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Buddhadharma : Winter 2011
BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY WINTER 2 0 11 54 LARRY YANG: We have a lot more to do but I have to say that when I first got into practice twenty years ago, things looked completely different than they do today in terms of cultural and multicultural issues. This work takes so much longer than we would like, and cultivating patience has also become part of my personal practice. How do I recognize, acknowledge, and appreciate the things that have progressed so that when we go through more setbacks and suffering, I am sustained. To get to more moments of insight and freedom you usually go through more suffering. BUDDHADHARMA: Everyone seems to agree that a certain amount of progress has been made but that there’s much more to be done. Would it be fair to say that the next wave of diversity has less to do with adjustments, moving the furniture, than with uprooting deep preexisting patterns within the communi- ties themselves? Blow them up in some sense and start from a fresh place? ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS: I think so. There was one moment in my path when I was frustrated by moving the furniture around and I was talking to Alice Walker and she said, “You know, as long as they started the thing, they will own it.” A little bomb went off for me. I think Larry is probably much more patient than I am. I felt my attention and energy got pulled and drained, so my response was to explode it, as you say, and start something from scratch, on new ground. Rather than be in a place where people of color tried to fight their way into getting white folks to pay attention and do their homework, I wanted to invite white folks and everyone else into a shared space. That’s my approach now, but I’m probably a little more out there than a lot of folks. PHOTO ANITA BARNES group is actually suffering because it is not dealing with some- thing that is present. The structures may make it such that they don’t have to, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they are suffering. Any time we’re part of a system that perpetuates oppression, ultimately we’re suffering in keep- ing that system going. In American Buddhism these kinds of changes don’t need to come because we need to do people of color a favor, or we need to make space for the gender variant people. We have to get clear that an essential aspect of our practice is to shift these things internally for ourselves, because our personal liberation, the very thing we come to the dharma for, is completely bound up in making these kinds of changes. It’s not a superficial concern. BUDDHADHARMA: What specifically do you recommend? Where do the courageous conversations Amanda was talking about need to take place? ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS: There is a lot that people can do within their own communities and the programs that have been cre- ated are admirable first steps, but I also think folks need to reach out and make use of the many different resources avail- able in the broader society and become full participants in the larger societal conversation about oppression. The Peo- ple’s Institute for Survival and Beyond in New Orleans does phenomenal work, for example. They have Undoing Racism courses. After I got out of their training, I wanted to do ten thousand prostrations. White folks were able to leave three days of training with a clear sense of their participation in a system that has a mandate to continue cultural domina- tion. They were able to have this conversation and leave, not feeling guilty and debilitated, but enlivened and empowered. They were inspired to begin to examine things in their lives and make a shift. I would love to see the dharma community reach out to some of those resources while continuing to do the things that address the particular needs of our community. There are some really smart solutions out there and we are not doing enough to tap in to them. BOB AGOGLIA: Several board members and staff from IMS attended their Undoing Racism program recently in New York City, and we’ve arranged for one of their senior trainers to come to Barre. I really endorse what angel is saying, because we’ve had a couple of different groups work with us to facili- tate these conversations. And over the last four years we have really made a very intentional outreach to increase the diversity of our board—now five of our eighteen members are people of color. It has changed the conversation in the room, especially for those of us who are white. While the racial diversity programs were fantastic and we need to keep doing them, when we have board meetings with a diverse group of people, it changes my understanding of what it means to be mindfully white—I love that phrase, Larry—and what it means to be a person looking at the dominant culture from the outside in. East Bay Meditation Center dharma study group