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Buddhadharma : Winter 2011
51 WINTER 2 01 1 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY The other way is to start from ground up and see whether you can create a different structure. We’ve tried to do that at East Bay Meditation Center by reorganizing the registration process so that even demographically we’ve changed the expe- rience for people. When you walk into an event at East Bay, we pretty much have 50 percent communities of color and 50 percent European Americans. That demographic reorientation is an awareness practice. When people walk into the room, it’s a different experience for everybody. I’m not saying that none of the oppressive patterns, uncon- scious privilege, or entitlements come up, but there’s an oppor- tunity to use the awareness practice and expand from that place. We’re expanding the personal mindfulness practice into a collective experience. If we can attract people through the door, the next level of challenge is giving skills to people in order to live together. Just because diverse communities congregate doesn’t mean that they’ll necessarily get along, so we have a class on unlearning racism called Interconnected: Being Mindful and White in a Multicultural World. That ties the practice into unlearning these structural patterns we’ve created. BUDDHADHARMA: angel, at the New Dharma Center, are you trying to create a multicultural space, or are you starting from a different approach? ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS: Ours is a small residential community, so we live in a multicultural context. We try not to throw up barriers to people being completely who they are, as they are, when they enter into our spaces. For instance, we don’t any longer hold any kind of people-of-color anything. What we’re really trying to do is to encourage a full on, show up as you are, be who you are and bring your whole self space. It’s not your job to come to the community and try to figure out how you can fit in. It’s the community’s job to figure out how we can stretch the community into the so-called margins to broaden its understanding and the ability to be inclusive. Our sense of inclusivity is not how do we make you a part of what we are but how do we become more of what you are. And extend ourselves out toward you. BUDDHADHARMA: The distinction is clear. You assume a pre- existing undivided space and operate from there. Neverthe- less, do you think the people of color retreats have been—or are—valuable? ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS: There was a period of time in which they were enormously important and there are some ways in which they still can be quite effective and powerful. For me, though, at a certain point, the focus on people of color retreats became a distraction. There was more conversation and more focus on what was happening and not happening in terms of race and being people of color, so that the actual core practice was being relegated to a secondary concern. If I’m in the business of cultural confidence or creating multicultural kind of fear and anxiety as the larger society. We need to begin to really get into this at a deep level. BOB AGOGLIA: As long as people see and feel signs that com- municate “this is not for me, not about me,” they will feel that this supposed place of refuge is just like all the rest of the world that they have to negotiate and be constantly on alert within—hardly a place of rest and refuge. We have feedback from people of color focus groups that members of our board have conducted. People tell us that IMS teachers are predominantly white and the sangha is predomi- nantly white and the location is predominantly white. It all boils down to “I don’t see people like me here and therefore I don’t feel safe here. This is not a place that I would choose to come. It doesn’t hold the potential for a transformative experience.” As angel said, it’s the same form of structural racism that people are living with day and night. Fundamental changes are required to address this. ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS: Buddhism presents itself in the way that Amanda spoke of earlier, as something that is full of potential, that affirms each person’s capability for liberation. So, when people get to a retreat center and find that it’s more of the same, it’s a devastating revelation: this too? People come with a hopefulness and expectation that it’s going to be different, because we present it that way. That adds a whole other layer of resistance and people can become entrenched in that, which becomes even more challenging to undo. AMANDA RIVERA: To undo these really complex habits and out- comes requires courageous conversation. We need courageous conversations on the part of the leaders within our organiza- tions. We need to model what it is that we desire of our mem- bership. We also need ongoing education. There was a time in our organization when we did some diversity training, starting with the leadership first. That helped us see what was right in front of us. It does not matter who you are, or how long you have practiced, you still have your biases, and discriminatory beliefs and ways that you may not always be conscious of. BUDDHADHARMA: People within a given cultural milieu or neigh- borhood are going to feel very comfortable within that culture. What I’m hearing is that the predominantly white Buddhist communities default to the in-culture they have. To undo that, are we talking about creating a kind of multicultural space? LARRY YANG: At Spirit Rock, which started as a predominantly white mainstream cultural organization, we started people of color retreats. To do so, we had to begin to change the structure. We had to do pre-retreat training and post-retreat debriefing with the staff. We had to create a culture even if it was just for that moment in time, and that could begin to ripple out and affect the institution on an ongoing basis. This is happening at IMS too. For organizations that are already in place, the challenge is to retrofit a multicultural pattern into a cultural pattern that has been going on for a while.