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Buddhadharma : Summer 2016
summer 2 0 1 6 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 41 found that there are many needs that they can address, such as supporting practitioners in heal- ing generational traumas, attending to hurts and regrets, and fortifying people’s capacity to open and serve with less suffering. White people need to see race and understand themselves as racial beings with roots and a collec- tive history of power and privilege. In a racial affin- ity group, white people can discover together their group identity and discern its privileges and impact without the aid of and dependence on people of color. Together, whites cultivate racial solidarity and compassion for themselves and support each other in sitting with the discomfort, confusion, and numbness that often accompanies racial awakening. While many people of color can readily relate to their group identities, they may not be as knowl- edgeable about or inclined to explore the diversity that exists within people of color groups. A racial affinity group supports people of color in recog- nizing and attending to the impact of internalized oppression without the distraction of educating white people. It also allows us to explore the pre- sumed solidarity, invisibility, and unspoken hierar- chy of suffering that exists within and among the diverse collective of people of color. Many people say, Why don’t we all just get in a room and figure it out? But it’s not so simple; our conditioning is entrenched. When whites and people of color attempt to dialogue across race as good individuals before we have understood our racial identities as a collective, much harm is done. One myth among white people is that they can only learn about race from people of color. If no person of color is present, it appears that they do not know what to do. Yet it is precisely this territory that can be intimately explored in a White Affinity Group. When people of color enter into dialogue with white people without having engaged in an inti- mate inquiry of our collective diversity, we feel more vulnerable, frustrated, isolated, and hope- less. People of color tend to carry the burden and chronic disappointment of educating whites about their resistance and denied history and its collective and institutional impact. This suffering is cumula- tive and has resulted in more harm than systemic change and unity. From this accumulated anguish, we become angry and convinced that we know all we need to know about white people. A habitual focus on white people can distract us from knowing ourselves as a diverse body. Exploring this territory in a POC affinity group can be an alternative to expecting white people, who often are not aware of being racial beings, to support racial suffering, and a fortifying and healing refuge. Unnecessary harms are reduced with racial affinity groups because they support individuals in knowing intimately the experience of being a racial collective. Racial separation, in this sense, is not unwholesome but rather a necessary step in sup- porting greater literacy, skillfulness, and awareness to address racial suffering. To form a racial affinity group, begin by bring- ing together three to seven people of the same race. The content explored in a racial affinity group var- ies and may include discussing articles or books, sharing lineage and ancestry, and deepening com- passion among members. I encourage groups to make a yearlong commitment, meeting monthly for three hours, and to spend the first few gatherings The consciousness—or unconsciousness—that supports racial suffering cuts people out of our hearts, then has us try to live as if “cutting” doesn’t hurt.