If you truly oppose abortion – don’t elect a Republican president.

“There’s no way I will vote for Joe Biden. I’ll never vote for anyone who supports abortion.”

This is the oft repeated phrase of many voters. Even if they don’t like the actions or leadership of Donald Trump, they will still vote for him in the upcoming election because, from their perspective, to vote for a Democratic presidential candidate is to vote for a candidate that supports killing babies – and that is unacceptable.

It’s also wrong.

I write this post with a good deal of hesitance, concerned with how it might impact certain readers, concerned about yet another man speaking to an issue that far more directly impacts women, concerned that an issue of such profound importance will just be divided up along partisan lines like always.

Nevertheless, as someone who grew up as a deeply pro-life Republican and who is now a deeply pro-life Democrat, there are things worth saying as we near this election. And the most important of those things is this…

If you oppose abortion, the strategy of electing Republican presidents to nominate conservative Supreme Court justices won’t work.

It is likely that in the coming weeks the Senate will approve a 6th conservative justice to the Supreme Court. Of course, that does not mean that Roe v. Wade will be overturned. After all, it was in the term of a Republican president with a court that had six Republican nominated justices that Roe v. Wade was made law in the first place.

But EVEN IF Roe v. Wade were overturned, that doesn’t end abortion or make it illegal, it simply returns the decision about abortion to the states. Some states will restrict access to abortion, just as they do now. But other states, including states with large populations like California, will not only continue giving access to abortion, they will actively work to make those services available to people who live in states where abortion rights are restricted.

Organizations will raise money to provide transportation and treatment funding for women who need to travel out of state for abortion services. Doctors who believe deeply in a woman’s right to choose will make their services available and affordable to women who need them.

The ultimate result of a Supreme Court reversal on Roe v. Wade won’t be the end of abortion, it will just restructure the way that abortion services are provided and accessed by women in this country. Therefore, if you are a pro-life advocate that seriously wants to end abortions in the United States, you don’t do it by changing the courts – you do it by changing the country.

The only way to end abortion is to:

  1. make every pregnancy a wanted pregnancy
  2. come to a place in technology and medicine where every wanted pregnancy ends with a healthy baby born into this world.

We cannot accomplish the second point above in the near term. There are devastating realities that we are not yet able to fix or change.

We CAN make extraordinary progress on the first point. This is where I believe pro-life advocates must focus their attention and energy, not on nominating judges that won’t actually bring about the change they desire. Here are a few ideas on where to start:

Sex Education… needs to start young, be incredibly clear and well communicated, and be done in partnership between parents, schools and faith communities. We cannot ignore or fear the subject because a lack of education about sex and reproduction leads to unwanted pregnancies that lead to abortions.

Contraceptives… must be available and affordable to everyone that is at an age of reproductive capacity. Make contraceptives free as a part of health care so that anyone who needs them has access to them – this alone will significantly reduce the amount of unwanted pregnancies and abortions.

Republicans might struggle with this data but while abortion rates have been declining consistently over the last 30 years, their fastest rate of decline was in the Obama presidency. This is likely due, in part, to passage of the Affordable Care Act that made birth control more accessible.

This is particularly relevant right now as a Supreme Court justice that could vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act has been nominated. The very kind of justice that pro-life advocates hope will end abortion may, in fact, make related decisions that lead to more abortions.

Provide Financial Support… because financial hardship is a significant reason that women get abortions. This means alleviating poverty, increasing the child tax credit, providing more resources for food, childcare, and health coverage for parents who need it. How many pregnancies would be kept if the expecting mother knew that her financial needs would be met and taken care of?

This also means making the process for adoptive parents affordable or free, so there are enough parents/families lined up ready to adopt that any woman who is pregnant knows that there is an alternative to abortion that is free and an incredible gift to the adoptive family (I know this gift first-hand).

If pro-life advocates actually want to see an end to abortion, it will take these initiatives and many more that work to bring meaningful change in this country. And if you look at the examples just given, there are two things that jump out immediately:

  1. The need for every sexually active person to have healthcare that prioritizes access to contraceptives
  2. The need for every woman that becomes pregnant to know that she will be able to financially afford a new child

What’s the best way to make sure every sexually active person has the healthcare they need to access contraceptives?
Universal Healthcare.

What’s the best way to ensure that every pregnant woman knows she can afford this child?
Government provided financial resources for any parent that needs it.

Which party platform better aligns with those two priorities?
The Democratic platform.

Abortion rates in the U.S. increased in the 7 years after Roe v. Wade, but then, beginning in the early 80’s the numbers stabilized and began to fall. Rates have fallen under every U.S. president starting with Reagan, but notably have fallen fastest under Presidents Clinton and Obama.

We don’t know to what extent the reduction in abortion rates is due to these two presidents. All we know is this – rates have fallen fastest in the last 30 years under Democratic presidential leadership.

A couple brave souls have approached me and asked me directly, “How can you be pro-life and be a Democrat?” Here is my simple answer:

  • Since Roe v. Wade, Democratic presidencies have seen a greater rate of abortion decline than Republican presidencies have.
  • Democratic policy positions on many issues, but most especially on healthcare and income inequality, more closely align with a vision where every pregnancy is a wanted pregnancy and every wanted pregnancy ends with a baby born into this world.

To be clear, Democratic positions still fall woefully short of what a real pro-life advocate would hope to see. But they have a better track record and are better positioned moving forward.

If you are a Republican reading this, thank you. I think it says something about you that you were even willing to read through all of this. I would also ask you to take seriously what has been presented. I know that it is hard to seriously consider something that you have so strongly opposed for so long – but I think the issue at hand is worth the effort of our serious consideration.

What is the ‘precedent’ for election year vacancies in the Supreme Court?

Politicians and most media are so partisan right now that it can be hard to know what is true, what is false, and what is spin. This is particularly true in regards to the potential nomination of a justice to replace Justice Ginsburg, so I went back and reviewed all the election year vacancies of Supreme Court justices since the Civil War (ie. the last 156 years). Here is the overview of each case (those of particular relevance have red text):

1864 – President Lincoln nominates Salmon Chase

President – Republican (Lincoln)
Senate – Republican Majority
Result – Confirmed

Justice Taney died on October 12, four weeks before the election. President Lincoln waited until after the election, in which he won a 2nd term, and then nominated Salmon Chase on December 6th. Chase was confirmed the same day he was appointed.

Conclusion – A vacancy was created VERY close to election day and the Republican President with a Republican Senate waited until after the election to nominate a new judge.

1872 – Grant nominates Ward Hunt

President – Republican (Grant)
Senate – Republican Majority
Result – Confirmed

Outgoing Justice Nelson retired on Nov 28th after the 1872 election in which Ulysses S. Grant had won a 2nd term. Grant then nominated Ward Hunt on Dec 3rd and Hunt was confirmed on Dec 11th.

Conclusion – An election year vacancy was created after the election and the president who had won a 2nd term filled the vacancy.

1880 – Hayes nominates William Woods

President – Republican (Hayes)
Senate – Democratic Majority
Result – Confirmed

President Hayes had not sought re-election and James Garfield (R) won the presidency. Outgoing Justice Strong retired after the election on Dec 14th and Hayes nominated William Woods on Dec 15th. Woods was confirmed by the Democratic Senate 6 days later on Dec 21st.

Conclusion – An election year vacancy was created after the election and filled by a president who was not serving a 2nd term, but whose party would continue holding the presidency when he was gone.

1881 – Hayes nominates Stanley Matthews

President – Republican (Hayes)
Senate – Democratic Majority
Result – No Action

Two months after the election and one month after William Woods’ nomination and confirmation, a 2nd Supreme Court Justice, Noah Swayne, also retired. President Hayes quickly nominated Stanley Matthews but his nomination was immediately under scrutiny due to conflict of interest concerns. The Judiciary Committee took no action on Matthews while Hayes was still in office.

When James Garfield assumed the presidency he renominated Stanley Matthews but concerns about Matthews continued and it took 2 months for confirmation. Matthews was confirmed by a vote of 24-23, the closest Supreme Court Justice vote in U.S. History.

Conclusion – It would be tempting to reference this case as a divided government that did not take up a vote on Stanley Matthews until a new president had been elected and inaugurated, but that would be misleading. The divided government did take a vote on Woods, they did not on Matthews. The issue was not a divided government but real concerns about the nominee which persisted into the next government and led to the closest confirmation of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice in history.

1888 – Cleveland nominates Melville Fuller

President – Democrat (Cleveland)
Senate – Republican Majority
Result – Confirmed

In the election year of 1888 Justice Morrison Waite died in late March. In April, a month later, President Grover Cleveland nominated Melville Fuller to fill the vacancy. Fuller was not well known and the Senate took a few months of consideration, but he was confirmed to his role on July 20th.

Conclusion – This case is particularly similar to the 2016 vacancy left by Justice Scalia’s death. Both had a divided government with a Democratic President and a Republican led Senate, both had an early in the year death of a Justice (Waite in March of 1888, Scalia in February of 2016) and both had a nomination of a Justice to fill the vacancy (Fuller in April of 1888, Garland in March of 2016). The obvious difference is that the Senate of 1888 considered and voted on President Cleveland’s nominee, the Senate of 2016 did not.

1892 – Harrison nominates George Shiras

President – Republican (Harrison)
Senate – Republican Majority
Result – Confirmed

I could not locate the exact date that Justice Joseph Bradly stepped down from the court but it was likely in late 1891 (he died on Jan 22nd of 1892). President Benjamin Harrison nominated George Shiras to replace him on July 19th of 1892 and he was confirmed a week later on July 26th.

Conclusion – A vacancy occurred on the Court late in the year before the election and a nomination was made in the year of the election by a Republican president with a Republican majority in the Senate.

1893 – Harrison nominates Howell Jackson

President – Republican (Harrison)
Senate – Republican Majority
Result – Confirmed

In January of the “lame duck session” of 1892/1893, Justice Lamar died leaving a vacancy on the court (Inauguration’s back then were on March 4th). President Harrison, a republican, had been defeated in his re-election bid by Grover Cleveland, a democrat. In addition, the current republican majority Senate was about to be replaced by a democratic led Senate. Despite the fact that the election was over and the democrats had won both the presidency and the Senate, Harrison moved forward with a nomination. On February 2nd President Harrison nominated Howell Jackson to fill the vacancy, and Jackson was confirmed on February 18th, just 14 days before the election and the transfer of power.

One important note for this case – Justice Jackson was a democrat! You read that right – a republican president nominated, and a republican Senate confirmed, a democratic justice to fill the vacancy.

Conclusion – While democrats at the time may have preferred for President Harrison to wait and let them fill the vacancy, filling said vacancy with a democratic judge certainly marks this case as distinct from any conversation we are having now.

1916 – Wilson nominates Louis Brandeis

President – Democrat (Wilson)
Senate – Democratic Majority
Result – Confirmed

In January of 2016, an election year, President Wilson nominated Louis Brandeis to the court. Brandeis was a contentious nomination and, for the first time, the Judiciary Committee held public hearings on the nomination. After months of debate and consideration Brandeis was confirmed by the Senate in early July.

Conclusion – A vacancy in the court existed early in an election year and President Wilson filled it.

1916 – Wilson nominates John Clarke

President – Democrat (Wilson)
Senate – Democratic Majority
Result – Confirmed

In June of the same election year as the case above, a second vacancy arose. Republican Justice Hughes resigned from the court in order to accept the Republican nomination for President. Justice Hughes resigned in June and in July President Wilson sent his nomination of John Clarke to the Senate. Ten days later Justice Clarke was confirmed to the court unanimously.

Conclusion – There are clear similarities between this case and the present day scenario. A vacancy on the court occurred near to an election and the presidency and Senate were controlled by the same party. The situation is not the same given that the 1916 vacancy occurred 3 months earlier than the 2020 vacancy and the nominee was confirmed unanimously, but there are still significant similarities.

1925 – Coolidge nominates Harlan Stone

President – Republican (Coolidge)
Senate – Republican Majority
Result – Confirmed

After the 1924 election Justice McKenna stepped down. President Coolidge had been re-elected and on January 5th nominated Harlan Stone to fill the vacancy. Justice Stone was confirmed on February 5th.

Conclusion – A vacancy occurred after the election where the incumbent had won and where there had been, and would remain, a republican led Senate. Therefore, President Coolidge nominated a new justice.

1932 – Hoover nominates Benjamin Cardozo

President – Republican (Hoover)
Senate – Republican Majority
Result – Confirmed

In January of election year 1932 a vacancy was created on the court from outgoing Justice Holmes. In an act that feels impossible to imagine in our current context, then President Hoover (R) with a republican led Senate, nominated Benjamin Cardozo (D) to the court. Cardozo was widely respected and was unanimously confirmed to the court on February 24th.

Conclusion – A vacancy occurred early in an election year and a republican president chose a democratic judge to fill the vacancy. Wow!

1956 – Eisenhower nominates William Brennan

President – Republican (Eisenhower)
Senate – Democratic Majority
Result – Confirmed

Just weeks before the 1956 election Justice Minton stepped down from the court. President Eisenhower (R) used a recess appointment to install Justice William Brennan (D) to the court. After Eisenhower won his bid for re-election in late 1956, Brennan was officially confirmed as a justice of the Supreme Court.

Conclusion – A late vacancy was created and republican President Eisenhower filled the vacancy with a democratic judge. (note – most understand Eisenhower’s choice of a democrat from the northeast as a political move to support his re-election campaign)

1968 – Johnson nominates Abe Fortas & Homer Thornberry

President – Democrat (Johnson)
Senate – Democratic Majority
Result – No Action

In June of 1968 then Chief Justice Warren announced his resignation. President Johnson attempted to nominate Abe Fortas (already a Supreme Court Justice) to become Chief Justice and to nominate Homer Thornberry to the fill the vacancy of the court. However, Fortas’ nomination was riddled with contention and potential scandal from the start and eventually Fortas removed himself from consideration for Chief Justice. This left him on the court and Thornberry’s nomination became moot. The vacancy was eventually filled the following year by President Nixon.

Conclusion – A vacancy occurred in an election year and a Democratic President made two nominations, one to replace the Chief Justice with an existing Justice and another to fill the vacant seat on the court, but contention and scandal over the existing Justice Fortas derailed both nominations.

2016 – Obama nominates Merritt Garland

President – Democrat (Obama)
Senate – Republican Majority
Result – No Action

Justice Antonin Scalia died on February 13th of 2016 and President Obama nominated Merritt Garland to fill the vacancy on March 16th. No vote was taken by the Senate.

Conclusion – A judge died early in an election year and the Democratic president nominated someone to fill the vacancy but a Republican Senate did not consider that candidate. There is no case in U.S. History that is comparable.

My Final Analysis

If precedent is meant to inform the actions of the President and the Senate when it comes to the nomination and confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice in an election year, here is what I think is historically true about the last two election year vacancies:

  • There is no credibility to the claim that a divided presidency/Senate means that a nominee should not be considered in an election year. There is only one genuine example of an election year vacancy with divided leadership from 1888 and a candidate was nominated and confirmed. The 2016 refusal to consider Merritt Garland’s nomination was unprecedented.
  • There is no direct parallel to the current vacancy from Justice Ginsburg’s seat. The closest examples are:
    • 1864 when a republican president (Lincoln) and republican Senate encountered a vacancy just four weeks before the election. In that case they waited until after the election to nominate and confirm someone. Our current case is 6.5 weeks before the election.
    • 1916 when a democratic president (Wilson) and democratic Senate had a vacancy in June (4.5 months before the election) and filled the vacancy soon after.

Mobs, Protests & Destruction of Property… by white farmers 200+ years ago.

Most of us don’t remember much of Shays’ Rebellion from high school history, either because it was mentioned so briefly that it didn’t stick or because it wasn’t mentioned at all. But the events of 1786-1787 were catalytic in the formation of the America we live in today.

The summer protests of 2020 have been criticized for being unruly and destructive; this is not a new story.

More than 200 years ago a group of frustrated Massachusetts farmers grabbed their guns and took to the streets. Post-revolution states were in debt from the war and in Massachusetts they raised unbearable taxes on the citizenry to try and pay those debts. When subsistence farmers weren’t able to pay, their property was seized and they were evicted from their land. Some were put in prison.

These rural farmers made efforts for debt relief by lobbying the state government but no relief was given. Overtaxed and under-resourced, these farmers felt as if no one in the government understood or were listening to them, and so decided their only option was to disrupt.

Armed with guns and swords mobs of farmers confiscated property that had been seized by the government and returned it to the owner. They forcefully took control of local courts and shut them down. On occasion they freed landowners that had been put in prison.

Importantly, this rebellion was not made up of men initially antagonistic to their government. Daniel Shays, the primary leader of the rebellion, had served in the Continental Army as a captain and had fought in numerous battles, including the Battle of Bunker Hill. Most of these men were patriots who had fought for this new country, but that country was now ignoring and oppressing them and they were out of options.

Considering the context of these farmers is important. Was it right for them to forcefully free men from prison who had been put there by state authorities, even if they had been put there for not paying unfair taxes? Was it right for them to forcefully block the courts so that no one else could be tried and lose their property? Was it right for them to take up arms and go to the Springfield armory to try and take the weapons that were being used to detain and arrest them? Maybe not.

But what else were these humble farmers supposed to do? They had tried lobbying the government for relief. They had tried going through appropriate channels to affect a fair and workable outcome for them and their families – but no one was listening. They were losing homes, losing land, losing fathers to prison – and there was no one in authority that would listen or help them.

I am against violence and destruction of property of every kind – but when no one is listening and the reality that you inhabit is unbearable, it will lead to acts of desperation. The context for disruption matters and we must work to change the context that makes people feel so desperate.

Trump is as Wrong on Climate Change as he was on the Coronavirus

It’s a hoax. It’s a democratic ploy. Scientists are exaggerating the risk.

The truth is simple and obvious – Trump underestimated the threat of the coronavirus. Despite recent attempts to persuade Americans that he acted early and aggressively to combat the “invisible enemy”, all of the evidence and all of Trump’s words/tweets betray him.

  • January 22 – “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China.”
  • January 30 – “…we think we’re going to have a very good ending for us… that I can assure you.”
  • February 10 – “…a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat – as the heat comes in. Typically that will go away in April. We’re in great shape though. We have 12 cases…”
  • February 26 – “So we’re at the low level. As they get better we take them off the list, so that we’re going to be pretty soon at only five people. And we could be at just one or two people over the next short period of time.”

It’s obvious, he underestimated it. In his defense, he wasn’t the only person that didn’t recognize the seriousness of the threat, but he was the most important person not to recognize it. And now those 12 infected people have multiplied into nearly 1,000,000 in the U.S. alone.

This underestimation of the threat didn’t begin in January. It began earlier in his administration when Rear Adm Timothy Ziemer and the rest of the National Security Council’s global health security team either left or were reassigned. It began when, instead of listening to scientists who said there was a threat that we should take seriously, Trump moved in the other direction.

Sound familiar?

  • November 1, 2011 – “It snowed over 4 inches this past weekend in New York City. It is still October. So much for Global Warming.”
  • November 5, 2012 – “We can’t destroy the competitiveness of our factories in order to prepare for nonexistent global warming.”
  • February 14, 2015 – “Record low temperatures and massive amounts of snow. Where the hell is GLOBAL WARMING?”
  • November 26, 2018 – “I don’t believe it.” In response to a study that said climate change would harm the U.S. economy.

Today is the 50th celebration of Earth Day and the EPA (which began directly in response to the 1st Earth Day in 1970) has never been weaker. Trump gutted both the finances and the leadership of the organization because, again, he doesn’t recognize the threat. Scientists have been telling him (and everyone else) that there is an invisible enemy at war with our nation and our planet, but he doesn’t recognize that threat and keeps moving in the opposite direction.

It seems that Trump struggles to take invisible enemies seriously, and he is just as wrong on climate change as he was on the coronavirus.

Our only hope is that he learns from his coronavirus mistake and reverses course on how the U.S. responds to the threat of climate change. That, or we find a new leader in November who is able to recognize and respond to invisible enemies before they have destroyed so much.

A Case for Coronavirus ‘Quaranteaming’

These first weeks of socially distancing ourselves from a world that we used to rub shoulders with have been primarily focused on adapting to this sudden disruption. Can I do my job from home? Do I still have a job? Do I need to cancel that upcoming trip? What do we do with the kids? How do we pay for things with less income? How much meat can we shove into our freezer?

Until now most of us have been making decisions from a short-term mindset. In part this was because we were trying to survive those first few days, and in part it was because we didn’t have a clear sense of how long this would last. In mid-March many of us thought, or at least hoped, that we were talking about a time frame of weeks. But now that we are in mid-April the shadow of social distancing is lengthening, and how we think about our strategies for this pandemic should be stretching to meet the reality of what we all face.

My family lives in Charlottesville and we accidentally stumbled into ‘Quaranteaming’ on day one. We haven’t lived in our neighborhood for very long but our next door neighbors have two daughters that are close in age to our girls and so in the nine months we have been living here the girls have become friends. And while we weren’t particularly close to the parents of those girls, we had shared some meals and some conversations on the sidewalk as the girls played.

But on Friday the 13th of March we invited their family over for dinner. The schools that our girls attended had just cancelled classes for the next 3 weeks, the NBA had shut the season down, and it felt like the entire country had slammed on the brakes and come to a screeching halt. We sat around the table that night and processed what was happening together as our girls played in the other room.

By the end of the evening we had come to an agreement; we would socially distance ourselves from the world together. We would stay in our respective homes but we would coordinate our daily lives and live by the same rules.

We set up a school schedule for the girls that included a half hour ‘recess’ in the morning where the girls could play together. We aligned our lunch breaks and the end time of the school day as well. Our girls attend different schools with different dates for their spring breaks, but since school timelines were more flexible we modified the schedules so they lined up. And we planned for regular meals together as families.

We also clarified our social distancing rules so that everyone was on the same page. We would only spend physically proximate time among our two families; we would go out only for exercise or food-shopping; we would prepare all our meals at home and not do take-out or delivery (instead we bought gift cards to local restaurants to help support their business), and we would be vigilant about wiping down mail, mailboxes, groceries, doorbells, door knobs, light switches, etc.

In the five weeks that have followed I can say without hesitation that it has been incredibly helpful to navigate this time together. They have taken our kids on bike rides and we have taken their kids on Pokemon Go adventures. On Easter Sunday the girls did an Easter Egg Hunt together. In the evening or on the weekends there is rarely a time when at least 2 or 3 of the girls aren’t playing and getting into some kind of trouble. And shared meals with other adults where we can talk and laugh and share a bit of life are a welcome respite for Minhee and I.

Last night dinner was at our place (I made chili). This morning, even as I am writing this, the doorbell rang and they dropped off spam & egg breakfast sandwiches on King’s Hawaiian Bread (amazing).


And right now 3 of the girls are building a butterfly garden together (I have no idea what that means).

What has made this work well for us boils down to three things I think… The first is proximity because this works best with people that live very close to you. The second is the shared rulebook that we are following because this only works if you trust each other to all play by and follow the same rules. The third is the nearness in age of the four girls, which makes their play together organic and natural.

Because I have seen how healthy and beneficial this has been for our family, I am writing this in an effort to encourage you to consider whether Quaranteaming might be a good option for you. Your circumstances might look very different from ours and I know that there are some who, for various reasons, cannot consider this at all. But for those who are able, I encourage you to entertain the idea of finding another person/s, or couple, or family that you might enter into a kind of ‘closed-circuit community’ with during this time.

The news cycle has lots of stories about when the country will reopen and when we will be back on the path toward normalcy, but the reality is that even when stores start to open and some people start going back to work, until there is a vaccine this world is going to be a very different and very socially distanced place. We aren’t talking about a few more weeks of this, but likely many months or more of a socially distanced future. And given how much we need human contact and community, it seems only wise to begin figuring out how we provide that for ourselves in a safe but meaningful way. We’ve prepared the resources for our stomachs and our bathroom visits, now it’s time to appropriately prepare for our minds and souls.

A few nights ago the 4 girls were playing together outside and we overheard them imagining a game together. In the game they all had contracted coronavirus and they had all died. At first we were startled and saddened as we realized just how deeply they were internalizing the threat of this pandemic, even to the point that they were imagining themselves dying from it.

But as we parents discussed what had happened we realized that this is likely part of a healthy process for them. Play therapy is often a way for kids to communicate and process trauma and we were glad that our girls had friends to enter into this with, and play with, and process with. And I was grateful that Minhee and I had adults to process our thoughts and fears with too.

Community is such a profound part of our humanity and my hope and prayer is not only that you are healthy, but also that you are not alone.

Stay safe all.

Thoughts from a Recovering Racist


I grew up white, not just in the color of my skin, but in the culture of my youth.  My wife and I call it “super-white”.  I was raised in a small farm town in Illinois – white family, white friends, white people at my church, white teachers, white kids in my classes, white players on my sports teams, white players on the teams I played against – WHITE!

My parents are amazing and did well to raise my brother and I as unprejudiced as possible, but that background is a large obstacle when it comes to issues of race.

But I didn’t see it that way.  For many years I was convinced that, in spite of my monochromatic background, I was still able to see race issues clearly and with a balanced perspective.  And most certainly, I would never have classified myself as a racist.

I was wrong.

To be clear – I wasn’t racist in obvious, belligerent ways.  My racism was subtle and nuanced.  It appeared in silent assumptions, private fears, and in my total, absolute, pervasive ignorance of my privilege.

Thankfully, living overseas and in urban areas has diversified my life some.  This includes introducing people that are black into my world.  I have black friends, black church members, black small group members, black colleagues.  My daughter is black. Admittedly, I experience the world differently than I did growing up.

Over the last couple of weeks two grand jury decisions have rocked this country.  Some of my friends and church members have been wounded in this.  There is deep sadness, anger, frustration and hopelessness.  And I don’t know what to do about that.  I am wrecked by what this is doing to them.

And this morning was the final straw…

Last night as Minhee and I got ready for bed, I told her I was going to write something today.  The grief of watching so many friends struggle yesterday was too much, and I needed an outlet.  I decided I’d wait for morning, for a fresh perspective, and then write.

This morning I dropped off Minhee at work, then Lucy at school, and was driving back home, thinking about what I wanted to say – when all of a sudden lights were flashing behind me.

I pulled to the side of the road and waited as the police officer approached my window.  He asked for my license and registration which I handed him.  The registration had expired months ago, and he pulled me over for having an expired sticker on my plate.  He told me that if he ran my plates and found the registration was indeed expired, I wouldn’t be able to drive and we’d have to tow the car home.

I told him I had the sticker at home, but I had no proof of this.  He told me to wait and he went back to his car.

After 5 minutes he approached again, gave back my information, and handed me a warning ticket.  He told me to keep the warning ticket with me, so that if I was stopped again I could show the officer the citation, tell them I’d get it fixed, and could be on my way.

He also told me that he didn’t run my plate, just in case the registration was expired, because he didn’t want me to be towed.  He looked at me and said, “I’m trusting you here man.  I’m trusting you.”

Just to recap before the icing on this cake… the officer gave me a citation that cost no money, but would save me time on subsequent traffic stops for the same issue, and also didn’t check my plates just in case I had been lying to him about them being renewed, which would have forced my car to be towed.

He then tipped his hat, returned to his car, and began to pull away.  But then he made a sudden stop and motioned for me to roll down my window.  Just in case I did need to still renew the registration, he gave me exact information on the RMV to go to, told me to skip the line, and then gave me the exact window # to approach to get it taken care of without waiting.

I looked over and told him, “I promise, it’s at home on the counter.  Two days ago my wife told me to take care of it but I ignored her.”  He chuckled at that, waved his hand, and gave an, “Alright brother, take care!”, and he drove away.

That is white privilege.

Honestly, earlier in life I would never have said that.  I would have attributed the pleasantness of that police/citizen interaction to my willingness to follow instructions, or to the calm and submissive tone of my voice in the conversation, or to some other explanation born in the womb of white privilege.

What I didn’t consider before was how easy it is to be obedient when the officer assumes trust in you.  How simple it is to be calm and submissive when the officer is treating you so well.  Back then, I just couldn’t see that I was treated differently because of the color of my skin.  Of course, it wasn’t only the color of my skin that mattered, but it DID matter.  And back then, I refused to believe that.

Over these last couple weeks, the responses of some white men and women have been discouraging, and often infuriating.  And yet, while I want to get angry, deep down I know that at times I have been them.

And so I want to end with a few thoughts to any white readers out there.  Some of you are way out in front of me on this, and I need to learn from you.  But for those that are still waiting to put the “recovering” in “recovering racist”, a few final thoughts:

  1. If your whole world is pretty much white people, like what I described above, watch what you say.  I shouldn’t tell a woman not to yell and scream during childbirth, and you shouldn’t tell the black community that they are overreacting, or missing the point, or biased.  We have no idea how they feel or how deeply this hurts.  These last two weeks have inflicted serious injury, so please keep quiet and don’t aggravate their pain.
  2. I know some of you want to defend cops, and I get that.  You feel that the everyday, sacrificial lives of police officers should inspire gratitude – not rioting – and you are absolutely right.  But these marches and riots are in response to a systemic issue of racism and prejudice, not just individual officers.  And if the primary response of the white community is to make sure police officers know they are appreciated, while showing little concern over black men dead in the street – that only exacerbates the pain and frustration of the black community.
  3. Please, please, please don’t say things like, “Race doesn’t matter – we are all just human” or “Race isn’t the issue here”.  Race matters.  Race is the issue.  Being black is the issue.  Being white is the issue  Skin color is the issue.  And to suggest that these don’t matter devalues the life experience of racial minorities as well as makes you someone they know doesn’t understand – and they can’t trust.

Finally, if you are someone that reads the Bible, then you may know Paul’s verse in Romans that says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind”.  This verse assumes that there are patterns of thought informed by this world, and that those are old ways of thought that must be made new. 

And I know that I am someone whose mind was, for a very long time (and partly still is), conformed to some pretty old patterns.  But time and experience have me thinking new thoughts – and I am grateful for the transformation that has come so far.