more police department, but of course that's not at all-

Justin Michael Williams: Not what it's about.

Jeff: ... what that policy actually stands for. But this is the game in some ways we're all forced to play. And I think being able to kind of think through how we present ourselves, even in its soundbite incarnations, is something to consider.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah.

Jeff: But let's get into the article because that's the meat here. And I will just set it up the way you set it up in your piece, which is so often works and articles on racism are built around the assumption that it cannot end. So that's where you start.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah.

Jeff: So take us from that springboard.

Justin Michael Williams: Great. And I want to take you because I've actually never had ... So this is my first interview about the article, Jeff, which is fantastic, and so I've never had the opportunity to actually talk about this moment more in detail and I'll then spring us from there. But the moment that this happened was when I was at Esalen, and like I said, I didn't disconnect, I was reading every book on anti-racism, I was doing all the work without having the media involved.

Justin Michael Williams: And I was reading the books, and I was reading the articles, and I was listening to podcasts, and I had this moment where I was actually sitting in one of the tubs there, and I said, "Gosh, why is every single book and article and everything that I read use these words that this is going to be a lifelong fight, that in order for this to ever get better, we're going to all have to be in this thing for the rest of our lives?"

Justin Michael Williams: But that had been being said since way before I was alive, and so I'm just like, "Why?" And it really gave me this question of, if so many things, we've created so many major shifts and changes in the world, and if everyone's saying that racism is something that will probably never end or ending it is something that will probably never happen in our generation, I just started asking the question, "Why not?" And that's what started giving birth to this article.

Justin Michael Williams: And I didn't know where it was going to take me, I was just like, "Okay, well, why not? Like why can't racism end? And how amazing would it be for all these leaders and activists and people who are brilliant, that have to dedicate their lives fighting for this cause, like what would these people's mental and resources go towards that would help us build a better world or a future that's better for all of us if racism were to end?"

Justin Michael Williams: And that's where I started to get curious, because I started to research after that, and I was like, "There has to be something out there about somebody talking about it ending," right? And I couldn't find anything, and I was like, "Oh, okay, well, let's explore." And just in my experience as someone who works in the field of human potential and at intersecting social justice, what I know for sure is that unless and until we commit to have it end, there is no possibility of it ending. We may improve, but like what I was thinking is, "God, well, let's play a bigger game here. Let's play a bigger game."

Jeff: Let's put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

Justin Michael Williams: Exactly. Because what happens when you do that is you change the context, right? You change the context of which the situations are existing in.

Jeff: Yeah, and that's the idea of the Apollo mission is not a completely fair analogy, but what I do think it accomplished was it got people to see an idea as bigger than their own particular individual plight. It got them to invest in an idea that was really big and grandiose and transcendent. And I resonated with that piece in that part of the article that puts that flag in the ground.

Jeff: And clearly imagines a future that I would agree with you, I think that almost everyone wants. Not everyone agrees on how to get there, but I would say that just because I generally believe in the intrinsic good nature of people that the overwhelming majority of the people share a vision of equity.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah, I agree. And that's the thing about you saying about how to get there, because what I set up straight in the beginning of the article, and one of my favorite lines in the article, and it was one of the last lines to come through me actually, was right at the end a few days before it came out was, "We are the vessel for the dreams that our ancestors were unable to dream."

Justin Michael Williams: And I say that because the work and research that has happened in the past is incredible. And we would not even be at a point to be able to consider, "Could we end it?" without the work that has happened before us. And that's why it was so special for me to release it on the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington, where Martin Luther King said, "I have a dream," and I said, "Well, we still have a dream, but our dream is expanding because of them, and now it's time for us to dream a bigger dream, a new dream that involves all of us coming together to end this."

Justin Michael Williams: And the one thing that I like to be very careful of as I'm talking about this is I'm not saying that the anti-racist work or the different work that's been done in the past isn't important, but what I'm saying is imagine how much more important all the work that we're all doing now, all the donating, all the activism, all the dismantling, all the books, all the podcasts, imagine how much more important that all becomes if we weren't doing it as some sort of bootcamp to be in a lifelong fight for these individual specific problems, but if we had a common united goal of doing those very same things with the intention of ending racism in this generation, not just fighting against these particular problems.

Jeff: Yeah, it's important reframing, that in some ways is psychological for people. And as you say, it's not a kind of woo-woo law of attraction kind of thing, although I'm certainly willing to go there with you on a different episode of the podcast.

Justin Michael Williams: Totally.

Jeff: But it is about really changing the perception of what people think is possible.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah.

Jeff: So one of the kind of key components that you discuss within the article are a set of shared but individual assumptions that you spend a good amount of words taking on and debunking in a lot of ways, so maybe this is a good time to talk about those.

Justin Michael Williams: Perfect. Yeah. And I think as I get into those, it's important to kind of name what I mean by shared and individual assumptions, because what that basically means is that we have to own and acknowledge that we, as people, at first as ... And everything that I'm looking at, at this article is at the individual level and the collective level, not as two separate individual things only, but as a thing that also intersects, because we're all affecting one another and the collective is affecting us.

Justin Michael Williams: And what we have to know is that we all see things through a certain lens or a perspective, and if enough of us agree upon that perspective, even if it's false, then that perspective is what becomes our reality. For example, it's thinking black people should be slaves or women are inferior, then that becomes the context that causes a certain way of life to persist, a certain way of life to keep going.

Justin Michael Williams: And so that's why, for me, I was interested in breaking down these shared perspectives, because once you're in a problem for long enough, I think it's important to shift the question that we're asking. Instead of asking, "What is the problem?" or, "What's causing the problem?" I think we ask, "What's causing the problem to persist?" And that's a different question completely. And for me, this came down right to these assumptions. So do you want me to just jump into the first one?

Jeff: Yeah, sure.

Justin Michael Williams: Okay, cool. So the article really aims to dismantle these five faulty perspectives, and the first one is that racism is unavoidable. Okay? And the thing that's really interesting about this is we know this is not true. It's been proven by neuroscientists and psychologists all over that racism is learned, it's not like an automatic human condition.

Justin Michael Williams: And the thing that we have to say that's really important here that I didn't get to say in the article, again, because of trying to keep the word count a little lower is, "Even though we know that scientifically, I think most of us still believe, again, our perception that racism is something that is a human condition."

Justin Michael Williams: And when we say something is a human condition, it becomes this excuse or like a justification of, "Well, we can't do anything about it. We can't do anything about it because it's inherited, we didn't choose it, and that's why it's a condition because you just wake up and you're in a racist world, and that's just the way it is."

Justin Michael Williams: And what that causes is a complete diminishing of the human spirit, a complete for everyone. Because basically we're saying this thing that we all know, I think most sides know except for the dramatic extreme, I would say most people know and agree that racism and the effects of racism are profoundly immoral and evil.

Justin Michael Williams: And somehow, we've resigned ourselves to that, and I think resignation is ultimately the absence of possibility. And that's what this piece really intends to do is to create possibility in this space. And if we are saying it's just a human condition, it's just what happens, then we're immediately resigning ourselves. And one of the things I say in the article is we can look at this in some other ways.

Justin Michael Williams: Whenever we say something is unavoidable, we immediately absolve ourselves from taking responsibility and we throw our hands up in the air and we just say, "Well, I can't do anything about that." And that would be the equivalent of saying, "Well, I can't do anything about slavery. We can't do anything about gay marriage. We can't do anything about the spread of HIV. Can't do anything about women's rights. Can't do anything about racism." And I end that section by saying, "Until somebody does," and really the somebody is we, "Until somebody does, then the context and the space of possibility changes."

Jeff: Yeah, it's interesting. I mean, we, as humanity, tend to often succumb to notions of structuralism that posit that the world shapes the self. And that here we are as a product of our parents, the media, video games, whatever, hundreds of inputs that create all of these patterns that are implicit and bias being one of them.

Jeff: And if we can move from a structuralist vision of the world, where the world shapes itself, to a more, I would say, humanistic vision of the world where the self actually shapes the world, then I think a lot of these problems become much more solvable.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah. And I think it's both, and that's why I said in the beginning, "Everything is approached from ... " I think one of the biggest mistakes, not the biggest, but a big mistake that we've made is in the Human Potential Movement, for example, there has been this overemphasis in the individualized self, right, and the expansion of the individualized self and the quote unquote "transcendence of the individualized self."

Justin Michael Williams: And when we think of when the Human Potential Movement even started in the West, which gives a great example of this, was during the civil rights era by a lot of really privileged people who were able to escape to spiritual retreat centers and say, "I don't need to focus on anyone else, I just need to focus on me, and everything's fine."

Justin Michael Williams: And then on the flip side of that, we see the collective, we see the social justice movement that's completely mostly focused on just the collective and has this faulty part that just refuses to take the learning within, it's a lot of pointing fingers. And I think what's happening right now is we're noticing that in order for any of this to change, we have to recognize the truth and get out of this delusion of separation that it's all affecting one another in this cyclical way, and so we have to be tackling both at the same time.

BREAK

Justin Michael Williams: Going into the second point which is about race mattering. So this was a big one for me to write, and I went back and forth on changing this title several times because I was like, "Wow. Especially with the movement like Black Lives Matter, like am I going to really say that we have a false shared perspective that race matters? Like, can you find softer words, Justin?"

Justin Michael Williams: And it just kept coming back. I changed it like four times and it just kept coming back. And I think I was being sensitive to specifically my fellow people of color, because it's hard to face and say that race really is a complete fabrication of the human mind that is used for power and control and to maintain power and control. It's a complete social construct, it's a delusion, an alternative fact. And we have, as a society, built our entire civilization on something that is not real.

Justin Michael Williams: And I think what's important for me to name here is I'm not saying that the effects of racism aren't real, obviously the trauma and the deaths and the lives lost and the impact of racism has had very real consequences, but what I really believe is that most of us, and I find this with most people that I talk to, if we really break down race as an individual concept, I don't think most people really actually care that much about race itself.

Justin Michael Williams: It's like we were taught to care about it and so we do. What I find people care about is obviously our heritage and our cultures and our traditions and equality, and even just being honored for our different skin colors, and knowing that we all have different experiences, but the concept of race as an individual concept does nothing but cause us harm. And one of the lines that I say in the article that I think has been quoted the most is that racism created race, not the other way around.

Jeff: Yeah. Certainly I have heard theories posited that the core reason for slavery or what stood behind it was honestly capitalism, and that racism then became sort of an excuse later on for the legitimizing its existence. And I heard an interview with a guy named Thomas Chatterton Williams maybe last week, and he was addressing some of this very same issue.

Jeff: And he talks a lot about like, "Well, where does my race start and end?" He's like, "I did 23 in me," or whatever, "And it turns out that I have 28%," I don't remember the exact percentage, but like, "Pan European blood. And my kids have less than that, but they have a quote unquote 'black father and white mother,' and where does that put them in terms of their race?" And as you say, I mean, that culture and identity and tradition and skin color is real, but these notions of race are very illusory.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah. And let's just think ... We're so used to talking about race in a black context, right, but let's even look at the definition of white as being seen as a race. Like in the US, historically, it used to not even include Italian or Irish people, right? And Jewish people and were treated as other by non-Jewish people for ages.

Justin Michael Williams: And so we see that like where does it end and begin, it is totally something that shifts with our social constructs. It's a historical interpretation or a cultural interpretation that we're making on race. And it's interesting talking about Kamala Harris and just how she identifies as black and in the way that she does, and the different people in the world who may have grown up Jamaican or this and that, but they're like, "Well, I'm black," and that's because race is something that we're defining as culture is moving along.

Justin Michael Williams: And so it just seems to me that it's something that we were taught very specifically to hold onto and to care about, and we've created all these realities based upon this thing that was really just created, like you said, as a means to enforce power and control and capitalism, and to keep the money flowing in the way that it was.

Jeff: Yeah. Okay. Here we are.

Justin Michael Williams: Number three.

Jeff: Number three.

Justin Michael Williams: Okay, cool. So going into, this is one of my favorite ones to write. So the number three is called those people will never change. And we all say this, right? Like, "Oh, well, the ... " Some things that I hear that I didn't put in the article, but saying, "We're just going to have to wait for those people to die off, until we can change it," or ...

Justin Michael Williams: We're going to have people say stuff like that all the time or like, "Oh, those people over there." And it's coming from both sides. People, if I'm just being binary about it, which probably isn't good, but just saying, like black people saying, "Oh, well, those racist white people need to change," and then white people saying, "Well, those black people need to change."

Justin Michael Williams: And the thing is we said people never change, but all throughout our lives we can usually pretty easily point to and tell stories of people that have. And not just people like way out there, but people in our own lives and our own family line. So I'll tell you the story in the article is interesting, but I'll tell you a more personal one that I was debating on putting in the article or not.

Justin Michael Williams: And I chose not to because I didn't want to make the article about me at all. But in my own family, I'm half black, my dad's black and my mom is Persian and Italian. And my mom is adopted actually into a fully Italian family. So imagine me this little black kid growing up in a household with like all white blonde hair cousins with like the Italian Catholic dinners on Sundays, and because my parents were divorced.

Justin Michael Williams: And the thing is, when my mom got engaged to my father, my family, my mom's side of the family, completely disowned her, they kicked her out of the house at 20 years old or whatever it was. And she went to go live with my dad's family because my family was so racist to even believe that my mom, like how dare my mom marry a black man and want to be in a relationship with a black man, and they thought they could get her to get out of it.

Justin Michael Williams: And what happened in our family is my ... As like most older Italian families, like my grandparents came from Sicily on a boat, and they had nine brothers and sisters. And what happened is after my mom and dad actually got married, which my grandparents didn't go to the wedding, the family had a big meeting and my grandparents felt so bad, and they said, "We're going back. We don't want to do this, it didn't work. We thought it was going to end it, and we love her and we want to welcome her back."

Justin Michael Williams: And the other half of the family said, "If you go back, we're never speaking to you again." And what happened was my family literally split in half. I have four great aunts and uncles who I have never met ever because of the racism that existed within my own family.

Justin Michael Williams: Now, where this goes to the point of people will never change is my grandparents who were super racist, what ended up happening is my mom and dad got divorced and my mom was a single mom and my grandparents raised us. And they were the most loving, caring, kind, compassionate, and so were my great aunts and uncles, people that I had ever been around, the most positive forces that I've ever seen in my life, and they loved us inside out and it changed their experience of race all the way.

Justin Michael Williams: And so when I talk about people changing, I'm not talking about it as some theory, I'm really speaking about it in my own family and in my own blood. And I think we can all point to situations like this, we can point to our once racist family members or friends, or our formerly kind of tone deaf coworkers, or are used to be homophobic relatives, or even just the ways we've personally grown in this last year alone learning about race. And so what I say is people change all the time, and racists are not exempt from that.

Jeff: Yeah, I totally agree with you, and I can draw on examples in my own family that relate to that kind of evolution and progression. It also makes me think of something that I read in Ibram Kendi's book that struck me and I thought was interesting, where he emphasizes the use of racist as an adjective and not as a noun.

Jeff: And I think he uses the example, though I'll probably bastardize it a little bit by accident, but he uses the idea that being a racist or being an anti-racist is not a permanent condition, that this is like a sticker that we're taking on and off throughout our whole life every day, and that this is a process and hopefully through self-examination and self-reflection that we get to that place where we're most often wearing the anti-racist sticker.

Jeff: But that you can engage in behaviors that produce inequities, and that, that will be you acting in a way that is racist, but that is not your permanent condition, and with further examination that you can actually engage in behavior and adopt policies that create or produce equity. And so that this is a changeable, immutable condition.

Jeff: So that is something that I found from his book; How to Be an Antiracist, of course, that I think framed that idea in a way that I could really under understand it. And I think your example too about Greg in your article, I think, rings true for so many people because who doesn't know a Greg, right?

Justin Michael Williams: Right. Totally.

Jeff: And who can't, actually, if we're honest with ourselves, recognize some form of Greg in ourself, whether it needs to be deeply zoomed or not? So I think that this was a ... I can see why you got your teeth into writing that section-

Justin Michael Williams: It was a really fun section.

Jeff: ... because everybody can relate to it, I think.

Justin Michael Williams: Totally. And for people who I know, because I didn't talk about Greg, you'll read about Greg in the article, but it's a friend of mine who literally used to be a racist white supremacists and who now, like the short story is, who now, when I met him, was asking me for resources to help teach his young five-year-old white son how to grow up not being racist and has done like tons of anti-racist work, so I think they will have fun reading that story.

Justin Michael Williams: And you just brought something up that I think is important, Jeff, is that this article is not just for white people. And I think this is a really important thing to name, and because ending racism can't just be for ... A lot of the language that I'm hearing right now is like, "Black people didn't start racism so white people are the ones who need to end it."

Jeff: Right. This is a white person problem, yeah.

Justin Michael Williams: And I completely disagree, and I firmly disagree with this because that goes along to say that like, again, that we're in these siloed worlds that could somehow not be affecting one another. And while I think it's important to name that we have different work to do, like the work that white people have to do to end racism is sometimes and often different than the work black people or people of color or indigenous people need to do to end racism, we all have work to do, because if we want to be living in this world together, we're going to have to be in this process together.

Justin Michael Williams: And so I feel like regardless of who points the finger of blame or who started it even, we're now here living in this context and it's going to be up to all of us to redo it or to undo it. And I felt that as I was reading several of the books, particularly Layla Saad's, Me and White Supremacy, which I loved because I read it all the way through, and she says in the beginning of the book's for white people.

Justin Michael Williams: And she talked so beautifully about how people can be good white people and not feel like they're racist and how those are the most important people to be doing this work. And I agree, but I was reading and I was noticing things within myself as a black man that matched these racist white supremacist ideals that were living inside of me underneath my skin color.

Justin Michael Williams: Things like me walking down the street and seeing a group of black guys and me actually being more scared than if I saw a group of white guys, even though I'm black. And how does that play out for all of us regardless of what color skin suit we're wearing right now? 

Justin Michael Williams: Number four. And this was the scariest one for me to do. I did this one late, and I knew that ... I said, "If this point doesn't go then ..." And I wasn't trying to push it, I just wanted to research, and if it doesn't go, then I'm not going to be able to write this article. Like this was the essential point.

Justin Michael Williams: And it's that idea or the perspective, the false perspective that we have, that real change takes a long time. And what I really said in the article was like, even if we agree that racism is unavoidable and that we don't really care about the concept of race individually or that people can change, that ending racism in our generation must still be unrealistic because it will take too long. Right?

Justin Michael Williams: And what was so beautiful about the uncovering of this is I did tons of research, and there was many more things that I didn't include here, where I looked at some of the most massive changes in recent human history and kind of gave each of them an obvious start and end date that represented kind of an unmistakable widespread shift.

Justin Michael Williams: And I did this in the context remembering my article is about ending racism in one generation, which I'll talk about why the timeline is important in a moment. And I wanted to see how long did it take to make some huge, massive unmistakable shifts in the world.

Justin Michael Williams: And we see that, for example, in 1973, we had the first phone call ever made on a handheld cellular phone, and on 1995 we had widespread global use of mobile phones. That's 22 years. I'll just give a few examples here. But in 2004, the first state in the United States legalized same sex marriage, and in 2015 it was national legalization of same sex marriage. That's 11 years.

Justin Michael Williams: 1903, Wright brothers take their first flight. 1920, we had complete widespread global commercial airline. 17 years. And this was a really interesting one for me to look at. 1933 was when Hitler took his first ever position of leadership in any organization ever.

Justin Michael Williams: And the formation, and the first starting of the formation of the Nazi party in 1933, and by 1945 the Holocaust had ended. And that was 12 years. From Hitler's first ever, ever doing something of being a leader until it being over was 12 years.

Justin Michael Williams: And obviously we gave the example earlier of the first satellite launched into space was 1957, and then we had man land on the moon 12 years later. And so it posed me to ask this question of, "Does real change actually take a long time?" And the answer for me was no.

Justin Michael Williams: In almost all of these cases it took less than one generation, which is usually considered 20 to 25 years to make a widespread change. And I have to give one really important disclaimer here, like does every change in human history fall into this timeline? Of course not.

Justin Michael Williams: And were there of course tons of just years and years and years of unrewarded and unrecognized labor that came before those quote unquote "start dates that I have."? Of course there were. But my intention with this section is obviously not to minimize all the work that had come before us, but to really prove one point, it's that once the ground has been prepared for us, which I believe it is now, then real change can happen and it can happen fast. And so that's where I want to get people into the possibility of is that we can do this and we can do it fast.

Jeff: Yeah. And I might underscore this point with how quickly we've been able to change our behavior in the context of the pandemic.

Justin Michael Williams: Totally.

Jeff: I mean, environmentalist who have been pulling their hair out for generations and generations, who say like, "Oh, well, we'll never stop flying," or, "We'll never stop commuting to an office building," or whatever, there's a hundred examples, and you can see that humans do have the ability to change their behavior very quickly given within extraordinary circumstances.

Jeff: But I think your point is well taken as once the soil is cultivated then you can grow things. And certainly, for me, like Obama, we had a two term African American president, the notion of Kamala Harris being on the ticket as a vice presidential candidate, I don't really think surprises very many people. Certainly there are plenty of people that do not support her as I have found out firsthand because I wrote a very, very long article last week that I published.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah, I saw it.

Jeff: And boy, publishing that in a Facebook environment is-

Justin Michael Williams: Tricky.

Jeff: ... Yeah, you can spend a lot of time in there defending it. But for I think the vast majority of Americans, that soil had been cultivated, and does not seem at all shocking or surprising. So I think your point is well taken here. And I could see some folks that might point out that you published this on the 57th anniversary of the I Have a Dream speech, and there's still people marching in the streets in Kenosha and Portland and all across America.

Justin Michael Williams: Exactly.

Jeff: So I think that this is obviously a vision, a very, very hopeful vision for the future, which I share. And you're absolutely right, it is built upon the toil and the suffering and the hard work of generations of folks that have dedicated their lives to it.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah. And it brings me to an important point that I want to name here about why putting a timeline on it, because this was an interesting thing for me to wrestle with was, "Okay. Like, why would I have to put a timeline on it?" And it's because when we put a timeline on something, that's when we actually are committed to doing it and committed to it being a real possibility of something. If it's just some, "Oh, maybe one day this can happen," or whatever, then it just stays that way, and so-

Jeff: Well-

Justin Michael Williams: ... Go ahead.

Jeff: ... certainly even in the most banal example of all time, once this podcast hit my little scheduler app, it was happening. So we need to put the end of racism right into Google Cal.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah. And it shows like this has happened when we looked, we gave the example of man on the moon, like saying, when Kennedy says this is going to happen in 10 years. And at that point it just seemed impossible. And what happens though is like we talked about, it creates a completely different context.

Justin Michael Williams: And at a certain point when you change the context, even the things that you're doing that are happening to quote unquote "fight against it or be against it," actually help make the solution occur. But that only happens when you change the context, because now even the peoples who say, "Oh, well, you can never get a man on the moon because we don't have this kind of metal," well, that then helps the people create the kind of metal that we need. But only if we have the goal of getting the man on the moon, otherwise no one creates it.

Jeff: Yeah. And who puts the flag in the ground there? I mean, what ... Obviously, you have, but does it take a potential President Biden to make this declaration? Does it come from a more I suppose more bottom up perspective? I mean, who puts the flag in the ground?

Justin Michael Williams: I think it's all of us. I think it's all of us placing a flag in the ground. And that literally is the point of me writing this article and the point of creating the pledge that surrounds it, to get people to realize that it is going ... Because even if Biden or somebody says we're going to end racism, if people don't believe we can end it, it's not going to end.

Justin Michael Williams: And so it has to be each of us individually, and absolutely to get somebody who has a massive, massive reach makes a dramatic impact because we have to hit kind of a certain amount of people who've put their personal flag in the ground to then make it a huge collective flag throwing, waving, putting. Yeah.

Jeff: Yeah. Okay, take us to number five.

Justin Michael Williams: Number five, my final point. So the fifth point is very simple and it's this perspective that we quote unquote, "don't know how to end racism." And this is a big one because I think a lot of people say, "Well, if we knew how to end it, we already would have." Right? And I think this assumption is probably the worst one of all.

Justin Michael Williams: I don't want to say the worst meaning the most harmful, but it's just like so silly because there are already plenty of not just good, but like really good solutions of, and ideas for solutions and programs and theories and entire college campuses dedicated to this cause.

Justin Michael Williams: And there's been models and systems and structures, and now all the New York Times bestselling books that have been created that can solve this problem, and not just hypothetically. Like when we look in a more micro way, if we look in our organizations or in our communities or in our families as a unit, as individual units, we see that we have in some ways, when we're in those bubbles, solved the racism problem in those bubbles, or at least changed it dramatically.

Justin Michael Williams: And so we can do this on a massive global level. And I think one of the things that I say here that I think is important is we aren't actually waiting for better solutions, just like we weren't waiting for better solutions to end slavery. It didn't take, "Oh, we need a better roadmap or model for how we're going to end it," and we didn't need better solutions to end the Holocaust.

Justin Michael Williams: As a society and as individuals and as a collective, what we needed was to actually be ready, to be ready for our solutions to work. To be willing and ready for the solutions to actually work, and that has to do with that putting the flag in the ground. And my brother, Nico Cary, who's an incredible writer and mindfulness teacher with inside L.A., he said this quote to me on the phone once, that was just so profound that I included it here, he just said, "Gosh, are we so bound to our pain that we're not ready for liberation? Are we not ready for that?"

Justin Michael Williams: And that really moved me because I think a lot of us are like you talked about, tied to the identities and tied to it. I think a lot of us are tied to this notion of fighting against this problem instead of fighting for or moving toward the solution. And those are two very different things that accomplish very different goals. And so I just felt like a really important thing to name here towards the end of the article.

Jeff: Yeah. I want to pose this question in the right way. Do you feel that most black people are bound to that pain so much so that it impedes upon the ability to find this equity that we all envision?

Justin Michael Williams: I think it's a mix. So I'll say bound and I'll define bound in two ways. So first, I don't know if it's most black people or not, I'll just say that I don't have no idea. But I'll say that what I find from the people that I work with is that some people are bound to it because, again, they think that things are part of a human condition and they have this perspective that will never change, and then some people are bound to it because the system literally has them in bondage to it.

Justin Michael Williams: And this is where the racism on an internal level, on a systemic level and on a level of personalized racism against individual people all applies here in this word bound. And what I do think, I'll say this, is the way that I find much of ... I want to say this properly.

Justin Michael Williams: The way that I experience a lot of the work that's happening right now, without discrediting it or dishonoring it or saying that it's not useful, is that a lot of it when we talk about ending racism, people start arguing about how it's going to happen and what it should look like on the other side, and how exactly, what pathway it should go through.

Justin Michael Williams: And that would be like literally a caterpillar arguing with mother nature about, "Well, I'm not getting into this cocoon until you tell me exactly what color my wings are going to be and exactly what pattern the wings are going to have and how many days I'm going to be in the cocoon. And if it's pink, I'm not getting in, but if it's purple or orange, I'm down."

Justin Michael Williams: You're laughing because it sounds so ridiculous, but you recognize that, that's what we're doing, like, "Oh, well, what's going to happen to my right leg when I become a butterfly? Like where is that ... Are those cells going to go?" But we know what happens scientifically when ... And I'm not reducing racism to a caterpillar, butterfly, but I think it's a useful metaphor is, when a Caterpillar goes into the cocoon, all of the cells become what's literally called imaginal cells, that's what they're called in science.

Justin Michael Williams: And so the cells have possibility and potential to become anything. And so where I'm coming from with this article is we have to, instead of looking from the caterpillar perspective asking, "How the hell are we ever going to fly?" we have to stand in the perspective of racism ending and look back and say, "What did we do now? What do we do? If it ended, what did we do now?"

Justin Michael Williams: And that's the reason I put out this article, because I said if it's going to end what happened now, well, somebody had to put something out that made people think that it ending was possible. That has to be the first step.

Jeff: That's beautiful. Yeah.

Justin Michael Williams: So that's it.

Jeff: Hmm. I love that, Justin, that's beautiful.

Justin Michael Williams: Thank you.

Jeff: I'm marking that right now because I know that's going to be a highlight. So assuming that people can discard a lot of these misunderstandings that stand in the way of eradicating racism, the five that you've enumerated, then what do we do now? And I think this is a question that the logistical mind always goes to like, "Give me some actionable steps."

Jeff: To be honest, I don't think that, that's really the crux of what you've done here, I think the crux of what you've done is what you've already beautifully articulated is to set forth a vision for the eradication and ending of racism, which to be honest, I haven't really seen before. And so I think that, that is the main goal that you've been able to accomplish here. But for, I think, folks that then are like, "Okay, I'm down with that. I share that vision," help them to channel some of their energy.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah, great. So a few things, number one is like you said, Jeff, my goal of this article was not to provide better solutions or like the step by step plan, "Now here's how we're going to go into every part of the world and end racism," but it was to get people to open up into this possibility that it can end, that, that itself is possible.

Justin Michael Williams: And I love this quote by one of my mentors, Jim Selman, it's one of my favorite quotes of all time actually, he says, "There are lots of conversations about change, but that's different than conversations that actually change something." And what I did was I said, "Okay, if people are going to want steps," because I know I would want steps, "What steps are appropriate given this article and what the information that I've shared this far?"

Justin Michael Williams: And so I found this incredible study done in 2018 by University of Pennsylvania and the University of London that discovered that it takes the support of about 25% of people to make a major social shift in the world. And these numbers have varied throughout the years, but this is one of the most recent studies that has been done.

Justin Michael Williams: And the thing is when I say that, "Okay, we need to get 25% of people to believe that racism can end," what comes up for a lot of people first is they say, "Well, aren't there already 25% of people who think racism can end?" And the thing is I don't think so. I don't think 25% of people had even thought about the concept of, "Can racism end?" because I had never thought of it until that moment sitting in the bathtub, in the hot springs when I was reading.

Justin Michael Williams: And I think what happens is more than 25% of people want it to end. I think more than 25% of people agree that it's wrong and think that the fight against racism matters, but I don't think 25% of people have actually thought this can end, and I as an individual and my organization and my company can make an impact.

Justin Michael Williams: I think we've thought, "Well, we can be more diverse," or, "We can create more equity," or we can do all these different things, and while those things are nice, they just become gestures within the persistent problem ultimately. And so I'm not saying don't do those things, I'm saying do those things with a new intention, with the intention of ending racism.

Justin Michael Williams: And so what I say is we can't just fight to end police brutality just for the sake of ending police brutality, we need to fight against police brutality for the sake of ending racism. And we can't just be fighting to dismantle white supremacy just for the sake of creating more diversity in our workplaces or creating more nice white people, we need to be dismantling it with the intention of ending racism.

Justin Michael Williams: We can not keep fighting for the liberation of people just to have people continue to be engaged again, we have to start saying, "Even though this is the version of work that I'm doing, I'm doing it for the sake of ending racism in this generation." And so that is what led me to creating the main call to action in this article which is the pledge to end racism.

Justin Michael Williams: And the goal is to get 25% of the population to sign it. And for me, that marker, like that gives us a marker to say, "Okay, we have a number of people that we need to hit, it's a lot of freaking people, but so what? Why not? And let's spread this into the corners of the world that we can reach." And so the main call to action right now is, here's the truth, if enough people don't believe it can end, even if you believe it can end, it won't end. We need enough people to believe, and so that's, like for me, that's the big step here.

Jeff: Yeah, I agree. Part of what I wrote last week in the Kamala Harris sort of bridge to the future of America article, was very much focused on sort of the evolving demographics of the United States. And through the research that I've been doing, it's pretty clear that in right around 2042 or so that white people will cease to be a majority in the United States.

Jeff: And that's largely due to influx of Latin American immigrants and Asian immigrants, and also, the great propensity for those two particular immigrant groups to marry interracially. And the future pastiche of the United States is inexorably multi-racial. And that's just a fact, so that's just going to happen. And I think when it does, I mean, I think we're experiencing, right now in this moment, the idea that, that inevitability is very threatening to some people.

Justin Michael Williams: Totally. I was hoping you were going to say that. Yeah.

Jeff: Yeah. And so notions of ending racism for people that have honestly accrued benefit from it is very, very scary, and especially if those people themselves feel like they've been quote unquote "left behind." I am on the pendulum between optimistic and hopeful and then also scared, and not necessarily pessimistic, but have my guard up, which is why I have great hope fullness in a more multi-racial, and honestly, kind of secular humanist society.

Jeff: There is also sort of the dystopia opposite possibility which is, as the white population begins to decline in the United States and we're vying for resources, and there's climate catastrophe and all that kind of stuff, there could be a very dystopic side to that, and I think you're seeing some of that right now in the vitriol of some of America, which is we all bunker even further into our quote unquote "in-groups" and vie for ever diminishing resources.

Jeff: So this is the great wedge or chasm right now that we need to cross. And I think that just goes to underscore even how important I think your decree is, because my hope is that through this evolving demography in the United States, it expands sort of the marketplace of ideas to include a whole variety of cultures and races and traditions for more input.

Jeff: And just from a pure perspective, evolutionary perspective, better ethics and morality and philosophies and stronger social cohesion should emerge from that, versus the constant pressure of having minority groups assimilate into a dominant white culture.

Justin Michael Williams: Totally. Yeah. I mean, and this is huge, and I think one of the things that you're saying is something that I've been working on. So like for greater context, for people listening who haven't heard me speak before is, all of my work really intersects the Human Potential Movement, personal growth, mindfulness and social justice, and I weave in a little music too.

Justin Michael Williams: But the reason why I say that here is because this isn't the only step obviously we need to take that I'm talking about in this article, there's many steps. And one of the things that you brought up is, and I'm sure for the white people, even listening can feel this fear of that happening because the world changes a lot when there's no longer a white majority, right?

Justin Michael Williams: And that might be why we're seeing everything we're seeing today. And the reason I'm commenting on this, Jeff, is because if we don't ... Hmm, I'll say this, this way. Because our country has not dealt with the unworked trauma, unworked through trauma of slavery, of course the enslavers should be terrified of the people they kidnapped.

Justin Michael Williams: You know what I mean? Like, of course. This fear has driven this in-group, out-group distinction that is literally been 400 plus years in the making, and so like there's a deep reckoning that has to happen. And whether people like Marianne Williamson for her politics and what she's talking about online or not, it doesn't matter in this context, but I think one of the things that I appreciate about the narrative that she's pushed forward so clearly is it's going to take some internal work and some atonement, and some real truth telling and reckoning that everyone in our country is going to have to do for us to see this big change.

Justin Michael Williams: And that's really where all of my work is, my work is about the internal work that we have to do to make the external world show up differently. And so of course people are afraid of that, and understandably, and that's why we have to start doing the work now, otherwise 2042 is going to be scary.

Jeff: Yeah, I agree. I'll finish with this question, and it's a very difficult question.

Justin Michael Williams: I'm ready.

Jeff: And it's difficult because I've been grappling with it and I'm not sure I have an answer, though I'm reading all sorts of political theory to kind of inform it, is what does the end of racism look like? And is the end of racism equivalent to equity, in so far as everyone has the same benefits from society, or is it ... Because I think about society's ability to probably co-exist with quite a bit of inequity. Like not everyone wants to be Jeff Bezos.

Justin Michael Williams: No.

Jeff: And some people want to do social work, and some people want to go write a book in the woods, and there's a million things that people-

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah, putting my hand up there.

Jeff: ... Yeah, me too. There's a million different decisions or desires that people have that if given the freedom of opportunity to select that particular path in life would create inequities from a pure financial perspective. So I guess this is what I'm really trying to envision is like, what is this future that our hearts know is possible? How does that instantiate, what does that actually look like? And I don't have a really good answer for it other than just to say that the equity should be in the access to the opportunity to make that decision about your life, but-

Justin Michael Williams: That's it. I mean, for me-

Jeff: ... that's as far as I've got.

Justin Michael Williams: ... that's actually. And I think the important thing to name, Jeff, is that if you're looking at all of it through the context of money, right, and who has a more and who has less, then it's going to appear that there's always a problem if that's a problem.

Justin Michael Williams: And I'm not saying that, I want to be very clear that I'm not saying that the inequity that's happening in the financial and economically is not an issue, it's a major issue, but when I'm looking at the end of racism, I'm not defining it by does everybody have a similar amount of money at all. But I think my hope, I can tell you what my dream is, and I'll also just say that part of I think the issue and the reason why people can't get behind ending it has to do with this very question.

Justin Michael Williams: We're spending so much time wondering what it's going to look like when it happens. We don't know. We couldn't know. That was exactly what I meant with the caterpillar, butterfly thing, we don't know. Like, okay, what's going to happen if there's no more racism? What's going to happen to the NAACP? What's going to happen to all the people with social justice degrees?

Justin Michael Williams: Just like for somebody saying, "If cancer ended, what happens to all people who've gotten their degrees and all the oncology centers and all the doctors?" Like, I think part of the reason why some things don't end, I'm not saying ... Anyway, I'll just ... You get what I'm saying, is because we get so caught up in the question of, "Well, what exactly is it going to look like when it's over?" and instead of just saying, "Let me do what I can now to work through ending it."

Justin Michael Williams: And I think where we have to stand from is we have to stand in the possibility of it ending. Remembering that possibilities don't exist in reality, right, none of them do, but we have to stand in the possibility of it ending. And that's where I'm standing in the end of racism, I'm standing in this moment where it's ended, and then I ask the question, "What else do I see?"

Justin Michael Williams:

And I think it's more important to ask what happened backwards than it is to try to imagine what happens after, because who the hell knows? There's going to be so many things.

Justin Michael Williams: The one thing that I do believe should exist in that space is what you said, is that we have the choice to actually choose with freedom to live in the fullness of the dignity and the humanity, and the abundance, and the options and the choices that is our birthright, and that everyone has that opportunity. And of course, that's going to present itself some different problems, but hopefully those problems don't include racism. And so that's where I'm at with it.

Jeff: I love it. Well, I look forward to liquefying in the pupae with you and surrendering to a little bit of the uncertainty of what this is going to look like, but certainly joining you in the vision and the fight that it will inevitably entail. And I'm very grateful for your work, for this article, for your vision, and also just for your ability to really engage well with me, I'll say that, and let me stumble clumsily through some of these issues as I educate myself and find my footing and find my vocabulary, and I think you do that with a lot of grace so very great.

Justin Michael Williams: We're all doing it, I understand that we're all doing it. And I want to just say to people as we're closing is, obviously signing the pledge is a step, and one thing that I'm super proud of is we launched in the timing for this article to come out an Ending Racism Grant & Scholarship Fund, which has been so cool to see people supporting that, where we're going to be funding vetted individuals and grassroots organizations who've taken the pledge, because this is about each of us doing the work that we're put here to do.

Justin Michael Williams: And there are some people who are really dedicating their whole lives to this, and so we want to make sure that, that impact can be spread far and wide. And one of the things that I really believe, Jeff, is that with enough pedals thrown into a pond, a ripple becomes a wave.

Justin Michael Williams: And my hope is that each of us can change the world in the ways that only we can, and in the corners of the world that only we can, and that together, when we all come together, we create the wave of change that this world is so desperately needing from us right now. So thank you.

Close

Almost there! Just enter your first name and email below to get your FREE relaxation lesson.