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White Buddhist Race Talk

There has been a lot of talk about race and Buddhism here over the past several months, and some of our white readers seem to be wondering why. One commenter outright called a recent post “racist.” When it was pointed out during that the conversation was dominated by white men throwing around intellectual concepts created by other white men during this post, all sorts of hell broke loose, including one of those men saying he was discontinuing his support of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. During another thread (I can’t locate it at the moment), someone upset about a focus on race responded “I thought this was about greed and human ignorance.” The list goes on. In general, the pattern is that whenever a post specifically zeroes in on whiteness, white supremacy, or racism in predominantly white sanghas, at least a few white readers will respond defensively. Or will in some way make a suggestion that focusing on race is dualistic, or divisive, or in some way or another “not Buddhist.”

As a Buddhist practitioner who is racialized as a “white man,” I feel compelled to speak directly about some of this because I feel that our very collective liberation depends upon it. First off, I’d like to offer two observations, specifically aimed at white readers.

1. Overall, white folks in countries like the U.S. and Canada are not used to being called out by race.  It’s one of the numerous privileges of being a member of the dominant culture, where your physical appearance and general view of the world tends to be the standard or norm.  In such a context, “race” is either about other people, or something that was used to divide and oppress in the past, but now should be discarded. As such, being called “a white person” often comes as a surprise.  Something long invisible (to the person) suddenly is made visible. Exposed. Questioned. Maybe even vigorously attacked. It’s uncomfortable. Unsettling even.

2. White Buddhists (in North America anyway) tend to be liberal, progressive, or somewhere further left on social/political spectrum. There’s an almost default sense that racism is something perpetuated by conservatives, regardless of whether it’s in the form of ugly, individual actions or in the promotion and upholding of systemically racist structures. Furthermore, I think the sincere belief in “being a practitioner of Buddha’s teachings” brings about a lot of cognitive dissonance for the average white practitioner who either is called out for a specific act of racism, or who experiences a general calling out of how white folks are complicit in white supremacy. The want to be viewed as “a Good Buddhist,” failing to recognize how much attachment they have both to whatever their notion of “Good Buddhist” is, but also to whatever their notion of “white person” is.

I see both the unsettling feeling, and also the attachment to a racialized Buddhist identity, present in the upset of white practitioners during discussions of race. There also seems to be a tapping into the suppressed pattern of colonization that has been passed down from generation to generation. Think of all the violence and oppression it has taken to “settle” the continent during colonialism. And then consider how this process of “settling” has been internalized generation after generation. Every non-indigenous group has ingested some of this poison, which in my view, also appears whenever racial discussions get heated, divided, and/or shut down. Given that white folks have been at the top of colonial pyramid in North America and elsewhere, our commonplace, default responses to “race talk” are to seek “settlement.” Some aim to put it all in the past. Some aim to create a definitive list of “good guys and bad guys” and then work to position themselves as one of the former. Some aim to defend themselves and the status quo. While some simply aim to avoid it all together. Regardless of the form, what I notice is the desire to have it all settled. Finalized. Done. Which mimics colonization itself. Both in the violence of it, and also the way in which it seeks to control collective stories. To suggest that there must be a single, final way to view reality and how we are together.

This post by Breeze Harper from last summer about the 50th Anniversary celebration of San Francisco Zen Center has haunted me since I first read it. The whole thing is worth reading, more than once, as are the follow up posts she wrote over the next month and a half. For most white practitioners, it probably will take several reads and plenty of contemplation to truly get a sense of all the layers being expressed. Forgive me if that sounds nasty; I’m just keenly aware these days how slow the process of decolonization seems to be. Over and over again, I run into well meaning, intelligent white folks – people who look exactly like me – that turn away, act defensive, or posture that we live in a post racial world the moment race is brought into a discussion.

Anyway, let’s look at one paragraph from Breeze’s post:

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? 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.

Mindfulness whiteness sesshins … I fully endorse that idea.

Beyond this, though, there are so many aspects of convert North American Buddhist practice communities that are taken as basic forms and approaches, but actually are rather “white” in conception. The commonplace blending of psychotherapy with Buddhist teachings. The curious relationship with the Asian ancestry, which is often either demonstrated through an attempt to strictly adhere to “Asian” forms or a nearly complete rejection of those same forms as “unnecessary,” and/or “cultural baggage.” In fact, the very manner in which Buddhist centers are laid out – the use of space – is often “white” in ways that are completely invisible to most of us white folks. One example that comes to mind is the resistance many white dominated, lay sanghas have towards programs that support the community at large, or even spending a lot of energy on the needs of families and children. White folks seem most attached to the strong public/private divisions that are a mainstay of colonialism, which plays out in how the space of a sangha (particularly lay sanghas) is used or not used. African-American Law Professor john a. powell has written a lot about the use of space. In this piece, which explores how “public” and “private” space in the U.S. has been divided along racially determined lines and understandings of space, powell points out that just as the Civil Rights movement opened up public space for blacks and other folks of color, much of the power and privilege shifted to private spaces. Including many of our sanghas, which seem to function as quasi-public entities – open to “the public” until that public, or certain members or groups of that public, are deemed “a hindrance” to practice.

Speaking of space, over the past few years, my zen center has been considering whether to move from our current location or not. As the head of the board, I have been at the center of all of these conversations, a placement that – as a white male – hasn’t been lost upon me. I’m finding myself struggling with the tone and tenor of many of our conversations. Over and over again, the issues of “noise” and “disappearing parking” seem to dominate the day. The strongest voices advocating for this are long term members who are regular meditation retreat practitioners – nearly all of them white and solidly middle or upper middle class. There are a lot of issues tied up in this kind of response, including the struggle to figure out how to practice as lay communities in urban settings, but it’s difficult to ignore the overwhelming undercurrent of privatization in the desires of some of our white membership. When a new light rail train line, connecting St. Paul to Minneapolis, is primarily viewed in terms of the potential noise is might bring to the area, you know something is off.

I don’t have a lot of grand solutions or ways forward to offer on all of this. Certainly, suggestions like mindfulness whiteness retreats might be helpful, but ultimately I don’t think anyone knows the whole way forward when it comes to race, racism, and healing all the suffering involved. The way forward is going to require a lot of conversation, deep listening, deconstruction of attachments to identity, and also new, more liberated ways to both embrace differences and the Buddhist teachings on emptiness. This is especially true for white folks, who for far too long as a group have failed at all of these activities.

The synergy of difference and sameness can’t be realized through clinging fiercely to either pole.  Let’s figure out how to let go and build anew together.

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Comments (129)

  • Bryan Wagner

    Of course anyone who identifies humans by color is racist.
    What is that about that seems so confusing???
    People of color are “used” to being called all sorts of things.
    So it’s ok?
    This is all so transparent.
    color =ok
    white = bad
    what is it that isn’t being understood??
    It’s so simplistic it hurts.

  • Margaret Swedish

    “…deconstruction of attachments to identity…” And there you hit one of our cultural
    nails right on the head! We are a culture fiercely attached (clinging) to the
    identities we create (concoct) for ourselves, and then we also fiercely defend
    them. Too often, U.S. Buddhists take on dharma practice as another fashion put
    on to communicate that identity, or difference, or uniqueness, or worse, “specialness.”

    Then it’s a good time to do a no-holds-barred meditation on our mortality, to lay on the
    floor and visualize your bodily decomposition, to remember the stuff of which we are
    truly made. A good time to shed our identities, all that does not last, all that really does
    not matter, all that communicates forms of exclusion.

    Thich Nhat Hahn reminds us that our “interbeing” is not just spacial but also over time.
    We are connected from one generation to the next. Woe be we white folks if we really
    think we have not inherited what came before. Our very presumptions about
    ourselves reveal how much we are still concocting our identities as white people.
    Maybe U.S. Buddhists should go out with begging bowls and then see who we really
    are. Or perhaps ask our African-Am, indigenous, Latino/a colleagues and friends to
    offer us a little perspective on how they see U.S. Buddhism. I imagine the practice of
    deep listening might meet a bit of resistance there.

    This is important. Thank you for writing it.

  • Joel

    I’ve been reading most of the recent posts on race lately and as a Black practitioner I’ve been a spectator to see how folks were going to react. First of all, thank you for all for bring these issues up because it’s really tough to be the only Black person in my sangha. My sangha is diverse though as there sprinkles of southeast Asian, Chinese, Japanese folks. I do mean sprinkles though…not much. Mostly though folks are pretty privileged. Race is so easy to glaze over in a position of privilege. If you get a group of black, brown and yellow folks, it’s not going to take a long time to start talking about race. The only way that race is going to be effectively addressed in sanghas is by white folks bringing it up and speaking to it as a primary issue to liberation. It’s also an invitation to share in the struggles of others. White allies have to be the folks starting these conversations in there communities. I think people of color are tired of educating and explaining themselves. I know I am. Peace.

  • Bryan Wagner

    Don’t empower people by calling them a color.
    It allows them to hide.
    No one of that “color” is responsible.
    We are individuals.
    If you are going to take BP to task quit calling it BP. They hide behind it.
    Or as “engaged buddhists” are you really afraid of lawsuits?”
    The drama of the “oil fields in Alaska” is OK for a soap opera.
    But name names if you are passionate.
    This is all so silly.

  • paul

    Race is real. It is how we deal with it that makes us greater than the animals which we are

  • Bryan Wagner

    Sounds good.

  • Bryan Wagner

    Why does anyone have to identify as a “color” who practices Buddhism

  • Dawn Haney

    Thanks Nathan for taking this on! I published some thoughts here last year when Breeze’s piece first came out, and it certainly generated some lively discussion:

    When talking with other white folks about racism, I often find there’s confusion and disagreement about what is meant by the term. Folks talk past each other because we’re using the same words to mean vastly different things. I see folks saying, “Racism is …”
    1. seeing color
    2. being judgmental of someone because of the color of their skin
    3. the systematic designation of one group (whites) as superior over other groups that is entrenched into laws, media imagery, and cultural norms.

    I strongly ascribe to Definition #3, and thus find racism to be one of the entrenched “systems” that is important for us to study this year under The System Stinks. To minimize “racism” to either of the first two definitions is to ignore a long history in this country of systematic privileging of whites and systematic exclusion of people of color.

    I guess I would stop here to see what folks (like Bryan, and others lurking here quietly) make of this third definition of racism? Do you agree/disagree that the US has a long history of systematic privileging of whites that lingers to this day? What impact do you think this system has on our sanghas, our communities? And even if we think there’s little impact on our sanghas, what happens when as Margaret says, and Joel gives us some insight into, we do some deep listening to the folks in our sanghas who have been systematically harmed by laws, imagery, and cultural norms because of their skin color?

    Thanks to everyone for engaging here!

  • bob

    Tableware (forks, knives & spoons) is a perfect example of what this guy is talking about. It’s a totally white, European custom imposed on the rest of the world. In China and Japan, they used chopsticks. in The Indian subcontinent and Africa, people use their fingers, and food is designed to be eaten with fingers, or with bread, which is held with the fingers. But now we have this totally repressive method of tableware and food that had to be cut with a fork and knife, or eaten with a spoon. To hell with that, I say.

  • Murray Reiss

    If racism is “the systematic designation of one group (whites) as superior over other groups that is entrenched into laws, media imagery, and cultural norms” then I think we have to ask what function it serves within that system, which takes us, I think, to the intersection of race and class and the social construction of race. One function racism has served in the USA is to provide working class whites with a “privilege” — whiteness — that is theirs to enjoy for all it is worth no matter how poorly paid or exploited they may be economically.
    And then I’m wondering how you see the intersection of racism/colonialism and the immigrant experience. When you talk of how the violence and oppression of “‘settling’ has been internalized generation after generation,” how do you see this playing our for those who have been here at most one or two generations? And who, regardless of their skin tone, may have been barely “white” themselves on first arrival.

  • Jeff

    You know you’re a racist when:
    1. You think crime, unemployment, and poor school performance in ghettos exist because people there don’t try hard enough.
    2. You know white people in ghettos wouldn’t be like that.
    3. You get a tight feeling inside when colored folks get too close, talk too loud, or look right at you.
    4. You think they’re way too sensitive.
    5. You’re white, your parents might have been racist, but you’re not, so what’s the big deal, anyway?

    The good news is:
    1. Racism is not your fault, but it might as well be if you ignore it. Kinda like the Germans that looked the other way 70 years ago.
    2. Like many other under-recognized epidemics, being racist is a treatable social disease, not necessarily a permanent scar on your character. Learn from your colored sisters and brothers – they know much more about it than you ever will. Follow their prescriptions carefully to avoid serious harm to all of us.

  • nathan

    Hi Everyone,

    I have been watching the comments unfold, and feel like there’s a good mix of voices here. So keep at it. Maybe after a good night’s sleep, I’ll have more to add tomorrow.

    I did want to respond briefly to a point Murray just made.

    “When you talk of how the violence and oppression of “‘settling’ has been internalized generation after generation,” how do you see this playing our for those who have been here at most one or two generations?”

    I spent over a decade teaching English as a Second language here in Minnesota. One thing I noticed was how quickly my adult students (from all across the globe) picked up, for example, anti-black racist norms. It was common to hear folks in the country less than a year reducing black Americans to stereotypical notions like “lazy” or “criminal.” Some had had a handful of negative interactions with a neighbor or neighbors, while others seemed to be speaking primarily based on information gained from mass media or neighborhood gossip. I think it’s important to stress the diversity of the student body I’m taking about. Folks from over two dozen countries, five continents, and numerous ethnic and religious backgrounds. I could say a lot more about that, but I’m running out of energy for the night. Just seems to me that the poisons of colonialism are so deep and pervasive that you don’t need to be here long before you’ve ingested enough to start showing symptoms.

  • nathan

    Of course, not every immigrant or newcomer is going to “buy into” or demonstrate the settler colonial norms, but I saw it enough over my years of teaching and working in immigrant communities that I couldn’t ascribe it to something like isolated, racist individuals or some particular group hatred.

  • lynda

    Hi there, enjoyed reading the article. I am a twenty six year old British woman currently living in China, and I must agree that its not until you step out of your cultural norm and experience the world view of other people do you start to get perspective on issues like whiteness. i work in a school as the only foreign teacher, so being white means I stick out like a sore thumb and can not really escape the reality of it. Race does exist, but I have to agree that the genetists that suggest that race is more a cultural construct than a anatomical reality. Its more the cultural aspects which divide me from my colleagues, than anything to do with our basic humanity. I used to believe in a very universial humanistic view that we were all basically human and you could treat everyone the same, and though the first part is true, we are all human, the latter part is not true. You need to treat people according to their culture and judge them by their cultural norms. This means spending time trying to understand them and working on yourself and working on helping others to understand you. Its been a challenging and rewarding experience and sure issues about British colonialism have haunted me throughout living in China. I remember experiencing defensiveness and so forth about considering the influence of the British Empire, and so forth. Its a period of history I wawnt to revisit when I get the chance to settle down some study books and consider what my ancestors did and what relationship I have to it now. Anyway, I can’t really comment about America beyond this article, I think, is right in suggesting that the lack of awareness of racism issues is rooted in white cultural dominance. Almost every person has a tendency to be enthocentric (at least the American anthropologist whose lecture I listened to suggested this), until we encounter living in a different culture and discover our norms are not their norms, and working positively to overcome and accept the new culture, rather than reject it and return to our bubble, or worse, go back to the comfort of western cultural dominance and expect other cultures to change to understand and fit us. In fact people from all over the world are great at understanding western culture, but western people are not always so hot on understanding them. The process of overcoming culture shock (I had dreadful culture shock and didn’t think I would make it- until I found anthropology). I am new here on the Buddhist Peace Fellowship so please don’t hound my humble and probably unhelpful contribution to the discusssion. Peace out!

  • lynda

    As for buddhism being mixed with psycotherapy and westernised. I think (and shoot me down non violently if I am wrong) Buddhism has always been embracing of adapting to the new cultlures it encounters, and this includes the west. I read that a while ago, so I would have to double check my sources. I remember a nun saying quite clearly that the bowing was cultural baggage, and at the time I didn’t think twice about it, but now I see that statement in a new way. Buddhism is an Asian religion it has its roots there, and perhaps its important to pay respect to that, rather than call it baggage???

  • Margaret Swedish

    A few more thoughts…

    Racial and ethnic diversity is the reality of our world. “Seeing” race is not the problem. In fact, that’s where our diversity can be celebrated, cheered, enjoyed. Trying not to “see” race can be as racist as seeing it and then judging it, or valuing races differently.

    This summer I read Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns.” It is a masterpiece about the “Great Migration”(1930s-1950s) of southern African-Ams to the north as they fled the brutality of the Jim Crow south (in many cases a brutality as bad or even worse than slavery). How I would love to see this history discussed in our sanghas or any other communities that struggle with cultural context, meaning, social justice and peace.

    The U.S. culture has a deeply embedded mythology rooted in conquering the frontiers from the barely human heathen tribes, recalling how Africans brought here as slaves were defined by our “Founding Fathers” as only 3/5s of a person. Long-oppressed peoples, conquered with such savage violence, end up in segregated communities (reservations, inner city neighborhoods, etc.) over multiple generations, and then we wonder why these communities struggle to “make it” in this world, “making it” defined by white standards and values. We have no idea what it is like to be Trayvon Martin, or his family in the wake of that shooting when so much of white culture made the killed one into the perp.

    We have no idea…and that is where U.S. Buddhism could make a real difference. To get an idea requires shutting up, shutting our brains down, and doing some deep listening, without judgment, without trying immediately to defend ourselves, to just let the reality of “the other” sink in to our hearts. Then we can ask, what does a practice of loving kindness and compassion require of us? What does it require right here in our sangha, and what does it require in our social engagement? How do we help heal this deep, deep wound?

    Buddhists could do something really important here…

  • Justin S Whitaker

    Nathan, thanks for yet another installment in this interesting series. The work here by you and Katie lately has been both illuminating and challenging. I especially appreciate Joel’s comment above and I hope to see more PoC commenting/discussing their experiences. I am a teacher and I think education can change people, sometimes dramatically. Make the invisible visible. It takes time, but it works.

  • Sam Richards

    A note to Bryan.
    When white immigrants came to the U.S. from their cultural enclaves in Europe many decades/centuries ago, they didn’t get off the boat and abandon their cultural identities (e.g., their language, dress, food, customs). And almost across the board each group chose to live and interact with members of their own culture. These customs remained important to our/my white ancestors and the more they were pushed to live within particular areas, the more their cultural identities stuck with them.

    It’s no different today with people who are not white. In time, people assimilate an acculturate, but identities for members of minority groups are essential for self understanding. I’m sure it’s true of Buddhists in a Judeo-Christian society like ours.

    I’d suggest that you take some time to really try to imagine yourself as a black man or Native American woman or Mexican teenager living your life. Find someone to walk you through what they experience every day. You’ll find that most of it is good, that people are happy and getting on quite well. But you will find some notable differences, some things that, judging from your comments, you have not considered. Take yourself back to your pre-Buddhist days and imagine a Buddhist telling you about Buddhism and the confusion that you surely would have felt. But now you have an idea. So if you were married to a black or brown woman or man, my guess is you’d have a different way of empathizing.

    Sorry if it’s confusing…but I’m short on time.

    Great article, by the way.

  • Mushim

    Thank you, Nathan, for an excellent essay. I am very happy to see it here; a Dharma friend, a man of color, emailed it to me this morning saying how good it is.
    Folks on the discussion, it may contribute to some of what is being discussed here if you’d like to take a look at my month-long online retreat, “Real Refuge: Building Inclusive, Welcoming Sanghas” at It’s just finishing up this week and is on diversity and Dharma. The first video talks about making the invisible visible, and the practice of seeing the unseen and hearing the unheard, and is available free. The second, third and fourth videos are available through subscription to Tricycle.

  • Lisa

    I appreciate the post and the discussion that has ensued. I think this goes to the heart of what “Western” Buddhism can contribute to the centuries of the Buddhadharma. I found Lynda’s comments particularly interesting. I think it is hard to see what one’s culture and ideologies are when one is surrounded by them. Immersion makes them “normal” and invisible. However, all of us have multiple identities. One can practice by going to the place where the dominant culture is different. Or one can practice with the identities one has that are not dominant. The idea here isn’t to say that a White gay man “gets” a straight Latina immigrant because he has looked at the suffering created by homophobia. Instead, I am suggesting that the multiple identities permit one to understand how privilege operates in oneself. Part of us may be privileged while another part isn’t. That’s interesting stuff.

    Also, it is ironic how going to another country is such a sharp way to see one’s culture. The irony rests in the fact that people in the US (and the UK) are surrounded by different folk. But the working of privilege is that the difference is either invisible or labeled. The viewer cannot see his/her own difference and assumptions because they are normalized. It is invisible to them. But not to others.

    One of the truism that I grew up with is that “We (black people) know Whites better than they know themselves”. While this is a gross exaggeration, there is a seed of truth in it. If you are non-dominant… because of race, gender, sexuality, religion, ability or for any other reason, it forces you to act as an anthropologist of the dominant culture. You need to understand what “they” do and expect so that you can survive. It is interesting that anthropology was initially part of the colonial enterprise. Going outward can allow one to see oneself for the first time, if the premise is not one of superiority or dominance. And all this is good fodder for practice.

  • Mumon

    Trust me, you won’t be cured of racism by a “mindfulness whiteness” 摂心. And yeah, I think the terms are simplistic. And people partake from their cultural meme repository when doing new things.

    Learn a martial art and spar with a non-Asian person of color. You’d be surprised what’s in your head.

  • X

    It seems the fashionable thing of late to wear one’s “white guilt” as a cape, or at least to grasp it tightly as a security blanket.

    Yes, you are such a good little boy.

  • bob

    Racism exists. Race does not exist. there is no scientific basis for it. It is no different than the daily horoscope. It is pigment astrology. All cultural issues exist within the mind itself. All white people are not the same. All black people are not the same. In fact, people are not black or white. People are brown and pink. Black and white art opposites. Black and white is the color of a police car. Brown and pink are the colors of chocolate and roses. Saying there is white privilege is like saying jews control the media. It’s like saying blacks have music and sports and dance privilege. What a lot of crap. You can say anything about any group. but when you get down to the individual person, you will always find exceptions. If there is racism in Buddhism, it’s because buddhists are clinging to baggage, to their own mental projections. If you want to know how to get rid of racism in Buddhism, study the Diamond Sutra.

  • nathan

    I have noticed a pattern that some comments on this post and a few others at Turning Wheel recently are highly stuck in the absolute teachings, while rejecting the relative world realities.

  • bob

    Yes. If you are seeing patterns, then DEFINITELY study the Diamond Sutra. There are more relative world realities than you can imagine. It’s not a matter of rejecting them, but of breaking them down into their components, getting away from the habit of landing at some level of ambiguity and then regarding that as the whole truth. It is not an entirely bad idea for Buddhists to actually consult Buddhist teachings now and then.

  • lynda

    Thanks, Lisa. I am glad I managed to write some interesting thoughts down that have helped the discussion. I did wonder how relevent it would be considering I am not from the US, but I went for it anyway. Lisa, your thoughts about investigating different parts of your identity and indeed your multiple idenities is a great insight. How one part of us maybe priviliged, but another part not so. I will take sometime to think and meditate upon that.

    Culture is very real, from what I understand from anthropology culture is itself an adaptation that has been vitual to human success. Animals rely on biological adaptations, human beings can adapted faster through changes in their culture. I understand this from anthropology, and this is the anthropoloical perspective. I didn’t know that anthropology had its roots in the first colonialism, Lisa, I will have to look into that.

    I can spend all day without seeing another white person, in fact I can spend several weeks this way, and I must say, I have learnt a lot. One of my close Chinese friends told me that Chinese people know more about western people than western people know about Chinese.

    This echoes the comment by Lisa (albeit in a different cultural context), when she mentioned how Black Americans had to know White Americans and their expectations, and actually came to know them better. I would totally agree that to get real insight into the lives of people from non dominant cultures you need to go and live and work with them.

    No I am not an expect on the daily life of a Chinese person and all the suffering they go through, absolutely not, but from being able to befriend Chinese people I have learnt tremendous amounts about how they view the world, how they view the west, the constraints upon their lives and the relative freedoms I enjoy. Its not easy, and it does make you angry at just how intrenched inequalities are in the world.

    I think to really understand the culture I am living within I would have to master the language, and for non Chinese, that takes a loooonnnggg time.

    Essentially I have come to a place that can not be more different from the country I came from, none of the same rules apply here.

    The loss of social orientation, the loss of these unspoken rules, because culture shock when the disorientation begins to cause distress, getting through culture shock, will make or break your time living in another culture.

    Your ability to cope will take all of your self knowledge and potentially your identity will be shaken to the core, and perhaps a new, bicultural indentity will begin to be born. The ideal result is the ability to function in two different cultures. There are people who for some reason can not live in foreign countries and find it too stressful and have to go back to their home culture, and that does not imply they were xenophobic, just for some reason unable to cope (something I need to read more about).

    I remember reading a book about the anthropology of the English. It argued that British people tend to feel that they have no culture, that we are all or globalised. The book argued that all people’s have culture, we are just not aware of the unwritten rules which everyone is playing the game by, and its only when you are the outsider do the rules start to reveal themselves. If you think of yourself as not having culture, then you’ve got a long way to go, because we all have culture, we are just unaware of it, its invisible to us.

    I had a very strong belief in the multicultural Britain before and whilst living in China, and it is true that in Britain there is a great diversity of people of different cultures. I listened to another anthropoloist (yet more anthropology!) who suggested that Britain wasn’t planned as a multicultural society, in the 1950’s when many immigrants came to Britain to help rebuild after the war.People of different cultures are mainly existing in cultural enclaves and this would be termed multicommunalism, rather than multiculturalism. This really shock me to my core, I wanted to hold on to that belief that Britain was truely multicultural. It maybe, and its something I would have to do more reading into this and find counter arguements etc?

    I vaguely remember a TV programme about a white British man and a black British man exchanging places for a week (obviously huge amount of make up was used). I am going to have to search the internet for it now, fasinating programme.

    I would recommend anyone, if they can, to go and spend time living in another culture. To have that experience of being the outsider and a foriegner is just mind blowing in how much it can teach you about humanity and yourself. Western culture globally is the dominant culture, but right where I am now, surrounded by Chinese people, Chinese culture is the dominant culture, and I am the one trying to figure out the rules to the game with a hand behind my back without the language.

    One last point, I am a really individual person, so anthropology can its perspective that we are all following rules, even when we are trying to be subserve in our own cultures was pretty hard to take, and its something I am still working with, and probably a disadvantage of anthropology.

    Any generalisation is flawed, and I do agree that people are indeed individuals, and this is perhaps where psycology starts to have the advantage, and into the realms of social psycology, or psycological anthropology.

    Thank you for the article and thank you all for the comments, really really interesting.

  • lynda

    I totally agree, Lisa, ditch the superior culture part, and you’ve got a lot of good material to be practicing with.

    Whilst out here I did find actively that if I meditated a times of distress I would find insight and I would find more strength to go forwards, which was postive.

    I end my essay here, I apologise I have a great fondness for writing. I hope again, my thoughts are of use and interest.

    Keep up the good work!

  • bob

    Which is it? Does racism exist because there are two intrinsically different, actual ‘races’ of people who, like cats and dogs, automatically have difficulty getting along, or does racism exist because one race of people, because of superficial physiological differences and centuries of cultural baggage, only imagine themselves to be somehow intrinsically different from each other?

    If you assert the former, that different races exist, then racism is a natural consequence, because the foundation of racism is the belief in actual separate races of people, and there is no point in trying to change that, but instead one must resolve oneself to living in a state of perpetual tension.

    If, however, you assert the latter, that in fact no intrinsic differences exist, then racism is seen as a product of confusion, of ignorance, of clinging to notions of an intrinsically existent self, which are all notions that Buddhism rejects.

    Curiously, it is much easier to define what racism is, than it is to define what ‘race’ is. For every definition of race, I can find many contradictions.

  • Susana Renaud

    Nathan, thank you for being ‘willing’ to stay with the subject. Your an excellent role model for those who remain ignorant of race and it’s continuing effects of pain, hurt and marginalization. As a Xicana and community Dharma leader, I am very tired of having to ‘turn this wheel’ but I believe THIS is the practice.I am just very careful not to place myself alone or with people who are intentionally hurtful. The engagement, feelings, emotions all of it, get it folks, THIS IS THE PRACTICE!

    For those of you who ‘choose’ to turn away and stay ignorant, you are doing just that. Know this, you can continue to stay in delusion of race and it’s effects by sitting on your cushion with your eyes closed, breathing in and breathing out….good beginning. You can retreat with others like yourself and choose to stay away from the world or choose to mix with others who are racially, and ethnically diverse and offer yourself an opportunity to see different ways of being, loving and forgiving.

    No argument here, in our Sangha we sit in a circle, we see one another, hear one another, listen to one another, get to know one another, we allow this to offer us PRACTICE. One breath at a time. May we all begin to honor that which is all that we are. Different and beautiful! May we all begin to build strength to allow our racial bodies and mind to heal from the effects of all the trauma and hurt that we all have experienced.

    All my relations! Susana Renaud

    In Lak’ech (I am you or you are me)
    Tú eres me otro yo. You are my other me.
    Si te hago daño a ti. If I do harm to you.
    Me hago daño a mí mismo. I do harm to me myself.
    Si te amo y respeto. If I love and respect you,
    Me amo y respeto yo. I love and respect myself.

    Mayan inspired poem, “Pensamiento Serpentino”
    Luis Valdez. (1971)

  • Katie Loncke

    Just chiming in to say I’m appreciating this conversation, this morning. Many thanks for all the thoughtful comments, and to Nathan, for being wonderful as usual at tackling controversial topics with grace, and engaging fully in the ensuing discussion.

    The free, non-paywall installment of your series also has such a rich discussion, Mushim!

    Completely different tone from the comment responses on a recent blog post there about racism, which also favorably mentions your work, and though well-written, elicited a discussion thread with very different (and discouraging) content…

    Between racism in our sanghas, the ongoing trauma in Syria, tar sands as the new small pox blankets, the anniversary of the March On Washington, and oppression and domination all over the place, I’m a little heart-heavy today. But also thankful to have some Buddhist community that is committed to uprooting and transforming oppression, however many hundreds or thousands of years it might take.

    Gratitude and wishing everyone a good Wednesday.

  • Mushim

    It is commonly agreed these days that race is a social construct, not a biological reality. More accurately, it is a set of social constructs which vary from one country to another, from one time period to another. However, it is a social construct that has profound consequences for which groups of people have more and easier access to resources such as education, jobs, and housing and which groups have less or no access, and more barriers to the same resources. I think the title of this set of documentaries says it all: “Race: The Power of an Illusion.” As Buddhists, we can see the both/and (nondualistic) nature of race — it is an illusion *and* it is a construct that has had great power, emerging from and fueled by greed, fear/hatred and ignorance, to elevate some in terms of power, access and unearned privilege, and to keep others in a state of continual struggle for basic survival, deprived of civil and human rights.
    Brief excerpts from “Race: The Power of an Illusion” appear on YouTube and are well worth watching:

    The second video listed is from the “The House We Live In,” episode 3 of “Race: The Power of an Illusion.” My colleague Carol McHuron, of PREP, Inc. and I have used “The House We Live In” in its entirety as a training tool for the Wright Institute in Berkeley. It provides a good launch point for a “both / and” discussion about race and racism in the U.S.

  • Ann Marie Davis

    It would be nice if my growth and change came settling down on me like a Technicolor moment. It would be nice if my liberation consisted of me lying awake or sitting on a cushion with a gentle smile on my face, and sprouting beautiful wings to harp music. I am not saying this to be facetious to the white people who think that racism has simply melted away over time.

    I am saying this because for me, as a black woman, a person of color, I have wanted time and time again for this to be the way of my own evolution. It has been as if every chunk of my own ancient karma has been pried off painfully. And the fun never stops. I like to call my ego the Bitch Goddess, which is kind of a reinforcement of it, but oh well, here we go again. That is how it has been for me.

    I can imagine that to live as most white people in America, the same hard fought growth must be true. This continent was taken by exterminating the indigenous people who were here. My people were enslaved in order to transform prairies and swamps into a robust economy. That social and psychological system is inherited, It is entrenched, and the related racism does not get up an float away any more than my issues of abuse, subjugation and anger do.

    If I am saying that I am a person of color and you are unable to see why I want that designation, consider treating me how I want to be treated instead of how you think I should be treated. I am asking you to consider that you, as a white person, might have some internalized racism by simply being born into a society founded on colonialism. Consider that right now, you believe you have some special insight as to how to treat me, insight that you may believe I lack. It is so simple? Why can’t she see it, you ask.

    I am not simple. You might consider what for you may be a radical concept. Consider that this person of color may see better than you. Consider that societal racism has white people born into a system that considers me and all people of color lesser versions of themselves, people who can’t be trusted to know how we want to be treated or even know what we want to be called.
    It’s just work that needs to be done, like me with my anger. I can see my black anger. It was all over the place when I read this blog and the responses. As it has been pointed out earlier in this post, a huge part of oppression is the ability of the oppressive system to perpetuate itself by having the oppressor convinced absolutely that racism and oppression does not exist inside of its carriers.

    That right there means that there is difficult and painful work to be done.

    Know this. It is difficult for me to envision white people of white privilege having much pain. I am open to the concept that internalized racism is painful, but it is completely out of my realm. I do not believe that it is my charge in life to hold the hands of white people as you discover how your lack of awareness serves to oppress people of color. I don’t know how to treat white people who want me to let them go on being racist, without me suffering under continued racism. During my life, I have witnessed racist people consider themselves enlightened.

    So. I’m just saying, there is work here to be done. Do the work, people, for your own salvation, not mine. I’m going to get there. I have sneaking suspicion that somewhere in time, we all are.

  • Eleanor Hancock

    Reading the post and comments, I really appreciated this comment (thank you, Joel!):
    “The only way that race is going to be effectively addressed in sanghas is by white folks bringing it up and speaking to it as a primary issue to liberation. It’s also an invitation to share in the struggles of others. White allies have to be the folks starting these conversations in there communities.”

    Here is a brand new website (still partially under construction) with resources to help white practitioners do exactly what you’ve described:

    The basic approach the website takes is one of mindfulness, and the primary motivator of the work is, indeed, liberation.

  • bob

    This is a very important discussion, and openness is and important part of it. people need to be able to speak without fear of being judged, or prejudged, and this is true everywhere. I am probably what some people would call an old white man, because I am old, and I am male, and I am what most people would call “white”. And I have been involved in confronting, sometimes literally fighting racism my whole life. When I was Trevon Martin’s age, I was being monitored by the FBI for my involvement in anti-Klan activities. I am fortunate to have been able to actually sand shoulder-to-shoulder with Cesar Chavez in support of migrant Latino farm workers. I helped organize Rock Against Racism concerts in the 1980s. And I am not bringing this all up to win any medals. I recently was part of efforts to improve a school in Rwanda, I am not mentioning this to get medals. The past is the past. I just want to make a point that you don’t always know a person’s background, regardless of what color they have (“have”, not “are”). You can’t even be sure of their family history. My father’s family was German, catholic, and had a farm in the midwest. Being from a German family in rural America during WW1 did not make you the most popular kid in town, and may father told me about times when the KKK actually burned crosses on their property, and bullied them. A lot of “people of no color” (is there such a thing?) can tell you stories like this. Americans are not all that different from each other, and not all white people were slave owners, or racists.

    There is a long way to go. But, if you are under 25 years old, you may not appreciate how far things have actually come in terms of equality, economically, socially, and politically. If you told somebody—bal;ck or white– in 1970 what America would be like in 2013, they would have thought you were crazy. All the little things that you cannot imagine, just as people talk about all the ingrained stuff that comprises “white privilege”, there is a lot of liberation that has gone by unnoticed. But yes, there is a long way to go.

    What I see, after some 50 years of dealing with the the issue of racism, is people too often second-guessing each other, worrying about not being understood, thinking, “if I do this—if i act a certain way–that person is going to think I am a threat to them”. People still have this weird fear of each other, but it is a different kind of fear than it was then. Of course, I can only speak from my own experience and the experiences of those I know. Yours may be totally different. back then, people with different colors were suspicious of each other. Today, people with different colors think that the other person will be suspicious of them. old style bigotry is out and has been replaced by a new kind of paranoid bigotry.

    This is why, unabashed, cards-on-the-table open dialogue is needed, instead of vague, academic labels for this social problem or that social problem, continuously rearranging the same fears into new compartments. We have to not be afraid any more. stop being afraid of each other, of being judged, pre-judged, mis-judged, dis-judged. We need to get to a point where you can say to someone, “I would really like to know what your kind of hair feels like”, and not worry about the fact that that is a totally stupid thing.

    That’s my last post here.

  • bob

    sorry about the typos.

  • Ann Marie Davis

    Actually, here is a history about how Europeans were lumped together as whites. I know that I’m not really black. I know I live in a society that views someone of African and Asian and European (Irish) descent as a black person of color. I know I live in an insane world. The more we know, the more the beat does not go on.

  • Nathan G. Thompson

    Hey Bob, I hope you choose to stick around longer. It’s good to have elders around who are willing to engage, even if there’s push back and disagreement from younger folks.

    I agree with you that fear and wrong perceptions are major forces behind racism, and really behind the social constructs that make up “race” as a whole. It’s also true that not all folks that fall under the “white” category are the same in terms of their complicity.

    However, it’s not just about individual differences. I feel like the paragraph where I spoke about what might be called “internalized colonialism” has been skipped over by many in this discussion, and yet it’s probably the most important section of my article.

    This, to me, is “the long way to go” part. The next layer of the onion that absolutely must be faced, and peeled away.

  • bob

    Huh? okay. Well, I don’t know this theory if internalized, inherited colonialism is up to date. Something very bi happened in the 1960’s. Up until then, in terms ofAmerican culture in general, the definition of a ‘negro’ was basically something made up by white people. And what I mean by that, the obvious racism in movies for example, and this was just sort of taken for granted. I recall, in 7th grade, a science textbook we had “explaining” the differences of the ‘races’ and its terminology was, “negroid hair, as compared with OUR hair” or “Mongoloid eyes, compared with OUR eyes” …and so, not only were there these absurd classifications, but the entire context was “our” (white) reality. And basically, this was the situation. Even if you listen to speeches by Robert Kennedy, who was a progressive leader along with MLK, the “negroes” are referred to in the third person, “they” , “them” and so on. But what happened, (and I think this is largely due more to the efforts of Malcom X than of Dr. King) was that (as had been done in the past, by the way) the ‘negroes’ said, basically, “we don’t need white people defining who we are, what it means to be us. We can define our own identity, thank you very much!” …which was really a step forward for everybody, but especially for the black or African American Community, as it was now referred to, as a result, and also took a big chunk out of any colonialist DNA that might be passed down through the generations. Today, by comparison (and I think a comparison HAS to be made), popular black culture is absorbed and embraced (if not bleached a little) by mainstream white culture, especially among young people. Of course, this is nothing new. safe, mainstream American “white culture” has always looked at grittier, urban “black’ culture for cultural inspiration. Disco, after all, was bleached Funk.

    One could argue that this is still a type of colonialism, visiting the exotic lands of the dark people and bringing back spices and gold. But the difference is that today, the owners and promoters of that culture are able to set the terms.

    So, I think that while it may be true that some sort of attitude, some internalized colonialism remains, I don’t think it is a big factor in whatever social, political or economic injustice one is referring to. If white people are unaware that American society as it now stands entitles them to privileges, then by all means, let them know. I am sure they would be happy to find out.

    Seriously, I think most white people have also come a long way, and are more than eager for meaningful solutions…not just ‘white’ solutions, as so many seem to think.

  • Nathan G. Thompson

    Ann Marie, thank you for the video clip. One thing Wise doesn’t go into during the video is the extensive history of U.S. immigration policy. Which in my view was a major player in separating, valuing, and codifying folks by race and ethnicity.

    In particular, I’d invite people to study the 1924 Immigration Act, as well as the various “Indian Acts” that occurred during the 1920s. The history before this is obviously quite important, but this period was quite pivotal. The who notion of “citizenship” really solidified during this period, as did the Native reservation system, and the original Jim Crow laws and structures. Note that I said “solidify” because all of these issues were unfolding in the decades before that, but the 1920’s holds a lot of keys to understanding the U.S. as an empire nation. Because truly, that was the when our international status elevated, and right along with that was the coming together of all these oppressive conditions. And I didn’t even mention the general labor conditions of the period.

  • Mushim

    Regarding perceptions of how far we’ve come or not come as a nation, I just received the following from “Five decades after Dr. King delivered his now-famous “I Have a Dream” speech, for many Black folks, “The Dream” has been interrupted. Black men are being incarcerated at alarming rates, as a for-profit prison industry continues to cash in on the pain of Black families; harsh sentencing guidelines, failed drug laws and profiling policies like Stop and Frisk work systemically to keep prisons packed with people of color. Black unemployment remains disproportionately high, yet right-wing legislators are readying themselves to fight for more cuts to the social safety net when Congress resumes next month. And, despite evidence of widespread, coordinated attacks on voter freedom, two months ago the US Supreme Court gutted key protections of the Voting Rights Act, the signature achievement of the Civil Rights Movement.

    Though we’ve come a long way, we still have so much work left to do. These modern injustices demand a modern approach to racial justice organizing.”

  • Murray Reiss

    Whenever you can say, with whatever degree of justification, that “we’ve come a long ways,” rest assured that there are a whole lot of folks doing their often well-funded damnedest to push you back where you came from. It happened with the New Deal (although most of its programs were explicitly designed to exclude blacks in order to gain the support of white Democrats), it’s happened with labor unions, it’s happening at the state level with women’s right to have abortions, and it’s happening with African-Americans too. That march 50 years ago was for jobs and freedom. But according to a post at the New Yorker ( “… when you consider wealth-that is, everything a family owns, including a home and retirement savings-the difference seems to have grown. Pew found that the median black household had about seven per cent of the wealth of its white counterpart in 2011, down from nine per cent in 1984, when a Census survey first began tracking this sort of data.” Not to mention the gruesome rates of incarceration and subsequent disenfranchisement of black youth already mentioned and documented in Michelle Alexander’s indispensable “The New Jim Crow.”

  • Breeze Harper

    Nathan, I couldn’t find your email contact information. I was wondering if you could contact me privately when you get a chance. my email address is breezeharper (at) gmail (dot) com.

    Thanks for continuing this dialogue.


  • fern williams

    I’m a 73 yo Southern white woman. Have been Tibetan Buddhist practitioner for about 10 years Grew up with Jim Crow, first job as a nurse was in the C (colored) Ward of my local hospital. Have always intellectually believed in equality but I have the emotional baggage of generations. I knew and loved some people of color growing up, but there was always the implied and lived stain of “not-equal”.

    Buddhism, sitting meditation, has opened that door, allowed me to see all that stuff without denial. Mindfulness lets me see my reactions, my conditioned thoughts, without acting on them. “I don’t believe everything I think.”
    Meanwhile, I attempt gently to suggest to my northern friends who deny any iota of racial thoughts, that they work on getting to know that shadow in themselves.
    Incidentally, I had the privilege of working in an inner city clinic, African American patients, staff, and owners. It was illuminating and I’m forever grateful.

  • Eleanor Hancock

    Checking out the comments this morning I want to say, again, come on over:

    This is exactly the discussion we’re having – from a place of nonjudgmental, mindful awareness.

  • Eleanor Hancock

    quote from original post:
    Some aim to create a definitive list of “good guys and bad guys” and then work to position themselves as one of the former.

    quote from “Waking up to Race” page:

    Race and racism are not personal issues but societal patterns.

    Since the Civil Rights Movement, white people have tended to think in terms of the oppositional categories of “racist” or “not-racist”. Because racism is now socially defined as “bad”, white people at times go to great lengths to avoid being perceived as racist or (conversely) fall into great shame if they display racist behavior. But the truth is, in a racist society racism is part of everyone’s conditioning. Trying to deny the conditioning is a set up for failure, and causes white people to focus on their own self worth rather than on the possible racist effects of their actions. A more accurate, and productive, description of racism would be as a continuum between “more racist” and “less racist”.

    Rather than focusing on whether or not we are racist, white people can instead focus on building racial awareness.

    A more accurate, and productive, description of racism within white people (rather than “racist” or “not-racist”) would be as a continuum between “more racist” and “less racist”. When the reality of racial conditioning is accepted (and separated from individual notions of “innocence” or “blame”) white people free to develop their awareness of race and racism in a way that helps them becomes allies to people of color and opponents of racial injustice. (Barbara Trepagnier, Silent Racism)

  • Eleanor Hancock

    I especially like your (original post) bringing in the conversation on public and private. This particular perspective – as one of the many complexities through which colonization and racism plays out – is new to me, and something I will begin to investigate further and bring into my own work as a white racial awareness trainer. In spending some time reading this particular paragraph (approx 8th in post), here are some thoughts I teased out:

    “White folks seem most attached to the strong public/private divisions that are a mainstay of colonialism …”

    It takes thinking outside of the box of my own culture to even understand or see this. Literally, my mind went, “huh?” But referring back to Starhawk’s “Appendix A: the Burning Times: Notes on a Crucial Period of History”, as well as Derek Rasmussen’s: “Qallunology 101: A Lesson Plan for the Non-Indigenous” (an article posted elsewhere on the Buddhist Peace Fellowship site) helps me remember: private property is not a universal human phenomena. In fact, it is a kind of aberration and, now that you’ve pointed it out, absolutely essential to the process of colonization.

    “… just as the Civil Rights movement opened up public space for blacks and other folks of color, much of the power and privilege shifted to private spaces.”

    Wow. What an important observation. This gives me a larger context for something I’ve encountered when trying to decide where to enroll my daughter in school. Within certain school districts it can be difficult to find a truly racially diverse school because of the way that white/upwardly mobile families have been able to pull there kids out of failing public schools through the creation of charter schools, leaving even less resources and a greater concentration of impoverished and, invariably, minority children in the schools that are “left behind”.

    To take this home to the Buddhist sangha is so significant (“many of our sanghas … seem to function as quasi-public entities – open to “the public” until that public …[is] … deemed “a hindrance” to practice).

    I think, again, it is important to hear this as white practitioners not with blame or shame, but as a manifestation of a social phenomena we cannot avoid. What we can do is grow in our racial awareness and begin to make more conscious choices about how we are going to interact with the social phenomena of racism. There is a great deal of power, and healing, in that.

  • n-word

    The songs by Dylan, Cooke, and Mayfield have been ranked 14th, 12th and 24th on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of greatest songs of all time. All three have roots in the March on Washington. Now, half a century after the lyrical promise of that inspiring music and poetry, there is the inescapable and heartbreaking contrast with the malignant, self-aggrandizing rap songs that define today’s most popular music.

    In Jay-Z’s “Holy Grail,” he sings about “psycho bitches” and uses the n-word seven times while bragging that he is “Living the life…Illest [n-word] alive.” Another top rapper, Lil Wayne, released a song in the spring with an obscenity in the title, using the n-word repeatedly and depicting himself as abusing “hoes” and “bitches.”

    Similar examples abound in the rap world and have persisted for years with scarcely any complaint from civil-rights leaders. Their failure to denounce these lyrics for the damage they do to poor and minority families, words celebrating tattooed thugs and sexually indiscriminate women as icons of “keeping it real,” is a sad reminder of how long it has been since the world heard the sweet music of the March on Washington.

  • Justin S Whitaker

    Again my deep gratitude to Nathan and all of the participants here. I am learning a LOT and just got ahold of The New Jim Crow which in just the first pages is extremely powerful stuff. I appreciate Eleanor’s comment here that racism is a matter of spectrum and it helps to detach notions of innocence and blame; just as someone remarked above that we have many identities, some of which many be privileged, others not.

    In my experience the discussion and evolution of thought has been a bit like peeling away the layers of an onion – you have to start with the thick, outer, obvious stuff first and work your way in. Here are a few stats to start with:

    <blockquote The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid. In Washington, D.C., our nation’s capitol, it is estimated that three out of four young black men (and nearly all those in the poorest neighborhoods) can expect to serve time in prison. Similar rates of incarceration can be found in black communities across America.

    These stark racial disparities cannot be explained by rates of drug crime. Studies show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. If there are significant differences in the surveys to be found, they frequently suggest that whites, particularly white youth, are more likely to engage in drug crime than people of color. That is not what one would guess, however, when entering our nation’s prisons and jails, which are overflowing with black and brown drug offenders. In some states, black men have been admitted to prison on drug charges at rates twenty to fifty times greater than those of white men. And in major cities wracked by the drug war, as many as 80 percent of young African American men now have criminal records and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives. These young men are part of a growing undercaste, permanently locked up and locked out of mainstream society… The stark and sobering reality is that, for reasons largely unrelated to actual crime trends, the American penal system has emerged as a system of social control unparalleled in world history. And while the size of the system alone might suggest that it would touch the lives of most Americans, the primary targets of its control can be defined largely by race. – The New Jim Crow

    I could say “hey, I didn’t create this mess” which is true to some extent. But I was born into it and thus shaped/conditioned by it and as long as I have been a taxpayer and voter I have supported it unknowingly. And now I live in it and therefore have to take my share of responsibility for it. Things like this and similar situations in education, predatory lending, etc all serve as brute facts that can serve as starting points that any reasonable (I hope) person can agree on.

    How we move toward overcoming these injustices – be it in deeper theorization, sit-ins, letters to officials, disruptive behavior, etc – can come next. At least if we disagree on the correct methods, which we undoubtedly will, we can still be moving in the same direction. For some that might sound like going back to the painfully obvious – shouldn’t we be past the mere fact that there is a problem? – but I am reminded of the various images of the Bodhisattva given in Tibetan Buddhism, one of which is to go ahead and then pull, or at least skillfully guide, others forward.

  • Eleanor Hancock

    appreciate Lydia’s comment, agree with this, and am glad Nathan began his post with this idea:

    “… the lack of awareness of racism issues is rooted in white cultural dominance.”

    Again, from / “Waking up to Race” page:

    White is a racial identity.

    In a racialized society, everybody has a race. When white people think of race as though it is only something people of color have, we create an invisible “normal” against which all other races are measured, and we are able to see racism as “somebody else’s problem”. When we understand ourselves in racial terms, we begin to take responsibility for our part in a system that awards us unearned privilege at the expense of another.

  • Eleanor Hancock

    Wow, Justin. The timing of your comment is pretty amazing to me because, in preparation for a weekend intensive on racial awareness for white folks with IMCW (Insight Meditation Community of Washington, DC), I realized I had to get a hold of some direct quotes from The New Jim Crow (literally, this morning I set my intention to glean for this material online). I am looking forward to reading the whole book, but while I wait for my copy to arrive I’ve still got a workshop to prepare for, and the text you quoted will be quite helpful. I’d put a smiley face here if it weren’t for the chilling reality this quote conveys.

    I appreciate your personal thoughts afterwards – “I didn’t create this!” is a response that is particularly supported by American individualism. The Buddhist observation of how things really are, however, is so relevant – we are part of something larger. That is unavoidable.

    Are you familiar with UU minister Dr. Rebecca Parker’s essay, “Not Somewhere Else, But Here”? Your words remind me of hers: “The struggle for racial justice is a struggle to overcome the numbness, alienation, splitting, and absence of consciousness that characterize my life as a white and that enable me to unwittingly, even AGAINST MY WILL, continue to replicate life-destroying activities of my society.”

    I really like the way you have inverted this connection by bringing in the image of the Bodhisattva – here we are, connected within this web. We are shaped by the web, we are participating in the shape of the web … but when we take a step, we cannot help but pull others with us. The question become, in what direction will we pull? How will we change the way our world is shaped?

    In the last workshop I gave, I showed selections from the video: “The Wellbriety Journey to Forgiveness” (streamable online, with free copies available at Towards the end of the video Raymond Reyes (Academic Vice-President at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington) speaks of the importance of public knowledge of the detailed history of Native American genocide: “… not for blame, victimization, or guilt, but simply to know. Because the truth is a precondition to justice … [and] justice [is] a precondition for healing and reconciliation.” He stressed that truth, in this process, is “essential.”

    The participants I worked with really took this to heart, and clearly articulated the importance of awareness – the importance of learning the truth. Awareness, then, becomes an action in and of itself – just as the Buddha taught. It is a step that pulls the web and shapes it into a different configuration – one that is bent that much more towards justice.

  • Eleanor Hancock

    Fern – what a beautiful sharing. Are you familiar with the book, “Combined Destinies: Whites Sharing Grief About Racism”? This is a book of stories from white people, many of whom have had experiences and history like yours. It was published just this year – I think you would resonate deeply with the complexity and honestly of what is shared.

  • nathan

    N-Word. While it’s true that pop music today is full of deeply problematic content – Miley Cyrus anyone? – it’s false to suggest that black leaders have said nothing about the rap lyrics of black artists. President Obama, for example, has given multiple highly public speeches to African-American audiences littered with chiding statements and calls for “personal responsibility.” He also regularly slips in points from those speeches into ones for general audiences whenever issues of race/racism come up. There’s plenty of Bill Cosby moments to go around, and yet little in the way of analysis of the capitalist music industry, or how thousands of talented rap and hiphop artists of all racial backgrounds with very different messages get little or no mainstream play or financial backing. Why? Because sexism sells. Being loud and flamboyant sells. Anything that doesn’t challenge the status quo sells … not necessarily because people want it, but because it’s normalized by marketers and the corporate media. Do you really think corporate America is going to finance and promote brilliant black or brown rap or hiphop artists singing about deep, meaningful issues? Hell, that would upset all the sterotypes. Occasionally great musicians of color slip into stardom anyway, but I think especially with rap and hiphop, there has been a major wall for artists of color who have real messages to share. I think with new technologies and the internet, this is changing. But not fast enough for my taste. Pop music is actually a great site to examine all the intersections of the colonial project.

  • Murray Reiss

    As a supplement to Michelle Alexander’s indispensable “The New Jim Crow” I recommend this audio and/or video of her talk at the Lannan Foundation —

  • nathan

    Let me revise something above. Ocassionally great musicians of color slip into stardom with their full message and brilliance intact. I remember an interview bell hooks did with Ice Cube back in the 90s. It’s in her book Outlaw Culture. Anyway, he talks a lot about the tensions between being authentic and dealing with often racialized, public pressures to conform or tone down some things and turn up other things. It’s a really eye opening interview in that respect and it was right as corporate backing/mainsteaming of rap in particular was exploding.

  • fern williams

    Thanks so much, will get a copy.

  • Eleanor Hancock

    Thanks, Murray – I’ll check this out.

  • Eleanor Hancock

    Ann Marie, I’m finally sitting down to read this comment log in its entirety, and I love the way you end your first comment:

    “Do the work, people, for your own salvation, not mine.”

    Preach on! … this is so true. Doing this work for ourselves, as white people, has been the focus of the trainings and website I’m helping to develop here in Washington, DC (affiliated with IMCW). From the site:

    White supremacy affords material comfort and social privilege to white people, but this privilege comes at a cost. This cost can include a loss of connection to our own humanity.

    The cost of oppression to the oppressor includes a loss of humanity and a segregation and fragmentation of the self. In the document “Costs of Oppression to People from Dominant Groups”, Diane J. Goodman and Lee Anne Bell describe these losses on multiple dimensions: psychological, moral and spiritual, social, intellectual, and material (in terms of safety and resources).

    To quote Rev. Rebecca Parker again: “My commitment to racial justice is both on behalf of the other–my neighbor, whose well-being I desire–and for myself, to whom the gift of life has been given but not yet fully claimed.”

    And, the very, very last thing you say …

    “I have sneaking suspicion that somewhere in time, we all are.”

    … I agree with you. :)

  • Jeff

    It’s fabulous that white Buddhists here are openly confronting our culturally ingrained racism and acknowledging its devastating effects on communities of color. Yet while these courageous admissions and honest discussions are essential first steps to overcoming prejudice, by themselves they will not be enough to make a real difference.

    As we know from spiritual practice, changing our attitudes and behavior requires that we go beyond the contemplative work and interactions within the sangha to actually transforming our daily activity in the outside world. Peeling the inner onion is only the start. You gotta chop it up, mix it with a whole lot of different ingredients, and cook it well to make a good meal.

    More importantly, as others have clearly pointed out, racism isn’t just a antiquated notion stuck in white folks’ minds, it’s deeply and deliberately embedded in every aspect of our lives: work, neighborhoods, news, entertainment, you name it. It may be a delusion but it’s used to demean and destroy some people while the rest of us go on about our business as if nothing’s wrong, or perhaps simply complain, “Why, that’s just terrible.”

    Anyone who has spent time in a progressive multiracial movement knows that there’s often a sense among colored activists that, for white people, organizing is optional – we can always go back to our relatively comfortable lives without a second thought. We simply don’t have to fight as hard to survive. We have more of a choice about it.

    If we’re serious about healing the wounds of racism and preventing ever-escalating attacks on people of color, we will need to address both our personal brainwashing and the unspeakably vicious structural prejudice that leaves despair, disease, and death in its wake. It starts with opening our eyes and talking about it but the real transformation inside ourselves and within society will only happen in a compassionate, collective effort that does not settle for anything less than emancipation for all of us.

    This will mean actively reinvigorating a Civil Rights Movement for the 21st century. We don’t have to invent something new – just about any social justice issue disproportionately affects colored folks in the US and globally: housing, employment, voting rights, war, health care, prisons, even climate change. I’m inspired by the work that so many of our BPF activists are doing on these fronts and hope newly awakened members will energize this movement still further.

    Studying racism is great, but we need to do our fieldwork, too.

    And thanks, Nathan, for responding to “N-word’s” gratuitous insertion of a Fox News political analyst’s piece about rap music which was lifted word-for-word from the Wall Street Journal. There’s plenty of dynamic, progressive hip-hop music out there for those who have ears to listen.

  • Bezi

    Getting back from an utterly transformative 10 day retreat at Tendai: Pretty amazing up there… something about full absorption in nature makes it all make sense. Anyhoo, I’m gonna… gonna just jump right on in ova hea and make a few observations…

    in my independent study I read a book, seemingly designed as an undergraduate Mahayana text, that made what I thought to be a profoundly important point.

    Scholars today have the benefit of hindsight in piecing together the historical narrative of how Buddhism went from a tiny group of aspiring and accomplished bodhisattvas to the global phenomena it is today, which Gautama himself (who predicted his teachings would die shortly after he did) would probably scarcely recognize or comprehend. Likewise, if you’d told any of the faithful in 300-200 BC that there’d be people reciting sutras and focusing on the breath while in meditative protest against multibillion dollar transnational corporations destroying the planet’s carrying capacity, they might’ve assumed you’d gotten a bit too much of that good mountain air, or maybe a spoiled batch of milk.

    I think there’s an analogy in our time to the way the question of race (and a number of other categorizations) is being parsed out. We’re in the midst of an absolute whirlwind of change to human consciousness which to the best of my understanding began in the 1960s, has only escalated since, and is reaching fever-pitch just about now. The Civil Rights movement is at the apex of these shifts not only for how it changed sociopolitical and economic circumstances for blacks, but also for the many other liberation movements it inspired and informed. On that note, lemme say here that there ARE more aspects to racial politics in America than the black/white issue! I dunno but sometimes it occurs to me that the sufferings of other marginalized and oppressed racial so-called minorities here – i.e. Latinos, Middle Easterners, Asians from many different countries and in fact immigrants from Africa, the Carribbean, etc (to say nothing of the genocided First Nations people whose lands we occupy) – get short shrift in the whole convo.

    That said, I can see now that humankind generally, and Americans specifically, have undergone some pretty Biblical-level transformations on the race issue. And they’re ongoing. This is, I’m guessing, cause for some sober-minded reflection… especially for those of us who have been in da game of progressive activism for a hot minute.

    Something Bob said is a propos here and derserves closer examination:

    “Today, by comparison (and I think a comparison HAS to be made), popular black culture is absorbed and embraced (if not bleached a little) by mainstream white culture, especially among young people. Of course, this is nothing new. safe, mainstream American “white culture” has always looked at grittier, urban “black’ culture for cultural inspiration. Disco, after all, was bleached Funk.”

    That’s word-is-bond. We’ve got to get down to this… and unpack how vital it’s been to what we’re dealing with. In the same way modern scholars chronicle the influential spread of Buddhism with the benefit of a bird’s eye view of processes invisible to the Buddhists living them -if we manage to rescue the human project such that researchers 500-1000 years from now look back on OUR time, I’d bet they’d see similar sorts of shifts imperceptible to US because WE’RE living them.

    African Americans are, by my reckoning, slowly, painfully, gaining our due. The arc of the moral universe is indeed bending toward justice. And this is having TREMENDOUS consequences on power dynamics, rippling across civilization as a whole. Not just the US. But of course America is all the more impacted because it’s going down here. And the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness the nation was founded upon, however imperfect and contradictory, have their role here. So even as I see all the problems and tragedies, I’m grateful that we’re in this dialectic of resolution – perhaps a more positive consequence of Enlightenment / scientific revolution thinking. I have deep appreciation for folks like Nathan *bows* and many others on this thread, white people who are naming and confronting the hidden and not-so-hidden realities of white privilege/supremacy. It’s accepting a role in a great collective awakening I don’t think we’ve even begun to see the full ramifications of yet.

    Central to this developing transformation of racial mapping has been black music and culture – as Bob was pointing out, and also n-word. We couldn’t have survived slavery, or Jim Crow, or had a Civil Rights movement without music. To take it further, some call Barack Obama the “first Hip Hop President”, major power players like Jay-Z having taken part in getting him elected. I don’t think we can discuss the state of black America, American culture or global culture without addressing Hip Hop. *sigh* And since n-word has opened THAT particular can of worms… as someone who participated in some small way in pushing the culture forward, I feel obligated to mention a couple things ~ maybe a bit of “whaa haad happened was…” not for the sake of making excuses, but filling some gaps in about rap’s place in all this.

    Most commercial rap on the airwaves these days is unlistenable to me; I sound today sorta like my dad did when he asked me if hip hop was just a passing fad after Run DMC’s first album came out back in ’84. In a lot of agonizing ways, mainstream rap is dragging things backwards. First thing to say is that radio rap is NOT (not!) all there is to Hip Hop. There are acts that are absolutely carrying sociopolitical awareness and activism forward. Many are based right here in the Bay Area and, if I sorta gave more of a rat’s ass for being visible and artistically competitive, I guess I might be one of them. No dis to rats btw, they’re sentient. Anyhoo the acts that dare to criticize society’s manifold flaws don’t catch rec. They just DON’T. This… is not an accident, but the logical outcome of an engineered process taking place within a constantly consolidating corporate music industrial complex. Anyone paying attention to music generally can probably see a lot of very strange things going on, and rap has been altered by the same forces. There’s tons I could say on this topic but… basically, money, power and respect foisted upon acts promoting the most pathological aspects of human nature has everything to do with where things are now. Although there were rappers whose lyrics were “gangsta” and violence-glorifying before them, it was really South Central LA based NWA (Niggas With Attitude) whose “Straight Outta Compton” album in ’89 I think, fundamentally changed the game by demonstrating the commercial reach of songs about ghetto pathology… much of which was eagerly consumed by white adolescents in bedroom communities and suburbs across America. From then on, the labels, artists, promoters, studios, talent scouts, and all the gatekeepers, lackeys, execs and the whole bunch started to focus resources where the most profit was to be had. Same as video game developers, hollywood movie execs, and on and on…

    here’s a link to a great doc called Hip Hip: Beyond Beats and Rhymes. It’s… kind of mortifying to me, but very instructive

  • Bezi

    by the way ~ For the record: Ice Cube was initially a member of the aforementioned gangsta rap group NWA before he became a solo artist. He’s umm… certainly oscillated a bit in his messaging over the years…

  • asdfaf

    You all are fixated on race. For all you white folks- don’t let your educated white guilt delude your perception. Black and Hispanic people in the US are racist too, to each other and to white folks. Japanese are racist to the Koreans and Chinese (read WW2 pacific history-rape of Nanking, comfort women). Hutus to the Tutsis. It in our primitive nature and wiring. Not an US centric phenomena, and hold your minds- it a lot better in the US now compared to other “heterogeneous” countries and the injustice historically is also mild in comparison. (Sorry I know you weren’t taught this in university and its at odds with the west coast social circles)

    There are a lot of “popular” social “justice” positions on this site and the practitioners here in seem consumed with “taking political action” and expecting the resolution of these age old human traits.

    Here’s a concept – don’t think its novel -practice to eliminate fixation and teach others to do the same- such as the desire to control how the world behaves or a futile desire to obtain justice for slights, insults, injuries, and injustice from others.

    Your Buddhist for Christ sake!

  • Justin S Whitaker

    asdfaf, it’s funny, I thought about mentioning *broader* racial/ethnic problems too. I have lived and traveled in parts of Asia and found many cultures there to have similar, deeply embedded racism (so I wonder, a bit, Nathan, if the ESL students you mentioned earlier were picking up anti-black norms or just expressing those from their own cultures). I live in England now and my sense is that this country has much more political/public racism than the US (EDL, BNP, UKIP, etc).

    BUT… but, but, but…

    That is why I think we need to start with the very brute facts that white people are allowed to ignore in the US:

    “The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.”

    “Studies show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. If there are significant differences in the surveys to be found, they frequently suggest that whites, particularly white youth, are more likely to engage in drug crime than people of color. That is not what one would guess, however, when entering our nation’s prisons and jails, which are overflowing with black and brown drug offenders. In some states, black men have been admitted to prison on drug charges at rates twenty to fifty times greater than those of white men.”

    20-50 times!

    Brute. Fact. And there are many more like it.

    You are correct. There is a lot of injustice out there, but how much of it is this egregious? And it doesn’t just affect those thousands upon thousands who are locked up, stopped-and-frisked, harassed, and treated with suspicion, it reverberates through the entire black consciousness in America.

    It’s not just that there is racism in America, just like everywhere else. The problem is that it has been institutionalized in a way that is utterly invisible to white Americans and utterly devastating to millions of other Americans – our friends, our neighbors, our fellow Buddhists.

  • nathan

    Asdfaf – first off, I am not speaking from a place of guilt. Guilt, by its very nature, is a self focused emotion that really doesn’t allow for sustained outward observation. At it’s core, it’s really about staying the same, maintaining the same identity and standing you have with others. There’s little room for supporting anyone else from that position, or focusing on issues that may not directly effect you (that you know of anyway).

    Secondly, I never said there was no racism outside of the US, or that other groups couldn’t be racist. BPF is located in the U.S. and it’s membership is primarily from the US and Canada. We are writing about the conditions where we live. Which clearly upsets some folks who would probably rather we focus solely on wars and atrocities half way around the world. So much easier to face than the shit happening in your backyard, and which you might have some involvement in, however tangential that may be.

    It seems to me that anytime someone wants to shift the topic away from white racism, they bring up the racism or prejudice of others around the world. It’s a really old, tired move saying that everyone is racist and let’s just move on with our lives.

    In addition, it’s damned convenient to say that racism is hardwired. And that social/political struggles are futile. A nice and tidy analysis, which keeps everything in it’s place.

    You say that ” it a lot better in the US now compared to other “heterogeneous” countries.” Some of us find that debatable, but let’s focus on the positive changes that have come here. How’d that happen? By individuals “eliminating fixation” on race? Or perhaps it was that a hell of a lot of social/political struggle happened over a long period of time and brought about some beneficial changes. And furthermore, social/political struggle that was/and continues to be, primarily driven by spiritual/religious folks who realize they need to truly practice what they preach.

    I’m curious what you make of the historical Buddha’s story. How he rejected the caste system and built a sangha that allowed every misfit under the sun to practice. Or how he regularly advised political officials, and attempted to stop inter-tribal wars and conflicts at least a handful of recorded times. Or how Ananda repeatedly pleaded with the Buddha to include women in the sangha because he felt it was the right thing to do.

    The Pali Canon is littered with involvement with the social/political scene. It definitely “looks” different than your average political engagement, but “home-leaving” did not mean abandoning society completely. The Buddha repeatedly warned us all not to be attached to outcomes, to practice letting go of any possible fruits of our actions. That’s very different from saying “it’s futile to bother with issues in your communities.” Which sounds like fatalism to me.

  • nathan

    Justin ” I wonder, a bit, Nathan, if the ESL students you mentioned earlier were picking up anti-black norms or just expressing those from their own cultures”

    This could be part of it. However, the pattern I witnessed again and again was solely about black Americans born and raised in the U.S. It was very particular in that way. Asian and Latin American students didn’t, for example, have the same attitude towards immigrants from African nations.

  • nathan

    Bezi “Scholars today have the benefit of hindsight in piecing together the historical narrative of how Buddhism went from a tiny group of aspiring and accomplished bodhisattvas to the global phenomena it is today, which Gautama himself (who predicted his teachings would die shortly after he did) would probably scarcely recognize or comprehend. Likewise, if you’d told any of the faithful in 300-200 BC that there’d be people reciting sutras and focusing on the breath while in meditative protest against multibillion dollar transnational corporations destroying the planet’s carrying capacity, they might’ve assumed you’d gotten a bit too much of that good mountain air, or maybe a spoiled batch of milk. ”

    This is a major point that I think often gets missed by folks obsessed with “maintaining tradition,” or finding some “essence or core of Buddhist practice.” That basically, things have always been shifting and changing. That the human world is manifestly different today than it was 2500 years ago, even if there are a fair amount of similarities.

  • asdfaf

    If someone commits murder or a violent crime, regardless of race, gender, preference on and on, should they be punished or at least kept away from the rest of society?

    A quick Google search supports your bias, your contention of race disparity.

    And here’s a quick search (1 min) that supports a contrary view point: New Orleans FBI FBI public publications FBI Uniform Crime Reports Department of Justice Statistics Walter Williams: The Ugly Conspiracy of Silence. American Renaissance USA – Interracial crime at a glance and statistics. has it
    Knoxsville News Sentinal, “Fiction vs. Fact in the Christian-Newson Double Homicide.”
    27 May 2007 Interracial Rape Statistics High numbers of back on white crime

    you (all people) will take a POV biased on your upbringing, conditioning, current environment, all equally (and limited) supported by bias and “literature” “facts” and so on.

    OK so what is the reality?

    If you are an unaware “racist” “white” American with bias against “people of color” because you were raped, mugged, had a family member murdered by such a person, and then you change your mind to realize that all that negative experience and bias was due to “institutionalized” anti color sentiment that blankets the country, the mental position you take is just as delusional.

    It has been presented and experienced that Buddhism or insight practice works to reverse bias of reality. The fixations which delude our experience. The basis of suffering.

    It seems more balanced to take people as individuals. If they resonate on a low level, are atavistic, are delusional to reality you can try to help them, point out any insight you have gained. But tolerate violent behavior?

    I also find it funny how delusion of the concept of race imprisons American thought.
    There is quite a lot hard science-genetics (not social, not psychological, not position papers, not think tanks, not surveys) which indicate most “black” people in the US are partially and sometimes a majority white, and most “whites” (predominantly in OK and TX but other areas as well) are part Native and Hispanic. One of the largest growing segments is children who are from parents of “mixed” race.

    Short of both your parents both coming from a single country in Europe and just immigrated, and didn’t sleep with someone else (which is also a wild social and genetic fact)

    Your are probably are of a mixed race? Get tested it might just blow your mind. The same holds true for people of “color” a lot of folk in America who think they are “black” are also of a mixed race including white, native, Hispanic.

    Maybe its not about race but about behavior.
    The root causes of suffering and our limited capacity to deal with those causes.

  • asdfaf

    Is the human mind manifestly different today than 2500 years ago?

  • Nathan G. Thompson

    Seems to me you’re pretty fixated on all this NOT being about race. Systemic racism specifically.

    I’m not interested in going down the “violence” rabbit hole. I’m guessing that you’re responding to Justin or a few others here, so perhaps they’ll be interested in having that conversation.

  • Nathan G. Thompson

    “Is the human mind manifestly different today than 2500 years ago?” Yes, and no.

    Since you seem to fall on the side that little has changed, have you also opted out of doing much of any about social conditions, including voting and the like? Are you truly as apolitical as you sound?

  • Bezi

    I’ll go down the violence hole…

    What are you trying to say here?

    “And here’s a quick search (1 min) that supports a contrary view point: New Orleans FBI FBI public publications FBI Uniform Crime Reports Department of Justice Statistics Walter Williams: The Ugly Conspiracy of Silence. American Renaissance USA – Interracial crime at a glance and statistics. has it
    Knoxsville News Sentinal, “Fiction vs. Fact in the Christian-Newson Double Homicide.”
    27 May 2007 Interracial Rape Statistics High numbers of back on white crime

    you (all people) will take a POV biased on your upbringing, conditioning, current environment, all equally (and limited) supported by bias…”

    what exactly is the contrary viewpoint?

  • asdfaf

    How is “being” about or “not being” about race relevant to change.
    How do you “change” people?
    Why do you want to change people?
    What are you changing to?

    The violence “rabbit hole” your don’t want to address or are not interested in, is a source of the problem.
    Where do you think “systemic racism” arises and is sustained from?
    Is it innate or learned?
    Seems if your interested in “fixing” the race problem you should explore potential causality.

    Have you ever had anyone act violently to you?Or some one you love?

    Please elaborate on how the mind has changed and has not because I would be fascinated by your thoughts and insight.

    No, I have opted in. All in. Balls to the walls on changing conditions, both for my self and others.

  • asdfaf

    Did you read the links?

  • Nathan G. Thompson

    Asdfaf – if you can’t see that everything I’ve been taking about in this post, and several others is about violence, then I don’t know what else to say.

    And again, judging by the clowning comment you made on my other post, I think you’re just trolling at this point, and I’m not going to waste my effort responding anymore.

  • Belinda G

    I took my lunch time to read this thread, and I am overcome with appreciation that this conversation is actually happening. For so long white folks have been unable to sit with a clear knowing of our roles, our privilege, what we lose because of our privilege, the cost to us and to everyone of carrying on this insane, unconscious, unknown game of institutionalized racism. And that is changing. Because the intelligence of so many on this thread, and so many others, is activated, engaged, held in the cradle of loving kindness, and made space for. F’ing prajna, people! Yay! So I take this moment just to make aspirations that the crippling craziness of racism will unwind very suddenly, as when a kite flies out to the end of its rope in a strong wind, and bring with it the healing of our world, for the benefit of all. Sarva mangalam.

    I’ll also make a plug for the work of my dear friend and colleague Vanissar Tarakali, for those white folks who are ready to explore these waters: As she says: “Recycle your white privilege for social change; transform shame, denial, isolation and other obstacles into authentic, passionate racial justice allyship.”

  • asdfaf

    I’m not trolling.
    Sorry I’ll only be serious from now on.

    Just trying to get a dialog on a serious point.
    Which you didn’t respond to.
    I fact I was just like you and a lot of others on this site., but hopefully, if you actually engage with people who have a different perspective, you might evolve and learn something.
    I have been on the receiving end of violence.
    So I can offer insight.
    I often find people with “progressive” and supposedly open minded positions are some of the most closed minded, because the surround themselves with people who agree with them and support in a way a form of self delusion.
    They but don’t engage with the world on the sharp end.
    A form of cognitive dissonance.

    As you have stated you will not respond
    how is filling you mind with endless discrimination (race, economic disparity, an so on) perusing a physical, legislative, political (violence) resolution to a problem having anything to do with liberating you or others from suffering.

    Its not a paradox or a koan, it has a solution


  • Nathan G. Thompson

    Asdfaf, I’m not surrounded with people who think like me. Not nearly as much as you might imagine. You seem quite certain you have the answers, and that the rest of us here are in need of “schooling.” Not exactly the place where healthy, open dialogues are made.

  • asdfaf

    I’m not ‘schooling’ any one other than experience has value.
    If you brother is a mechanic and you are not, and he sees you or others struggling under the hood of a car, can he ask a question or lend a hand?
    I don’t have a fraction of the answers?

    Have you been on the receiving end of violence?

  • bob

    If society is a constantly changing thing (in fact, not a ‘thing’ at all, but a collection of ever-changing events) then whatever you call ‘societal racism’ must thus, also be a continuously changing collection of events and circumstances. Solidifying it into a “thing” reduces it to an abstract concept which may in fact make the identification of its component causes more difficult. I learned a word today, “Pareidolia” which is the term that refers to the tendency to see separately occurring phenomena, when seen collectively, as something other than what they are, such as seeing animal shapes in clouds. My point is not that the problems of are not a prevalent problem in society, but that ‘societal racism’ is such a vague term that it has no real meaning. There is racism in the white community, in the black community, in the Chinese community and so on. So, the issue isn’t that one group of people is racist and the other isn’t, or that the concept of race isn’t a factor in violence and discrimination. we can accept that as fact., take it for granted. So then, you have to go to the next level, which has to do with conceptualizing phenomena racially to begin with, which brings us right back to seeing shapes in clouds. I like watermelon…what race does that make me?

  • Murray Reiss

    I think the issue is less that there is racism in the white community, the black community, etc., etc., that how a particular racism, in the United States most oppressively and consistently against blacks, but at different times in different circumstances against Japanese (cf. relocation camps during WWII), Jews, Native Americans (and in Canada most oppressively and consistently against Aboriginals, Japanese–relocation camps again–and Jews to name a few) becomes the law of the land, and thus integral to the functioning of the society. Call it societal, call it institutionalized, call it systemic. Once it gets to that level the effects persist for generations and it is very hard to totally eradicate.

  • bob

    But the same can be said of sexism. If you assert institutional (ingrained) racism, then you have to determine what that racism is a manifestation of, and it is fear of an imaginary threat, that somehow, cultural identifiers that lie outside of one’s comfort zone are threatening, or that one’s job is threatened, or that somehow equality itself is seen as threatening. But then, you also have to look at the psychology of victimization, which, as can be seen in the ingrained sexism in society, is also very hard to shake off. If you are raised to view yourself as a victim, your actions of body, speech and mind will be informed by that. I will suggest, and of course, i accept that i may be totally wrong here, is that at a general level actual victimization occurs, and ingrained psychological victimization also occurs, but they only occur concurrently. And ‘concurrent” is an important aspect, because it means two things happening at the same time which may be similar in many respects, but specifically may not be the exact same problems.

    One of the things that I find interesting is that racially motivated violence is regarded as especially abhorrent (and it should be) even though it may be much less prevalent than “same-race” violence, and so, it becomes newsworthy. A white person, say, refusing service to a black customer will make the national news, but gang shootings (between two “same race” gangs), which in themselves are much more serious incidents, and are symptomatic of a much greater threat to the stability of the black community, barely make the front page. But I see this as a sign that in general, society’s attitude toward fighting racism is improving, not diminishing. Most…no, I would say, ALL white people I know would be shocked, and offended if say, at a social event, one of them were to start talking about “niggers’ this or that. Compare this to the way things were just a few decades ago. The fact that I spelled out the whole word and didn’t write ‘n-word” will be shocking to many white readers of this post. I consider that a positive sign. What i do see is its acceptance is greater the further down one goes in education and, not concurrently, in income.

  • Murray Reiss

    In the interests of complicating the construct of “white privilege” I’d recommend the article “What’s Killing Poor White Women?” —

    To quote: “Everything about Crystal’s life was ordinary, except for her death. She is one of a demographic-white women who don’t graduate from high school-whose life expectancy has declined dramatically over the past 18 years. These women can now expect to die five years earlier than the generation before them. It is an unheard-of drop for a wealthy country in the age of modern medicine. Throughout history, technological and scientific innovation have put death off longer and longer, but the benefits of those advances have not been shared equally, especially across the race and class divides that characterize 21st–century America. Lack of access to education, medical care, good wages, and healthy food isn’t just leaving the worst-off Americans behind. It’s killing them.”

    Some whites is a whole lot more privileged than others.

  • Jeff

    Murray, thanks for pointing out this provocative article! It was prompted by a 2012 paper in Health Affairs which surprisingly revealed that the life expectancy of white high school dropouts (especially women) had steadily declined between 1990 and 2008, while that of every other educational level and of black and Hispanic dropouts increased. Even so, that decline simply brought the lifespan of white female dropouts on par with black female dropouts. Disparities between blacks and whites widened at the point of high school graduation and persisted beyond that. Perhaps another way to look at this is that in terms of longevity, at least, white privilege kicks in when you finish high school.

    For most white people, that privilege allows a relatively better chance at employment, housing, health, and satisfying other basic human needs but doesn’t exempt us from losing it all in times of forced austerity. And it often comes at a terrible price, blinding us to the harsher oppression of millions of Americans of color. The real privilege is held by the (mostly-but-not-entirely white) ruling class.

    The Health Affairs study:

  • Bezi

    huh… this poor white women story was just now discussed on KPFAs Almost Behind the News.

    “Lack of access to education, medical care, good wages, and healthy food isn’t just leaving the worst-off Americans behind. It’s killing them.”

    damn… duly noted

  • bob

    “Lack of access to education, medical care, good wages, and healthy food isn’t just leaving the worst-off Americans behind. It’s killing them.”

    Yes, this is the point. Those who are well educated and healthy are better off. If you are well educated, even if you didn’t finish high school (and I never did), you can find–or create–a source of income. Education is the tool that allows people to empower themselves. I lived from age 20 to 35 well below the poverty line. No insurance, misc. part-tme jobs. But I knew how to cook and feed myself with nutritious food, which is relatively cheap, not pre-packaged junk food, which is expensive. And i knew and how to handle my money. This is all from education. Mostly self-education. I never knew I was living below the poverty line. I never thought of myself as poor. I had no car, so I walked everywhere (good for mind & body). I was happy with my life and I always felt like a very successful person. I don’t know if this would have been the case if i were “non-white”. I am sure it would often have been more dangerous for me, had I been female. If you compare the discrepancies in opportunity between male/female and white/non-white, I think male privilege stands at the edge of a much a wider gap than white privilege.

  • Jay Garces

    According to Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, all us po’ folk would be happy and successful if we just cooked us some cheap, nutritious food, got a few part-time jobs, edumacated ourselves, stayed out of trouble, and handled money right (don’t you buy that bling, now!) Nuthin’ standin’ in our way except pure laziness and a negative attitude of blamin’ everyone else for our own damn problems. If Jack Armstrong and Herman Cain can do it, anybody can! You go Tea Party boy!

    (My bad for encouraging him to come out from under that bridge again, but I just couldn’t help it)

  • Bezi

    “nutritious food, which is relatively cheap, not pre-packaged junk food, which is expensive…”

    hm. From my vantage point, this is actually the other way round today. Plenty of McCrud fast food outlets and liquor store Cheetos in various woefully underserved food deserts, but little else of real nutritional sustenance…

  • bob

    Every thought felt as true
    Or allowed to be accepted as true by your conscious mind,
    Takes roots in your subconscious,
    Blossoms sooner or later into an act
    And bears its own fruit.
    Good thoughts bring forth good fruit
    Bullshit thoughts rot your meat.
    Think right, and you can fly.
    The kingdom of heaven is within.
    Free your mind, and your ass will follow.

  • bob

    Sorry, rice and beans and greens are cheaper than dollar menu items at the drive thru. Cheetos may be inexpensive, but if you weigh what your getting against what you are paying, then you are paying a lot of money for nothing, and that is expensive.

  • Bezi

    you bet. But I’m talking about places that have NO GROCERY STORES

  • Bezi

    in other words, this is not something I can visualize away, or will to disappear thru the power of my awakened mind. I can walk for fifteen minutes in any direction from my downtown Oakland flat (and have), and be in one of these. It’s real.

    thanks for the quote tho’. Great song! And true in its proper context

  • bob

    FOOD DESERTS! As I said, education is important. So, thanks for educating me.
    I am passing it along to others. I think this is a solvable problem.

    More from the USDA:

  • bob

    So, unless it has been cut, the USDA has some kind of funding available, which should mean that, because of Michele Obama’s initiatives, funding is available to people who can put together a plan for a food buying cooperative, which then allows its individual members to purchase fresh produce and other higher quality food at the wholesale(or slightly above) cost. This can be organized thru a church (sangha) which already has tax-exempt status. I knew of a woman who organized this through a temple once. She had a garage, and every wednesday the produce truck dropped off there and every wednesday members came and paid for what they ordered. But an organization can also educate people on how to plan & cook meals. A food club (co-op) can also, if they have access to a kitchen (again, perhaps through a church) prepare the food and serve it as well. You might think that this is just something that white hippies do. But anyone can do this.

  • bob

    Sorry, I meant to add this link to funding opportunities:

  • bob

    …and if there are people in the neighborhood don’t have enough money to support a co-op, then you frikkin’ work with that. You give them a way to help, and you give them points for helping and they get food. And you get people who can donate money to support it to support it. Anybody who can afford cigs can afford it. If you have access to the internet, (which you obviously do) you can find people who will donate or will loan the money:

  • bob

    If you are in Oakland, California, maybe these folks can give you some useful information:

  • Jeff

    You should be sorry, Jay – you poked him with a stick and look what happened. At least this can serve as an object lesson on one of the conditions necessary to maintain racist oppression in the United States: a majority of whites who, thinking they are colorblind, believe that racism no longer exists because no one says “nigger” in public, that the American Dream is still alive and well based on one or two personal anecdotes, and that mass unemployment and inequality are not intrinsic features of capitalism but arise from a lack of hard work and creative solutions by its victims. It’s too bad we have to read this stuff on BPF, but it is what it is…Buddhists are not immune to the hype.

    As long as we’re quoting Funkadelic (good to dance to, but not the most enlightened band of the ‘70s), their next two albums were titled, “Maggot Brain, America Eats Its Young.”

  • Bezi


    i imagine most of the people who know about food deserts in this city also know about Mandela farms, but ummm… yupyup

  • bob

    Actually, Maggot Brain, came out before the Standing On The Groove. I don’t remember a whole lot from the ’70’s but I remember that. I spent my late teen years listening (devoutly?) to PFunk (but i quit buying their albums after Hardcore Jollies), while also absorbing as much Marxist writings as I could. But go ahead and poke me with sticks, lecture me about being the racist capitalist you imagine me to be. I don’t mind. You are just expanding my own understanding of this ever twisting world (and helping me to keep my brain working).

  • Bezi

    okay, okay! Here’s what the internets say about the procession of Funkadelic albums (for whatever it’s really worth)


    Funkadelic (1970)
    Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow (1970)
    Maggot Brain (1971)
    America Eats Its Young (1972)
    Cosmic Slop (1973)
    Standing on the Verge of Getting It On (1974)

    this is the order I remembered them being in. As for me, I don’t poke anyone or call anybody out for being racist, capitalist or anything. That’s up to the individual to decide. I hold up stuff for examination, then fall back when the point seems made. Part of my own dharma…

  • Bezi

    matter of fact, (lol) let me add this… Funkadelic was pretty deep with social commentary in those early days! They put black people in outer space when NASA certainly wasn’t providing vehicles. They showed that we had the right and capability to travel to the stars. After what we’d faced in the late ’60s, that was POWERFUL, transformative stuff. Probably saved lives. There’s some pretty ill critique in those earlier albums. They said stuff jive-ishly but if you really trip off it, they were entirely in tune with the changing times and what we needed to do to keep things moving. That’s what makes “free your mind” so hitting. And um – they’re exactly right. yuk yuk

  • Venerable Pannavati

    Nathan’s post of August 26th struck a cord in me! In America, over several decades, I was very much aware of a customary contempt and disrespect shown to Blacks by the Chinese who owned restaurants in our country and who taught martial arts. (These were the only one I personally came in contact with to any real extent.). It didn’t seem to matter whether it was in the ghetto or uptown…east coast or west — all the same. Then I went to China. There I was welcomed by Chinese who had never been here, almost everywhere I went. Two of us on the tour had dreadlocks at the time and some villagers would say, “Children of the sun” and would want to touch us — especially our hair! Finally, we arrived at a temple built into the side of a sheer mountain. Inside there were three giant statues: the Buddha with Black guardians on either side–WITH DREADLOCKS. We were told they were disciples who were descendants of the Dravidians. Most had never seen a black person in real life! It was a wonderful moment. I have NEVER see a photo of those statues in any magazine, in any book, in any documentary although I have seen shots of the mountain since, without close-ups of the statues in the alcoves. My point is, right then, I realized many Chinese in America had learned which side of the fence they needed to be on. After all, they were here during slavery days, you know. Later generations know the story of their treatment. Granted, any store owner can encounter an unusual degree of ugliness in the ghetto due to all the conditions present, but there is also often more than meets the eye. Actually, it helped me not feel so resentful towards them. I changed. They were in the same boat as me, here, after all. Of course, that was all before I decided to NOT be defined by the color of my skin….it’s a new day and I am much more skillful in blaming ignorance rather than people around this issue. Actually, while I think “white privilege” workshops offer much needed information — and “facts” do “tell”, we need more transformation. And, that’s where the Buddha’s teaching (at least within the sangha) can come in. He worked with it all and left us some wisdom to tap. I don’t really see anyone training from those teachings. But, as Bhante Pannadipa and I are Black monastics with an all white sangha — in rural NC, I have to say the Buddha’s teachings have been powerful to dispel ignorance, anger and fear; and to open hearts on both sides of this issue, here. Sometimes, (the cultural influence can be very strong here), we have to reflect again and again. for instance, we often discuss a contemporary issue portrayed in the movies. But, nobody touched “The Help” — or “The Butler” for that matter! Of course, I pointed that out….(just keeping things real)! But, when that realization comes to a sangha member that says “I DID not see others as equal to us” — it is beautiful to behold. In my workshops (I call them unification workshops rather than diversity workshops), we don’t talk about “white privilege” per se, but we do get at the heart of the matter in a more approachable “human being” way that helps one determine whether they are measuring up to what they say they believe about equality and the preciousness of human life without shaming them. If there is no shame inflicted, I find more honest dialogue can occur….and when discussion gets mis-guided, you can get it back on track and move forward. I know how I would feel if I were “invited” to a discussion about Blackness designed to get me straight! I’d feel set-up. So, I don’t do it. I definitely speak the truth (in love), but I also want people to show up without a defense shield.

  • Katie Loncke

    Just want to say thank you for sharing those stories, Venerable! I can only imagine the shock I’d feel in seeing statues of Buddha’s dreadlocked guardians!

    And yes, I agree that in addition to structural, material transformation that affects and equalizes people’s life chances, Buddhadharma can be one powerful tradition of transformation for the karma of race and racism.

    Looking forward to hearing more about the challenges and transformative rewards of your unification workshops!

  • Bezi

    aaaaannnddd… WOW. Thrilled to read this post by Venerable Pannavati. Sadhu! These comments… open up a LOT (really really lot) for me: experiences, what I know of history and culture in China and on and on. IF ~ you do an image search on the words “black buddha”… a plethora of very interesting images come up of statues and things with curiously arr…”Negroid” features. So it was quite illuminating to read these reflections on perception of dreadlocks in China. There are some seriously controversial and convoluted responses to the concept of this phenomena called “Afro-Asiatic” – the hidden history, different ways countries have acknowledged (?), portrayed (?) them, etc. This is a Huuuuuge field of inquiry that turns up some surprises, potential shocks actually, lemme tell you.

    matter of fact I’ll… I’ll just run this up the flag, see who salutes it ~

    currently trying to corroborate the claims made in here: confirm or deny. Not at all easy since this part of the human saga has been almost completely ignored / obscured except by a small cadre of pan-African scholars. In trying to get to the bottom of the matter I wrote an essay for my Buddhist philosophy class titled: “Buddha’s Race.” Mmmmm… ee – yeah.

    Possibly some fairly explosive stuff hurr…

  • Ken Horst

    RACE is a biological reality and entails much more than superficial skin color as the sickening Marxists have brainwashed people to repeat/believe. Attempting to say RACE is only skin deep is like saying a Book is only cover deep.

    There are different breeds/races of humans just like there are different breeds/races of birds/horses/dogs/snakes etc..

    Anyone who denies that the Human SPECIES does not have unique races within it is so far brainwashed to be illogical.

    Each human race creates their own cultures/religions/civilizations. A group of Black men can NEVER create an Asian or Caucasian civilization, just as a group of Blackbirds can NEVER create an Eagle’s nest.

    Biology is about the only thing that is REAL on this planet. To deny biology is to deny reality.

  • Breeze Harper

    Hi Ken,

    I understand that many people who evolved in the same region for hundreds of years have certain illnesses, resistances, etc. For example, many “Black” Americans are lactose intolerant because where they came from, they didn’t drink cow dairy; their bodies don’t have the enzymes to break down milk sugars from cows. However, I am not sure if ‘race’ is the right word, only because I understand it within the context of European colonialism within the USA and ideas around white supremacy and this construction of ‘race’ and all the power hierarchies it produced. I think it’s all about how you’re defining race, in what context, etc.


  • Jay Garces

    So how RU related to Horst Wessel?

  • Breeze Harper

    It’s unfair to imply that Ken is a Nazi. He never actually applies a hierarchy to which biological ‘differences’ are better than others. But, that’s just how I read him.

  • Jeff

    Seriously, Breeze, you don’t think “A group of Black men can NEVER create an Asian or Caucasian civilization, just as a group of Blackbirds can NEVER create an Eagle’s nest” is hierarchical and just plain RACIST? The concept that humans’ “breed” determines their differences is straight out of Mein Kampf. I’m pretty damn sure the eagle Horst refers to is sitting atop a swastika.

    We should not underestimate the real dangers of the well-funded American right wing spreading outrageous lies to justify racial inequities, sexual oppression, war, and climate destruction, although they are usually couched in more polite language than Horst’s. These proto-fascists are already calling the shots in the Republican party and have a very conscious strategy to sabotage as much remaining progressive legislation as possible.

    I know we Buddhists aren’t supposed to have “enemies,” but deliberately encouraging ignorance and racism like this deserves our strong and public condemnation.

  • Breeze Harper


    I am just always assuming the best in people. I just don’t want to assume that Ken is applying hierarchies and first want to hear him explain a bit more of what he is talking about and how he is defining ‘race’. But, that’s just me. I am also making the huge assumption that someone discussing issues here would have basic understanding of Buddhist principles, including not coming on to be a conscious racist or Nazi. However, I am not reminded that trolls can be everywhere and shouldn’t assume anything.


  • Breeze Harper

    I meant to say “I am NOW reminded…”

    Anyway, I tend to think the best in people, like I said before. After getting a PhD with a focus in critical studies of race and Black feminist theory, I have tried an approach to discussing race and whiteness that doesn’t immediately assume [consciously] bad intentions from people. I try to listen more to what they say and how they THINK race operates. I do get the most challenges from white identified people, born and raised here in the USA. I myself identify as a Black woman BTW.

  • Jeff

    I hear you, Breeze, and respect your welcoming openness to new participants on this site. I agree with you that most of the prejudiced posts we see on BPF espouse color-blindness and denial of the social importance of race rather than categorically promoting skin tone as a defining factor in cultural development, so may deserve a little benefit of the doubt.

    However, while there is some legitimate controversy about the biologic basis of race, to say that “black men” (notice he doesn’t even mention women) are genetically incapable of advanced civilization simply crosses a line for me. This guy lives under a bridge – feed at your own risk ;-)

  • bezi

    thank you Jeff

    I didn’t wanna be “that dude”

    to say nothing of the fact that the human saga originates in Africa, as does mathematics (Shango bone, Lebombo bone), some of the earliest and most consequential world civilizations (Egypt, Abyssinia, Nubia)

    or that consciousness exists (GASP!), psychology, history… *rolling eyes*

  • bezi

    I mean it’s like – we’re still doing this huh. smdh

  • Breeze Harper

    Once again, was giving Ken the benefit of the doubt. I was imagining him meaning “Asians can’t create CAUCASIAN civilizations; ASIANS create Asian civilization, just like Blacks can’t create ASIAN Civilizations they can only create BLACK civilizations.” Once again, giving him the benefit of the doubt and won’t assume he is jumping on the racism bandwagon to suggest that Black people are incapable of creating civilizations because we aren’t “civilized” enough to do this like the [more superior races], Asians and Caucasians.

  • Breeze Harper

    I have these dialogues, give talks, write papers, consult around these issues of race, whiteness, etc as my career. It’s stressful and difficult, but I feel the urge to do it nonetheless and always hope to either give people the benefit of the doubt and/or am hopeful that those human beings who accept structural racism ‘as the norm’, will able to change their hearts/minds towards an anti-racist way of being in the world…(well, anti-sexist, anti homophobic, etc., way as well).

  • Jeff

    Bezi – it’s a shame, but yes we are. I thank the Buddha for people like you and Breeze who are trying to bring some light into this long night. Now that’s civilized.

  • bezi

    … and a royal pain in the arse!

    by the way um ~ e-Yeah. The Buddha himself seems to have been most likely Dravidian, which would make him, by our racialized standards, “black”

    …which would go a long way toward explaining Venerable Pannivati’s experiences in China, described some posts above.

    Is it relevant? At a practice level, perhaps not (unless you’re a black Buddhist). At a sociocultural level, you bet it is…

    but you know, whutevs, I’m tripping!

  • Jeff

    And no doubt if a Tea Partier saw the real Jesus, they’d call Homeland Security…

  • bezi

    LOL! Tell me about it. We saw what happened last Christmas

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