Transcribe your podcast

From ABC, this is the 10 percent happier podcast. I'm Dan Harris. Too often, I fear the process of looking at your biases can be presented as if it's like eating your vegetables. In fact, in my experience, one of the most fascinating and rewarding things I've ever attempted to do is to take a good, hard look at my own prejudices and conditioning, especially as a white man. I don't want to pretend this kind of exploration is easy or that I'm especially evolved.


I still screw up all the time. However, as I said, one thing that I think is often really underplayed is that doing this work can be deeply enjoyable and interesting and also can pay off in some profound ways. One of my most important role models here has been a guy named John BE1, who the host of a podcast called Seen on Radio, if you check it out. The show has had four seasons, but the seasons that have had the most impact on me are seasons two and three.


Season two was called Seeing White, in which John explores white people and whiteness. Season three is called Men, in which he looks at sexism. Big hat tip here to my friend, seven Selassie, the meditation teacher and frequent guest on the show, who turned me on to John Bolton's work, as I said, has had a big impact on me. I was not surprised to learn that John is a meditator himself and that this practice has helped him as he's done this often humbling work.


One quick audio note before we dove in. You may hear a little bit of background noise on his and occasionally it's just some yard work shouldn't be too distracting.


And I do want to do one little item of business before we get into it with John B, when you can join me this weekend at Love and Resilience, the Contemplative Care Summit.


It's a free five day event for March twenty fifth to twenty ninth. It's being co presented by Lions Roar magazine and the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care. The latter, the Zen Center, is run by a pair of really good friends of mine, Koshin Palely Ellyson and Robert Choteau Campbell. They're Zen monks who taught my wife and I to be hospice volunteers and then we became really good friends there so go check it out. In fact, a little segment I do for the summit features both me and Bianca talking about relationship stuff.


So go check it out. It's free and you can sign up by visiting Lyons Dotcom Care. OK, here we go now with John BE1. John BE1, thanks for coming on the show, appreciate it. Good to be with you, Dan. Thanks for having me. So I've listened to two of the big stories you've done. Seeing White and also men there were hugely influential for me and I think incredibly well done. So really, it's a pleasure to talk to you.


Thank you.


It means a lot to hear that from you.


So let's start with saying white, it seems like to me the I really related to the conceit as you were setting it up, know both of us are journalists and you were describing your time as a journalist covering the issue of race.


You always considered it to be turning the lens on or handing the mic to people of color, never thinking that, well, you two have a race. And so the whole idea of I understand it correctly and hopefully you will correct me here was to take a look at white people. Do I have that right? Yeah.


As I say in the first episode of that series, as journalists, I think we think white journalists and that's OK. That's most journalists, right. As white people, we think that we're covering race when we're reporting on folks of color. And that's kind of the conceit usually is that reporting about race is pointing your microphone in your camera and your gaze at communities of color when in fact race and racism were invented by people who look like you and me.


And so why are we not pointing our cameras and our microphones and our gaze at white people when we're reporting on racism? And let's be clear, we're not just, you know, use the word racism and white supremacy, which is what we're talking about. So, yeah, that is the kind of the fundamental move that I tried to make in framing that whole series was to say we're going to look at race through the frame of this idea, even the idea.


Where did the idea come from that there are some people that we're going to define as being white? And of course, that goes hand in hand with the idea that there are black people and then then the other kinds of racial groups kind of got filled in later by some odd notions of racial science. But we're getting ahead of ourselves, perhaps not in a bad way. Yeah, yeah. Just to say I really love that idea, the foundational idea of the series.


And and so it leads me right to what you ended with there. You know, it seems like a foundational thing to know when talking about race that it is not biologically true. It's something that was constructed by people who we would now call white. That's right. So can you tell us what you learned on that front?


Yes. And I think that probably for a lot of people, that just sounds odd to hear you say that. What do you mean it's not biological? What do you mean it's not? I mean, I'm not imagining that there are people with lighter skin and people with darker skin or people who are descended from African than Europe. That's what we mean by white and black. Right. What are you trying to tell me? That's not a real thing.


So the point is, though, that first of all, through most of human history, those classifications didn't exist. Yes, there were people people divided themselves in all kinds of ways, much more prominently for a long time by religion or by what we might now think of as a kind of a nationality or an ethnicity or language groups and all kinds of ways that people divided themselves. But this idea that there were three or four or five or six, you know, there's never been any agreement actually on how many races there are.


What I learned in high school in my social studies textbook was three races of humanity, Mongoloid, Caucasoid and Negroid. Right. And so there have been these classifications that there are these large groups that coincide loosely with the continental regions of the world, and that there's some meaning to these particular distinctions of three or four or five races. That is a recent invention, five or so hundred years ago, four or five, six hundred years, depending on where you want to kind of mark the beginning of it.


But it was really an idea that was developed over several hundred years, really up until the early 20th century, that some of these ideas were still evolving and being formed and being created. And so we actually trace that history, really tell that story over several episodes of Seeing White Series. So that's a really important thing to know, as I said before, sort of a foundational fact as you venture into this. Talk about some of the other big learnings for you as you went on this quest.


Yeah, I mean, really another huge point that we make is that. That move, that invention to say, first of all, that we're going to classify and really the first seemingly and this is according to the historian Ibrahima Kennedy, who many people I think will have heard of, he's been really prominent in the last few years and he's all over the news media and so on. Really, the first move was that Europeans invented the idea of black people when and why?


Well, 14, hundreds and hundreds. And it was the time that the Atlantic slave trade was really being pioneered and basically an economic decision had been made that we are going to go to sub-Saharan Africa. To kidnap people and bring them into slavery, to raise our sugar cane and our tobacco and so on. Right. And that that was it was at that time that it suddenly became advantageous in order to justify that trade to say, well, all of the people of Africa, we're going to sort of lump them together and we're going to call them a distinct group that is inferior.


They're kind of beastly was a word that was used. They are less than us. And that that justifies, first of all, a particularly brutal kind of chattel slavery that was not common. You know, people often say that there was almost all cultures in ancient history, enslaved people. But it wasn't until really until the West got into this stuff that it was this business of generation after generation. You would be born into slavery, you would die in slavery, your children would be born in slavery and really treating people as property in a very fundamental way.


That was actually not there wasn't that much slavery that was like that, but it was at the same time that they were inventing that. And I don't think it's coincidental that some folks decided, OK, we're going to classify humanity into these large groups and we're going to do that on the basis of a hierarchy and say that white people are at the top of that hierarchy, black people are at the bottom. And then over time, it was not long after that that you are also having the scientific revolution and you started having people, Class Lineas and people like that, who were classifying the natural world that then you started getting this idea, which was invented by slave traders, getting it codified into notions of science, that there are three or four or five races of humanity.


And white people are the superior one, black people are the most inferior and so on, so this point that it was not just a kind of innocent observation that led to the invention of race, it was as I say, you need to follow the money to understand why the invention was made in the first place, was created, was invented.


And that's, to me, those two facts to understand that race is a is a human invention, number one. And number two, it was a human invention motivated by the wish to justify the brutal economic exploitation of another group, human beings. I believe for me it's altered my understanding of the way that race works today. And ever since. Yeah, if I understood the points that you and the experts on the show were making correctly, you can think of racism on at least two different levels.


There's the level, I think, that most of us think about racism on, which is, you know, whatever attitudes, biases I may harbor, sort of an interpersonal racism maybe. And then there's the racism that's baked into the structures of our society.


If I hear you correctly, you seem to be coming down on the structure part as the more important thing to look at. Absolutely.


And that's a theme that we touch on throughout the series. I'm going to mention the name of my collaborator on that series, Chenjerai Mineka, who's a media studies professor at Rutgers and a podcast and an artist and a somebody who is steeped in understanding race, but also other forms of oppression and injustice and so on. But that's a theme that we hit on, in particular that he emphasizes again and again. We tend to think, as you say, we tend to think of racism as being an issue of individual attitudes, bigotry, prejudice, however, whatever word you want to use.


But this is another point that you, Max Kennedy, the historian, makes. We get the cause and effect backwards. I think what I grew up learning and I think what most of us assume and what we think is the case is to the extent that you have tangible effects of racism, discrimination, housing segregation, employment discrimination, different quality of schools that children go to based on their race, to a large extent that those things are the result of individual prejudice.


And what Dr Kennedy would argue is actually the reverse is true. We started with policies and practices that advantaged white people and disadvantaged black people and then by extension, some other people of color and racist attitudes actually grew out of that. Well, first of all, as I said, these stories, these fictions were promulgated actually to justify these policies and practices, but then also when you're enslaving a group of people and not allowing them to learn to read, for example, and keeping them in a state of as a 18th century white guy put it, a guy named John Woman, you know, and keeping them in this kind of undignified state as enslaved people, it's easier to tell yourself the story that they're inferior because they're not exactly being given the opportunity to fully develop as human beings.


Right. Or to thrive. But that the systemic structures and this is why, you know, just in the last couple of years, I think a lot more of us in this country keep hearing this idea about systemic racism, systemic racism. And I think there's a. A lot of us still need to kind of get our minds around what that means, but I think when you retrace the history and you look at things like, well, in 1790 after the US Constitution was signed, in the first Congress went to work, the first two laws they passed were one that said the Census Act under Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, which said we're going to count white people.


And other free people and slaves, those are the categories of people we're going to count, the second law they passed was the Naturalization Act, which said you can come and become a naturalized citizen of the United States of America if you are a white person, a free white person. OK, so that's not just attitudes at work. Those are laws. And there were all kinds of laws that in colonial America and in the United States that created, for example, this idea about the one drop rule.


And these were laws that were grounded in economics. It was designed to keep more people sort of on the side of the line that would be considered black so that they could be exploited and treated as less then, so that people on the white side of the line, especially those in the ownership class who own those folks, could make more money, really. Right. So that they're just all these ways. We just keep returning to this point that laws, science systems, economic, political and social systems that actually treat people differently in very tangible ways.


That's what we mean by systemic racism. And the attitudes and prejudices are really secondary to that. They matter in their real. And they helped to justify and reinforce those systems and allow us to think that those systems are OK. But they're not the fundamental cause of all of it. After doing all this work, what impact did it have on you and did you did you notice your attitudes changing and can attitudes change? I think attitudes can change. Yes, I mean, I guess, you know, one of the things it's hard to describe or to quantify, I suppose one of the things that I noticed was that for most of my life and, you know, I'm in my late 50s, I had thought of myself as I was raised by parents who were kind of progressive.


Racism is bad. I always thought I was not a racist and was raised to not be a racist. I was a journalist for many years like you, and was interested in race and racism and injustice and thought that I was one of the good guys, one of the good white people who kind of understood racism, that it was a real thing and that it was a problem. And I was one of the innocent ones. You could say I was not part of the problem.


And for a long time I thought that was enough, that there's a subset in this actually kind of, I think, dovetails with the perception that racism is about prejudices and attitudes and that the racists, the one who are causing the problem of racism in the country, they're the people with prejudice and bigotry and they're a kind of subset. Right. And we can sort of identify them. They may be where hoods and bring swastikas to the protest and.


Right. And they discriminate against people of color, but we're not them. So we can kind of go about our lives. And we're not contributing to the problem, so we and we are actually rooting for people of color to win the struggle to stop racism that's being done by those people over there right now. I see that that's not an adequate. That's very problematic because it actually makes us complicit if because if you understand that we're dealing with systems that all of us are part of.


And that I'm benefiting as a white person from the schools I got to go to from the way that I'm looked at by an employer, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, by cops, certainly. Right. By the way, I'm seen by a police officer when I'm pulled over. If I am not actually helping to put my shoulder to the wheel to dismantle those systems and change them, then I'm complicit. And that's what somebody like from Candy means when he says you're either anti-racist or you're effectively racist, because if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem, as people used to say, you know.


Decades ago. So it sounds like there's two levels of work that you're proposing here that I'd be interested in hearing about both of them. One is the work of examining and your own attitudes and seeing if you can work with them. The other is, as you said, putting your shoulder to the wheel in the effort to dismantling systematic structural racism.


Can you talk about each of these levels and how you think about doing the work?


When we saw this, you know, in twenty twenty after George Ford's death and the murders of Amanda Berry and Brianna Taylor, that that there was another kind of surge of interest and a whole bunch of white people who really hadn't thought too much maybe about the depths of racism in the country, kind of having this awakening. Right. And all of the books on the New York Times bestseller list for a while were books about racism and white supremacy. And I think that's absolutely a good thing for people to do when you have that moment of feeling like, OK, I need to learn more.


That's a good thing. And you should go do that. Listen to our podcast. Go read those books, write the ones that were on the best seller list. And so there's a little bit of a paradox in a way, because there's a tendency, based on what I said a few minutes ago about the primary importance of systemic racism, you'd say, well, the solution then is not individual attitudes. The solution is to change systems. But at the same time, I think we need a critical mass of people who are able to see that the change that needs to be made and particularly the people with the certain kinds of power and influence that then we can change those systems.


Right. So that it is also true that.


We need more people learning, we need more people reading the books and watching the right documentary films and listening to the right podcast so that they can have these aha moments of, oh, actually, I'm understanding better how this all works, and that helps me to understand how I might be able to get involved and what it would mean for us to change these institutions and systems so that we have a more just society.


And by getting involved, are you talking about voting a certain way? You're talking about hitting the streets. What does it look like in your mind?


Yeah, I think it looks different for different people. It certainly means, I would argue, voting in a certain way. So, for example, and we talk about this in the last episode of Seeing White, we talk about reparations. I think we should be having that conversation. I think we should really be looking at a profound moral debt and actually a profound economic debt. That is owed to the descendants of enslaved black people, so I personally would argue for voting for people who want to have that conversation and want to move ahead with something like that.


But that can take other forms, too, right? That recognition of how we got to the wealth gap that we have right now. A lot of your listeners will know what I mean by that. But the fact that the average white household in America has roughly 10 times the assets of the average black household, and that is explained by this. Four hundred years of history. Right. Reparations is one way to address that. But there are other ways, you know, should we consider things like a federal job guarantee?


Could that inform the way we look at something like whether to cancel a whole bunch of student debt? It actually is relevant to that conversation. I think so. There are those kinds of policy things. Yes. That could affect the way that we might vote. But it's everything from that to are there people in my community working on. Changing the institutions in my community to make them, whether it's the schools or the criminal justice system or any number of other things, to make them less systemically racist in there, is there some way I can contribute to that work?


Right. It's also things like at my workplace. Am I an accomplice to my colleagues of color who are talking about discomfort and maybe the outright racism that exists in my workplace, or am I the white person who kind of sits at the back of the room during the diversity and equity meeting and resents being there? Right. These are all, you know, and we could go on, I suppose.


But those are some there isn't one or two things that I say to white people, go do this. I think we each have to kind of find our place and what we feel like we can do. But I also do recommend you should feel OK about taking some time to learn as opposed to just saying, oh, today I understand that racism is a problem and I'm going to run out, barrel out and join the Black Lives Matter movement and for do the first thing that I can think to do, because you may actually do some harm if you don't do a little education first.


I know you're you're into meditation, to what extent was and is your meditation practice helpful in working on your own attitudes?


It's hard to say because. I started daily or almost daily meditation practice about 11 or 12 years ago. It's hard to say for sure that I wouldn't have been able to do the kind of journalism that I'm doing if I hadn't done that. But I will say that it seems like there's a certain kind of parallel. Between meditation practice and this kind of journalism or documentary work in the sense that. Buddhist teachers will talk about this, a lot of talk about letting go, there's a lot of talk about willing to sit with discomfort with hearing something, but also with kind of being able to sit and examine our narratives about ourselves and our aspects of our identity that we may be really tied closely to that we haven't really examined.


So there's all of that feels very parallel to me. With the idea, for example, of being willing to say, all right, what is being white mean to me, what piece of my identity and what are the ways I react in a kind of reflexive and negative way if somebody says whiteness is a problem in the world. Right. Chenjerai, my collaborator on the Seeing White series, we open one episode actually with him saying, you know, why is it when I even just refer to a person being white, like the white person, Ed, is serial just, you know, in a completely banal way that some people just seem to kind of flinch, some white people.


And I think it's that we're not used to having even the fact that we belong to a racial group having that alluded to and we get to. We get to go through life, for the most part, seeing ourselves and being seen, but at least by other white people as individuals. And being part of a racial group that may carry stereotypes with it and that sort of thing. That's something that people, nonwhite people have to live with, but we don't.


And so that when there was a story, actually, Stephen Colbert talked about this at one point where I think it was a country singer, I forget who it was, but he was in a fast food place. And the young black worker who was just giving him his food when it came out said, oh, this the white guy there, that's his. And this country singer got very upset and made accusations of racism. How dare you allude to the fact that I'm white?


So what's that? That reflexive response? That's an example, right, of the kind of thing what's at work there? And rather than lashing out and saying, how dare you call me white to just say, oh, person called me white, I guess, you know, I would certainly do know that this food is for that black guy there, right? If there are multiple people and to just learn to sit with it and not react and to be vulnerable, be willing to hear things that are uncomfortable, et cetera, et cetera.


You've now taken a deep dove into at least two of the most sensitive aspects of modern life, and I'm just curious, have there been moments for you where you've been really uncomfortable, maybe even defensive or angry?


And in those moments, did you find that having a practice of looking at your own mind systematically and being able to watch thoughts come and go? And do you find that that practice was useful when the rubber hit the road?


Yes and yes. So I am too much on Twitter. And that's a place where, for example, and I follow a whole bunch of black people and other people of color and I follow a whole bunch of feminist women. And that's an area where you will see, for example, people will make these kind of provocative or sweeping statements about white people are bah bah bah, or men are, you know, or even like, why are men? That's an actual tweet that you'll see.


Why are men question mark right where they're just the question is, it's a kind of like men are a mess and why do we have to deal with them so. Right. So I can certainly in those moments, in fact, that's its own hashtag, too. Not all men, which is the kind of standard response to that, which is what I am certainly capable of feeling like. It's don't lump me in with all those, you know, those bad guys or the case of racist white people.


And I have learned, first of all, what you learn in black Twitter, for example, is or in feminist Twitter don't respond that way. Or as people say, it's not about you personally. That tweet, if you feel like it's not about you, then it's not about you. Take a breath and move on. Right. So that yes, absolutely. There's a conversation and seeing white where Chenjerai and asks me says how important it is to you to be white or I can't remember.


That's not the exact phrasing, but something like that. And actually, we then we took another whole episode to kind of address that question and to.


But yes, I certainly have experienced discomfort and it's absolutely been helpful to me again and again and again, in fact, every day, many, many times it's helpful to me to be both in this work and just in in life, to be able to just say that didn't hit me right or I'm reacting to that thing. Let's just take a moment. I see myself reacting to it, but I don't need to do anything about it. I can just take a breath and let that go absolutely.


All the time. Yeah, it's absolutely priceless, that capacity, and it's certainly not the case that I that it does it for me all the time or that I'm successful, quote unquote, at that all the time. But it's absolutely helpful. Much more of my conversation with John BE1 right after this. Staying informed has never been more important. The information is coming at us faster than ever. So how do you make sense of it all? Start here.


Hey, I'm Brad Milkie from ABC News. And every weekday we will break down the latest headlines in just 20 minutes. Straightforward reporting, dynamic interviews and analysis from experts you can trust. Always credible, always solid. Start here from ABC News 20 minutes every weekday on your smart speaker or your favorite podcast app. One of the things that I like the least about myself is how defensive I can get. Yeah, and I've been meditating for as long as you have and written books about it and still get caught up, just wrapped around the axle on this stuff comes up and just some deep desire.


I have to be, as you use this phrase, you know, be one of the good guys. And I'm desperately trying to tell myself a story that I am. And then when it's shows up that I'm not, it's like I can't handle it. One of the things that really helps kind of. Deflate my defensiveness is to see that my thoughts are just part of nature, that we evolved for bias, we evolved to sort of quickly categorize things and people, and that can be helpful as cognitive shortcuts to navigate the world.


So we're not having to figure everything out afresh all the time, but it can also be deeply damaging to yourself and to others if you're, you know, and dehumanizing, if you're just telling yourself a really quick and inaccurate story about people and then treating them a certain way as a consequence of that, it just to see that we don't have to take our thoughts so personally, we can view them as I didn't order up these racist thoughts.


And so I not only don't need to act on them, but I also don't need to tell myself a whole story about how I'm irretrievably rotten. So does any of that make sense to you? Totally, and in fact, to use the exact phrase that I like to use in this context, which is don't take it so personally, I think that's so often what people are reacting to is that if I say, for example, whiteness has been a force.


Of. Injustice in the world and really nothing else. Oftentimes what people hear when you say that is you're saying that I'm bad because I'm quote unquote white because I'm a European American. And actually, that's not what I'm saying. That's not what I'm saying. It's not about you. Actually, I'm saying that whiteness as a concept, really, as we said before, was invented for the purpose of creating hierarchy among human beings. I didn't do that.


I do benefit from it, but I didn't do it. So there's no reason for me to feel bad, personally guilty for having been born into that system. But it also doesn't hurt me to acknowledge the truth of that statement. It's not about me. And so I think that is, yes, exactly what you said, so it's not only where we wired to make sorts of those shorthand distinctions, OK, these are the people in my group.


Those are the people in the other group. But then the way that that wiring got applied to these ideas about.


People in these quote unquote races, we didn't create that either, but that, you know, we grew up swimming in that water, right. So that, yeah, I think we should be willing to go easy on ourselves personally when we notice ourselves with these, you know, thinking in these kinds of patterns, but at the same time doing all we can to learn to see ourselves doing it so that we can let it go and not act on it.


One of the things I really like about the Buddha's approach is that he very much aims his message at. The pleasure centers of the brain, you know, it's a. Yes, meditation's hard, but it will make your life better because you're suffering, whether you're aware of it or not. So what's the self-interest in doing this work, looking at your biases, but whether it be, you know, your race based biases or as again, we'll discuss in a minute your biases when it comes to sex and gender, why do it, given how hard it is?


Yeah, well, for me, I guess the the motivations have to do with wanting to be a better person in the world. And in fact, I interviewed a white woman who's a philosopher at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and she's written a couple of books on whiteness. And I can't remember how in our conversation we came around to this kind of question and she said something like, you know what, I'm raising children and I don't want them to be monsters.


That actually chokes me up now to remember, you know, and I just had such an impact on me, right, because that's I don't want to be a monster and I don't want my children to be monsters. And when you recognize. The depth of the injustice in our society that flows out of white supremacy. You know, I don't want to be part of that. It's kind of like saying, you know, I'd rather not be a Nazi if I'm living in Nazi Germany.


So, yeah, and people may react like, whoa, you're calling me, you know. No, I mean, that's an analogy, right? And another thing that's related is just that to me, I just feel more content when I feel like I am living with the truth, when I'm telling the truth, when I'm hearing the truth. And there is so much lying and gaslighting and misinformation and disinformation in our historical moment now. But actually throughout human history and throughout the history of our country, we don't tell the truth all that often about who we are, who we were, who we are, what's really at work, what our society is really like.


And there's a comfort of a certain sort for me when somebody says something that feels true or when I say something, certainly when I say something that feels true. So the other thing I would say is that just another layer to it is that that I actually really do think that we all have something to gain. If we could build a society that's more fair and just. Yes, white people, and I've said this over and over again, that white people benefit and gain advantage from white supremacist systems.


And so there is a sense in which we have to give up, we have to give up power, we have to maybe give up some advantages. But I think at the same time, most of us. Would gain benefits if we lived in a society that treated people better and that. That didn't have all this injustice and pain and suffering that comes from those hierarchies in those systems. Yeah, to me, there's layers of reasons that feel like self-interest to me.


Yes, all that and I think I would add on top of it, like a I don't know if I'm going to be able to articulate this well here I'm talking about bias not only as it relates to race, but also all bias, you know, can be sexism. It can be ageism. It can be the way bodies look for me. I can one of the more humiliating things I've learned about myself as I can kind of place much more importance on people who are in power as opposed to people who are junior.


So lots of kinds of sorting mechanisms that the mind does that are hard to look at. But I think worth looking at one, because there is a kind of pleasure, although maybe at times perverse pleasure and like seeing what your mind is actually doing, because then when you see it, you're not held hostage by it.


So I think there's that actually, in my experience, is pleasurable. And then the I guess the other thing I'd add is that. When you are not so yanked around by. Your biases, by the way, I would add in like tribal biases to, you know. I know a pain associated with dogmatism, and when you're not walking around, just trying to defend every random thought that's come up into your head, like you get along better with people.


And when you get along better with people, you're happier and then you're in an upward spiral of the happier. And then you get along even better with people and then you're even happier, et cetera, et cetera. I'll stop again because I just want to check this with you to see if it lands.


Absolutely, and yes, I think you're a happier person. I think most of us are happier if we aren't just gripping our beliefs about what's true or are, as you say, our tribal identity or I belong to this political party or this political ideology. And I'm going to feel terrible if there's a fact that I hear that suggests that the other side may be right in this case. And I think it's that you'd live a happier life if you're just willing to kind of have that kind of softness around those things and say, well, maybe this time maybe the other side's right about this thing, you know?


Yeah, yeah, absolutely, that rigidity, those kinds of there's a lot of pain in that, and it's a lot a source of I think a lot of our divisions is that people are holding really tight to what they think is true and what they want to be true. So that they can be right and the other guy's wrong all the time. Well, I want to ask just about that, actually, and I won't apologize in advance, because this is a long question, but go for it.


So I've spent the last couple of years really trying to systematically examine my own biases, which is in part why your podcast has been so meaningful to me, because you've done way more work than I've done.


So I guess you kind of steal from, you know, one of the areas of my own bias that I've really tried to take a hard look at is the aforementioned tribal bias. I'm a journalist just like you, and I've spent my whole career really working on the capacity to be fair. I've interviewed murderers and cult leaders and terrorists and and I certainly don't agree with them, but I believe that I have the capacity to be fair, or at least I believed that.


But I'm also a human being who was raised by parents who had views. And in my case, they were, you know, sort of arch liberals. And I can't not bring there is no such thing as perfect objectivity. That's a fiction perpetuated by some in our profession.


And I've really tried to do the work of the last couple of years of. Listening to podcasts and reading and following on Twitter people from all different parts of the ideological spectrum, you know, the far, far left, which I sometimes have a little trouble relating to, not not so much the far right but center right folks, thoughtful center right folks.


And I found that it makes more complicated my efforts to look at stuff around racism and sexism because there's some heterodox views that you run across, some not very politically correct views, some aggressively politically incorrect views, because these folks are pushing back against what they view as a sort of a canceled culture or a religion or dogmatism of the left. And it comes from interesting people. You know, I've been following this cadre of black intellectuals, Glenn Lowery, Thomas Chatterton, Williams, John McWhorter.


And, you know, they really kind of take issue with a lot of the stuff that you've been talking about here. You know, that notions of white supremacy and that somehow the whole country is even post the Civil Rights Act, totally incurably racist, et cetera, et cetera.


And so I wonder, what kind of criticisms do you hear of your work and, you know, which of them do you take seriously?


Mm hmm. Well, you know, as you know, podcasts are almost purely. Have self-selecting audiences. So I think that I probably get less critique and pushback than I would get even if, you know, I worked in public radio for a long time. And I think there was probably a broader audience for my work in to, say, NPR, the public radio system, than there is now. There are people who choose to listen to this.


So I don't get a lot of pushback. But to the extent that I do more often, it has been actually from white people. For example, the reaction to the Seeing White series unseen on radio, it's tended to be people who came across it, even just say from a Facebook ad that we did about the series or actually did a TED talk. And that's just like an 18 minute taste. And so that people just listen to that maybe or listen to some of it.


And they just and they write in the comments, oh, this is another one of those woak white people whose antiwhite I haven't received very much criticism. That's very substantive, to be honest. I do think, yes. That there are certainly black people and other people of color who reject the kind of story that I've been telling or the and take what I consider to be a more kind of establishment or conservative view of the history of racism and particularly of the more recent history of racism.


I happen to think that their analysis is wrong, but.


Yeah, I guess I don't know really what else to say about it, unless you wanted to get into the some of the substance of that. But I've had debates and I had an actually a pretty strenuous debate with an old dear friend of mine, a guy I went to college with. It started over lunch one day and carried on for a year or two through long emails. And I think some of those analyzes. Don't do justice to really how pervasive the systemic injustice and the systemic hierarchies and so on are at work, and they often, to my mind, kind of blame the victim by saying there are some familiar tropes like, well, Japanese Americans, they were hated and they were discriminated and there was prejudice against them.


But they've done so much better. Why can't black people do that? And I just think that just doesn't do justice to the profoundly different experience than the different history between Japanese Americans and black people who were enslaved for two hundred and forty years and then released from slavery with nothing and sent out into a hostile world, et cetera, et cetera, with racism still very much at play for many, many decades after that. So, yeah, those are the kinds of reactions I have.


Yeah, the model minority argument is is tough. One last question along these lines, then I want to dove into the men series, you use the term white supremacy a lot. I think it's interesting. This is something I've talked about quite a bit with a friend of mine who has been on the show a bunch seven SLAC. We've I'll have to check with her before I include this in the podcast, because these have been offline conversations. But, you know, I can see kind of two sides to this argument about that term.


I think it's technically accurate, hard to argue with the accuracy of it.


On the other hand, as a previous guest on the show, Loretta Ross, has remarked, it can be tricky when you take terms from academia and try to inject them into the mainstream conversation, because in mainstream conversation, white supremacy means something pretty specific, which is the people from Charlottesville. And so I'm just wondering, like, how useful is it to use that term, given that the very people you most want to reach are most likely to be triggered by it?


Hmm, that's a fair question. And I think for somebody who listens to the 14 part series or podcast seeing white, you know, we're sort of taking folks on a journey. To the point where that term, I think, means something different, you're right, I noticed now if I listen to the first episode of Seeing White that I use white supremacy. In the way that I have usually understood it for most of my life, which is that you're talking about people in hoods and swastikas that are open, overt racists, and that's where that term that term gets applied.


But I think, yeah, if you understand more of some of the kinds of things that we've been talking about, that really it comes to mean something both more benign or more, let's see, more ordinary, but also more pervasive, which is that we have entire systems. That advantage white people and disadvantage black people and other people of color, and that's what we mean by white supremacy. So to me, it's there is a process, I think, of re defining it and bringing people along to a different understanding of what the word means.


But then it feels like the right word to use. Once you understand it that way. So you're right. I'm doing that. I can't imagine that there are some people and people do have that reaction, I think with some justification, which is that when they hear somebody like me or like a black academic or activist say that the United States is a white supremacist country, that you're taking this understanding, which is the Klan, and you're saying that that defines this country.


Right. And that people react against that, understandably. But it's more complicated understanding of what the phrase means. Let's talk about the series that you did after seeing what called simply men who went from the frying pan into the fire.


Why did you go into men after seeing why?


Well, part of it was the timing. I didn't know what I was going to do after seeing White. And I had some it was had a few ideas of what might happen, but it was actually. And there were a couple of people, always women, who at the time that seeing why it came out would send me an email or tweet at me or something and say, why don't you do something like this about sexism, patriarchy? And I kind of just put that thought off to one side.


I didn't feel necessarily immediately moved to do it. But then it was the fall of twenty seventeen. And Harvey Weinstein happened and. Metoo movement blew up, and at that moment I just decided, OK, OK, and decided that it would be. Constructive and interesting and and that I would learn a lot in the process of doing something modeled very loosely on seeing white, but just taking this approach that says rather than, for example, looking at a more kind of contemporary journalistic look at how the sexist culture work in the modern workplace or something like that, to look at it.


How long have we had this idea? Have human beings always sort of had this structure in which men are usually kind of in charge of everything? Or when did that start? How did it start? How did that and to really tell that story in the way that we tried to do with seeing why and it turns out that sexism is much older than racism goes back ten or twelve thousand years, apparently. But that it was. At least. In many ways, what we think of as this kind of hierarchical idea that men are going to be in charge and sort of the dominating gender, both sort of at home and what we think of as the public sphere politics and so on, that that came about ten or twelve thousand years ago.


And it coincided with people settling down from small hunter gatherer groups into more complex societies and doing agriculture and specialization of a larger community and stuff like that. So we tell that story based on what the leading scholarship says about it. So the leading scholarship, if I have this right, says that when we were in hunter gatherer, more nomadic, there was more equality because everybody needed to pitch in and women had a there was some specialization. The men might have been doing more hunting.


Women might have been doing more gathering. But the women had apparently, from what we can tell, a lot more input. And then when we settled down into agrarian culture, that was the moment men cease to systematize supremacy. Yes, that's a that's the short version. And that's right. When you had for most of human history and it's funny to say that now because most again, there's all these shifts that have to take place in your mentality, because for most of us, if I use a phrase like most of human history, I'm not even going back very far.


I might be thinking about recorded human history, but if you really talk about human history, you're talking two or three hundred thousand years is what the scientists believe now that Homo sapiens have been around. And for most of that, that time, people lived in small groups of what we now call hunter gatherers or foragers, and they were usually twenty or twenty five people at the most kind of roaming around together. And most of the decisions were made on a kind of consensus basis.


There's no indication that those little groups had a male chief usually or something like that. It was a and there are hunter gatherer groups to this day in some parts of the world. That is that's one of the ways that people can look at this question is to see that it tends to be people sitting around the fire at night and deciding, well, where are we going to go next and who's going to do what? And all right. And as you say, there might be some division of labor along gender lines, but also a lot of things are sort of people did things together.


And also, you know, I've learned more about this more recently, a lot of Native American tribes, for example. Were, if not matriarchal, certainly the Cherokee people, for example, they ran on a kind of it's a very democratic kind of consensus-based clan system. This is in their traditional form of self governance. The typical community or village would have seven clans and each clan had an older woman who was the head of the clan. And to the extent that anybody really was running the show, it was those seven women, although actually most of the decisions were made with everybody there, including the children and a kind of consensus base.


Right. So that, yeah, it just was not the case that men ran everything until. About ten thousand years ago, and then it became quite widespread, in part based on colonialism and societies that were ran that way, dominating others and imposing that. Structure on to other societies and that kind of spread around the world. That's what people think. There's so much interesting history, so many twists and turns, and I want to encourage people to go listen to the series.


Let me ask you something that's sort of beyond that in a way which is, you know, I'm curious, again, to hear what impact doing this work had on you as a man. Has it changed the way you view the world? Has it changed the way you navigate the world? Yes. And again, I'm probably going to give a similar answer and that I struggle with the question a little bit, I find it hard to. Really describe or to quantify and in both of these cases, to you know, I was raised by parents who were fairly overtly, I guess you could say antiracist, although that term really wasn't used back then.


And then also, my mother was a feminist who, you know, was one of five kids and there were three boys. And she was overtly talking to us about, you know, don't be one of these male chauvinist pigs to use the language of the 1970s or so. Right. And I probably thought of myself to some degree as a feminist since I was in college or so. But so that change or the lessons have felt relatively subtle. I also don't claim to be a really good feminist.


I don't claim at all to be free of. Gender bias or of patterns of thinking about what men and women are like or of of a sense of entitlement as a man or I don't claim to be free of those things at all. But I think similarly to, I guess, what my experience has been like with race, it's just a process of making a 12 part podcast series about patriarchy called Men. You know, it was another step of just getting practice in a way that sort of learning to see.


Here's how that functions. In society, in a way that I maybe hadn't thought about before, here's maybe how I see myself participating in that or I see it functioning in me. I see the my mind going. Having that certain kind of expectation or assumption about what's going to maybe be something that is going to happen for me because I'm male or right or finding myself surprised that a woman can do this or that, that's sexism at work in my in my mind.


So, yeah, it feels again, it brings us back to this other parallel conversation we've been having about mindfulness and meditation practice and just having those moments again and again where you see what's going on in your mind and you can choose, OK, I'm going to let that go. I'm not going to act on that. I'm going to recognize that that is actually. An untrue. I thought, and I'm going to just let it go. If we were to hand the mic to your wife.


Yeah, yeah, no, I think it is partly with my wife in mind that I said what I said a couple of minutes ago, that I'm not there. I guess I've you know, I've always tried to be. The husband and the father who participates fully in all the stuff, the house cleaning in the. Frankly, I've always been more of a dishwasher than a cook. I've always been a really good dishwasher, not as good of a cook, and but I can also feed myself and I make some meals and.


But I think that she would say that, yes, there are some ways in which I exhibit some of those sexist patterns. There's an academic by the name of Dolly Chugg, Dolly, if you're listening, respect she. Has a concept that I love, which is so useful and right on point in terms of everything you just said. I think. Which is good ish. We really want to believe that we're good people, but if we can shift that to good ish, she says that allows for room to grow.


So, yeah, you're being open about what sexism may still have purchased in your mind. And you're doing work to, you know, through meditation, through your journalism, through your relationships to be better. And those two things can coexist. Quite nicely, I think, under the framework of good ish. I like that, you know. Yes. And going back to the racism thing, we have the fact that the very philosopher I was talking about before who said that she didn't want to raise her children to be monsters, she she wrote a book about good white people.


And she's actually kind of challenging the idea that a lot of us carry around, that we're good, but good ish might be trying to be good is kind of what in a way, what it sounds like you're describing. And genuinely trying to be good or to be better. I don't know what more we can do than that. That might be a beautiful place to leave it. Is there something that I should have asked but failed to? I don't think so.


People should listen to the show. I want to be careful not to spoil it, because there's just so much in both of these series. And, of course, I've I don't even know what the first season of the show was. And I know you have a new season, the fourth season on democracy, which I also haven't listened to. So there's there's a lot to explore on the show.


Thank you. Thank you. Well, I am a fan of what you do, and it really, truly means a lot to me that you've listened and that you've found it valuable.


Thank you. And keep up the good work. Thank you.


You as well. Thanks again to John, one final bit of business before we go. In response to the cascading crises of the past year, we've done our best on this show from covid to the racial justice protests to the insurrection at the Capitol. We've done our best here to make this a place to help you figure out how to navigate the world. And as you know, the practice of meditation undergirds nearly all of the practical takeaways you'll hear us discuss here.


As you may or may not know, many of our podcast guests have also contributed to our companion meditation app, which is also called 10 Percent Happier. The app helps you understand both how to practice meditation and how meditation can help you out in the world. I think and we think it would be great if you want to consider signing up for the app to make it easier. We're offering 40 percent off the price of an annual subscription to our podcast listeners.


We don't do big discounts all the time. And of course, nothing is permanent, as the Buddhists like to say. So get this deal before it ends on April 1st by going to 10 percent Dotcom's March 10 percent. One word all spelled out, dotcom march and you'll get forty percent off. We'll put a link in the show notes. This show is made by Samuel Johns J. Kashmir, Kim become a Maria Wartell and Jan Point, who we like to call Poy and we get audio engineering from our friends at Ultraviolet Audio.


Speaking of friends, want to salute as well, our friends at ABC News, Brian Kessler and Josh Cohen. Will you all on Friday for a bonus guided meditation from seven SLAC? There was much talk of the big question we want to get out, there is no way out from best case studios and ABC audio.


Listen to In Plain Sight Lady Bird Johnson, a new podcast about the power of a political partnership, one that somehow doesn't show up in the many, many accounts of Lyndon Johnson's presidency, told through ladybirds own audio diaries and available now wherever you listen to podcasts.