"Most of the work and research that I've read on anti-racism is built on one assumption: that it cannot end. My article aims to ask one question: WHY NOT? We are the vessel for the dreams our ancestors were unable to dream. And because of them, and the ground that has been prepared before us, it's time for us to dream bigger." —Justin Michael Williams
“Almost every piece of work or literature that I've read on racism is built on one assumption: that it cannot end. Or at best, that it will be a ‘lifelong fight.’ That ending racism will be something that ‘will probably never happen in our generation.’”
These compelling insights by Esalen faculty Justin Michael Williams lure readers into his thought-provoking essay Ending Racism: How to Change the World in One Generation. In it Justin writes that if we continue to say, "racism is something that can never end in our generation ... then who the hell ever gets to take responsibility for ending it? Enter: us.”
Justin, who wrote the article when he was an artist-in-residence at Esalen in July, dives deep with Esalen News on the genesis of the project and why it was important to offer this timely call to action.
Esalen News: Let’s begin with one of the unique things that arose from your time as an artist-in-residence at Esalen in summer.
Justin Michael Williams: I came to Esalen with one creative intention: to see what emerged if I unplugged from the incessant shitstorm of the media. Before I got to Esalen, my nervous system was shot—seeing black man after black man being murdered by the police. After about a week away from all the stimuli, I felt something start to emerge—hope. Being on the Esalen grounds plugged me back into one big truth: our ancestors have been persevering for generations, and we can too.
What was one main thing you, in your heart, wanted to communicate with the article you wrote about racism?
Most of the work and research that I've read on anti-racism is built on one assumption: that it cannot end. My article aims to ask one question: WHY NOT? We are the vessel for the dreams our ancestors were unable to dream. And because of them, and the ground that has been prepared before us, it's time for us to dream bigger. It's time to create a vision where we aren't just talking "about" racism, but ending it.
Your article is a dynamic call to action. What do you hope people take away from it?
I hope people understand that there's a big difference between fighting against something and fighting for something. When people sign the Pledge to End Racism at the end of the article, it's a signal that we have opened our minds to a new possibility.
So often, we fall into resignation about race and racism, but resignation is the opposite of progress. And so regardless of who started it, regardless of who points the finger of blame, if we want to end racism we all have to step up to the plate and do our part.
How has the response been?
Most people have said they've never even considered the idea that racism could end. This article helped them shift the perspective to see that it can and will end once we as a community and society are ready for it to happen. It felt really important for me, especially on the anniversary of the March on Washington where Martin Luther King gave his historic I Have a Dream” speech, to remind people of the power of a big vision.
Were there any responses from the article that really stand out?
The most empowering thing for me is watching people who aren't "influencers" or "thought leaders" use their voices to share--even sharing with your family, or community makes a big impact. Each of us spreading the ripples of change into the corners of the world where only we can reach. We can't leave it up to the big names, it's going to be about each of us stepping into our power, and vulnerability talking about how we might make a difference.
Where do you feel we are at now, several months after many things have been brightly illuminated in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death?
I think people are really confused and scared. This is why I wanted to write this article. Because when we are confused and scared and resigned, progress is impossible. Like I said, our ancestors have paved the way for us to step up and do the work that only this generation can do. We are exactly who was meant to be alive at this time. We are enough. And the new dream starts now.
Read Justin's article here.
Learn more about Justin and his work here.