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Is it possible to unravel racism in mostly white US Buddhist centers?

My friend and teacher Mushim Ikeda spoke this week at San Francisco Zen Center on “Daylighting the Hidden Streams: Why Our Stories Matter” (audio here). She discussed how sharing our stories – especially stories that highlight difference – can bring to light the hidden streams of our true nature.

Mushim’s talk had been planned far in advance, but it was particularly timely this week as the SFZC community was sitting with this article by Breeze Harper of Sistah Vegan.

In the article, Breeze describes her experience as a Black woman at the mostly-white 50th anniversary celebration of SFZC over the weekend. As Breeze says, “these are my observations and what I personally felt. It doesn’t make it fact.” I appreciate Breeze sharing her story, even as she worries about coming across as the “angry overly sensitive black woman trying to guilt white people.” As Mushim described so eloquently in her talk, it’s through sharing our stories that we connect with each other, learn how differently we experience the world, and find a deeper well of compassion for each other.

Even as Breeze speaks from her own personal experience, she also draws from her theoretical training as a scholar of race and racism, using concrete examples to illustrate larger patterns.  While her overall experience was good, she points to some forms of subtle racism that can happen when there is not a critical mass of people of color in a space:

Yes, overall I really enjoyed the event last night. Great celebration and memories of the Zen center’s past 50 years. Green Gulch Zen Center is beautiful and I have developed amazing relationships there, so I thank the co-founders for making these sites possible. I deeply appreciate what I have learned from Zen Buddhism and the practice’s impact on how I constantly try to be mindful and compassionate– including how I try to teach largely white racialized subjects about systemic whiteness and structural racism. But I have to admit that I am quite disappointed in the mistake of seeing Simone as Angela Davis because that ‘mistake’ potentially represents an overall problem of recognizing the impact of a homogenous Zen fellowship: what does racial homogeneity do to the collective white racialized subject’s consciousness if they participate in a mostly white (and quite financially stable) Buddhist fellowship in a nation in which whiteness is privileged?

Breeze wisely suggests that bringing mindfulness to whiteness is a key part of dismantling racism in our sanghas:

 I actually wish that white dominated Buddhist fellowships would add a rule that everyone has to participate in ‘mindfulness whiteness’ sesshins. It would be great if an added tenet to Buddhism, for such congregations, could be, “We shall learn about how structural racism and whiteness impact our Zen practice. We shall be open and loving to transforming ourselves and not become angry as we learn about how white racial formation has deeply affected our Zen hearts.”

I’m particularly interested in these questions, as much of my work prior to joining the staff of BPF has involved identifying and dismantling forms of racism and other isms in mostly-white nonprofit organizations. I know that San Francisco Zen Center has worked hard to make their sangha welcoming to people who represent a broad range of diversity. There are many queers, people of color, people with disabilities, poor and working class people, and women who over the years have found SFZC to be an extraordinarily nourishing and supportive spiritual home. Other mostly-white Buddhist centers, like Spirit Rock Meditation Center, have also struggled with challenging questions of how to heal racism in our sanghas.

I know it can feel particularly painful when people feel like their organization is committed to engaging in diversity work, and yet they still face accusations of racism or injustice. I’ve had that happen directly, and it’s hard not to take it personally.

In my observations of many nonprofit organizations, when an organization takes on diversity work, they should expect more critique rather than less. As more people of color feel safe enough to show up in a space, they will notice and point out the subtle ways racism is hidden and embedded in a mostly white organization. As a white person, it can be easy to respond defensively, listing all the diversity work that’s been done.

How do we move past defensiveness? When someone accuses me or my organization of injustice, my first tool is, “Remember that we are on the same team.” The person pointing out racism is not my enemy. Even when they are so mad they are telling me I am the enemy, I know that ultimately I am not the enemy. In her talk, Mushim quoted the folks who teach Kingian Nonviolence here in the Bay Area who say that, “No person is our enemy. Injustice is our enemy.”

Sometimes folks are so angry, they might turn us into the enemy. Sometimes we may want them to have shared their critique with us in a different, more kind way. However, as Mushim explained in her description of “cultural humility” – we have to allow people to tell their stories in their own words, their own language, their own formats.

What happens when we choose gratitude instead of defensiveness? When I say thank you to a critique, I almost always find myself in connection with the person rather than conflict. “Thank you so much for being here. Thank you for shining the light on this so we can know where more work is needed. Without your highly trained racism sensors and generous feedback, it was going to take us a long time to see this manifestation of subtle racism. Thank you for pointing it out to us.”

Since we live and work in a world that perpetuates white supremacy, racism will happen in our organizations — especially if we are white-led and white-majority. Mostly-white groups can hire every diversity trainer, have 14 committees working on privilege and oppression, hire more people of color staff. Still racism will happen. As we unravel racism and more people of color enter traditionally white sanghas, we begin to notice subtle and subtler forms of racism and white privilege. It can start to feel like the whole sangha might unravel if we continue down this path.

But this is why I have hope that mostly-white US Buddhist organizations can engage deeply in unraveling racism. Is this not the same work of practicing with egolessness, of letting what we cling to unravel? I think of my Zen friends in particular as skilled at this practice of dropping the ego. May the 50 years of strong community practice at SFZC allow folks to bring their most gracious and open selves to this work of unraveling racism.

We’ve been contemplating an upcoming issue of Turning Wheel Media on “Decolonizing Our Sanghas.” What would you hope to see discussed? Who would you love to see write a brilliant article or post an insightful video?

Comments (52)

  • Katie Loncke

    Appreciating this article and hoping that it helps to support thoughtful discussion and dialogue — already there are lots of interesting comments over at Breeze’s original post.

    As one small thought to contribute at the get, even though I think white supremacy is still absolutely a real institutional logic organizing our lives, I also see racism within People of Color communities. Not the bogus, specious “reverse racism” that folks often invoke, but, like, racism among Black folks against Arab people (seen it), and racism among Asian Buddhists against Black people (heard about it).

    I feel a little torn about bringing this up in the thread, since there are enough forces in the world trying to deflect scrutiny from whiteness, claiming relativism in racism (“We’re all racist! Chill out!”). But these days I mostly frequent people-of-color sanghas, and I appreciate that the observations in your post, Dawn, got me thinking as well about the many-faceted nature of racism that pervades even the “safe spaces.” POC groups may have different issues to deal with, but we’re not immune or exempt. I’m excited to keep discussing this with folks here on Turning Wheel and offline, too.

  • Kimberly

    Thank you for this post, Dawn.

    I’ve never thought of bringing “mindfulness to whiteness.” I think mindful whiteness would be certainly interesting. And could be really transformative.

    I’m drawn to so much of this post, including your conversations with Mushim on holding attention to people’s stories. What comes to mind is how such attention is necessary to relate to people in ways they wish to be treated.

    I’d be excited to hear about the broader visions and immediate needs of people drawn to “unraveling racism in mostly white U.S. Buddhist centers,” particularly the intentions that U.S. people of color practitioners have, whether for POC sitting groups and retreats or other sorts of sangha arrangements.

    What would unraveling racism do? Rather than an end to itself, what are the intentions and visions of people invested in such a project? Sharing these intentions might help to approach anti-racist/ diversity work as tools to be used strategically and skillfully.

    Katie brings up a good point about the multiple situations of “race” in the U.S. To add to that — especially in regards to the question of decolonization — it’s a topic of contention whether to represent indigenous peoples as “people of color” rather than people of sovereign nations that have complicated relationships to settler democracy, liberal inclusion, and radical politics. Of course, this isn’t to devalue the incredible Native teachers in the Vipassana tradition. :) Another opportunity to listen!

    Another thing! I’ve wondered whether “white U.S. Buddhist centers” and POC/queer diversity initiatives around those centers tend to devalue the devotional religiosity in diasporic Asian temples and churches in the U.S. But at the same time POC sanghas do bring in some devotional/ ritual elements that reflect lots of spiritual traditions. Not to create a duality between these categories, but there might be ways of thinking, living and practicing that Asian folks bring that can be approached more respectfully and mindfully.

    While U.S.-based folks might travel to Asia to learn and practice, are there similar connections being made with Asian temples in the U.S. — with people of color, immigrants and political/ war refugees? I’ve seen some interactions, but this possibility seems to be forgotten in conversations about diversity. I know Arun at Angry Asian Buddhist has written more on this topic.

    All of this is to say that diversity in all directions already exists within U.S. Buddhism(s), and some folks just need to catch up to that to at the very least comprehend the multi-fold sangha. A few might want to listen in on or join conversations that are already taking place. Perhaps the issue isn’t including people not present into the already-formed sangha but working on kalyana mittata with all the sanghas already here, including those that were here beforehand. Mindful whiteness and cultural humility might lead to centering on one’s experience without the delusion that one is the center. This would be decolonization, I think.

    PS I have a little feeling about who to reach out to for your next theme. Let’s talk soon :)

    with gratitude ~

  • Penny Nakatsu

    I say yes to this important question. In my experience, much racism (manifested by a lack of diversity in many convert Buddhist groups) is based on ignorance and lack of understanding about the ways in which ethnicity, race and economic privilege “color” our vision of the world. Answers (in the form of appropriate skillful menas) can not come without first raising quesions that may be difficult. I truly believe that naive compassion (e.g. “we’re all suffering beings, therefore you and I are the same…”) is all too often idiot compassion. Compassion must be joined with the wisdom of inquiry education and the cultivation of skillful means to promote diversity.

  • Christopher

    If anyone is interested I have an article called “Segregated Sanghas” that can be found on this blog:

    http://www.whitepriv.blogspot.com

    it deals specifically with how white privilege manifests in dharma circles and is by no means meant to be a comprehensive exploration of the topic, but more a conversation starter.

    Thank you for your focus and commitment to this issue Mushim, Dawn and others…

    One thing I have thought about lately is that i worry that white dharma teachers don’t often consider how the phrasing of the dharma sound to people in the room. For example, I recently heard a teacher (who incidently was not white) say “money is just energy” and that felt very triggering to me as a person with very little of it. However, I am also thinking more of how the idea of “liberation” is framed from a privileged, individualistic place and then social liberation becomes something either separate or that will happen LATER once we as practitioners free ourselves… That to me is reflective of the privilege to wait until one is fully ready (read: enlightened enough?) to engage in social issues as well as a denial of how social engagement can be a path to individual liberation or at least a contributing factor. I do not mean to pressume some dharmic knowledge here but it seems harmful to me to view these issues of oppression as somehow extra-curricular activity outside of “normal” dharma practice. As I understand it, mindfulness is inclusive and even of the icky parts that make us feel defensive are welcome into a mindful state, right?

  • ingrid

    Dawn, Great article. I’ll have to listen to Mushim’s talk and read Breeze’s post also. Such a rich topic.

    I really appreciate what Kimberly says above, “Mindful whiteness and cultural humility might lead to centering on one’s experience without the delusion that one is the center. This would be decolonization, I think.” For me, this concept and process is precisely how to unravel my racism (as a white EuroAmerican, raised in the US). This is step 1 – so i can see more widely, hear more openly, feel more deeply.

    I love your offering of gratitude in the face of information or critique.

    I also am appreciative of your acknowledgement of the persistence of racism. This (imo) fact, frees me from much defensiveness, encouraging me to move to a space of gratitude for the opportunities to unlearn, unravel. I feel your inclusion of “work”, as in “Since we live and work in a world that perpetuates white supremacy, racism will happen in our organizations — especially if we are white-led and white-majority” – is also very important since our economic system of capitalism (imo) has indeed created a class system based on racial prejudice and bias (as well as other differences). While prejudice can exist between all groups of people, i maintain that prejudice with class privilege (& institutionalized power) is the racism we must unravel and dismantle, in our hearts and minds, and in all spaces we occupy especially our spiritual homes.

  • Dawn Haney

    I’ve been thinking about this too, so I’m glad you brought it here.

    One answer to the question “Is it possible to unravel racism in mostly white US Buddhist centers?” – is NO. It’s not possible. Or not yet possible. People of color should form their own sanghas until white folks figure our shit out.

    Yet as you say, discrimination based on race still happens in POC groups, because really the only cultural understanding that POC share in common is an experience of and resistance to racism and white supremacy. (I usually call this discrimination or prejudice rather than racism, and reserve the term racism for racial discrimination that’s backed by institutional power).

    In traditional Buddhist fashion, I want to answer this question with “It’s possible” and “It’s not possible” and “It’s both possible and not possible” and “It’s neither possible nor not possible.”

    Which I think is to say – we have to try it all to unravel racism. And none of it will actually work to fully unravel racism. POC sanghas need to flourish. Mostly white sanghas need to look at why our sanghas aren’t welcoming places to POC. All of this is working to unravel racism. And none of it actually results in unraveling racism, because our sanghas are just a tiny piece of it.

  • Dawn Haney

    Another thumbs up on this piece of brilliance: “Mindful whiteness and cultural humility might lead to centering on one’s experience without the delusion that one is the center. This would be decolonization, I think.”

    I appreciate your question about intentions and visions. Why do we hope to get by unraveling racism?

    I posted something about my vision over on BPF’s Facebook page, which I’ll repost here: I’ve been thinking a lot about how a homogenous sangha can make us “feel” like we’ve achieved peace. It’s easy to avoid conflict if you only surround yourself by other people who think and act just like you do! It’s why I find
    this question of unraveling racism to be central to our work as the Buddhist “Peace” Fellowship – I’m not satisfied with the kind of temporary peace that comes from building an insular community.

    I also appreciate your points that we can too easily fall into the logic of racism when we describe racism as whites vs. POC. But we really have a much more complex “multi-fold sangha” – and that any path to decolonizing our minds and our sanghas will require us understand this more complexly.

    This issue is going to be rad! We’re thinking about it as a collective version of the fifth precept on intoxicating our minds. How has colonization intoxicated our minds? In the sense of mindful whiteness, how does a mostly white sangha “intoxicate” white folks into seeing the world/the dharma in a limited way?

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on who to contact for this theme – can’t wait to see what brilliant stuff they might offer us!

  • Dawn Haney

    Thanks Ingrid for calling out capitalism and the class system in this analysis!

    I still remember the first time someone helped me link the history of capitalism in the US to the history of racism in the US. I’d been studying (even teaching!) about racism and white privilege for many years, but in the field of women’s studies which in the US has a tendency to be weak on our analysis of class and capitalism.

    I think the Occupy movement has framed this well for us – who benefits when white workers are pitted against Black, Asian, Latino, Native, and multiracial workers? Nobody but the 1%.

    This is another place where I see the importance of dismantling racism in our sanghas – as political Buddhists and spiritual activists, we know that racism has been a key strategy to make some folks “less than” others so they bear the brunt of suffering created by war, environmental devastation, failed social systems, etc. We have to unravel the ways racism is part of the causes and conditions of much of the world’s suffering.

  • Dawn Haney

    Penny, I’m struck by your naming of naive or idiot compassion, this grating idea I often hear from fellow Buddhists or new-agey spiritual types, “we’re all suffering beings, therefore you and I are the same…”

    I thought to myself, “Ah, this must be one of the near or far enemies of compassion!” (For those unfamiliar with this teaching on near & far enemies of the four heart qualities of kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity, here’s a good overview!) But on the surface, this idea doesn’t quite resonate with my ideas of the near enemy of pity, or the far enemy of cruelty.

    However on reflection, I think this sentiment might actually be a less obvious form of cruelty. Of all the far enemies of all four brahmaviharas or divine qualities of the heart, I find myself having the hardest time seeing where cruelty arises in my life. Anger, envy, bias – I can name examples of where those arose today and every day. But cruelty? I don’t generally think of myself as a cruel person. I don’t torture people or animals. I don’t deliberately set out to hurt people or make them cry.

    But is it not cruel to deny someone’s lived experience when they express it? Is it not cruel to ignore or refuse to acknowledge the ways in which we experience the world differently? Is it not minimizing someone down to nothing to dismiss their experience as “just the same as me”?

    Thank you for the opportunity to explore this teaching! If I define cruelty in these terms, I can start to see the small and large ways this shows up in my life every day. Hello far enemy of compassion! Now that I see you, I have a chance to change my ways.

  • Dawn Haney

    Christopher, thanks for sharing your post on Segregated Sanghas here. For me, it adds to this conversation by giving some historical context to how mostly white Buddhist sanghas developed in the US, in many ways through an entirely separate process to how mostly Asian and Asian American sanghas arrived here.

    For me (from my biased position of working at Buddhist Peace Fellowship!), I also find problematic the sentiment sometimes espoused by Buddhists that we should first seek individual enlightenment, and then begin the work of social liberation. To me, there’s a false sense of self/other in separating personal from collective liberation.

    Yet, I also have deep respect for people who engage in long periods of silent practice – 3 months, a year, 12 years in a cave like Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo.

    Can there be many paths to liberation? Perhaps there’s a lesson here from this very conversation on racism, inclusion, and diversity. At her talk Wednesday night, Mushim Ikeda shared this quote by bell hooks, “Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world.”

  • amc

    Micro-agression, covert racism, overt racism . . . it all shows up in every aspects of our lives. I wish the practice would dig deeper and get ride of the fluffy “Buddha-speak” and face issues straight on. Also, it would be helpful if those with skin privilege would read up on Timothy Wise’s work as well as read White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
    By Peggy McIntosh for starters.

    I am tired of the denial, defense, and deflective responses I find when addressing these issues with those who think that they are so “spiritual” yet have never looked deep within themselves. Also, I find it really aggravating that most aspects of this practice does not address this matter. When I challenged an incident that happened to me at SR, I was ignored by the founder of the organization, dismissed by the instructor whom I told about it, ignored by all involved in the incident, and told that “you” can’t change another person blah blah blah and pretty much insulted. There was a white elephant in the room and those in power and those who were perpetrating their overt micro-aggressions on me/others were in denial. I wish that those that take this path would do their work and diggggg deeper into their souls. One way to do this is to look at the ugly aspects of skin privilege in any society.

    I remember challenging an overt incident that happened to a group of us at a local Hayes Valley center in SF. We were meet with “Oh I am so hurt you brought that up” kind of response . . . We did not mean to . . .

  • Gwendoline Y. Fortun

    Thanks. I’ll forward it to my son s FORMER Buddhist, just on the basis of the racism. He said, “I agree with their principles; they don’t follow their principles.”

    I’ve had the same experience with Unitarian Universalism. I’m going it on my own from now on…

  • Sheridan Adams

    I appreciate Breeze Harper taking the time and energy in her recent article to share her responses and thoughts about reactions of white folks to her hair and more. I know that many people of color are loathe to educate white people about racism, but nevertheless I think it’s helpful at times. As I see it there’s an aspect of racial healing that goes beyond right and wrong. It lies in listening to, understanding and respecting the perspective and experience of someone different than us, in a way that’s not defensive. Given the predominance of white culture in our country, it seems that it’s we white folks who need to do more, but probably not all, of the listening

    Some years ago a black friend of mine had a similar hair experience with me. I had always seen her with her hair pulled tightly back. One day she appeared with her hair loose, falling in curls around her face. It looked great and I went wild with compliments. Later I heard, at a 1998 event called “Healing Racism in our Sanghas,” how she felt about that. (She didn’t mention my name.) I had made her uncomfortable and, like Breeze, “exotified.” At first her comments felt unfair. I didn’t feel I had done anything wrong in complimenting her. But I also realized that her negative response pointed to something I didn’t fully understand. Later in the day, a black woman commented that white women knew very little about black women’s hair. There’s a whole illuminating history there! Maybe I had done nothing wrong, but I definitely had more to learn.

  • Tim

    I searched online for images of Angela Davis and found images of the iconic posters that blanketed the walls of many progressives in the 70s. That widespread, poster-sized image does have some resemblance to the tiny images of Nina Simone on the earrings cited and shown in Breeze’s article.
    And Davis is from the Bay Area. My recollection is that Nina Simone’s heyday, controversy and images were earlier and not as iconic or widespread (to my generation). Nor were they reproduced as much for later generations. So while white people may not be so aware as to distinguish Simone vs. Davis, is it racist. Or just racial? Maybe racial -a big distinction. That not a sin. To have different discernments among races is not necessarily racist. But it may well be racializing. If black people could not distinguish between (Hanoi) Jane Fonda and Farrah Fawcett, I don’t think we’d think it racist, consideration of dominant culture, price to pay, aside.

    That doesn’t mean subtle or even direct racism doesn’t exist in sanghas, just that we need to be aware that “race” (a biological falsehood and human artifice) groups and individuals do identify, categorize and place anyone else and certainly any other member of any other group: it’s hardwired into our friend or foe, our tribe or theirs, brains.

    Part of this overall issue is that many white poeple don’t dwell on being white, they have the luxury or privilege of just being, and of being unique individuals in their own minds. Many black people frequently are aware they are black, of a ‘race’ be it feeling proudful and/or unequal, threatened. Liberal whites transfer, thinking they think (or wish to see) of blacks as unique individuals, when in fact whites label and group – and react.

  • Lee Lipp

    This post is inspired by words from others and from my many years of practice at SFZC. I write this post for the benefit of all of us who identify as white with an intention to offer words that will inspire us to relate to and meet the “call outs to engage” in relationship to some recent events. This is not an ‘exclusive to white people’ post. I invite everyone to respond, I just figure that those of us who are white may be interested in joining in on a conversation that we maybe don’t usually or often have with each other.

    Inspired by Breeze who honestly wrote of her experience at SFZC’s 50th anniversary event and her call out to SFZC to, “…learn about how structural racism and whiteness impact our Zen practice. We shall be open and loving to transforming ourselves and not become angry as we learn about how white racial formation has deeply affected our Zen hearts.”

    Inspired by Mushim’s talk the same week at SFZC and in particular her call out that we a take up the practice of “cultural humility.” I looked up “humility” on an online dictionary and read that humility is a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness. Mushim said that “cultural humility” allows people to tell their stories in their own words, their own language, their own formats.

    Inspired by Dawn’s article in which she expresses that when an, “…organization takes on diversity work, they should expect more critique rather than less. As more people of color feel safe enough to show up in a space, they will notice and point out the subtle ways racism is hidden and embedded in a mostly white organization. As a white person, it can be easy to respond defensively, listing all the diversity work that’s been done.”

    Why and how does a SFZC practitioner relate to experiences that activate and push our culturally conditioned buttons when we’re called out to look at ourselves and our predominately white Zen practice center. The ‘why’ to relate is pretty easy to answer from the POV of the vow many of us at SFZC take to ‘do no harm’, with insight of how doing harm to any element of our shared life is doing harm to all life. My understanding is that our practice points us to turn towards suffering and the conditions from which suffering arises.

    The ‘how’ is about cultivating practice to meet whatever comes to our attention, painful as it might be, with equanimity and gratitude for pain showing itself to us. Instead of avoiding pain, we meet it. How do we find the courage to meet our white culture’s conditoning that leads many of us to not even notice the privilege that comes to people who identify as white. I find the Buddha’s teaching inspires, maybe even calls us out, to realize that a commitment to end suffering requires a strong commitment to noticing how things are even, maybe even especially, when pain arises.
    How else can we meet pain or harm we may be causing if we don’t invite all experience to show itself to us. Dawn calls out this question and as I also do. “How do we move past defensiveness?”

    Please add your ideas for how we can mindfully and compassionately listen to experiences different than our own; how can we simply be with reactivity to the pain many of us feel when we hear that our predominately white center’s way of being together may give rise to painfulness for those not white. How can we be with this without denying pain or saying that other cultural lenses are wrong or not relevant to our way of practice. How can we be sincerely engaged with those who have been expressing themselves to us for years and years about how and why we are viewed as a racist institution. How can we do so and at the same time embrace and not demean the efforts that we have engaged with for years and years to educate ourselves about isms that lead to suffering. We have been engaging with this for some time and now….

    Can we help each other examine white cultural assumptions, views and behaviors with an eye towards opening ourselves up to finding new ways to meet critiques. Are we willing to investigate what white culture is by turning the light inward. It helps me to remember a Zen saying: ‘Fall down 9 times, get up 10.’ Yes, we can! We can start again and again in each moment.

    “How do we move past defensiveness?”

    I humbly invite us to notice and perhaps acknowledge that there is a conflict between how we want things to be at SFZC and the reality of how things are.

    I look forward to your comments. Lee Lipp

  • Lee Lipp

    The first part of what I just posted was meant to read:

    This post is inspired by words from others

  • Mushim Ikeda

    Hi Lee, I appreciate the heart and soul that you bring to what you write about the need for those with white privilege to be open to looking at their assumptions, views and behaviors. And, in regard to the part of your post above, in which you say: ‘I looked up “humility” on an online dictionary and read that humility is a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness. Mushim said that “cultural humility” allows people to tell their stories in their own words, their own language, their own formats.’– I want to clarify that what I meant is that it is the *listeners* practicing cultural humility that allows other people the space and support to express their life experience in ways that feel authentic to themselves, the speakers. I didn’t mean that the people telling the stories should have a modest view of their own importance — on the contrary, if they are members of communities targeted for oppression, they need to have their importance affirmed and their accounts of their experiences validated.

  • David

    Sending healing energy of compassion that joy, happiness, and understanding may bloom from the expressed racism and oppression in this sangha.

  • Marcus Liefert

    So grateful for this exploration. I had a blessing of an opportunity to teach with Kitsy Schone at the East Bay sangha about Mindfulness and whiteness this past Spring. It opened my eyes to the power of doing anti-racism work alongside mindfulness practice, which in my religious tradition (Unitarian Universalism), hasn’t always happened—sometimes we all forgot that we really are on the same team, as Dawn pointed out.

    I’m practicing mindfulness by spending a little less time on my computer, so I won’t say much more other than to offer gratitude for this conversation.

    Love and blessings, thank you Mushim for pointing me toward your talk and this article!

  • Lee Lipp

    Dear Mushim,

    Thank you for telling me that when you read my description of “cultural humility” globbed together with other elements expressed in your talk, I created an impression that I was addressing my comments to practice “cultural humility” to members of communities who have traditionally been targeted for oppression. Oy Vey! Thank you for calling me out on this. This was not my intention. I am in complete alignment that members of communities targeted for oppression need to have their importance affirmed and their accounts of their experiences validated.

    My intention was to point out the practice of “cultural humility” to members of our white communities to inspire us to listen to and meet the “call outs to engage” in relationship to some recent events… “cultural humility” as a means to deeply hear experiences different than our own without defensiveness even when what we hear is painful to hear. I wish to encourage those of us who enjoy the privileges that come with white identity to have a modest view, a humble view of our own self importance.

    I consider myself fortunate that you would point out the mistake I made in how I wrote this. With my apology for any harm I may have caused with my lack of writing skill, my intention is to do better next time.

  • Mushim Ikeda

    Marcus, here’s a good definition of cultural humility I just found: “An attitude of respect when approaching people of different cultures, which entails engagement in a process of self-reflection
    and self-critique requiring an ability to move
    beyond one’s own biases.” http://www.acpe.edu/acroread/Multicultural%20Competencies%20in%20Supervisory%20Practice%202.pdf
    “Engaging in a process of self-reflection and self-critique requiring an ability to move beyond one’s own biases” — sounds like mindfulness practice to me! Exciting.

  • fern williams

    I’m 72, grew up in the South, with all that entailed. “Separate but Equal”, etc. Immersed in all the illusions and delusions. Now, thru Buddhist practice, I am much more aware of my thoughts. That stuff I grew up with is still with me; the good news is that I am mindful of it, see the thoughts that occur, don’t act on them. Know that “I don’t have to believe everything I think”.
    Thanks for the discussion.

  • Naji

    Thank you for writing this article. As a person of color the subtle cues of racism that I see in a sangha breaks my heart.

    I once attended a very popular sangha that I had heard so much about in my hometown of San Francisco. When I got there I sat in the back (no jokes please) and as the shrine began to fill I noticed that there were, maybe, 10 people of color out of more than 150 people!

    That’s not wholly new too me but what was new was the cloak of invisibility I felt as people chatted with their friends and acquaintances and no one even extended a welcoming hand too me. I felt cast aside; welcome but not invited.

    It may not seem like much to those in the privileged class but to us who feel “unclean” or “cast aside,” the notion of being there and yet not is a huge issue.

    I’m sure others will say, “That can happen to women, LGBT, physically challenged as well.” True, but couple that with being a person of color and having to deal with those issues and you might get a glimpse of how we feel every time we sit with you all together.

    Metta

  • Joy

    I very much appreciate this article and look forward to seeing more collaborative works across different traditions on unraveling racism. As an active member of an intentional poc sangha that also welcome white friends, we face a lot of challenges in talking about whiteness and would very much like to see more resources like this that help provide guidance.

  • Katherine Williams

    “People of color should form their own sanghas until white folks figure our shit out.” Amazing how, in the process of trying to detach from racism, a white person just can’t help being racist! I say there are two realities. On the level of ultimate reality, all material reality is an illusion, let alone that 2-3 millimeters of variously pigmented skin covering. The only thing there is on that level is universal glowing love. On the level of material reality, it makes a real difference in infant mortality, all health outcomes, all educational, housing, and career opportunities, whether you are “white” or a “person of color” and ignoring that or pretending it doesn’t make a difference nowadays, or whatever, is offensive to someone having to struggle to survive against that obstacle. People of color have the same rights whites do when it comes to their choice of sanghas. If they want to participate in a mostly white sangha, they should be able to do that and not have to confront blatant or semi-blatant racism in the process.

  • mblackman25

    It looks like much of this stems from talk in US western sanghas, and references issues related to that. I must refer to the whole of existence when I reflect on this issues, and having reflected, want to share another view, my own. It is actually a main focus of mine in my practice and my life mission. My goal however is not to eradicate racism only – a form of suffering – but to do exactly what the dharma teaches us and get straight the roots, to the source. Allow me to explain further by sharing with you some thoughts that came to me a few weeks ago after hearing about the Buddhist monks who are discriminating against the minority Muslim population in Burma. I began by thinking about these words:

    “When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.” -Jiddu Krishnamurti

    We can look at the situation unfolding between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma as a piece of evidence for Krishnamurti’s eloquent words. But before I explain further, I want to be sure that you and I are not standing in two different rooms as we enter this discussion. I would like each and every one of you, if you are Buddhist practitioners, to remember that wisdom is a knowing which is also seeing — seeing things as they truly are rather than the way our mind initially might perceive them. We must be careful to avoid the defilements of aversion and rejection… delusion. We must not project our previous knowledge or our opinions outwardly on to the world, onto another person, or onto a perspective that they are sharing with us. I will share with you a perspective, but you must not project onto it and reject it before you have fully understood. To help you in this practice, please imagine the following:

    You are in your own room, with its own window. I am in another room with a different window. Other people are in their rooms. I want to ask you to leave the room you are in and step for a moment into a different room with me, where reality is a little bit different. In this room, the morality of the concept of “value in diversity” is now questionable. From this room, we can look out of your window, and see the truth that you already know and are familiar with. But I am also going to show you another window that we can also look out of, and see another truth. In doing so, I do not argue with you or try to disprove your position – I agree with you, and I also show you an additional window to look though. You can look through both, and eventually you can decide on which window you are more comfortable looking out of. I myself prefer to look through many, many windows; but this is a constant challenge as the ego tends to fight, and wants to stay in front of only one window.

    You see, I feel that to continue this discussion we must step outside of “the box” together, and let go of the old teachings of traditional textbooks, and the concepts of race and ethnicity that we tend to accept at face value. We have done this for so long that we have even come to believe that we are “protecting diversity,” or being open minded when we promote the idea of rich “ethnic variation.” Allow me to explain – first I will discuss race, and then ethnicity.

    Race:

    While many scholars in many academic fields already agree that race is merely a social construct, it is still used in the writing of laws and policies, and is used as a way to categorize data and people. However, with the study of chromosomes and genes, we find that each and every allele plays an independent part in the construction and natural presentation of a person’s phenotype; as such, there is no validity whatsoever in the idea that phenotypes are made from bulk packages of chromosomes that remain consistent for all members of a certain “race”. This is in fact so untrue that we find the “race” of a given subject cannot be proven by any form of scientific reference at all. Let’s try it:

    Pretend I have white skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes, and many members of society refer to me as white or Caucasian. I then decide to stand before a panel of lawyers and scientists and the like and make the claim that I am African-American. While they will most likely disagree, they will not be able to disprove my claim. The lawyers will find that race is legally accepted as “self-identified,” and the scientists will find that there is no library which contains copies of the genetic codes and lists of chromosome combinations for each “race” title that we commonly use; on the contrary, they will have to fall back on the simple fact these patterns do not exist at all on the genetic level. The patterns that we see in society only exist because of our gullibility in accepting them, and subsequently, we tend “stick to our own kind” rather than “inter-marrying” and producing more varied offspring. So it ends up being a vicious circle. But both the lawyers and the scientists will find that they have no one, single, consistent definition of what race is. These concepts exist socially, but have no validity or consistency in biology, science, spirituality, or in the future of our world. The idea of “race” serves us absolutely no benefit (and I welcome all readers to reflect for awhile, and attempt to come up with one true benefit to preserving the concept of “race”), and causes us to be divided (defined as: seeing ourselves as living in separate groups that cannot be merged or broken) – so why do we continue to allow it to exist?

    Ethnicity:

    Now let us move on to ethnicity. Obviously to discuss ethnicity, it seems that we should be able to move past biology and genetics, as the idea of ethnicity exists only in the social academic fields. Some have called ethnicity “an inalienable human right supported by international documents on human rights,” and have done so by referencing culture, ways of life, geographic region and so on. Here is where I am trying to get everyone to take a good look at what they are saying. It is not an ethnic title, or the name of an “ethnicity,” or a person’s idea of ethnicity that is protected. It is their culture, their way of life, the place they live, the foods they prefer to eat, the people they feel comfortable with, and how they see themselves.

    Wait, isn’t that ethnicity?

    No, that is culture, way of life, the place they live, the foods they prefer to eat, the people they feel comfortable with, and how they see themselves.

    So what is ethnicity then?

    Ethnicity is an idea, a word which lumps together all of those things in manner which does not allow them to be shared. Here is where we find division, and see that “ethnicity” is not what has value, but all of the things that we lump together as being “ethnicity.” Let us try an example. You may know someone who is “ethnic Armenian.” Obviously this refers to ethnicity, not race. So we are ok, we are respecting diversity and so on. But consider this: If I am a standard, plain-old, “white American,” but I decide to move to Armenia, become a citizen, adopt all of the customs, the shared world views, the language, the culture, and all of the things that we consider to make someone “ethnic Armenian,” would I then be “ethnic Armenian” too? No, I wouldn’t. Not how we use the idea of “ethnicity” these days. Even if that is how I see myself, the world would not allow me simply switch from one ethnic group to the other, even though I have exhibited all of the characteristics that should have allowed me to do so. So no matter what I tried to do, I would be told “Sorry, Mike, but no matter how much we love and respect each other, you can never be Armenian.” And here we are divided, here I am rejected, and it is impossible to unite across this one small imaginary gap. No amount of mutual respect could ever bridge this gap, a gap that serves no purpose, offers no benefit, and has been placed between us by our own ignorance. Ignorance, as the dharma shows us, gives birth to the defilements; one of which is aversion. Here we can see that “ethnicity” is simply a manifestation of aversion in our society, and it is one that produces much suffering. We will always be divided as long as we allow the idea of “ethnicity” to exist. As long as it exists, we are free to perceive ourselves as individual drops of water – when in reality we are all one ocean of love.

    So many people fail to understand that all of the things we value, all of the variations we have, they would still continue to exist. The only difference would be that there are no longer imaginary lines that cannot be crossed – in a true world in which ethnicity and race do not exist, we would still enjoy diversity, various cultures, languages, places, peoples, clothing and customs, foods, and everything else. But here we would have no restrictions on who could be a part of what group, who could share with who, identify with who – and in this way we could all be a part of each other’s families without sacrificing one bit of diversity.

    My mission is to see a world undivided and at peace. Built upon love. Even the “politically correct” and currently socially acceptable idea of “ethnicity” is a threat to this ideal world of peace and love – and this is the only reason I have decided to present an alternate window to look through. Dr. Kings says that sometimes, “silence is betrayal.”

    “The appalling silence of good people” who look away from injustice is a betrayal to all humanity… so in this instance I am not remaining silent.

    Thank you for stepping into this other room with me, and looking through this other window. May we have many more windows to look through.

    ~~~ “Life for him was a mirror in which he saw only himself, rather than a window through which he saw other selves.” ~~~ -Dr. MLK Jr.

    ~~~ “You are my brother, but why do you quarrel with me?” ~~~ -Khalil Gibran

  • ko shin Bob Hanson

    Thanks for your reflections and speaking to an issue in our Sangha. I work in four prisons in WI withe the Milw Zen Center Meditation Program. We work in a total of 11 or12 state prisons. About half or more of the 15-20 men who come through the “Eastern Religion” groups (State DOC phrase) are people of color. It has not always been that way but the last three or four years there seems to be a shift.My back ground was organizing and working in churches in the urban areas of Milwaukee, Detroit and Syracuse and 13 years in Japan. Eight of our 12 grand kids are children of color also which reminds me daily of my position in the community as a white person and what responsibilities I have to change our community from its racist ways. I guess what I want to say, is I think we make a break through in our own practice by serving the dhamma brothers and sisters in prisons, and possibly train folks for joining our Sangha when they are free. We have no way to know this, how many continue in their practice, but I know some of the men I have been with were quite serious, others not. After 20 years or more as a practitioner I find the comments here very helpful and healing….peace

  • Adele

    Although I didn’t read every response, after reading several, I thought I would write. I don’t think racism should be allowed under the banner of “cultural” , or anything else. It is a total misunderstanding of Buddhism. No one is better or worse than anyone else – we are all one another and each other. Our bodies are not us.
    I attended a group once, and was amazed that the teacher reminded people that racial discrimination was not allowed. There is none in the group I attend now.
    Racism does exist in our society, but the sangha, while it is made up of people from that society, is not a place where a lack of love and acceptance can be fostered in any way. How silly for people to be bigoted against themselves, and that is what racist people are doing. Perhaps the teachers can help those people to realize that. We are all human and have our obscurations, and those who are not racist or bigoted , by treating everyone with love and total acceptance, can help effect a change.

  • Dawn Haney

    amc, thanks for sharing about your painful experiences at Spirit Rock and the Hayes Valley center. I’m sad this happened to you. I’m also not surprised that you experienced defensiveness, denial, and dismissiveness – it’s a good reminder to all of us that this is a pervasive problem in mostly white sanghas.

    Thanks also for pointing folks to those good resources! I’ve also been re-reading a good resource for organizations: Building a Multi-Ethnic, Inclusive & Antiracist Organization

    On page 4 is this great list:

    What people of color never want to hear again from white people engaging in discussions about racism (I selected a sample, but encourage folks to go read the whole list!)

    1. I can’t hear you if you are angry.
    3. I feel (unsafe, judged, attacked, abused, etc.)
    6. I just see people, not skin color.
    11. When are we going to stop talking about racism and get to the real work??
    13. That other person of color isn’t offended, so why should you be?

    Do folks have other favorite resources to point us to?

  • Dawn Haney

    Thanks Gwendoline – I respect that folks make their own choices about when it’s best to participate in community and when it’s best to go it on your own! Thanks for be willing to post something here in our little community.

    I also appreciate the reminder that there’s nothing special about the spiritual path of Buddhism that makes us prone to racism … it shows up on other spiritual paths as well.

  • Dawn Haney

    Sheridan, thanks for sharing about your experience being the one who intended to make a compliment which was experienced by someone as “exotification.” As you say, there is a whole history here!

    I had an in-person conversation (yes! we still have those!) over the weekend about this article, and the person I was chatting with wanted to get into an assessment about whether this is “really” exotification or not. For me, the person who experienced it always gets to define their experience. Like women who have been raped get to define their own experience, rather than have politicians tell them whether their rape is “legitimate” or not.

    I find it helpful to make a distinction between intent and impact. “I intended my comment in one way; you experienced it as something different than that.” Both can be true at the same time.

    I’ve found it generally helpful to validate the *impact* first, and not seek to have that person validate my intentions until I’m sure they feel fully heard and understood.

    If I don’t have an ongoing relationship with the person, or if what I said triggered more significant injury because of their past experiences with racism, I often don’t ask that person to validate my intentions at all. Instead, I find a trusted friend to talk through the situation with, someone who won’t be re-injured by my desire to have my intentions be heard and validated.

  • Dawn Haney

    Thanks for commenting Tim!

    I appreciate you pointing out that race is a biological falsehood, something humans constructed to separate us from each other. I’ve most often seen it traced back to the Spanish Inquisition, where Christians used the “limpieza de sangre” – the so-called cleanliness of blood rule – to persecute Muslims and Jews.

    I’m a little confused then when you say, “it’s hardwired into our friend or foe, our tribe or theirs, brains.” Are you saying that distinguishing each other by race is hardwired into our brains? That’s not my understanding of the history, so I’d be curious to hear more about what you meant!

  • Dawn Haney

    Lee, thanks for being present here in this conversation as well as conversations at SFZC and on Breeze’s original blog post. I so appreciate your commitments to show up and engage in mindful and compassionate ways! Thank you for serving as a strong and steady bridge between all these conversations.

    In response to your request, “Please add your ideas for how we can mindfully and compassionately listen to experiences different than our own” …

    One thing I would like to explore more is the interplay between how we do this as *individuals* and how we do this as *organizations*. I find that often when an organization starts doing more diversity and inclusion work, the focus is on how individuals within the organization can respond more compassionately and openly.

    This is important work to do! It’s the combination of our responses as individuals that creates an organization’s response. But I also think it’s only one component of our work to change organizational culture. When we try to work only at the level of the individual, we’re constantly having to train new folks who come into the organization – and not just staff or residents, but also donors, volunteers, people showing up for the first time.

    I’ve found these tools to be helpful to start thinking about what it means to shift our whole organizational culture to be one that is visibly inclusive and anti-racist:

    Building a Multi-Ethnic, Inclusive & Antiracist
    Organization
    http://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/olcese.pdf

    Inclusiveness at Work: How to Build Inclusive Nonprofit Organizations
    http://www.nonprofitinclusiveness.org/inclusiveness-work-how-build-inclusive-nonprofit-organizations

    SFZC may already be implementing some of these strategies. If so, as part of shifting organizational culture, it would be helpful to see those highlighted on the website … oh, I just found the goals SFZC has established around diversity! It would be helpful to also see how you are meeting those goals – like I recently saw that Zenju Earthlyn Manuel will be co-leading the fall practice period which is meeting the important objective to “Continue the implementation of visiting dharma teachers program to provide practice role models and support for students of color, as well as students from other underrepresented constituencies.” That’s really great to see!

  • Lee Lipp

    Hi Dawn,

    Thank you for all the resources. From my POV, the more voices we hear, the more we’re enriched. I’m listening…with gratitude, Lee

  • Dawn Haney

    Hi Katherine, thanks for your note and the opportunity to clarify what I meant above!

    I fully support people of color participating in mostly white sanghas. I hope through my article and other work I do that I can encourage mostly white sanghas to find ways to be more inclusive so POC can feel at home.

    However, in conversations with many Buddhists of color, I often hear the desire to form separate POC sanghas. As Katie notes above, these are often seen as “safer spaces” for POC to practice than mostly white sanghas. It’s a common strategy used in diversity and anti-racism work, to have separate caucusing or separate spaces where people who share a common experience of oppression can connect with each other for healing and organizing.

    In saying “NO. It’s not possible. Or not yet possible. People of color should form their own sanghas until white folks figure our shit out ” I was trying to say that I fully support the desire of POC to form their own separate sanghas.

    I encourage both strategies at once. The development of POC sanghas and inclusiveness work in mostly white sanghas are mutually supportive when they happen in parallel. And I also point to the need for strategies that extend beyond our sanghas, because racism does not begin or end at our doorstep.

    I hope that helps clarify the context of my comment – I welcome additional questions or push back!

  • Dawn Haney

    Thanks fern – it’s definitely helpful to remember that we don’t have to believe everything our minds think!

    Thanks for also offering us a look back at history. Ten years ago, I was teaching a class on sexism and racism to students at the University of Georgia when the university celebrated the 40th anniversary of desegregation (they just celebrated 50 last year). It was January 9, 1961 when Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter enrolled in classes.

    It was a concrete reminder for my students and me of how close the history of “separate but equal” really is. And how that legacy still continues in this generation, when an African American freshman entering college this fall could at best be a 3rd generation UGA grad.

  • Scott M.

    I am so happy to read this article and to follow the many responses. After so many years of people’s / our efforts, the racism within predominantly-white Buddhist sanghas in North America remains untransformed, and I remain beguiled about how that transformation will take place. But I am encouraged by the idea that the next conversation to address this will focus on “decolonization.” I would like to learn from that conversation and contribute to it. Having committed my life to doing white anti-racist and anti-colonial ally work, I have come to understand colonization to be the unchallenged condition of the racism shaping North American societies and being sustained by white people. I might get even more specific and encourage us to ask how *settler* colonialism, which is a form of white racism based in thieving land, silencing nations, and enforcing settler governance, is the ongoing form of colonialism that conditions our lives and practice together. As a white person who has been pursuing this work with scholars of colour and Indigenous scholars, studying and writing together, I think discussing it could be of incredible aid in addressing whiteness in North American Buddhist sanghas.

    I am returning to the SF Bay Area after a 10 year absence, which includes readying to return to my original sangha and learning again how to practice with students and teachers in that place. As part of that, I have been open to learning how my work on racism and colonialism can be useful to work the sangha is doing or can start to do. I hope to remain connected to people who are thinking and acting with similar concern.

  • Katie Loncke

    Hey Scott, I don’t think I know you but welcome back to the Bay! :) Thanks for this more specific definition of settler colonialism — that seems very helpful. Kenji Liu recently reposted a graphic that I think speaks to this theme.

    Personally I’m still trying to understand more about what is meant by “colonialism,” “post-colonial,” and “decolonizing.” Sometimes they seems to refer to specific, nation-related, indigenous-focused, historical phenomena; other times they seem to mean a more broad matrix of racism, gender oppression, and economic oppression and exploitation. This is one of the reasons I’m really excited to talk about it with Buddhists next year — especially Buddhists for whom colonization and decolonization are an important part of their life’s work and worldview.

    Anyway, we should connect and build on the theme if you’re interested! Feel free to shoot me an email at katie [at] bpf [dot] org. :)

  • Scott M.

    Thank you Katie! It’s nice to meet you, here, and I’ll be in touch. Yes, the terms are confusing :-) in fact, I think that in the excitement of a lot of recent activism and theory they are once again in flux (not that that ever stops).

    I also saw this graphic recently — what a powerful and useful image. I recall seeing it circulated among Native activists who are sharing the teaching emerging in Native communities that are healing from the legacies of Residential School / Boarding School trauma, as well as all the inherited trauma of colonization. Also, the centering of gender and of sexual violence in the analysis reminds me of Andrea Smith’s analysis in “Conquest,” which uses that to connect the political / social structural + interpersonal / psychic levels of colonization that you just mentioned.

    I look forward to sharing with people more of what I am learning as a teacher and writer (academic): from conversations among Indigenous people and people of color regarding how white-supremacist settler colonization of these lands creates or conditions the societies, states, and relationships that we live within today. I appreciate having this kind of historical, social, structural analysis of the personal, interpersonal, psychic dimensions of racism and colonialism. As Buddhists we may investigate mental formations — of which colonization and racism condition more than plenty — and, speaking as a white Buddhist, I may want to learn how to practice methods for mindful thought and interpersonal interaction that ameliorate or turn the energy that my racism or colonialism has produced. Over my years of practice, I think I have been seen that if I or my community lacks, or does not develop an analysis of the historical, social, and structural forces that are conditioning mental formations and interpersonal interactions — unmindful *and* mindful ones! — then my / our efforts to work with the mind or with person-to-person relationships finally trail off, or fail to achieve any meaningful, long-term, institutional change. That’s just an impression, and I need to return to conversation with others who are committed to thinking about this to learn and understanding better what is going on and how we can act well in relationship to it. I am really happy to be returning to the Bay where this thinking is happening so energetically!

  • Mushim

    An excellent, very short online video, “Return to Wellness,” is posted on the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute (IWRI), featuring, among other speakers, my Dharma sister, Buddhist teacher Bonnie Duran. If you’d like a quick overview of colonialism and the process of decolonization, go to http://www.iwri.org/ and click on the “Return to Wellness” video on the right hand side of the screen.

  • Dawn Haney

    Hi Naji – thanks for sharing about your experience at a popular SF sangha, the sense of being invisible, cast aside, uninvited.

    And thank you for the reminder that even if the particular slight seems small to privileged folks, it has to be seen as part of the larger pattern of experience among people of color. Where folks of color are told they are unclean, uninvited, disposable, cast aside tens or hundreds or thousands of times every day – in the media, at work, at school, walking on the sidewalk, trying to rent an apartment, trying to buy a home, at a job interview, at the grocery store. When it happens again at a dharma center, I imagine it can feel especially painful when folks have come for spiritual refuge and renewal and instead find more of the same.

  • Dawn Haney

    Hi Joy – if you are willing to share (either here or more privately on email), I’d love to hear more about the challenges you face talking about whiteness in an intentional POC sangha that welcomes white friends. I’m reachable at dawn@bpf.org

    I have a lot of resources for white folks interested in anti-racism (below), but I’m also curious if folks can point us toward resources for spaces that are intentionally centered in the experiences of POC and still welcome white folks. I practice a lot at East Bay Meditation Center which is intentional about fostering a diverse community, and I find that I sometimes want (white) folks who practice there to have a base level of understanding about oppression and privilege. Yet I also want to be welcoming and inclusive, and support people who are still learning to have access to what’s been called “the most diverse sangha on the planet!”

    White folks interested in anti-racist organizing might like these resources:
    Challenging White Supremacy
    Detour Spotting for White Anti-Racists
    Anne Braden White Anti-Racist Organizing Training Program (I participated in the 2011 Braden program, so message me if you are interested and have questions or need a housing hookup if you need to travel to participate!)

  • Dawn Haney

    Hi Mike – thanks for your note, and your pointing to the ways race and ethnicity are socially constructed.

    I find the Buddhist teaching of the “two truths” extraordinarily helpful in thinking about racism and other forms of oppression. I see it as my mission to hold BOTH of these truths even as they are contradictory. This is both an absolute truth that there are no divisions among humans, and a relative truth that the divisions we have constructed based on race, gender, sexuality, class, ability, age have real material effects in our lives. To me, to deny either of these truths is to deny reality.

    I appreciate Lama Tsultrim Allione’s teaching about this around gender oppression. Gina Sharpe also points to this in an interview with Tricycle on POC retreats, saying “In the absolute sense there is no separateness, no color, no race, but in the relative sense there are differences that are very real and very deep and sometimes determinative of our fate.”

  • Kimberly

    Wow, a blog thread with Scott, Katie and Mushim! And a shout-out to Bonnie Duran! This is a beautiful day.

    I’d like to bring in the amazingness of Scott’s book, and his work in general: http://www.lanternreview.com/blog/2012/07/12/summer-reads-kimberly-alidios-birthday-reading-list/

    I’m a technically post-colonial person whose nation of origin is politically independent and sovereign but I don’t accept Philippine independence as true sovereignty for me, Filipinos around the world who are exported by the government, for indigenous peoples, the poor and the Muslim people of the archipelago.

    I’m also a U.S.-born queer person who can easily claim this part of the world as mine, or as American, or as reclaimed property for dyke POC liberation… That’s settler colonialism.

    The buddhadharma is necessary for me to show up for this seemingly dismal situation. Truly, there are many paths for all beings to be free. Definitely, I’m not at the center of many of them. But my liberation is at stake, too.

    Grateful to all of you

  • Dawn Haney

    Thanks Bob for your practice, and your offering of the practice to people in prisons. I’m curious to hear more about the dynamics of race and racism that come up as a white person teaching Asian practices to people of color in prison.

    And I’m also curious to think about how our work sharing the dharma with people in prison might be connected to larger systemic change, like ending the death penalty and prison abolition. Perhaps that’s a whole article (or set of articles!) to be written for publication on Turning Wheel?

  • Dawn Haney

    Thanks for your note Adele!

    I’m curious to explore your statement, “There is none [no racism] in the group I attend now.”

    How do we know whether racism exists in a space, or not? Is it something we can tell by observing? What would we expect to observe in a “racist” space vs. a “non-racist” or an “anti-racist” space?

    For any one of us, is our individual vantage point too limited to see the whole picture? [I’m thinking of the Buddhist parable of the blind men and the elephant.] Do we need to regularly poll members to find out if folks are experiencing overt or covert racism? If folks are experiencing racism, would they feel safe to name it?

    More questions than answers, but I think it’s helpful to think carefully about how we know whether there is racism in our spaces. Thanks for the opportunity to think through this!

  • mblackman25

    Dawn, you are absolutely correct! We have constructed falsehoods that in turn have become real suffering for those who have fallen victim to the system that formed as a result. It is this real suffering that we are now discussing, and attempting to compensate for. This is the right thing to do, it is a part of our practice to reduce this suffering — and to be aware of how we contribute and cause it in the first place.

    My concern is that in doing so, we only treat the symptoms, when we must also treat the disease. The symptoms are racism and the resulting inequality and suffering. The cause of this suffering, the disease, is the outdated ability for we humans to continue to separate ourselves. So my concern is that when we continue to discussing the injustices, we are using terms like “POC” which enforces and perpetuates the separation. “POC” is a term that is used now as politically correct, but to me it is actually offensive. We can work to find justice for “POC” groups, but we must be aware that we are not doing anything at all to reduce the cause – the separation. So saying “POC” while fighting racism could almost be like mopping up a puddle that is caused by a leak… but not fixing the leak as well. We must mop up the puddle, as now it is real and it exists. But we must also fix the leak. As we can all agree that the existence of ethnicity is only allowed because it is perpetuated by us, then all of the suffering that it causes is caused by us directly as we continue to discuss it in these antiquated terms. When we realize that its (ethnicity’s) existence serves no purpose to us of a beneficial nature, and only leads to suffering, we must let it go.

    So the challenge to alleviate the suffering that has already been caused, but to do so without continuing to feed its source. Otherwise it is like cleaning up goose poop at the park with one hand, while simultaneously continuing to feed the geese with your other.

    Just as donating shoes to a child in a developing nation does give them a pair of shoes to wear, the shoes will eventually wear out and the child will need another donation. Tom’s shoes does this; they donate shoes to children in African nations that were manufactured in China, as part of the endless race in the current global economy to cut costs and increase profit. This is an environment that has directly led to the growth of China’s power, which then affects the freedom of the oppressed people of Tibet. It is this situation that has also led to the child not having shoes in the first place. Then the same machine creates a pair of shoes for him. “Here you go, here are some shoes.” This is an endless cycle. The truth is that the problem for the shoeless child is not shoelessness… it is a larger condition which will not allow the child or their family to live in a place that provides them with all the basic needs for human life.

    I only joined in to this discussion because “people of color” is a big red flag which indicates a system being in place that leads to continued discrimination and oppression — though I condemn no one who uses the term as I know it is a fact that they are speaking out of good intentions. Good intentions are the best place to start! Now we are simply challenge to be aware of the biggest picture, the roots of the suffering itself. Not the child’s shoeless feet, but the planet on which that child’s community resides.

  • Como Ganhar Dinheiro

    Is human-being prepared to deal with the differences regardless of the religion? That’s a hard question to answer.

  • Emagrecer Rápido

    Amazing how people judge others by the color, see white racism with black racism and black with the white, I think this is the limit for the world.

    We must end this once and for all!

  • Portal Franquias Baratas

    Great article, thats a complex theme… people judging others by the color without even know then, i with i born in a better world…

  • como ganhar dinheiro

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  • Swing

    Great article, thats a complex theme… Your blog is awesome!

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