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Buddhadharma : Summer 2016
38 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 2 0 1 6 rUtH King is the author of Healing Rage and Mindful Approaches to Cultural Competency. She created the mindful of race training Program and is a guiding teacher at the insight meditation community of Washington, D.c. Race has ricocheted on my practice in painful ways with regularity, and while I would have liked to avoid “going there” (dealing with racial igno- rance and its pain again and again), oddly I recog- nized that “going there” was “being here.” While I was able at times through this precious practice to self-soothe, let go, soften, and experience this suffering with fleeting degrees of clarity and grace, there was something untouched and unsettled by this solitary inquiry that eventually ignited a desire for deeper understanding and collective exploration. When we apply Buddhist teachings to Western culture, we must take into consideration the impact of our deeply rooted history of colonialism, racial enslavement, and exploitation. White dominant culture as a historical collective continues to benefit from racial injustice, knowingly or unknowingly. Western Buddhist practitioners and organizations are in denial if they believe they are exempt from the stain of this history and its persistent contribu- tion to separation and suffering. When we look around, we can readily see that most of the recognized Insight Meditation retreat centers are headed by whites and typically lack racial diversity. Added to this, and of delicate sig- nificance, is the fact that our practice is generally in silence. Subordinated cultures have a history of experiencing silence as oppressive, and exploring this tender territory on retreat is often misunder- stood by white teachers. Much harm occurs for people of color when this pain is felt deeply and met by an inadequate response, within a formal structure, where personal contact is limited. This dynamic accentuates white dominance, denial, color blindness, and individualism; for people of color, latent experiences of oppression are intensified, and the environment begins to feel unsafe. Given this, and other examples like this, we can perhaps begin to understand why our sanghas, largely led by white people, may be chronically, racially, even appropri- ately divided. Having taught in multiyear engagement pro- grams such as Spirit Rock’s Community Dharma Leaders Program and the Dedicated Practitio- ners’ Program, I’ve seen many white practitioners express anger and discontent when racial suffering is directly explored, many of whom felt that focus- ing on race involved clinging to concepts and was therefore inconsistent with Buddhism. Some whites have been so upset that they have dropped out of the program altogether, saying, This is not what I signed up for. People of color have dropped out as well, saying the same thing but stating different reasons, namely that they were disappointed these programs were not safe or welcoming communities to engage in or beginheal the realities of racial suf- fering. In such habitual stalemates, racial hurt and ignorance are further conditioned. There are sincere attempts to bridge racial divi- sions within sanghas, but it’s often awkward—a dance between white delusion or guilt, and aversion experienced by people of color. For example, I hear white sangha members say, When I look at you, I don’t see race. As an African American woman, this well-meaning comment renders my experience invis- ible, my history whitewashed, my people at risk, and our relationship questionable. Not seeing race is privilege, and it’s not an option for me as a Black woman in America. At the core of racial suffering is denial about our belonging—that is, our kinship and our member- ship in each other’s lives. The separation inherent (Opposite) Quilt #15 (Buddha Bless), 2013 Repurposed quilt, fabric treated acrylic, spray paint, and silkscreen, 89 x 70 inches COLLeCTIONOFFRANANDDAVIDHORVITZ|COURTESyOFTHEARTISTANDDAVIDCASTILLOgALLERy|PHOTOgRAPHByALISSACHRISTINEvaschelleandre,divinephotography