Dear Arno Michaelis,
I had the privilege of hearing you speak in Santa Rosa on May 4th, after the film, White Right: Meeting the Enemy. I didn’t get a chance to speak with you but you did answer a great many of my questions. I was deeply moved by your story and your transformation as a former white supremacist. If you were someone local, I would have been more inclined to invite you out for coffee. But instead, as a warning, I am offering a love letter.
My first recollection of the notion of white supremacy was in Pomona, California, where I was raised, as a Jew in the 60s. We had a neighbor who was outspokenly racist, so my parents spoke openly and regularly about race, tolerance and respect of others. By high school in the early 80s, through non-violent activist groups and zines, I had learned that a large KKK group was based in Fontana and to never travel through there alone. By the mid-80s, I was deeply dedicated to social justice issues and political activism through the Bay Area punk music scene. In fact, seeing you was a bit of a flash back for me. Skinheads frequented our punk shows and I have memories of being nearly stomped on and brutalized by guys that looked and acted just like you (back in the day). In our punk scene, we weren’t just engaged in the music, we also cared about speaking out against war, racism, homophobia, sexism, environmental issues, and much more. Today, at 52, I still care deeply for social justice issues and making this a safer world for future generations. I work with white people in my community to explore and take responsibility for racism and white privilege, to develop anti-racist identities and practices, and to work as allies for racial justice.
This is a love letter.
I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, but I admire your strength and courage to put down a message of hate and violence and speak your truth about identity, purpose, and belonging. It takes a deep level of psychological reflection to shift away from a community that helped you survive to a community that now teaches you how to help others live in peace. How could I offer anything less than heartfelt conviction and motivations entrenched in a love for what you are doing, writing, contributing, sharing, smashing, and reinventing? I have nothing more to give but a love that seeks only respect and liberation for one and all. I have only gratitude and depth of appreciation for taking a jackhammer to my cynicism, bulldozing my apathy, ripping to shreds my guilt, hijacking my submissiveness, and dropping parachutes of militant inspirational armaments into my world. We are in it together. I do not know you. I do not claim to know anything more than what you have offered so persuasively and so boldly in your stories. But we have raised swords in our daily fight against a culture of hatred and intolerance.
This is most certainly a love letter.
Because only a coward would not risk for love. And if my words fail to convey the passion that I feel, the sense of conviction that I feel, then I have not made a true commitment to express that which is unutterable, that which we are taught to suppress, repress, and bury… so I owe it to you and myself to be honest and sincere. Your personal transformation and commitment to social justice have awakened my heart, just when I needed it. And so I thank you for your efforts to subvert my conscience. I am always open to re-education, re-confrontation. I am more alive and awake from what you’ve shared. I am less jaded and less dead from what I have learned. Nothing like a good dose of healthy non-violent resistance to fight off the cancerous cells of racism, conformity and keeping the status quo.
This can only be a love letter.
I couldn’t live with giving anything less than a sincerity of emotion, depth of understanding, engaged awareness, and armed with a life worth living. I may never know your whole story. But I am building bridges of friendship, where others may turn way and appear aloof or intimidated. I am tearing down the walls that divide us, brick by brick. May my words have the power to lift off this page and embrace you, as your words have done for me. Because in some cosmic dimension, I’m elbowing you in the ribs and we’re laughing at how serious we take it all and I’m teasing you for being so damn insistent on change and you’re teasing me for being do damn reckless with my new-found lawlessness. And it’s like we’ve known each other all our lives, fought in the same battles against oppression, snipped the same barbwire to freedom, ransacked the same institutions of repression, and shed our insecurities over a succulent home-cooked meal.
Thank you, Arno, for being a part of a driving force of inspiration in my life. I will carry your story in the pocket of my heart for a long time to come.