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…