Eboo Patel, who appears as a guest on The Unfinished Church podcast, is the founder and president of Interfaith America, a nonprofit organization that promotes cooperation among people of different religions. He is the author of the new book, “We Need to Build: Field Notes for Diverse Democracy” (May 2022).
In May, he authored a guest essay for the New York Times, “What I Want My Kids to Learn About American Racism.”
In the essay, he reclaims and asserts the foundational truth that, “It is always harder to create than it is to criticize.”
Patel examines the definition of white supremacy, the role it played in his life, and how he has learned to most faithfully address it.
“White supremacy is the assumption that the cultural patterns associated with white people — from clothes to language to aesthetic preferences to family structure — are normal, and the patterns associated with people of color are inferior,” he wrote.
As a Muslim child of immigrant parents from India, he had the realization, “Wait, didn’t that basically describe my entire life?”
“My principal identity was as a victim of racism,” he said. “My singular purpose was to call racism out, beat it down, and give it a violent death in front of a crowd.”
Patel described how his thoughts about racism caused him to overlook some of the good things in his life. “I lost sight of many things, like how fortunate I was to be a middle-class college student spending my days reading, and the role I had in building something better. I was in a conspiracy against my own agency,” he said. “Calling out racism is part of the work, not all of it. After you get rid of the things you don’t like, you need to build the things you do.”
Over time, he began to examine what he wanted to teach his children about racism. “I would be remiss in my duties if I allowed my kids to fall into the same victim mind-set that I succumbed to as a college student. We are South Asian American Muslims, and my kids have experienced their fair share of anti-Muslim taunts, which, these days, are just as much about racial bigotry as religious bias. We work with the school so that it is better equipped to deal with the problem of prejudice, and then I remind my kids what a privilege it is to be Muslim. I want them to derive their identity from loving Islam, not hating Islamophobia,” Patel said.
In his soul-searching as a parent, he unveiled truths that guide those working to build Beloved Community. “I don’t want my kids to shy away from confronting racism, but I don’t want whatever racism they might experience to make them lose sight of all of their other identities and privileges,” Patel said. “Above all, I want my two sons to understand that responsible citizenship in a diverse democracy is not principally about noticing what’s bad; it’s about constructing what’s good. You need to defeat the things you do not love by building the things you do.”
Named by “US News & World Report” as one of America’s Best Leaders of 2009, Eboo Patel is the Founder and President of Interfaith Works. He served on President Obama’s inaugural Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and holds a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University, where he studied on a Rhodes scholarship. He was an Ashoka Fellow, part of a select group of social entrepreneurs whose ideas are changing the world. Listen to his conversation with three United Methodist bishops on The Unfinished Church podcast.