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Can Buddhists Help Heal Racism Without Addressing White Supremacy?

Recently we sent out a little BPF survey, asking folks what brings them happiness in connecting dharma and social justice. The outpouring of feedback has been incredibly heartwarming. As one person wrote,

I see dharma and social justice as aspects of the same thing. BPF is like a breath of fresh air; like coming home; a strengthener.

Gah! So wonderful to hear.

In the survey, we also included a question called: “Which of These Movements Light Up Your Heart?”

Which of these BPF issues speak to the work that brings you happiness? Choose one, some, or all!

  • Ending poverty, transcending capitalism
  • Prison dharma, prison abolition
  • Ending racism, healing white supremacy
  • Environmental justice
  • Gender justice, ending sexist oppression
  • Ending war, undoing imperialism
  • Bringing social awareness into our sanghas
  • Other [fill in the blank]

Some of the responses to this question have been quite interesting, and one in particular caught our eye.

Offended by the “healing white supremacy” category. All peoples and races have beliefs about their own superiority. That is such a loaded term and really turns me off. Most of these fall under the heading of “developing a sustainable ethic and society” in my mind. Transcending capitalism, environmental justice, ending war – those are all key to a sustainable world. Ending racism – by ALL peoples not just “whites” (a term i find as offensive and dharmically counterproductive as some Asians find “yellow” or Africans find “black”), and gender justice, all of those are necessary to end war, save the environment, and end poverty. Interconnections abound.

From time to time we do encounter folks who are really “turned off,” as this person put it, by the term “white supremacy,” or the idea it represents. But rather than shrinking from this disagreement, I’m excited to keep talking about it and learning from the debate. Some of our most-read and most-commented pieces on Turning Wheel Media have addressed the question of whiteness, and we’ve also shared some of our favorite scholarly resources unpacking the term “white supremacy” — including the classic piece “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy,” by Andrea Smith.

Adding to the growing list of resources that shape our perspectives on whiteness and racism, we can now add this brilliant bit of comedy by Aamer Rahman, who concedes that “reverse racism” is indeed possible: all you need is a time machine.

To be clear, it’s not that racial prejudice don’t exist within and among non-white groups. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of awful racial stereotyping, discrimination, and even genocidal war that don’t directly involve white people. Also, whiteness has its own type of anatta — no lasting, unconditioned self. Whiteness is not a static category. Who is considered white — and benefits from this racialized status — has changed over time, and will likely continue to change.

But what distinguishes white supremacy among other types of racial prejudice is its unique historical power — stemming from European colonization, and extending through white U.S. imperialism. White supremacy has structured material power relations, wealth, and life chances for entire populations around the world. That historical element is what Rahman points to in his stand-up comedy analysis.

Someday, if another racialized group ascends to global dominance (I sure hope not! May domination of all kinds come to an end…), we may shift out of the historical period of white supremacy. But for now, it’s part of our terrain. It’s what we have to work with — and hopefully dismantle.

So what does all this have to do with dharma? 

Too many examples to list in this post — but I’m sure we’ll keep talking and thinking about it together! Would love to hear your thoughts on whether white supremacy is still a relevant area of examination for social-justice-minded Buddhists. For myself, in the briefest of summaries, I simply don’t see how we can give our best effort toward ending racism without addressing this giant elephant in the room. Plus, one look at the covers of mindful magazine might tell us something about how “wholesomeness” in the mindfulness industry still has a certain, uh, color to it…

white mindfulness

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Comments (52)

  • Bryan

    Just a thought.
    Perhaps a trip to China might serve to remind people that there is no white global supremacy or power structure.
    Anytime we use general terms to describe a person or people by color we are being racist. Racist/Race
    By using general terms concerning racism and prejudice we empower the people who are responsible to hide within the general term.
    People who are racist get to hide behind words that simply and I mean simply identify color. Not people.
    We are individuals who form groups and tribes. Unfortunately we act like groups and tribes that form individuals.
    I often wonder who it is that decides that their house is in such order that they are confident in pointing out how others need to fix theirs?
    The ego rules though. And I suspect that people feel important and somehow justified in pointing at others while never spending a moment really looking at themselves.
    How do we know when we have melting down and purified our own racism and prejudice so we can help others to the same???
    In Loving Kindness

  • Geoffrey Wood

    Thank you Brian. That was part of my point in the comment quoted above. Using these terms and generalizations furthers racism. It is still thinking caught in the paradigm of racism, with hints of paternalism as your comments about the “house in order” suggest to me. To ignore or deemphasize examples of racism by people one considers non-white to me further evidences entrenchment in racism. Not that white privilege in the USA and other nations shouldn’t be brought into awareness. But racism in general is the issue, divisiveness, anything which detracts from the notion that we all manifest Buddha-nature and are equally glorious and deserving of the chance to explore and expand our selves.

    Ask the Koreans of the last 100 years if they have been more harmed by “white supremacy” or “yellow supremacy” if those are your terms. Yes, people of European descent have dominated the geopolitical landscape for the last couple centuries. Human division and dissension goes back way further, with the same essential manifestations time and again. Us vs. them. However we pick and choose.

    I enjoyed the standup skit above. Love Chappelle’s work too. Thing is,especially as Buddhists,with a belief in rebirth, we know that race and gender and class all vary from lifetime to lifetime. They are not us. I recognize most of you may identify me as “white” and to some extent i recognize the benefits i have received from being perceived as ‘white’ in the USA (i also lost many of them once i was labeled as ‘crazy’). However, i do not identify with being white. If you want to discuss this body’s particular cultural and genetic history, I am willing to do so, but it is still but the tiniest expression of who i am. I mostly still think of myself as a wandering samana of undetermined color.

    With respect and a mind that is always learning, sometimes slower than others –

  • Geoffrey Wood

    As for that Heteroarchy article quoted above, a number of misgivings about it as well.

    1, it ignores again the long history of male hetero dominated societies around the world.
    2, it ignores the long trend of lighter-skinned people being associated with wealth and statusaround the world, as people of all races tend to darken when they labor in the sun. This far predates western or white imperialism.
    3, it ignores long history of slavery by non-European peoples.
    4, it ignores long history of genocides by non-European peoples.
    5, it ignores “Orientalism” by non-European peoples
    6, it ignores the genetic-based preferences of non-European peoples, that is, their tendency to want their offspring to breed with the ‘right’ people — again, way predating recent centuries of Euro-American global dominance.

    Some stuff i agree with too, like the comments on poor people of non-European decent joining the military and then repressing other non-Euro poor around the world. I agree with the comments about the commodification of human beings under the current capitalist masquerade. I agree that the non-native Americans have committed genocide, and the situation today on many reservations suggest to me that war on Native Americans continues. Heteropatriarchy as the building block of the nation state – a new concept to me at least in frame of reference but makes sense.

    Finally, though, the author noted that “our” intent is “to organize against White, Christian America.” What does that mean? Why do we choose dichotomous frames of reference? Why still “us vs. them”? They are not separate from us! What was Buddha “against”? Ignorance, perhaps? However even that is the path!

    in lovingkindness,

  • Geoffrey Wood

    shouldn’t we perhaps be enlightening with them as opposed to opposing them?

  • Holly Harrison

    As a white person, if I go into a new sangha while on vacation, I know that most likely, people in the sangha will look like me, speak my language, and welcome me. This is not so for a young, hip black man who may be welcome, maybe feared as someone there for “alternative motives”This is a form of white privilege I think we all can recognize.

    How do we make our sanghas welcoming? One of the characteristics of oppression is that the oppressors oftentimes do not recognize that they are doing it. So, it is that we all benefit when we respect those among us who tell us of their oppression and listen with an open heart at how we can change ourselves, our sanghas and our communities. It is together that we heal.

  • Katie Loncke

    Hi all, thank you for your thoughts! I’m still trying to understand where we agree and where we disagree.

    If we believe that referring to race or color is always racist, then was it racist of Martin Luther King, Jr., W.E.B. DuBois, and other leaders to refer to white people and black people in their work?

    Is race always a bad thing? To me, even though racist domination is quite clearly harmful, even though race is a social construct and not biologically based, and even though I don’t seek to clamp down on enduring racial identities for myself or others, I see race as *also* carrying positive elements of belonging, history, and ancestry. To try to ignore race altogether not only skews our understanding of oppression, which is so often racialized, but also denies a part of reality that is positive for me and a great many other people.

    Geoffrey, I agree that slavery is by no means limited to white or European peoples, but I think that’s a bit of a deflection from this topic. To my understanding, no other racialized slavery system has shaped primitive accumulation and global imperialist power as much as white Europeans enslaving Black Africans (and stealing land from Turtle Island, a.k.a. North America, as well as many other parts of the world). Especially if we’re working in Europe-colonized contexts (like the U.S.), this seems essential to reckon with.

    In general, it seems like you are wishing that Smith’s piece covered a much bigger, perhaps global scope? That’s fine, but for me, it doesn’t invalidate the points that she does make in the piece…

    Holly, thank you for bringing this down to earth, in an example that a lot of us can relate to. (I know I can!) Finding the People of Color meditation on Thursdays at the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland was a huge breath of fresh air for me, for the reasons you’re talking about. Similar with the People of Color retreat at Spirit Rock. It’s powerful work!

    More soon! I truly thank you all for engaging these questions — I think they’re paramount and clearly there is a lot of disagreement. Looking forward to re-reading and continuing to think on the comments.

  • Kogen

    That white men are balking at the notion of white supremacy is indicitive that there is something there to look at. To refrain from using terms like white to avoid racist language just reifies the racist reality that a white man in America can turn invisible in a crowd, unlike minorites and women. We don’t suffer from being suspected by dominant culture, nor do we suffer women gazing. And as far as China and Korea, they answer to global economy, no matter how many times the backed the US dollar, and the global economy, fueled by petroleum, was the American booty after WW2, while other nations lay crippled. And that America, which caused this America, was run by a dominant culture which was white.

    Blah! Keep up the good fight BPF. Without looking a white privilege, we have no movement. Same goes for male privledge. To other white men getting ready to bloviate, save it- try listening.

  • Bryan Wagner

    Anger, hatred, self absorbing philosophies, the idea that punishment resolves, and deciding a persons (individual) orientation towards life by color is sad.
    I wonder about the historical context in which individuals decide it was the sole domain of the “white” race. Historically? There must be a cut off date someone is using to define world history.
    Humans have enslaved humans since tribes existed. Of course I can ignore or cherry pick history to support my own prejudice.
    Racists do that.
    Racists hide by calling others racist.
    A problem I see in world that, to me, is a basic root, is greed.
    Real evil is not about politics, race, pride, country, business, religion, or any power structure. I am not a complicated person or philosopher but what I try to do is see the underlying structures that support or create evil.
    Greed supports any kind of slavery. Not just economic greed, but the cognitive, emotional, cultural, context and content of any society or power structure.
    Most systems that cause harm in the world are simply storefronts for greed.
    When when will we ever take what we need and leave the rest?
    Thank you Bernie Taupin
    In Loving Kindness

  • Bryan Wagner

    Just a thought.
    It is amusing that there is an underlying argument that a person can be so racist that they simply cannot see it or change it and therefore no matter how much they argue that they are not racist they are wrong because they simply cannot see how racist they are. This judgement being passed by persons who evidently feel they are in a position to do so.
    It is a wonderful place to argue from since you are always right.
    This is not a new argument of course but my belief system is that any single individual can evolve no matter what. Color, culture, social pressure, or greed have no impact on a person who makes a decision to evolve.
    In Loving Kindness

  • Geoffrey Wood

    Ok, we’ll talk about yellow supremacy another time.

    I appreciate this discussion as well, Katie, especially among dharma practitioners. I may be in a minority position at times; so was Buddha in his day.

    I’m not saying that referring to race that is racist, though I believe the notion is antiquated. But choosing to “fight White supremacy” and ignore other forms of equally violent divisive racist thinking IS racist in my opinion.

    Katie, i would say that we could look into history and find examples of 100s of years of 1 race enslaving another. The facts that Europeans were on top when the industrial revolution occurred … no big deal to me. Again, we can see examples of extreme wealth and poverty side by side in most global cultures over many times.

    As for the other article, it was not that she should have broadened her scope, it is that her chosen scope is honed as a weapon for her own ignorance and prejudices.

    Kogen, I’m not offended by being considered racist; from my perspective, there is no race. However, in my neighborhood, “white” is not the majority and in fact does stand out on the streets at times. I live in a state that does not have a “white” majority. You are entitled to your opinions as well, whatever your stereotypes about men and whites and white men in particular may be. I am suggesting that you too might want to review them. By your rationale, your resistance would indicate there’s something to look at it. Of course, by that rationale, the response to my sharing that fighting only “white supremacy” was offensive to me also indicates there is something to look at. Though it wasn’t really the offensiveness to me as a person that put me off, but as a potential white person, a potential target of BPF’s fight.

    Bryan, so on on so many points but without the personal involvement of having written a note that helped spark the conversation. “This is not a new argument of course but my belief system is that any single individual can evolve no matter what. Color, culture, social pressure, or greed have no impact on a person who makes a decision to evolve.” Yep.

    I close again with the suggestion that maybe a focus on enlightening together instead of telling people where/why/how they’re wrong might be more useful in terms of meeting the stated goals of BPF. I need my practice too.

  • Kogen

    White people aren’t a target, just our privilege. To not believe in race is one of those privileges. It’s superiority that welcomes that privilege, that speaks there is no such thing as “white.” There is, it’s dominating, and if we ignore it, it flourishes.

  • Bryan Wagner

    I know this about me.
    Change will be driven inside.
    If I change me I change everything.
    I have so much work to do inside.
    I do what I can to resolve external issues “by my actions” during my daily practice.
    I cannot change another heart or mind.
    So many issues come and go.
    Egos latch on to the “others” and worlds issues while perhaps turning a blind
    eye on what is happening right now in front of them.
    I can open my heart to the people and entities I meet.
    I can give more than I take.
    I can overcome my resistance and listen.
    I can hear when what I say is not what is in my heart.
    I can share all this with others.
    I don’t really believe in groups of people as much as I believe in the individual heart and it’s ability to evolve in to something better.
    Most of all I can define my terms and not generalize or use my intellect to simply mentally masturbate concerning social problems.
    Feet on the ground, active hands, and compassion.
    In Loving Kindness

  • Bryan Wagner

    Hi Kogen. I wonder if you can elaborate on what you last wrote. I am struggling with how privilege is being applied to the subject. I would like to hear more about that.
    And any ways that you think could resolve the issue of racism. I agree that ignoring racism is fatal.
    I suspect that as with most cultural and societal issues it starts with a change in the format in basic values are taught. Problematic to that is children become socialized to the environment and culture so quickly that it is hard to place any effective changes.
    In Loving Kindness

  • nathan

    There are some fundamental dharma errors being made in this discussion, which are really a repetition of so many of these discussions about race, racism, and Buddhism.

    First off, the error of leaning on the absolute. Saying there is no such thing as race is true in the absolute sense. And yet in our shared, relative everyday world, denying the impact of the social constructs of race is to uphold a falsehood. “Colorblind” ideologies are tipped far to much in the direction of the absolute, and frankly they tend to be upheld by those who can choose to ignore or downplay the relative manifestations of race in the first place.

    Secondly, there’s this issue that Bryan brings up about individuals being able to evolve no matter what. Which is true. People overcome amazing odds everyday. But so what? Why is that relevant here? Racism and white supremacy are systemic. Reducing the conversation to individuals is mistaking the very nature of the problem at hand.

    “Color, culture, social pressure, or greed have no impact on a person who makes a decision to evolve.” This isn’t accurate. It assumes that a person who becomes enlightened is essentially immune from then forward of the challenges and difficulties of their time/place. That they’re basically separate from the causes and conditions present in their relative, everyday world. The famous wild fox koan, in my opinion, takes this view head on.

    If you consider the life of the historical Buddha, it’s pretty clear that even he faced a lot of challenges long after he had awakened. There were serious attempts made to split the sangha. His own clan went to war despite his attempts to stop them. There were plots to murder the Buddha, and it’s possible that he was poisoned at the end of his life as well. And overall, the Buddhist sangha was considered a threat to the establishment because it rejected the notion of caste and fixed roles that dominated the society of the day.

    What I find so interesting about these discussions is that it nearly always is white men who arrive to provide endless rebuttals, and also declarations that speaking of systemic racism and white supremacy are not dharmic somehow. And almost to a tee, what I see in these comments is a heavy imbalance towards the absolute teachings, followed by a total flattening out of our relative experience. By “flattening out,” I’m pointing directly at the notion that all inequalities and oppressions are on equal standing, and thus we can’t possibly point to any of them as a possible root cause of so many other ones. Which in my view is basically a deliberate unwillingness to actually look deeply at the causes and conditions of our society.

    Again, I see a fundamental dharma error here. Namely the mistake that because we aim to have compassion for all suffering, and aspire to be bodhisattvas who relieve all suffering, that all suffering is “equal” in all senses of the word. The single instance of a white woman crying at an anti-racism workshop – to reference the Jane Elliot videos from a recent BPF post – is not equivalent to the decades of challenges, difficulties and miseries experienced by a black woman in the same workshop. Furthermore, the social production element that played into those manifestations of suffering is also not equivalent. That white woman’s tears did not come from living in a society that treated her from birth as a second class citizen at best. In other words, the skillful means to address each of these manifestations of suffering probably isn’t the same. A hug might support both women, but the woman of color still lives in a society that treats her as suspect or lesser than, primarily or solely because of the color of her skin. The white woman might be facing difficulties stemming from sexism, but I seriously doubt issues directly related to race are in her face on a day to day basis. The point, again, being that compassionate responses need to correspond to the conditions folks are dealing with. Otherwise, we’re really not skillfully working to relieve suffering.

    Please note that I’m not rejecting anyone’s suffering or difficulties here. That accusation is another deflection, based in part – from my view – upon a faulty notion of compassion.

    One final point is that I find that more often than not, folks who bring up racism between non-white groups around the world tend to be doing so as a means of deflection. The vast majority of BPF readers and members are from North America. And specifically the U.S. and Canada. Both nations that owe their very existence to European colonialism driven by capitalist greed and the ideology of white supremacy at every turn. This is our home (on stolen land). Our ground of practice and living. Let’s focus here.

    You cannot break down patterns of “us” vs. “them” without thoroughly understanding and honoring what makes up the “us’s” and the “thems.” There will be no “enlightening together” until enough of us choose to do this together. And finally, I’ll ask a question for everyone one of us.

    How do your views on racism (or issues like it) honor both the absolute and relative Buddhist teachings? Or how does it uphold the dynamic total functioning of the absolute and relative in our lives?

  • Geoffrey Wood

    Let’s not forget too, that the survey mentioned “white supremacy,” not racism generally, nor white privilege. A tendency to verge of into our own subtopics understood, but again, my opposition was to a group that would want to “heal white supremacy” only while letting all other forms fester and grow. If we’re going to use white, we should also use yellow, black and brown. And maybe red. So let’s talk about that – BPF is ok with yellow supremacy, black supremacy and brown supremacy. At least for now. Our mission is to heal white supremacy. While on the global scale of evolving a more equitable and dharmic society, starting with the biggest consumers makes a lot of sense to me. But as a theoretical someone who hasn’t encountered the notion of white privilege or white supremacy before, to come right off and say you’re aiming to remove that speck from my eye only tells me that you’re not the one for the job because you still have logs in your own.

    You people do realize there are many nations on this world? That even if you include Russians, Bulgarians, Finnish, Spanish, Greeks, Israelis, Egyptians, Croats, Kazakhstani, Persians Moroccans and Cherokees as part of the “white” race they are still a minority? Let’s not take projections from our own limited guilt-ridden ivory tower perspective and try and force others to fit in.

    Just because I consider these issues at length, meditate then contemplate on them, doesn’t mean I will come to the same answers as anyone else. I don’t expect you to just accept “my” answer as “right” either.

    Come around my neighborhood and try and sell white privilege. Tell these people — just the white minority — that their white supremacy is a major cause of world suffering and that it needs healing. If you can convince them of such and get them to change, i will offer you 1000 bows.

    One last note, i don’t think it’s wrong to take joy in one’s genetic or cultural heritage. If you choose to identify with a particular race or group of races, great. As with gender though, what you perceive and project on me and others may not be what i or they identify with. To me, to pick out one group of people on the basis of vague genetic heritage, and say “their sense of superiority is worst so we heal them first” is in itself a bit of a violent projection on the part of the would-be healers. I know we gotta start somewhere, but to make it a platform position to “end racism and heal white supremacy” … is to me from a Buddhist perspective a racist platform. “You throw down your sense of superiority then we’ll throw down ours.” The very notion implies a sense of superiority – even if coming from white folks, it’s white folks who have confronted “white guilt” and the other supremacy demons and are now the good, enlightened, model white folks. The ones who get to tell others who and when to change to be like them.

    Let’s work on ending racism and healing all forms of racial inferiority and supremacy. Otherwise it seems to me we endorse the religio-racism of some of the monks in Burma. Or at least ignore it. And i could agree with the argument that on the grand scale a few hundred murders and rapes are minimal compared to the harm allowed by the mindsets that allow imperialism to flourish. Thing is, it is the same mindset, just in people in different geopolitical or karmic circumstances. So if you’re just for healing white supremacy, it says to me you have your own notions of supremacy to heal.

    Of course, i’m wrong about many things and understanding still evolves, tg. Thanks for the discussion.


  • Geoffrey Wood

    The fact that commercial interests and others sell magazines and TV shows with white people is not an example of white supremacy to me. It’s just greed, and that’s the model of greed that has been sold to people in the USA and around the world.

    Less than 1% of Buddhists worldwide are Euro- or Euro-American whites.

    Nathan, I appreciate your attempt to bring us back to the dharma. However, your comments are to me more of the same old discussion. From my perspective, you and others are deflecting ideas that challenge your current notions of self and dharma and being right. The simple fact is, if one wants to look at the numbers, there probably are and historically for sure have been more people who believe in some other form of racial supremacy than white supremacy. That’s not deflection, that’s looking at the situation in reality. If your mind perceives modern imperialism as a product of whites then you have to ignore the millenia of economic and cultural imperialism by other peoples – not in terms of comparing who is worse, but in terms of recognizing long-term deep-rooted human tendencies that have nothing to do with race. There’s nothing different about white folks from a dharma perspective; the only difference is they are on top during a period of rapid exponential growth of population and economy, a period when a nation’s reach is truly global.

    I honor the absolute teaching by recognizing the beautiful Buddha-nature in each of us. I honor the relative by acknowledging the infinite manifestations of Buddha-nature and their individual paths to recognizing it. I honor the relative by helping sentient beings when i can as best i can; i honor the absolute by remembering there are no sentient beings to be helped. I honor the absolute by recognizing we all suffer from dukkha and kleshas and that in essence, no one’s path is easier or harder than anyone else’s. I honor the relative in recognizing that no two people’s paths or suffering are exactly the same. I recognize the absolute by noting that greed, hatred and delusion are still at the heart of all people’s suffering. I honor the relative by noting that these manifest in different people in different ways.

    How do you think your comments honor the absolute and the relative?

  • Geoffrey Wood

    One more thought about the repeated theme “why is it white men bring up discrimination against white men” i would say the answer is the same reason women of color are the first to bring up discrimination and stereotypes that harm women of color. More often than not, the people directly adversely affected by stereotypes and discrimination are the first to realize there is harm in the practice.

  • Jeff

    Thanks, Katie, for bringing up this important topic, and to Holly, Nathan, and Kogen for your perceptive remarks!

    It’s sad but not surprising that, once again, the discussion of fighting racism on these pages has gone from “how can we” to “how dare we.” Since the first comments were posted, I’ve been all trying to write an appeal that would truly resonate with my indignant and reluctant white brothers, but after an hour or so, I just said fuck it. Honestly, I’d rather spend the time developing an approach to overcoming white supremacy.

    Within the context of progressive political movements, I agree with many others that white male leadership tends to replicate broader social inequities and often excludes women and men of color, the very people who are affected most acutely by the injustice which is being addressed. Totally self-defeating, and inevitably leading to a “solution” that preserves racism and patriarchy. In the organization I’m involved with, we are beginning to have a multi-ethnic character and are resolved to listen, learn, and follow the cues of the varied communities we serve. As one of the white male leaders, I just have to shut up and step back sometimes, despite what I think I know. I’m almost always glad I did.

    How have others dealt with racist divisions in their groups and sanghas?

  • Laurence Cox


    Please keep asking these questions. They are important ones.

    The historical Buddha found himself the object of scorn from brahmins because of his origins in a marginal society, conquered during his own lifetime. He famously had to challenge the logic of caste domination within his own sangha. In later generations, caste crept back in in some Buddhist sanghas, while dalits have converted to Buddhism from the early 20th century on to escape caste. These issues are part of what has shaped Buddhism.

    Westerners encountered Buddhism in a moment of European conquest of Asian societies, and often had to make choices in very practical ways around these conflicts, where the blood was still dripping. The consequences of colonialism included nationalist and communist revolutions, in turn scattering Buddhist communities and teachers around the world as refugees.

    Today Buddhism in the west is still shaped by race and by global politics in many ways. Commentators who say that things are complex are right; as a white Buddhist living outside the US I would note that American race politics have their own dynamic which is not always identical with what happens in the rest of the world. But none of that means that we can or should ignore the actual conditions that shape our own practice, here and now. Furious denial tells its own tale.

    The questions play out in many different ways: privilege based on skin colour, our relationship to wars abroad, interactions between Buddhists from different backgrounds, who speaks for Buddhism and who decides that, diaspora politics, the reshaping of Buddhism to suit dominant groups, the things we can and can’t see about our own situation… We have a long way to go.

    Or to put it another way, “with mindfulness, strive on”.

  • Geoffrey Wood

    Some intelligent comments Laurence, thanks. Castes suck. Not all white people are in the upper caste in the USA or any nation. That is part of the actual conditions that other people to me seem to be denying. And I believe that denial supports the current power structure by keeping us divided. Additionally, making blanket generalization about people like that and stubbornly clinging to them (“no, i already accept white guilt, i never have to review my thoughts on racism again!”) is a form of racism that is counterproductive in relation to ending racism.

    I want nothing less than a nonviolent revolution. A revolution of the hearts and minds. I think Buddhists have an excellent opportunity and capability to lead by example in that regard. I get almost as frustrated with the subtle perpetuation of violence by Buddhists in these comments as with the gross perpetuation of violence by the monks in Burma and elsewhere who preach racial and religious supremacies.

    Fortunately, those feelings pass. I allow the mirror of opposition to pop up, i let it go. I would have been just as offended if a group whose stated ideals i supported had said they wanted to “end racism and heal yellow supremacy.”

    “May all be full of equanimity, free from the desire for friends and the hatred of enemies.”


  • nathan

    Geoffrey, you have taken up a hell of a lot of space both here and on the Facebook page. I think your message is very clear at this point. Many people disagree with your take. My question to you and others who might think along similar lines is Now what?

    Saying that I or others on here are perputating violence and division is basically dismissing us. You say you want a non-violent revolution, but I don’t see how that’s possible if there’s little space for working with disagreements. You might note that while I pointed out what I felt were dharma errors occurring, I didn’t call anyone’s message violent or divisive. Furthermore, this whole reduction of these arguments to “white guilt” is really off. Some of us are white, and some of us are not. I can’t speak for any of the other white readers out there, but I am long past the white guilt phase. Where I am coming from has nothing to do with that.

    As I said, now what? Because just continuing to repeat yourself is taking up more space. Sonething us white guys are really prone to doing in these race conversations.

  • Geoffrey Wood

    Now what? Now as Buddhists we move past the divisions of race. We acknowledge greed, hate and delusion form and have formed the basis of superiority and inferiority complexes throughout human history. We acknowledge our own versions of friends and enemies, us and them, and practice leaning into them, softening them. We acknowledge that race – like sex and gender – are intimately tied to notions of the false self. Thus regardless of what race someone is or what delusions they have about it, it’s all essentially the same ignorance, the same misidentification. Then we see there is no them, only us, all on the same team. As i’ve said, this doesn’t mean ignore inequities or differences, it means acknowledging all of them.

    Well aware many folks disagree with me — though we share the same goals, i find many peoples means counterproductive. The point of view i am expressing not oft heard in some circles i think. I am too liberal for most self-identified liberals, particularly those of the middle and upper classes. Hands up, how many commentators live below the US poverty line? As for there being no room for differences, you have to see that i have been exposed to that thinking here as well, right? A little reflection back atcha. But just the reflection in a pool of water, not some everlasting mirror.

    Peace and blessings –

  • Jeff

    Every time we talk about about white racism, a few of us get upset that they are being unfairly stigmatized. These fellas have already progressed beyond the false construct of race: it is a meaningless delusion, present in all cultures, just one more manifestation of ignorance which will melt away in the bright light of the Dharma. As with greed and hatred, one simply needs to let go of racism and “poof” – it’s gone! If, on the other hand, we say that whites are relatively privileged, that color-based inequities are deeply embedded in every facet of our society, or that alleviating the suffering caused by racism requires collective action to challenge and dismantle it, we are causing more harm than good. Naming that evil somehow makes it more real and violent.

    I understand that position. I disagree with it, I have compassion for its proponents, but I ain’t gonna try to win a debate here. Fortunately, I think there is room for differences in BPF. I don’t begrudge the class-blind Goldman Sachs protestors reaching out to Wall Street billionaires with a message of loving kindness, and I perceive universal benefit as Geoffrey, Bryan, and other well-meaning folks bring metta to every personal encounter without regard to color.

    Now what? Those of us who do have a commitment to compassionate political struggle against systemic racial oppression should continue our discussion and formative practice. It’s too vital to permit distraction. Let a hundred flowers bloom!

  • Laurence Cox

    Emmm, Geoffrey, I wasn’t in any way agreeing with you. Sorry if I gave the impression that I was.

    Jeff, Nathan: +1

  • Geoffrey Wood

    That’s ok Laurence. Heaven forbid you should side with a minority. I still agree with some of what you wrote.

  • nathan

    Geoffrey, many of your points on race and racism are very common in American convert Buddhist circles. You seem to think you’re far in the minority, but probably only in places like here.

    Also, I’m below the poverty line. You aren’t the only one dealing with being poor here. I know that feeling of being in the minority position politically because of class (and how I think about economic issues.) Most of my home sangha is made up of middle class, white liberals. Folks I love, and some of whom have really been critical in helping me become a “better,” more committed Buddhist practitioner over the years. But they aren’t the kind of folks actively questioning and resisting capitalism. Or on the front lines of new forms of community, economy building, or social justice activism. I was out with a group of sangha friends last night, and was kind of surprised when one guy, who has long been a staunch Democrat, expressed severe disappointment in Obama over the NSA and civil liberties abuses. I commented to the group after this that both parties are owned by the corporations, and don’t really represent us – and got crickets in response. Which is pretty much the norm. The kinds of discussions we have on BPF would probably be too much for the majority of my fellow sangha members.

    The thing is, though, that racism and classism intersect all the time. In different ways depending upon national/regional historical contexts. What I’ve experienced amongst left radical groups that are dominated by white folks is a tendency to lump it all into class analysis. Which maybe seems like the right thing to do. The capitalist machine being a main target of our work. However, in practice, solely or mostly focusing on class analysis leads to a papering over of other differences. Differing needs and desires.

    “Well aware many folks disagree with me — though we share the same goals, i find many peoples means counterproductive. ”

    I said this on another thread about mindfulness. I’m not really convinced we share the same goals. Or another way to put it is that as Buddhists, we might all share the same aims of liberation and relieving suffering, but there are numerous in between steps, needs, and goals where we probably differ. At least to some degree. I think it’s vital not to assume common visions, or to place too much emphasis on the common Buddhist aspirations that we share. They’re a nice connection point, but not really sufficient.

    I like Jeff’s “big tent” attitude. Diversity and broadness can be great strengths. I also know from activist experience that bigger tents often come crashing down because of things like unnamed racial and gender dynamics.

  • Geoffrey Wood

    I hear ya Nathan. Except as to goals/visions. As Buddhists, generally, maybe we don’t have the same goals except in near absolute terms as you note. But this is not a random gathering. I chose to support BPF after researching a number of Buddhist activist organizations. The vision in particular captivated me as it pointed out the same three areas I currently believe to be most important: peace, social justice, and environmental sustainability. So it’s not that we don’t share a common goal of social justice, at least as i see it, but differ as to how to get there. Maybe even what it means.

    Not that my beliefs would have been different, but my presentation of them likely would have been had not a private comment made in response to a survey been thrust into the public domain. I was aware that my stance is not kosher with some people and was only trying to bring a little more awareness to whoever read the surveys, not start a public discussion among people who are as attached to their notions of race and gender as the conservative Christians I tried to talk with over twenty years ago. It saddens me both to see such ignorance and suffering and not to have developed any more skillful way of addressing them. In any case, if you’re going to take a spur of the moment private comment of mine and put it out there as a teaching example, you’re going to get my teaching on the topic as well. I don’t expect i made many new friends, or altered anyone’s views overnight. Maybe some seeds of a more equitable future will ripen with time, including those planted in me.

    Sometimes the dart, sometimes the pinprick.

  • Geoffrey Wood

    oops, that’s sometimes the hammer, sometimes the pinprick. ah well. darts on the mind i guess.

  • nathan

    “not start a public discussion among people who are as attached to their notions of race and gender as the conservative Christians I tried to talk with over twenty years ago. It saddens me both to see such ignorance and suffering and not to have developed any more skillful way of addressing them.”

    Since Katie pulled up your original comment for this post, I’ll leave it to her to respond to that aspect of the discussion.

    However, the rest of this makes it hard for me to want to listen anymore. When I hear that you think I (and others here) are coming from a place of “such ignorance” and attachment akin to Christian conservatives, my first reaction is similar to Jeff’s first comment above. And to be honest, I don’t think I have much else to say anyway. So, I’ll leave it at that.

  • Kogen

    Dear Nathan,

    I feel like I should get you a coffee or schedule you a massage for engaging this conversation in an upright manner that I could not muster! Thank you! Actually, I don’t have any money either. How about you can stay in my room at Green Gulch Farm whenever you want!

    Deep bow,

  • Geoffrey Wood

    Lol. But you guys can’t see the same thinking in the notion of “healing white supremacy.”

    Yeah, the similarities in conversations over time have only one common element, me. I have plenty of work to do there, for sure.

    The folks who expressed similar notions as me put their word in then left. They know better; other than the ambush aspect, i probably wouldn’t have engaged the topic any further either.

    Peace –


  • Katie Loncke

    Hi all, just want you to know I’m still here, listening, reflecting, slowly. Good to meet you, Laurence, and thank you for offering some historical context and examples!

    Bryan, I’d love to pick up on something you wrote in response to Kogen:

    “I wonder if you can elaborate on what you last wrote. I am struggling with how privilege is being applied to the subject. I would like to hear more about that.

    And any ways that you think could resolve the issue of racism. I agree that ignoring racism is fatal.”

    I think it’s probably a good idea to try to reflect on examples. There are a LOT of examples in literature on racism and whiteness, so it’s always possible to look those up (one pretty famous book in the Buddhist sphere is called Dharma, Color, and Culture), but in the meantime I’ve been trying to figure out how to talk about these issues more in terms of my own experiences. How do I see these structural dynamics play out in my own life? Please pardon me if this isn’t immediately related to capital-D Dhamma, but hopefully I can share, as others have, a concrete example of why I think it’s important to continually dismantle white supremacy and white privilege in our own work.

    As background and review: I’m a light-skinned biracial Black and Jewish woman, raised in a household of lawyers. I went to Harvard. When I have to talk to a landlord, I put on a certain voice that lets them know I am “educated.” That voice, generally speaking, makes me sound middle-to-upper class, white-assimilated American.

    What do I mean by “white-assimilated American?” Why not just middle-class? Well, in my experience, some middle class folks in the U.S. speak in dialects that are not white-standard English. Some may talk with a “foreign” accent. If that accent is British or French, Americans may respect the speaker more. If the accent is from an Asian, Eastern European, Middle Eastern, African (not French or British), or Central or South American language, the speaker might be seen as “talking funny.” Sometimes they might even be seen as stupid, which never made any sense to me because hello, clearly this person is at least bilingual?! Which is more than I can say for myself!

    Anyway, an interesting exception that I notice, in dharma communities, is that people of Asian descent who speak with non-U.S. accented English might actually be *exoticized* as wiser than the average Joe. Apparently there’s a documentary about a South Asian man who posed as a guru, and won a lot of followers, just by playing up his South-Asianness, or a caricature of it. I think it’s interesting and important to talk about how Orientalism can contribute to the romanticizing, mythologizing, and infantilizing of Buddhists of Asian descent. Someone who speaks Indian-British accented English and wants to make it as a dharma teacher may get really different responses and endorsements than someone who speaks a Black American dialect of English. Or maybe not. I’d be curious about other people’s experiences — I’m just putting out what I see. Other helpful resources might be Kenji’s post on Turning Wheel about The Influence of Orientalism on U.S. Buddhism (with many smart comments in the thread from folks like Mushim Ikeda)

    and the considerable work of Buddhist blogger arunlikhati at Angry Asian Buddhist:

    In my organizing life — in part, I believe, because of my light-skinned privilege and middle-class, straight-looking, able-bodied, thin, American privilege, — I have been trained to focus on “excelling” as an individual, rather than measuring success in terms of the overall well being and growth of the group or collective.

    In organizing communities where many folks did not go to college; are not citizens of this country; speak accented English that impresses no landlords; raise children and work multiple jobs — I am trying to rediscover and redefine my role away from white privilege. My job is not actually to “be the best organizer I can be” in a traditional, Harvardian, make-it-to-the-top-and-then-give-back kind of way. (A way that I would characterize as historically white, because it usually involves appealing to people in power who more often than not, in a U.S. context, are white, have supported white communities, and/or reinforce white privilege.) My job is to care for the strength and growth of the group — which includes my own development, yes, but so much more.

    To give an example: last Fall a comrade and I organized a Revolutionary Film Series: three weeks of Thursday night films followed by food and political presentations. It was awesome! And fun. The people who came were mostly people of color, and reflected the composition of our organizing collective: a lot of young, college-educated queer and trans people of color (like my fellow co-organizer and me), and then Latin@ community, parents and kids, etc., many undocumented and organizing around immigrant rights.

    The film series was a success, and my young comrade and I felt happy about our accomplishment. Our political elders enjoyed it very much, too, and we all agreed to do it again in a Spring Film Series.

    So now Spring is coming up, and we’re starting to plan for the next film series. My Harvard brain is telling me: it needs to be bigger, better, smoother-running — an improvement on the Fall. My introductory speeches will be much tighter and more lively. My young comrades and I will charm everyone. ;)

    But through ongoing conversation and reflection with friends in community, it dawned on me that the next best step was not to consolidate our power over this event, but to *share* that power, offering to support the other members of our group in hosting a film series of their own.

    So we offered, and they were *thrilled.* So into it! The young’uns and I will take care of the technical side of things, and securing the space and other logistics, while our multiple-job-working, indefatigable elders will direct the show. Most likely the films will all be in Spanish with English subtitles, and the themes will reflect national histories and workers’ struggles that are viscerally relatable to folks in their communities.

    As I mentioned, pretty much all of the players in this story are people of color. So it may not appear to have anything to do with whiteness, white privilege, or white supremacy at first glance. But I believe that my Harvard-style training and ideology of “success” or even “usefulness” has had everything to do with historical whiteness, white privilege, and assimilation into status quo, top-down power structures. And I think that unlearning those ideologies (while still being me! and honoring my own strengths) is a crucial task not only for myself but for the well being of the comrades and movements that I love.

    At the risk of stating the obvious, I also want to say that the Latin@ comrades in my group who maybe didn’t go to college or are more working class, are not at all lacking in their own projects and ideas! It’s not like this film series is the be-all-end-all of our organizing. They’ve been doing this revolutionary political work for over 30 years, some of them — they’ve put together marches with thousands of mamas pushing strollers in the streets. Stuff I could only dream of! And I feel incredibly lucky to have them as mentors in my life. So I share the story about the film series not to downplay the fabulous work that others in my group are doing, but just as a personal example, for this conversation, of the ways I see my own white (light-skinned, assimilated) privilege present in my work, and how I’m trying to grapple with that. Not just in talk, in the words we use, but in concrete ways.

    If you made it this far, thanks for listening! Hope everyone’s having a good day.


  • Geoffrey Wood

    There are 1,000 faces to privilege and discrimination. I was born into a much more privileged life – again – than i was made aware of as a child. I am a child no longer. I wouldn’t recommend my means of exploring privilege and discrimination to anyone.

    As others have suggested, my relationships with people of all “races” in my neighborhood and college classes speak for themselves. Not that i don’t have my blind spots or can understand the entirety of someone else’s experiences any more than they can understand mine.

    Yours with respect,
    Harvard of the West ’91

  • Katie Loncke

    Also, as always, Nathan and Jeff thank you for bringing things back to practice! Jeff, what you said:

    “Within the context of progressive political movements, I agree with many others that white male leadership tends to replicate broader social inequities and often excludes women and men of color, the very people who are affected most acutely by the injustice which is being addressed.”

    and the helpfulness of stepping back is definitely at the heart of the questions on my mind! Very good way of putting it. Also reminds me of an essay, the title and author of which escape me right now, about a woman in sangha who was asked to lead a reconciliation process in the aftermath of a sex scandal involving the head teacher. She made some brilliant innovations on the *structural* level that encouraged the members of sangha to talk to *each other* through the healing process, finding wisdom through this traumatic experience together, rather than always only relying on private teacher interviews with an authority as the source of wisdom and answers. Nathan, I feel like I hear you doing similar work in your sangha, too, trying to bring more involvement and less top-down structure. Good for healing white power; good for healing patriarchy (in my opinion).

    And speaking of opinions, I agree with you, Nathan, that when folks say “we’re all working toward the same goals,” sometimes that obfuscates more than it resolves or reassures. My own experience with that has a lot to do with feminist movements, where the ostensible goal is simple and agreeable enough — gender equality — but in practice there is so much ugly racism and class war within the feminist movement. So without crystallizing people into enemies unnecessarily, I agree with you that it’s important — and respectful — to be clear about differences where they exist, rather than trying to paper them over. Not easy when everyone wants things smooth and pleasant! :)

  • Geoffrey Wood

    Katie, as you choose not to respond to me by name or recognize that i’ve been citing the dharma along the way, perhaps you’d like to refund my little donation. I mean, hey, i’ve been clear about differences that exist too ;-) I can give it to one of the organizations i’ve already worked with. I mean, after all, if you believe as other commentators do that white people can’t understand white privilege, then you’re saying they can’t become enlightened. That’s not my belief or teaching. Nor is that a teaching i wish to support. I’ve questioned white and brown Tibetan Buddhist teachers about their discriminatory generalizations about Islam and Muslims as well. Male teachers, for what it’s worth.

    I’m a saying you got some structural discrimination to look at it in your own institution. Not that it doesn’t exist elsewhere. My teacher is a leader in the struggle against male-dominated structural discrimination in Zen communities. I get it to some degree at least and totally support her. We have come to a mutual understanding that no one has the easy path to enlightenment based on his or her genetics. Or privileges.

    I believe the structural discrimination is evidenced in part by your choice to use a private comment i made and make it public and then fail to address that breach when i bring it up. Not that my beliefs on the subject would’ve been different. Common courtesy says ask for permission, right? Or is that part of the expectations that come with white privilege? Never mind the legal implications. If you would like to address the matter in public or private, I would be happy to. Otherwise i suggest you remove this page and content from the website.

    Yours in the Dharma,

  • nathan

    Geoffrey, I don’t see anyone here saying that white people can’t be enlightened, or that they can’t understand white privilege. I’d be shooting myself in the foot in doing so. Of course, BPF, like any group, has to keep working on unearthing in-group issues that limits our ability to do the bodhisattva work we’re called to do. But seriously, if BPF were really about oppressing and discriminating “whitey” – especially white men – why was I hired to lead the work for Turning Wheel over the summer and fall? Why have essays by Danny Fischer, Max Zahn, and others been featured in recent months? Why are Bhikkhu Bodhi, David Loy, Alan Senauke, Jack Kornfield and others amongst our membership and/or public supporters?

    You’ve chosen to take what we are discussing as “evidence” that BPF is about discriminating or oppressing white people – especially white men. I really don’t feel like you’ve “heard” much of anything in terms of the specifics I or anyone else have brought up in response to your views.

    I can understand your disappointment or upset about being quoted in Katie’s article without permission. That’s totally fair.

    However, here we are 35 comments on this post, plus however many comments on the Facebook page later, and you now want to demand that this page be taken down? Seriously?

  • Katie Loncke

    Hi Geoffrey, Delsin, hello, I see you. I have responded to you by name in this thread. I’ve been asking you questions and engaging with your ideas. So have a lot of other people, which is partly why I am responding to them more, so that this conversation doesn’t have to be all about you, and people disagreeing with you. That’s my style of conversation sometimes: trying to expand things.

    I think it’s fair to say that we might have included a clearer disclaimer in our anonymous online BPF survey, letting folks know that their data or answers might be shared publicly. We actually collected no identifying information in the survey: no email, name, nothing. Is the *anonymous* sharing of someone’s ideas (which turned out to be yours, and which you publicly claimed voluntarily), for the sake of illustrating a larger community conversation, a serious violation of privacy? I respectfully submit that it is not. But, again, I am definitely open to making our intentions clearer in future surveys; thanks for that suggestion.

    And, of course, if BPF is addressing racism in a way you find counterproductive, you are free to give your financial support elsewhere.

    For myself, I just basically disagree with what I understand as your general arguments:

    – I don’t identify as white; whiteness should not be a meaningful category

    – All peoples tend to see their own group as superior, so why single out whites?

    – Many white people are poor; class is the real problem

    – Singling out whiteness is only going to make white people feel guilty

    – Giving weight to racial categories is only reinforcing false identities and “us vs. them” mentalities

    etc. I have heard all of these arguments before, many times, and many activists and scholars have talked and written about them extensively. It’s not where I’m interested in spending my energy further; I’m sorry. Like Nathan, I don’t feel like you’ve responded to the specifics of what people are bringing up in the comment thread. At the same time, I’m grateful for the conversation, as far as it goes.

    Thanks, and may you be well.


  • nathan

    “My Harvard brain is telling me: it needs to be bigger, better, smoother-running — an improvement on the Fall. My introductory speeches will be much tighter and more lively. My young comrades and I will charm everyone. ;)

    But through ongoing conversation and reflection with friends in community, it dawned on me that the next best step was not to consolidate our power over this event, but to *share* that power, offering to support the other members of our group in hosting a film series of their own.”

    Katie, I’m really interested in what you’ve brought up here. Because to me, it speaks of a few divides I see in activist circles that are problematic. The first divide is the “successful actions” vs. the “community builders” divide. While your Film Festival example isn’t really an action per se, the power dynamics energy you noticed and then shifted is definitely what I’ve witnessed coming from folks who constantly push for successes, victories, etc. at the expense of power sharing, community building, and exploring alternatives. Whereas, on the flip side, some amongst the “community builder types” either reject actions designed to gain some concrete victory altogether, or struggle to manifest anything concrete beyond building a certain community. This was a challenge for the Whealthy Human Village project I was involved in last year. Which got me thinking about how to combine elements of both sides to create something more vital and supportive at the same time.

    The other divide I’ve noticed is differing perceptions/definitions of “effectiveness” or “success.” And I think in part, this comes from different understandings of how radical change comes about. Those who lean on creating alternatives side, seeing building new in the midst of the crashing or rubble of the old vs. those who lean on direct pressuring, bringing down the old systems as a way to give space for the new to arise. This isn’t a clean divide for a lot of us obviously. But my experience is that it’s often people who are on the extreme ends of that divide that rise to power positions or prominence of some sort. Which is one reason why power sharing, blended approaches that build alternatives and also directly push on the current system, aren’t very common.

    The other piece of this, as I see it, is the level of belief in the current paradigm’s definitions of “success ” and “effectiveness.” Which usually means specific, concrete outcomes that drive all the effort being done. Politician X is defeated. Company Y’s awful action is thwarted. Etc. And yet, no one knows for certain what “it” is – the X factor or set of X factors – that will bring a system of oppression down. It could be someone totally intangible or not easily pinned down. In fact, I’d argue it usually is, even though we need some level of concrete “victories” to keep folks going.

    I guess what I’m going on about here is what I feel is a necessary flow between seeming opposites. Which more and more I’m coming to think is one of the keys to radical, sustainable systemic change. Something our Buddhist teachings can help articulate.

  • Kogen 古 元

    Is there anything really left to be said? How much time are we going to spend engaging the ignorance of a few? I think this is similar to feminists refusing to accept responsibility to educate males from dominant culture.This is similar to people of color refusing to accept responsibility to educate people of white privilege. Maybe BPF is not the place for Geoffry to continue his activist life. Conversations are helpful, but debates? Geoffry’s mind seems made up some 15 comments ago; it was his idea, but maybe refund him. Who knows what this platform is for him-fun, self-imposing? I don’t know. But his arguments seem off and his followers ,or ilk, few.

    For me, I’m just seeing a lot of spinning tires on this thread, and I’m wondering how to move the conversation along.

  • Kogen 古 元

    To move this conversation along:

    Katie, I found this SO moving:

    “I see my own white (light-skinned, assimilated) privilege present in my work, and how I’m trying to grapple with that. Not just in talk, in the words we use, but in concrete ways.”

    We have never met, but it’s obvious from your pictures you’re not *quite* white. I have struggled with this, as I pass for white 98% of the time, while mother did not while she was growing up, nor did my sister. But at the same time, we suffered poverty together and the side effects of poverty. In high school, in rural Pennsylvania, I was lumped as non-white. In college, I was was lumped as white, while my sister remained a person of color.

    This is all to say that to accept my white privilege was one of the hardest things to accept, much harder than accepting my hetero-male privilege, which was more obvious to me. Anyway, to read about your experience was a breath of fresh air and an invitation to keep exploring this white privilege. “Not always so” echos.

    Deep bow,

  • Katie Loncke

    Hi Kogen! Yep, light-skinned white-passing mixed issues! I hear you. There have been a couple day-longs or other events for mixed-race practitioners at East Bay Meditation Center here in the Bay (I see you’re at Green Gulch? Excited to check out your blog!), and I’ve flirted with the idea of going, but not made it to one, so far. Even in your short description of family and race experiences, though, I hear some of the familiar heartache and challenge around identity, power, bio family, and belonging. Not always so, indeed!

    Would love to hear further reflections on dharma, white privilege, passing, and other dimensions of this theme-cluster, if you’d care to write more. :)

    Be well, stay warm, and thank you for your generous and big-hearted response,


  • bezi

    “As a white person, if I go into a new sangha while on vacation, I know that most likely, people in the sangha will look like me, speak my language, and welcome me. This is not so for a young, hip black man who may be welcome, maybe feared as someone there for “alternative motives”

    pssh. Real talk. THANK YOU. I’m now on my fifth or sixth time confronting this phenomenon, white people actively, blatantly prohibiting me from entering sangha. At a practice level, I guess it’s really good – at a practical, basic life level, it’s incredibly destabilizing.

    “This is a form of white privilege I think we all can recognize.”

    Weeeell… going by my own experience, and some of the things I’ve read in this thread (I haven’t yet read it closely and carefully) ~ I have my doubts…

  • emagrecer

    Unfortunately, there is still the idiot racism.

  • anon

    That Comedy Clip had me ROLLING! thanks for posting. I also see how it functioned as troll bait. (Western) Buddhism, or whatever were calling it now, is whiter than sour cream- as weird al might say. The layer upon layer of white privelege that exudes from every pore of Americas Mindful / yoga communities is too much for me. Seeing otherwise intelligent and well meaning dharma teachers just totally lost regarding issues of Race / Class / Gender is painful. Anyhow I admire the work of BPFr’s. It would take a great act of humility and contrition for Americas Buddhist leaders to recognize how lost they are on this stuff. Not likely. Not when millionaires and billionaires and politicians and celebrites have found (your) *religion*. But i don’t want to be a hater so I have mostly drawn back from Buddhism and into groups whose work I find engaging.

  • Katie Loncke

    Thanks anon, for the excuse to revisit this clip. :) It’s a gem.

    Your last sentence really strikes me today:

    “But i don’t want to be a hater so I have mostly drawn back from Buddhism and into groups whose work I find engaging.”

    One, I’m interested in what groups you find engaging! :) (If you’d care to share.)

    Two, the “hater” position, or the critical voice, fascinates me within the context of dharma and political communities. I’d love to hear other people’s experiences and observations of the critics and dissenters, and how this plays out in your dharma communities…

    I don’t want to make super broad generalizations, but there’s something about the overlap of dharma and self-help, in the power-of-positive-thinking strain, that sometimes seems to create a baseline desire for uplift and pleasantness, which in turn brings a need for “haters” and dissent. Many folks seem to come to dharma (mainstream convert dharma?) seeking solace, beauty, pleasantness, positivity. Something transcendent and worthy of our aspiration. Partly that’s a proof-is-in-the-pudding evaluation of the demeanor of teachers or leaders. Teachers should be charming, calm, funny without clowning, articulate, generous, and wise-sounding — because after all, isn’t that testament to the effects of their 30+ years of meditation? Teachers or advanced students should not be boring, angry, too loud, “tacky” (alert: lots of racist and cissexist assumptions of tacky vs. classy!), visibly depressed, or disabled in a way that students find off-putting.

    This backdrop of wanting something pleasant and helpful — a sweet life-hack from the spiritual toolkit — seems to set the stage for the necessity of “haters.” People who can occasionally burst the bubble and point out the shortcomings. A couple famous examples who come to mind are arun from Angry Asian Buddhist, and Daniel Ingram in Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha.

    So in my dharma world, one motto seems to be: “If you ain’t calm, then you ain’t wise.” On the flip side, among activists of course, “If you ain’t mad, then you ain’t paying attention!” The hater is in some ways the norm and the ideal. We are haters of the hegemony. :) Folks are supposed to be fierce, angry, wounded, authentically vengeful, snarky, polemical, and motivated to do battle with oppressors. And among secular activists, being “religious” can get you some major side-eye skepticism, if not outright drama. So in my political world I sometimes find myself making the case for spiritual or religious okayness, and trying to bring a ballast of calm and non-hateration into hyped-up situations.

    Again, I don’t want to make caricatures of either side. There are great spiritual spaces that make room for criticism and anger; and there are superb political spaces that value wisdom and even (gasp) religion. Just speaking from where I am and what I’ve observed. Curious whether it resonates with your experiences, too.

  • anon

    Thanks Katie for the thoughtful, engaging writing. My in person style is a fair bit different from my comments on Buddhist websites. I’m far more willing to let the polemics fly on commment threads, for better or worse. I got into a web battle with zany zenny Brad Warner last year when he made some comments about people he would like to see killed and comments to the effect that a strong military is needed to support Buddhism. If I had heard him say that stuff in person, I would have probably rolled my eyes at his dim-bulbery and “let it go”.

    I have put a lot of time into this group CTUL is a workers center that uses NVDA and other forms of organizing to help immigrant laborers- especially focused on the Target corporation right now. CTUL has a board of directors comprised of low income workers and an ally structure of mostly white activist folks like me.
    I am also active with Socialist Alternative and the fight for the fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage.
    I am truly a secret buddhist at this point in my life. I have internalized a lot of the mediation practices but I rarely talk to others about it. I have suffered somewhat over the past couple of years in seeing just how few Buddhists there are who want to walk the path of activism / radical social change. And have suffered (comparitively mild) forms of opression and shaming when I present my radical views amongst Buddhists and am basicaly pathologized. Walking the path of social justice is the most creative and exciting aspect of my life right now, the more I walk the more wisdom and insight and perspectives can change. But there aren’t a lot of Buddhists around me walking this road. Who is? I have derived a lot of inspiration from Mexican immigrant activists amongst others (nominally christians).

  • Katie Loncke

    If there were a “Like” button for your comment, anon, I’d click it. :) Very much hear you. In one of my (socialist, Mexican-immigrant-led) political spaces, folks are STAUNCHLY secular and i recently found myself in the position of lone defender of “religion.” I can certainly understand their skepticism of what they see as a colonizing and conservative force in Catholic / Christian institutions. Such a tricky conversation or debate to have. But at the end of the day we work and build trust and friendship together, and our ways of living are where our ethical and “belief” systems meaningfully play out (as far as I understand). Hasn’t been a dealbreaker by any means.

    So there may be more “secret Buddhists” in the political organizing realm than you’d imagine! :)

    As for shaming of radical views among Buddhists, do you think this has to do with widespread side-eye toward the legacies of Stalinism that socialists always have to contend with? I’m just curious if the negative feelings toward “radical views” seem to be stronger in your Buddhist communities than in other pro-peace, mainstream communities…

    Anyway, thanks for the link to CTUL — looks like some really good work!

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  • chris

    I read through all of these comments and I REALLY have to praise Geoffrey for his patience in the face of so much resistance. I mean he quietly spoke to each and every one of you. Amazing. It truly seemed like noone was listening. From my reading of this situation, if there is any racism or discrimination here it fall squarely on the shoulders of Katie, as she is the one who chose to insight this by posting Geoffrey’s comments without asking. I’m guessing she knew exactly what she was doing and she started exactly the fire she wanted. Sounds like she needs to meditate on instigating hate. You all have a kind of Buddhist version of Jersey Shore going on here. Seriously unproductive and self induced drama.

    PS The fact that you referenced that comic as any kind of thinking immediately discredits the entire polemic.

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  • Ignatz

    We should also be mindful that there are powerful people in this country that would like us to keep squabbling about race when we should be thinking about class – something that’s a lot harder to guilt or coerce people into pretending to change.

  • Dan

    “Who is considered white — and benefits from this racialized status — has changed over time, and will likely continue to change”.

    Your “benefits” assertion is racist. Most white people don’t directly benefit, more than any other US citizen for instance, for any perceived US so called “white” imperialism (what are out African, European, Middle Eastern, and Asian holdings again?)

    By misidentifying and conflating participants (what does a 19th century Irish farmer have to do with a 19th century Jewish financier?), and selectively vilifying those who are only “white”(how do you know this is their primary ethnic identity?), you are unjustly engaging in political hostility toward long marginalized “white” people.

    “But what distinguishes white supremacy among other types of racial prejudice is its unique historical power — stemming from European colonization, and extending through white U.S. imperialism”.

    Again, you are misidentifying and conflating. Also, you are selectively ignoring other non-white groups who have engaged in the same and worse.

    “White supremacy has structured material power relations, wealth, and life chances for entire populations around the world”.

    This is gross hyperbole.

    “That historical element is what Rahman points to in his stand-up comedy analysis”.

    Fortunate for us that comedians aren’t credible political analysts, and especially those with little education and a racial dog in the race. For political discussion, comedians tend to rank just above actors and sometimes below strippers.

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