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Buddhadharma : Summer 2016
46 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 2 0 1 6 tara BracH is the founder of the insight meditation community of Washington, D.c ., and the author of Radical Acceptance and True Refuge. In order to feel that the trouble “others” are hav- ing isn’t “out there” in the world, separate from us, we have to get close. The trouble is “in here,” and it wants our attention. Shortly after Ferguson, I attended a vigil of grieving mothers in Washing- ton, D.C. There were about fifteen women from all over the country whose sons had been killed by the police. They travelled the nation sharing their stories. One of them told us how her son got shot the day before her birthday. He had been planning her party. Another shared that after her son was shot, he said to the police, “I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Why did you shoot me?” One woman’s son was about to get married; another was shot yards from a hospital, but the police refused to take him to the emergency room. These mothers’ stories broke my heart. They would break the heart of any- one who got close enough to listen. As white peo- ple, we can live for decades without being exposed to this reality and not care enough to be part of the healing. We have to let our hearts be broken or else we’re going stay in a very insulated identity. We have to pay attention. White people need to be aware of white privi- lege, to notice how many doors open for us in this life. The current that gives access to money, power, and success supports us; there’s a feeling of fitting in, of being part of the culture that’s on top. And it isn’t just in society out there—it happens in spiritual communities every bit as much. An African American man attending one of our meditation classes for the first time wrote about feeling singled out and unwelcome because he was Black: When I arrived, I was a little early, so I sat down at the end of the second row and began to read a book I had purchased awaiting for the meditation. The building slowly filled to capacity and it seemed that by the time the meditation began, every seat in the house was filled except one—the one next to me. I became a little set off by this until the ghost of rac- ist past sat down next to me. He said, “Empty seats are devoured in this hall, so why am I sitting next to you?” His rap filled my mind with anger and frustra- tion. I ignored and tried to focus on the meditation. I couldn’t. He said, “Why am I the only person to sit next to you? Do they think you’d rob them?” “No, that’s absurd,” I replied. “I don’t think they felt that way.” The ghost responded, “Well, maybe you have an awful smell?” “No, I’m clean.” “You look intimidating?” “I don’t believe a forty-one-year-old Black man in dress pants and a button-down creates fear and intimidation.” “Is it because you’re new?” “I don’t know.” This situation bothered me for the rest of the evening to the point that I didn’t and couldn’t fol- low the rest of the dharma talk. I remember the teacher announcing that volunteers were needed with the tea and snack table. It was my intention to help out, but I thought to myself, They don’t want a Black man to help. So right after the service was over, the ghost of racist past escorted me out. That was about four years ago. The unusual and beautiful end of the story is that he and I became friends, and he now serves on the board of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington (IMCW); he also serves on an advisory committee of people of color that is helping us examine how to evolve IMCW’s culture in a way that is more inclu- sive, diverse, and equitable. He didn’t go away. But that’s not what usually happens, and I can under- stand why. It’s painful to know that for all our best intentions, white Buddhist practitioners are missing an awareness not only of what it really means to carry a certain identity but also of how to be sensi- tive to the impact of that identity. Over the last few decades, we’ve had a handful of teachers of color in our broader community give deeply of themselves in the effort to wake us up, often in the face of a lack of willingness, interest, or understanding among white teachers and practitioners. Part of me is moved to tears by the suffering this perpetuates, but another part is hopeful about sangha and what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “beloved community.” The legacy of slavery and genocide in the United States, the ways in which white people occupy a place of privilege and JonathanFoust