It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sense of brokenness that pervades politics in the United States today. But the problems at the heart of all this precede the dysfunction of the past decade and the political alliances of the last 40 years: They go back to Jim Crow, slavery, and beyond. This week’s guest, Lisa Sharon Harper, has traced her own personal history as a Black woman in white evangelical Christian spaces and back 10 generations of her family history to understand the brokenness of America today. She is the founder and president of Freedom Road, a columnist at Sojourners magazine and the author of several books, most recently Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World and How to Repair it All.
Click here to learn more about Lisa Sharon Harper.
The following is a transcript of this week’s episode of Just Politics:
Joan Neal: As we continue along our journey to examine our democracy at a crossroads, we have met with those who have experienced violence in their workplace and towns at the hands of White Chrsitian Nationalists.
Nichole Flores: I think folks were really surprised by what happened in Charlottesville, but for those who were really paying attention – it wasn’t shocking at all.
Eilis McCulloh: A throughline of all these events: Christian imagery. We met with Amanda Tyler, the Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee to help us understand how symbols of the Christian faith, a faith of peace and unity, ends up in the hands of violent extremists at domestic terrorist events like January 6th and Charlottesville. The reason? Chrsitan Nationalism. Which she defines as:
Amanda Tyler: A political ideology, and a cultural framework that tries to merge our identities as Americans and Christians. It suggests that to be a true American, one must be Christian, and really a particular type of Christian that espouses certain fundamentalist Christian beliefs that are often in line with certain conservative political party platforms.
Eilis: I’m Eilis McCulloh.
Joan: I’m Joan Neal.
Colin Martinez-Longmore: And I’m Colin Martinez-Longmore. Welcome back to Just Politics.
Joan: When contemplating our politics today, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sense of brokenness that pervades it. It’s certainly reasonable that one might ask, how did we get here? Colin, Eilis, and I have asked ourselves that same question. Today’s guest, Lisa Sharon Harper, helps us to try to answer that complicated question. Clearly just zooming in on the dysfunction of even the last 10 years doesn’t get at the roots of our problem. So we will have to zoom out to the political alliances forged in recent decades, back to segregation and slavery, and even back to colonialism and original sin. We have to dig deep to understand where we are today. Lisa Sharon Harper, our guest on today’s podcast, is the founder and president of the consulting group freedomroad.us.
She is a columnist at Sojourners magazine and the author of several books, including Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican… or Democrat, Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics, Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith, and Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World and How to Repair It All.
Eilis: Welcome, Lisa. We are so honored to have you on this episode of Just Politics.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Thank you so much, Eilis. It’s really great to meet you and to be in conversation with you all today. It’s going to be a fun convo. I love digging deep like this, it’s great!
Eilis: Oh, I can’t wait! So one of the things that we really like to do on our podcast is when we begin an interview, we like to ask our guest to kind of tell us a little bit more about themselves. Joan just read the list of all your publications and the consulting work you’re doing, but can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and also the work of Freedom Road?
Lisa: I am a public theologian, an activist, and a writer. I have several books that I’ve written over the last little over maybe 15 years, since 2008 when my first book came out. I am definitely a Philadelphian. I love my city. I really do. I’m a history buff. I’m kind of an armchair historian, you know, and a lot of that comes from genealogy and tracing my family’s history. The book, Fortune, traces 10 generations of my family’s history going back to 1682. Their history intersected, by circumstance and also by time, with the very first race laws that were formed on American soil, before it was even called America. And so I love this conversation, unraveling, “How did we get here?” And also doing something called shrinking the narrative gap. It’s kind of a term that I coined a while back, not that I made any money on it at all. No, none at all.
But rather, it’s just to say that we tell ourselves stories about ourselves. And those stories shape how we think of ourselves. But a lot of times those stories leave things out, kind of airbrush us in order to make us look better than we actually have been. And they don’t take into consideration the stories of the other. the other stories that are around us. So shrinking the narrative gap is actually bridging the gap between our stories by listening to more and more of our stories together. So we lay those stories down in the gap and we can now walk over all of those stories in order to bridge the gap.
Joan: Well, Lisa, you’ve certainly given us a lot of rich context and stories around your background. And I wanna delve just a little bit in another side of your background. As an evangelical Christian, you have had a window into one of the forces that has shaped and is shaping our politics here in the United States. The political alliance between evangelicals and conservatives that has influenced the outcomes of presidential elections over the last 40 plus years, and potentially today. That alliance threatens to end our democracy–at least that’s the way it looks today.
So, from one black woman to another, we know that often our experiences are different. So I’m wondering If you could tell us a little bit about your experiences in white evangelical spaces: What do you know about that world that might help us get a sense of where we are today in our politics? And also, what might the wedge issues be that have been used for almost half a century to divide us?
Lisa: Yeah, wow, okay, this is great. I’m so glad you zeroed in on this. I came to my evangelical faith August 21st, 1983, at about 9 o’clock at night, maybe 9:30, but somewhere between 9 and 10 p.m. It was during the altar call of a Sunday evening camp church meeting.
And, you know, my pastor was on vacation and, as a lot of the pastors did, they decided to go on vacation while this guest preacher was in town. The revival was held at a campground right around the corner from my house. It was a hellfire brimstone preacher. And I actually was not gonna walk forward. One of my best friends at the time was a member of the church-based youth group. She said, “Would you walk forward with me at the end of the altar call?” And I said OK. So I went up with her and I was wondering if I should go forward because I kind of felt compelled, but I didn’t do it for myself, I did for her.
When I got there, all of the old ladies surrounded us and laid their hands on us and started to pray and cry. My friend started crying, and I couldn’t understand why she was crying. She was already a Christian, like at least that’s what she told us, but she starts crying and then I start crying and then everybody starts praying over me, too. I like to joke that I got into the kingdom of God by proxy on that day.
So as an evangelical, we believe that there’s a threshold. You make a decision to invite Jesus into your life, and now you have a relationship with God through Jesus. And that relationship is supposed to change your life. And it really did. It was genuine. I believe it was genuine. I count my life before that moment as a before and after. And in fact, I had lost memory of how my life was, how I was before that moment, until I wrote my book, The Very Good Gospel, and I had to go back and remember for the chapter on peace with self, shalom with self.
And so I remembered, I was a super afraid person. I was someone who was absolutely not engaged in politics or anything like that. I was just trying to survive, because I had been bullied in elementary school and junior high. I was trying not to be bullied in high school, which is why I went to the popular kids club, right? What I didn’t know was that this was actually in August of 1983, which was within months of the formation of the religious right. The religious right was actually formed literally around that time in response to the failure of Bob Jones University to fight its case in the Supreme Court in the case of Bob Jones University v. United States.
What had happened was, they received in 1970 a letter from the IRS saying, “You’re about to lose your tax exempt status because the Civil Rights Act, which was passed in 1964, has a title in there that says you cannot discriminate, you can’t segregate and receive government money even through non-profit tax status.” So, if you’re going to segregate, you’re going to lose your funding–and they were a race school. They were one of these colleges–in fact, they were among the first, way before Brown v. Board of Education–to establish a white college or white university. They would not allow black people to come onto the campus.
And in 1972, they said, “No.” So they received another threatening letter, and in response they said, “You know what we’re gonna do? We’re going to admit the black janitor on our campus to be a student.” Yes, they did. They admitted the black janitor to come and become a student. He did not even make it through the whole year. He was like, “I’m out of here, no way.”
So then they got another letter saying, “Sorry, that’s not good enough. You have to desegregate your campus in order to maintain your nonprofit status.” So what they did is they said, “OK, OK,, we will allow married black students to come into our college.” And so then the IRS came back and said, “Nope, that’s not good enough. You have to desegregate.”
We’re now into the mid seventies. And they said, “No, we won’t. What we’re going to do is we’re going to allow single and married black students to come on, but the single people can only come on to our campus and become part of our community if they sign an agreement that they will never date while they’re on campus. They will never date and certainly will not date across race.” And they also made every white student sign an acknowledgement that if they said that they were for desegregation, if they were even sympathizers with the, quote, “miscegenation of the races,” and certainly if they dated a black person or somebody of color, then they would be expelled immediately. And then the IRS was like, forget you. You’re losing your status.
It went through the courts, and then it got all the way to the Supreme Court in 1983. I think they probably heard the argument in 1982, and then they made a decision in 1983. But in the meantime, in 1976, Carter won the presidency. He was a Southern Baptist. It was very much Southern Baptists who were kind of at the heart of this, and also Southern Presbyterians, and just real conservative Southerners. And they were trying to fight on behalf of Bob Jones University, along with people like Jimmy Swaggart and this guy named Paul Weirich, who was actually the founder of the Heritage Foundation.
So Paul Weirich was actually the person really behind this movement to try to leverage the Bob Jones University case for building the conservative movement. He was trying to get people to come on board with Bob Jones University, and he really did get them. He got these leaders. Jim Baker and others were all a part of that. Ronald Reagan in 1980 made a promise that he was going to stand with Bob Jones University’s right to segregate based on religious beliefs. They decided to shift their argument when it got to the Supreme Court from we have a right to segregate based on our American rights and racial rights to religious liberty.
So religious liberty became their fighting strategy. And they lost in 1983. But by the time they lost, they actually had built the base of a conservative movement. There was traction that they had gained from that. And they had the president–Ronald Reagan.
The first stop that Reagan ever made on the campaign trail to launch his campaign was Philadelphia, Mississippi, where the three civil rights workers were executed and buried in an earthen dam. That’s where he launched his campaign. And the first stop that he made once president, the first place he went to visit, was Bob Jones University, to throw his support behind them in 1980.
So by 1983, Bob Jones loses their tax-exempt status, and they lose the Supreme Court case. But now they’ve gained a movement. This is the year I became a Christian, right? The year I walked down the aisle and did what I call jump in the broom with Jesus. So, I did not know this, but they looked around and they said,”OK, we lost that battle, but we can win this war because all we really need to do is find another issue that we can all rally around in order to continue this conservative movement’s traction.” And the issue they chose was abortion; that was the wedge issue that they chose.
When the abortion, the Roe ruling, was first put forward in 1973, it actually got huge applause from the evangelical world. The Southern Baptist Convention issued several statements over the period of several years affirming the ruling. In fact, before it was passed, they put out a statement saying that this is just and right and it’s a right way for us to deal with our Constitution and the separation of church and state. This is necessary.
Over time, because now they’re actually counting abortions and they never had before, people started getting skittish about it, because now the numbers were coming out. So around 1983, there was now a verifiable, not huge, but large enough traction in the evangelical world that they said, “We can leverage that, and we can build a movement out of this.” So they focused on abortion.
And that’s the story. So that year when I became a Christian, very soon after that, I was told now you need to become a Republican in order to be a Christian. I was 14. I wasn’t going to vote in any kind of election, but I had to, I had to vote for Reagan. I got a tract coming out of church one day that said that Mondale was the antichrist. And if he won, he was going to round up all the little children and put them in work camps. That’s what they were teaching back then. That was misinformation of the 1980s, right?
Joan: So they have been at this Christian nationalism business for quite a long time.
Lisa: For quite a long time. And let me just say, it didn’t come just because of Bob Jones, right? That whole thing was a pushback against the gains of the Civil Rights Movement. And the Civil Rights Movement was really a struggle between two streams of the church, between the Southern white church and the Southern black church. And it’s ironic, but it’s really true.
You ask the question of origin, like, what’s the origin of the break? How did this happen? You really have to take it back. And where I trace it to is the moment that first Portuguese explorer, well, actually, you can go back even further than that. You can go back to Plato. You can literally take it back to Plato and Aristotle.
Plato was the first Western philosopher to pontificate on something that he called race in the English language. And what he said was race is the different metals that different people groups are made of. Who knows if he actually thought we were made of different metals, but in this illustration, what race did was it ordered society.
He said the gold people serve society in this way, the copper people serve society in this way, and so forth. His acolyte, Aristotle, within 10 years actually took this idea of race and made it into a hierarchy of human belonging. And it was Aristotle that actually said that if you’ve been conquered, you’ve proven you were created by God to be enslaved. Then flash forward another thousand years and you get Pope Nicholas the Fifth–I hate to bring in the Catholics, but hey, you know–It’s the Pontifex Romanus. He says in a papal bull that if you come across land that is not civilized or Christian, then you have the right to claim that land for the throne, which of course was also his land. It would be Catholic land. And enslave its people. So it’s that papal bull that then gives permission for the entire transatlantic slave trade.
Joan: Yeah, so there’s enough–I don’t want to use the word blame, but I’m going to use it. There’s enough blame to go around from the start.
Lisa: And of course, colonize all the different spaces in Africa, but also North and Central and South America. We have the world that we have today because of that history of dividing humanity into hierarchies of belonging.
Eilis: I think that really ties in directly with this line that in your book, Fortune, and in it you’re quoting Dr. King, and he says something along the lines of. “The unrepentant segregationist has declared that democracy is not worth having if it involves equality.”
Lisa: That’s right.
Eilis: That line just struck me. And then you add to that. You say, “True to King’s words, white nationalists attempted to kill democracy because it demanded equality, but they lost.” This whole story about Bob Jones is exactly that. I’m wondering if you can tease out just maybe a little more for our listeners about the correlation between the politics of segregation and how that undermines democracy today in 2023.
Lisa: Well, what is democracy? I mean, there’s lots of different kinds of democracy, but the kind of democracy that we have is the kind that actually believes in the power of its institutions. We have a very complex democracy, actually, not a very simple one. We have three branches of government that are supposed to check each other. We have the presidency, the Congress, and the Supreme Court. And then we also have the news, right, like the free press, which they call the fourth estate, right? That’s the fourth pillar of our governance, because it holds all of them accountable.
We also have the separation of church and state so that we will always be able to protect the minorities, not only ethnic, but also religious minorities that are within our borders and within our electorate, within our constituencies. So our kind of democracy is what they call a liberal democracy, but it’s not meant in the sense that we now think of liberal and conservative. It’s just liberal, as in classical liberalism, which believes in the power of institutions to create order and to create peace. Liberal democracy is committed to protecting the minority. Now this is ironic, right, because the reality is that that’s our aspiration as a nation. But, you know, we were, quote, “the first democracy” when we said, you know, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and yet we had four million enslaved people in our nation by 1861, when the Civil War began.
What I’ve come to understand is that truly American democracy would not be here, we would not have American democracy without the witness and the push of people of color, especially people of African descent in America.
So the politics of democracy demands that its electorate is able to vote. The politics of democracy demands that voting is not hard, it’s actually easy to do. We need it to be protected, but we also need it to be easy so that every citizen has the ability to vote.
Now, democracy was subverted, particularly in the South. When you trace it back to 1787, to the very first Congress, that’s where people of African descent were named three-fifths of a human being, right? Not because they were gonna be given the vote, but because they wanted to “even out the amount.” It’s basically the first gerrymandering. They basically gerrymandered the South because there weren’t that many white people down there: It was mostly black folk down in the South, but they weren’t gonna let them vote. And so would they actually count black folk toward representation? Well, they decided to count them as three-fifths of a human being toward representation, but not people who would represent them, right? People who would only represent the white plantation owners. So that’s the first gerrymandering. And that’s undemocratic. It’s an undemocratic way to govern that comes from the very beginning, the first Congress.
After the Civil War, we see Black folk flourish. We see democracy flourish for about nine years. With the passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments, you have thousands and thousands of Black folk that are now voting, and they vote in several Black people to be senators in Congress, and representatives in the House, and judges, and lieutenant governors. We had over 1,000–some people actually say 2,000–people of African descent who were elected to public office in the nine years after the Civil War.
But then there was a deal cut in order to get the South to play nice with the North up in the Congress. And they said, “OK, because there was contention over who won the presidency, we’ll let your guy take the presidency, but only if you take your troops out of the South.” So the North said, “OK, we’ll do it. We’ll take our troops out.” And when they took the troops out, that’s when all hell broke loose. That’s when the KKK rose up in its second and more powerful iteration. In the 10 years that followed, that’s where you get the most lynchings in American history. Between 1877 and 1950 you had over 5,000 lynchings in America. with the majority of them happening before the turn of the 20th century.
The pattern that we see in the struggle for democracy in America is the pattern of trying to jerry-rig the system so that people of color cannot vote. And when that system is jerry-rigged through gerrymandering, through suppression of the vote, through voter intimidation, through lynchings and church bombings and through terror, then fewer black people and people of color vote and that means the white vote then gets to have its way.
And we see that happening again since 2013 when the Supreme Court ruled that section four of the Voting Rights Act wasn’t needed anymore. Section four was the formula that gave us the list of states in section five that would need to come to Congress ahead of time and ask permission to change their voting laws. States such as Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, because of their past in the civil rights era, were put on a list that said, no, you can’t just change your laws, you’ve got to ask permission. We have to see the formula you’re about to use. Well, that’s what the Supreme Court threw out in 2013. And that is the reason that we have had voter suppression off the rails since 2013.
So when you ask the question of democracy, theologically, for me, it goes back to the very first page of the whole Bible. On the first page of the entire Bible, it says that all humanity is made in the image of God. And what that means on that first page, because it’s spoken in the same breath, is that all humanity is called and created with the capacity to exercise dominion in the world. In other words, to make choices that impact their world, to steward the world. Well, in a democracy, the most basic way that any of us stewards anything publicly is through the vote. So when you take away the capacity to vote, then really what you’re doing is you’re squashing the image of God on your land.
You are actually warring with God for supremacy.
Colin: That makes me think of a TV show I was watching recently where they mentioned in a passing line that America has really only been a democracy for the past 50 years, if you want to call it that, right?
Lisa: That’s right. That’s right. And even that’s been contended, right?
Colin: And I love how you just illustrate it out through all those examples and how systematic it’s been in all those different iterations. In some of the work that NETWORK does, we focused a lot on topic of reparations, specifically around HR 40, that would help establish a task force to really study that question of reparations, what that can look like, and dealing with the effects of a lot of those efforts that you’ve mentioned.
But something interesting you’ve written around the topic of reparations, that I want to ask you about is having Black people ultimately needing to forgive white people. Not necessarily because white people would deserve that or because of the need to forget the past sins, but more for the future and the freedom and liberation of Black people in that forgiveness. I’m curious if you could say more about that.
Lisa: Yeah, When I got my second master’s degree at Columbia University in Human Rights, one of my classes was this class that was basically about peacemaking. I might have just been called Peacemaking. The person who was the professor was actually a Jewish professor. And he was not just a professor, he was one of the leaders really in the international movement for truth commissions and restitution and things like that.
One of the first things that he said in the class was, “What do you think of forgiveness?” And, you know, me being the evangelical that I am, I’m like, “Oh, well, you know, forgiveness is great. It actually helps.” And I mean, we actually have a very robust understanding of forgiveness, quite honestly, particularly in my stream of the evangelical church, which came out of a stream that was very much influenced by people of color, right?
So we kind of went at it in class that day because he said forgiveness actually causes injury. If you call the oppressed to forgive, that’s a second level of oppression. And I was like, “I don’t think so.” I mean, yes, if they don’t understand it, if you’re just basically saying to them, “Now you have to do this,” yeah, of course, because the first oppression was the denial of agency. And if you’re saying now you have to forgive, you’re also taking away agency again.
But here’s the thing about forgiveness. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote in his book, No Future Without Forgiveness, forgiveness cuts the tie, the spiritual tie between the oppressed and the oppressor. To forgive literally means to release, to release from the debt that is owed. Now, it’s important that we understand in my book that the chapter on forgiveness comes directly following the chapter on reparation, right? So, reparation needs to be made for those things that can be repaid.
But then I consider my great grandfather, Hiram Lawrence, whose father was chased out of Kentucky and moved to Rockport, Indiana. And then Hiram came up as a child during his. Around the turn of the 20th century, they had a pogrom kind of in Indiana, and the state pretty much became like a sundown state. And particularly Rockport became a sundown city. And so he left Rockport and came to Philadelphia. And in Philly, he became a mail clerk and then a mail carrier. He worked his way up over decades till in the 50s. He became a supervisor in the Philadelphia Central Mail Post Office.
So now he’s making money. And while he’s making money, he decides he’s going to invest in land. And so he buys a whole block, or several homes, I should say, on a block in this community called Elmwood, a black community in Philadelphia. And by 1958, Philadelphia seized that land by eminent domain and paid him just pennies on the dollar for what all of his homes were worth. And now he didn’t own several homes, now he could only restore his home by buying one home in South Philadelphia, two blocks from where I live right now.
And so when you ask the question of forgiveness for me, I could demand of the city of Philadelphia that they restore the community that was there. Because they didn’t just take the houses, they took the community, which is never coming back. I could demand that they restore that community till the day I die. But they can’t do it. The price tag is too high. It’s literally not possible. So if I demanded that, I would be the one to die with a deficit. Now, they can actually pay what that land is worth. They can pay not even what it’s worth now or what it was worth then, but all of the generations of inherited wealth that could have been passed down from generation to generation. They can pay that. Or the federal government–somebody can pay that, right? Well, I’m not letting that go. That’s something that actually can be paid. But I am releasing the debt of the community that is owed to me because if I held on to it, I would be the one to suffer.
And so that’s the value of forgiveness in this, let’s call it the ingredients of the recipe for repair. The recipe for repair requires truth telling, which requires truth seeking and truth listening and then telling the truth that you’ve heard and learned. And then it requires reparation for the things that can be repaid. And then it requires forgiveness because there’s no way that we will ever reach the beloved community and be able to live next to each other, be able to interact with each other, and have real equity that doesn’t devolve into, “we were oppressed, now we’re going to oppress,” if we do not release what cannot be repaid.
Joan: Wow. Lisa, you have given us not just a history lesson, but a religion class and a check on our morality. I mean, what a story about this country and how we got to where we are today.
Lisa: Thank you.
Joan: And there’s so many questions that could be asked in all the information that you have passed on to us today. But I’m really struck going back to how the wedge issue divided us and the beginning of this ideology of Christian nationalism, which is what we’re dealing with in a strident strain today. It makes me wonder how many people enable Christian nationalism and white supremacy in our politics today, because they think that they’re going to gain something from it, culturally, politically, in whatever way.
But the thing that they fail to recognize–and you touched on that a little bit when you were commenting about why it’s important to forgive and the role of forgiveness and restitution in reparations–is that they too will ultimately fall into the crosshairs of this destructive force. We are a people who live together in this society, maybe badly, but we are united in the fact that we are all, as you said earlier, created in the image and likeness of God. We are a community. And so It is just distressing what is going on in our country today. And if our democracy fails, then all of our freedoms will be in danger. All of them. Not just Black people’s freedoms, but everybody’s freedom.
So what wisdom do you have for your fellow evangelicals, for women, for white people, for anyone who might continue to be tempted to use politics to gain and misuse power by suppressing the will of the people?
Lisa: I think that it’s important that all of us do the work of truth seeking. And I think that right now that is our work. Someone was asking me this yesterday, you know, “What’s the work we can do in order to fix the world right now?” And I firmly believe that what we need to do is we need to seek the truth. We need to value the truth again because we’ve lost the value for it because it’s been so maligned and so distorted. And now people don’t even trust what they see or hear. So they just say it doesn’t matter. But it does matter.
Joan: It does.
Lisa: It matters. Because without a sense of what actually happened, there’s no way for us to even begin to discern what’s going to be necessary for us to repair the break in order for us to become a healthy society. In order for us to understand how to correct the mistakes in the relationships that we’ve had with each other in the past, we have to know what happened and what our part and our family’s part in it was. And if not our family, then what was our people group’s part in it? How have we benefited from it? How have we not benefited from it? How have we been on the receiving end of oppression? This is what we need to understand and people of European descent, especially. need to do the same work that I did in going back into your family history and asking the critical questions: Where were your ancestors when X happened?
Where were they when MLK was shot? How were they talking about it? Who were they acting with? Were they actually on the side of the segregationists, or on the side of the civil rights activists, or were they on the side of the silent church? Most of the church was silent during that time. Its silence has allowed white nationalism to take over. It is our inaction that has actually rolled out a red carpet for fascism and authoritarianism to enter into American governance and to attempt to kill democracy. By the way, public schools were another big part of that pillar of democracy that helps and protects minorities. And by minorities, I’m not just saying people of color, I’m saying everybody, right? And now we have an attack on that. We have an attack on our education system, which we see very clearly in Florida.
So where have you stood on these things? Where has your family been? I think that two things can happen. as a result of doing this work of truth seeking. One: humility. Humility can grow as we begin to understand how our families intersect with these major decisions and how they were impacted by major decisions in American history that created the world that we live in today, like the Homestead Act.
If you live in the Midwest and your family’s been there for a long time, more than likely your family got its middle-class status. because they were granted free land from Native people. It didn’t just come out of the blue, land was taken from Native people in order to give it to you, to your people. So you’re able to go to college, you’re able to have a nice pool party or whatever, or even go to a public pool that was all white because that land was settled through the granting of free land.
Or maybe your Irish ancestors actually went and fought in World War II and therefore earned their white status and were granted the GI Bill when they got back, which of course then paid for their free college and also really nice middle class housing that was bought for very, very low cost. These are the things that established the middle class in America. Where were you? Where were your people? How did you benefit from that? There’s humility that will come as people investigate their own stories and do their own truth seeking.
The other thing that it will do is that there will be empathy. Empathy will grow for those who are actually in the middle of that struggle right now, people who are trying to enter into America through the asylum seeking system, or immigrants who have been stuck here because they were running from poverty or authoritarian governance and they came to the closest nation possible, the United States.
They have been here contributing taxes and the rest and yet not benefiting from them. If you’re one of those founding families from Plymouth Rock, who were there during the Tea Party in Boston, and you say, “Yes, that’s who we are–we are the people who stand against taxation without representation,” then you should be for comprehensive immigration reform.
So when we do our work, when we seek the truth, starting with our own truth, our truth comes out of our own family. That will lay the groundwork for us to begin again to rebuild–or actually not rebuild, but maybe for the first time build the beloved community among us.
Lisa: I hate to preach, but you got a preacher here. What can I say?
Joan: Yeah, you have to.
Eilis: That was amazing. Thank you, thank you, thank you for joining us today. I wish we could continue this conversation for many more hours. I have so many questions about things we’ve talked about.
Lisa: Well, I’d love to come back anytime.
Eilis: Wonderful! Thank you for joining us on Just Politics.
Lisa: Thank you.
You can follow along for updates, live streams and other bonus content on our social media platforms. We can be found at @network_lobby. Thanks for joining us! We look forward to seeing you for next week’s episode of Just Politics.
Catch up on previous episodes of Just Politics:
- What we mean by fragile (with Jarrett Smith)
- When it’s your community (with Nichole Flores)
- It may be nationalism, but you can’t call it Christian (with Amanda Tyler)