Two “Calls” - One goal
To support our practice, Buddhists for Racial Justice offered two versions of a “Call to Engage” - one for those who society deems as “white”, another for those who could identify as “people of color.” In creating these two separate “Calls”, our team recognizes that race itself is not biologically real, but a social construction that shapes each of our lives in distinct ways. Those who are targeted by racism have very different needs when confronting a racialized society than those whom that society has classified as “white” and awarded certain types of privilege accordingly.
Ultimately, we recognize that racism is a tool that divides us, and that causes loss and pain for everyone. The goal in offering these two avenues of resource and support is not to further divide, but to build towards a common vision of justice, equity, mutual respect, and a life affirming society.
Racial awareness as spiritual practice
Our Dharma practice calls on us to leave no stone unturned in investigating racism and white dominance. And our practice can support us profoundly as we encounter the challenges of this inquiry. These four areas provide a framework of inquiry and action:
- Commit to ongoing self-education.
- Engage in facilitated group work.
- Promote structural change within our Dharma communities
- Build collaborative relationships with people of color.
Racism – part of a bigger picture
As Buddhists we realize the interdependence of all of our experiences, and we believe that understanding our privilege as white people can actually support our liberation as women, queer, working class, and/or other marginalized identity/experience. Likewise, awakening to our racial privilege can give us insight into how our participation in a dominant group as men, heterosexuals, and/or members of an affluent class also comes at a cost to ourselves, our relationships, and the loving community we long for.
We are not asking you, or ourselves, to focus exclusively on racism. Rather, our hope is that understanding dominance through our position as white people can help us better understand the interrelated nature of multiple forms of social inequity. With this understanding we can work – according to the Buddhist teachings and practices we uphold – towards liberation in the largest sense.
Building collective wisdom
If this call resonates with you, we urge you to engage in this course of action with us, and to promote these suggestions among other white teachers and practitioners. We in no way feel the resources or approaches listed here are exhaustive – only a place to start. We welcome your feedback, and hope to build collective wisdom with you and with the teachers and practitioners of color who practice in community with us.
1. Commit to ongoing self-education
The first step in change is understanding. Without engaging in self hatred or self blame, we can compassionately look at the ways in which we have not received an adequate education about much of our country's history, the daily struggles of indigenous and people of color who are our neighbors, nor the extent of our own privilege.
We encourage you to seek out professional training and expertise from within and outside of our Dharma communities (resources for this type of training are listed in the following section). And we acknowledge that ongoing learning is vital. There are many books, videos, articles, and other sources of information through which we can begin this process immediately.
Good places to start:
- Race: The Power of An Illusion (California NewsReel): Watching this three part documentary with teachers and/or members of your spiritual community can be a powerful way to begin to understand how racial dominance has been established and maintained in the United States.
- The recent publication “Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People about Racism” has been eye-opening in deepening awareness and understanding of impact. In this article, Dr. Robin DiAngelo explains the concept of white fragility and offers wise insights and important guidance for White individuals and White group inquiry.
- You can also find resources, and Dharma-based support for developing a racial awareness program, on the website: whiteawake.org.
Within our Dharma communities valuable resources in inquiring into racism and white dominance include these relevant talks:
- “Beloved Community” Tara Brach (IMCW 6/17/15). In this intimate talk, Tara explores the often hidden expressions of racism that fuel separation and violence, and pathways toward healing and freeing our collective hearts.
- “Exploring Our Belonging and Kinship” Ruth King (IMCW 2/4/15). In this talk Ruth explores the "relative" reality of kinship, compassionately names patterns that harm, and then offers specific mindful exercises that we can use in personal or collective practice to heal and bridge separation.
- “Reclamation of the Sacred” Thanissara (Spirit Rock 5/5/15) This important talk recognizes causes of collective dislocation, naming colonial devastation and ways towards tenderness.
There are many teachers, of all different lineages, who have made offerings of this nature, and whose interviews, articles, books, and/or recorded talks are available online. These include: Larry Yang; Rev angel Kyodo williams; Lama Rod Owens; Gina Sharpe; Arinna Weisman; Jan Willis; Rev. Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, PhD; and others.
Another source of Dharma and ongoing social critique from a Buddhist lens is the Buddhist Peace Fellowship's online platform: Turning Wheel Media.
A helpful resource from outside the Buddhist tradition is the essay “Not Somewhere Else, But Here” (by Unitarian Universalist minister Dr. Rev. Rebecca Parker).
2. Engage in facilitated group work.
While learning can take place informally, we encourage you to enter into some kind of facilitated group process.
White Affinity groups: We highly recommend that white teachers and practitioners find ways to organize themselves into ongoing learning communities. There is a need for all-white spaces that prioritize our process as we gain new awareness, confront the social training we have received as members of a dominant group, and support one another in our commitment to ongoing inquiry. We encourage you to consider developing and maintaining white affinity groups (self facilitated or facilitated by a trainer you trust), and commit ourselves to this practice as well. Whiteawake.org is a strong support to white affinity group process.
Within our Dharma communities there are talented, committed trainers who integrate various elements of Dharma practice directly into this work.
- Teacher Ruth King offers her “Mindful of Race Retreat: a Stimulus for Social Healing and Leadership” to groups and organizations upon request
- Teacher Arinna Weisman has long served the Dharma community with workshops and teachings that focus on healing the suffering of racial privilege
- Practitioner Eleanor Hancock (primary author of this "Call") is working in collaboration with teachers and practitioners of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington (IMCW) to bring forward a body of work called White Awake: an integration of mindfulness and white affinity group work
- Teacher Mushim Patricia Ikeda is a diversity consultant and meditation center community coordinator whose clients include Spirit Rock and San Francisco Zen Center
- This list is not exhaustive!
There are many well-established training programs that support an inquiry at the community level, including: The People's Institute (pisab.org); UNTraining White Liberal Racism (untraining.org); Dismantling Racism (dismantlingracism.org); and Training for Change (trainingforchange.org); to name a few.
3. Promote structural change within our Dharma communities
We recognize the ways in which our own Dharma communities have mirrored the broader society in patterns of exclusion, inequity, unseen bias and privilege. We commit to wise action to transform our sanghas into welcoming, diverse, and beloved communities.
What might structural change look like within our sanghas? One resource for this is the booklet, Making the Invisible Visible (full PDF available on the Spirit Rock website). Making the Invisible Visible provides stories that sensitize us to the presence of racism in our sanghas, and includes practical suggestions for changing these dynamics, such as: addressing racism through dharma talks; developing an organizational strategy for inclusion; and working to bring people of color into teaching, board, and staff positions.
There are Buddhist communities we can look to who model an inclusive community culture, for example: New York Insight (which has a beloved community monthly sangha and training program); Brooklyn Zen Center (see Jan, 2015 Shambhala Sun article “Open Hearts, Open Doors”); and East Bay Meditation Center (which has woven social action and multiculturalism into the community structure from its inception). You might explore entering a mentoring relationship, or exchange of ideas, with such communities as you begin to focus on change within your own.
4. Build collaborative relationships with people of color.
One aspect of white social conditioning is the tendency to want to ‘help’ in a way that continues to reinforce white superiority. Our desire is to meet our siblings of color in authentic exchange, listen non-defensively, share our own truth, work together to shine the light on social dominance within our communities, and replace this with a more inclusive culture – for everyone's benefit.
It is our hope that the process of self education called for here can provide a basis for authentic exchange and inter-racial dialogue within our sanghas. This may in turn lead to the creation of equity and inclusion councils with diverse representation to guide change within our communities. We understand that in many instances, frustrations may have built up over time and will need to be aired and addressed in order to move forward effectively.
Engaging in partnerships with communities/organizations of color outside of our Buddhist centers is another way to address structural racism within society. A significant resource for fostering authentic and collaborative relationships is the online article “Building Accountable Relationships with Communities of Color: Some Lessons Learned” (Pax Christi Anti-Racism Team). The Pax Christi team, which identifies itself as primarily white, emphasizes the values that are called for in order to develop relationships in which true power sharing and collaboration can take place.
We hope that you will join us on this journey of deepening awareness of white dominance, racism, and our own often unexamined privilege. Our prayer is that we can join hands to bring the wisdom and compassion of our Buddhist practice to alleviate suffering and pursue collective liberation in ways that benefit all.
This Call to Solidarity has been revised since its original release. BRJ has incorporated the comments of our Japanese American and white allies mahasangha members (posted below) in order to create a more complete and inclusive Call. 7/13/16
This is a Call for solidarity among Buddhist teachers, leaders, and practitioners of color across traditions to support racial justice and healing within the United States.
As Practitioners of Color (POC), we collectively represent the full spectrum of the Global Majority* – First Nations, Aboriginal, and indigenous people; people of African and Latino/a ancestry, and people from the Middle East, East, Southeast, South Asia, and the Pacific Islands. We embody the complexities of varying skin colors, ages, socioeconomic classes, genders, sexual orientations, mental conditions, and physical abilities. Many of us carry multiracial identities, are in biracial relationships and/or have multiraced families. Our collective also includes Dharma practitioners choosing not to identify as Buddhist, who walk in other faiths and are cautious of the risks of cultural appropriation.
The term “POC” is a simplistic way of drawing attention to being among the peoples that have been systematically, generationally, and presently oppressed in the United States because of our appearance and skin color. We share, like the earth herself, in experiences of genocide, marginalization, colonization, exploitation, and enslavement in varying historic and present day degrees, including experiencing daily the escalating hatred and resulting trauma from the continued killings of and brutality towards African Americans and darker-skinned individuals in our communities and throughout the United States.
Within convert Western Buddhist institutions, teachers and practitioners of color experience more subtle unconscious racial bias. We are challenged by direct and structural discrimination as well as by cultural expectations to remain silent or confine racial discourse to teachings which emphasize individual over community awakening. Many of us feel isolated and want to discover who we are as a collective, and to heal and practice with each other.
Within longstanding Buddhist communities of Asian American ancestry racial bias and structural racism play out in equally pervasive ways. The history and experience of Asian Americans in traditional Buddhist temples includes anti-Asian legislation and exclusion and the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II (a majority of whom were Buddhist), as well as the obstacles that more recent Buddhist immigrants face including discrimination based on language, ethnicity, color, culture, and immigration status.
Clearly the ways in which Buddhists of color interface with, and are affected by, the oppression of structural and cultural racism is varied and complex. Our invitation to practitioners of color is to bridge these differences and “remember” ourselves as Buddhist practitioners devoted to racial justice, thereby joining together in Response to this Call:
- To Heal: To recognize and repair internalized oppression and its impact on our relatedness as a diverse body of practitioners of color. We need time together to apply our practice towards discovering more personally who we are as a diverse body of color.
- To Discover: To know who Practitioners of Color are as a diverse body, recognize the integral roles we play in the broader spiritual community, discover how we currently enhance racial equity, leverage resources, and form natural collaborations.
- To Bridge: This call invites us to explore how we align our energies in ways that bridge racial separation between historically divided communities of color. Many of us also seek to reconcile and collaborate with white practitioners, allies, and institutions without causing or experiencing harm.
- To Justice: We call practitioners of color to humbly recognize our interdependence across the very systems which perpetuate the vestiges of our exploitation/enslavement, including economic, healthcare, educational, environmental, transportation and legal systems controlling housing, property and national borders. Of relevant concern to us is how racism relies on greed and class stratification, the weight of which is not only ravaging the poorest communities of color but also rapidly destroying the planet.
There are many places to begin, and for many of you, to continue. We are calling upon the community to make visible ourselves and the good work we do so that we may form natural collaborations and share interest and energies in challenging these intersecting areas of racial injustice.
A CALL TO HEAL
Our meditation and spiritual practices offer clarity to confront oppression and recondition our own habitual patterns which cause more harm to ourselves and others. Together, we bring many resources that help to identify wounds of injustice and to heal these wounds. The resources we bring may include Buddhist practice as well as culturally specific rituals, creative expressions, and ceremonies that reflect our varied cultural heritages. Taking refuge within Buddhist and non-Buddhist communities of color can further restore compassion for our own suffering and reveal our capacity for interdependent liberation, but because these sanghas can be fragmented and under resourced, we don’t always know where to seek support.
We Call all practitioners of color to join us in cultivating conditions within the Buddhist community which support the growth of generosity, love, and wisdom - the wholesome roots of mind and heart. To help us do this, we envision a web based portal to offer resources to support our important work of healing and reconciliation. This Resource & Opportunity Listing would include information that can support us in learning, engaging, healing, and uprooting racial suffering and its many manifestations. Categories include:
- Organizational Resources
- Historic/Cultural Resources and Study Groups
- Group Healing Resources for POC
- Socially Engaged Acts
- Individual Practices/Healing Resources for POC
- Reconciliation and Bridging Across Differences
- Right Livelihood and Personal Development Opportunities
We envision a Resources & Opportunity Listing that will be a co-created database by the larger POC community. Once the infrastructure is in place, you will be able to click through to a separate form to submit information into the database, as well as view its contents.
If you would like to volunteer your time and/or resources, please email Info@NorthAmericanBuddhistAlliance.org. Meanwhile, if you have resources or opportunities you would like to share with the larger community, you can do so by leaving a comment on this page.
A CALL TO DISCOVER
As active participants in this imperfect world, practitioners of color have absorbed and internalized the messages which privilege and preserve leadership, teachings, and experiences by white practitioners. Buddhists of color are doing important work around racial justice, yet in large part, the Dharma community is unaware of these efforts. This unconsciousness keeps us fragmented and unable to know ourselves as a body and leverage our efforts for effective healing and action. To begin to heal this fragmentation, we propose one vehicle to increase connections and facilitate collaborations between Buddhist practitioners of color: A National POC Buddhist Directory.
The proposed Directory will electronically draw together our diverse community and reflect back to us some of the following: who we are, where we live, our racial and other identity reflections, our practice and lineage, ways we currently engage with uprooting oppression in our individual and collective lives, and racial equity and other social justice topics of interest. In order for it to thrive, such a directory requires contributions from the Practitioners of Color who hear this Call. At this stage, we seek your participation in advancing two goals: 1) resource a robust infrastructure to collect, secure and make the data user-friendly; and 2) develop access and operational terms reflecting community need. To arrive at consensus around the above and other specifications, and to gather the resources to build such a tool, we are turning towards our collective, looking for:
- technical skill with database development
- experience with data security
- familiarity with building networks
- financial backing or access to resources
- other (please offer your comments and suggestions!)
To offer your time or resources to this initiative, please email Info@NorthAmericanBuddhistAlliance.org.
A CALL TO BRIDGE
This call invites us to align our energies in ways that bridge across racial identities and spiritual traditions. Together, we may transform our understanding of both relative and ultimate truths of our suffering. Like the Buddha we too must seek skillful means to bridge racial division appropriate to our times. We aspire to create an evolutive dharma as taught by Thich Nhat Hanh and a beloved community as envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
For practitioners of color active in confronting racism within convert Western Buddhist institutions, fatigue is immense. For decades, Buddhist teachers and leaders of color have addressed racial equity alongside white allies. While some practice within the predominately white Buddhist communities in the U.S., many of us have found it necessary to create safe and independent spaces for concentrated practice. In our call to bridge across difference, we continue to honor spaces which allow us to practice without repeatedly educating dominant group culture on its impact. We also encourage support for teachers – regardless of race—who know themselves as racial beings, and who, through their own example, are transforming their own personal suffering into a healing salve that liberates all beings.
Our practice of wise understanding informs the pace, intensity and focus of our transracial efforts. We Call upon practitioners of color to engage with practitioners beyond our affinity groups while being mindful to rise above tokenism and superficial displays of pluralism. Symbolic gestures alone do not transform hearts. Transforming the continuing effect of racism on us all requires ongoing examination of our implicit biases. This is our path of healing together in solidarity. In the above referenced Resource and Opportunity Listing, we are committed to including information that supports Reconciliation and Bridging Across Differences. As previously stated, if you have relevant resources and opportunities to share now, while the database is under construction, please do so by leaving a comment on the page.
A CALL TO JUSTICE
The weight of the nation’s social karma reminds us that our awakening is conditioned upon the liberation of others. One of the major contributions of the historical Buddha Shakayamuni, himself a practitioner of color, lie in his articulation of interdependence and the potential for enlightenment of all human beings. We call Practitioners of Color to fertilize our Buddhist roots with the same spiritual force used to challenge the caste system and the exclusion of women in the Buddha’s lifetime.
Justice is an action and, for some of us, the most concrete method for inclining the mind toward generosity, love and wisdom. In turn, the Dharma empowers our pursuit of justice by revealing the seduction of self-righteousness, the delusion of divisiveness, and the suffering of retaliation. We are surrounded by examples of Practitioners of Color who are compelled by their racial identities as well as their spiritual identities to compassionately confront social injustice. How are you or your Sangha engaging the social justice roots of Buddhism? We invite you to share the varied ways you are called to justice by leaving a comment on the page (in the future, this information will also be included in the Resource & Opportunity Listing).
We are witnessing a unique moment in the history of the Dharma; for the first time in its 2,600 year evolution all the traditions of Buddhism are in contact and dialogue. As Practitioners of Color in the U.S., we represent the many different lineages and expressions of these precious teachings. Individually and in smaller groups, we have discovered the relevance and power of these teachings to help us heal the trauma of racial injustice which manifests as personal, collective and ancestral rage and grief. And now we have this blessed opportunity to connect as a larger collective and intentionally organize ourselves on this profound path to liberation. Let us come together in a Mahasangha that is truly inclusive and through this call to justice we heal, discover and, bridge, thus manifesting a fuller expression of the Buddhadharma.
May all beings may realize liberation. May all beings be free.
*One thing we have in common is that people of non-European ancestry constitute the global majority. Referring to ourselves as practitioners of the global majority (POGM) calls on the diasporic roots we claim and the power and presence of our peoples worldwide.