Mindful or deluded?: Reflections on being a ‘racist’ anti-racist student of Buddhism who
This is the latest comic piece from my new series, Snarky Fanon. I created this the day after I returned from my first class at the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, CA (EBMC). The class was called “Resilience and Well-Being for People of Color.” It is a three week long class. Snarky Fanon is my new satirical comic series based on my love of critical race studies, including Frantz Fanon, Sarah Ahmed, and George Yancy’s work around critical race phenomenology, the black feminisms of bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, and Katherine McKittrick, and the field of decolonial theory.
This was my first time participating at the EBMC. If you’ve been following my blog series about my personal experiences with Buddhism in the bay area of California (in which I fuse with critical race and whiteness analysis of those experiences), then this comic will probably make sense to you. If you are unfamiliar with the series, you can start here:
EBMC is not ‘supportive’ in a superficial way (by superficial, I am referring to organizations that just have sentences written down that claim they are against all those “-isms” on some piece of paper in their policies section, but it’s not really enacted at a deep structural/institutional level). Literally, being anti all those ‘-isms’ is part of EBMC’s concept of mindfulness. Why? Because to blatantly ignore the reality of things like structural racism and white supremacy on the collective lives of non-white people that you’ll find at EBMC would be unmindful. I’d consider such unmindfulness a form of dysconscious violence/discursive violence (which I’ll talk about a little later). When I participate in a sangha (EBMC) that prefaces their classes or dharma talks with the direct acknowledgment that we in the USA live within a mainstream value system in which structural ableism, racism, sexism, CIS Gender privilege, heterosexism, and classism are the norm, then I know that that is home for me. When we are told that we are sitting in a building on land (USA) that was violently taken from indigenous people and built largely by enslaved Africans, I know “I have arrived.” What that does for me is encourage me to keep ing asking deeply Buddhadharma-engaged questions like: How have structural, institutional, and overt violences of/from the European racial colonial project (which includes not just racism and white supremacy, but heteronormativity, transphobia, and sexism) affected me 500 years later? How have I potentially perpetuated suffering by benefiting from particular forms of such structural violence? What does it look like to engage in the buddhadharma in a way that makes such violences fully present?
I’ve also been thinking a lot this past week about the obvious micro agressions from white [male] Buddhists I received after I posted my experience of healing, love, and comfort at the Buddhist retreat for women of African descent at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA on Sept 8 2012. I was basically called a “racist” because I actively chose to seek out a sangha of women of African descent who wanted to heal from the emotional and physical pains of both structural and overt forms of racism/sexism/sexual violence in the USA.
It is their opinion that I am ‘racist’. This is how they have defined “racism” and/or have not read the plethora of books written that define USA “racism” and “whiteness” in a completely different way (and I do provide those links on my blog). Or perhaps they have read this canon and have drawn the conclusion that the canon of USA critical race studies does not explain “racism” the right way.
For me, I realized that actively choosing to participate in a women of African descent Buddhist retreat for the first time in my entire life was actually choosing not to accept the violence and abuse that I had been experiencing in mostly “post-racial ‘we are all human so stop talking about race'” spaces of whiteness (including workplace, university, as well as certain sanghas or Buddhist events). When I speak of violence and abuse, I’m not talking about the conventional notions of such acts (such as going out and beating someone up on the street, or hurling racial epithets at them). I’m talking about dysconscious racism. I’m talking about discursive or rhetorical violence. I am going to point you to an excerpt from a blog that defines these concepts quite well. In it, the blogger says
I am using Foucault’s concepts of rhetorical violence, which see violence as a set of political, ideological, cultural, and discursive strategies employed by dominant powers. Rhetorical violence is the violence of “modes of domination,” which need not be employed “in a direct, personal way.” Violence in this context goes beyond committing physical violence to include also discursive and emotional violence. Anti-Black racism, which is violence against Black people, takes many forms – emotional, representational, discursive and physical – and it’s not a practice that’s exclusive to one particular race/ethnicity.(source: http://discoatemybaby.wordpress.com/category/racism/)
I’m talking about the repetitive emotional pain and damage done to tens of thousands of non-white people in the USA who are living and/or working in spaces of ‘post-racial whiteness’ and they have to personally deny their lived realities of racism and white supremacy because the U