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The White Guys Were Intolerable

Reflections on “What’s Up with Engaged Buddhism? Who gets to speak?” – a Buddhist Peace Fellowship evening at the Oakland Peace Center with panelists Alka Arora, Katie Loncke, Donald Rothberg, and David Loy, moderated by Jen-Mei Wu and featuring visual artist Kenji Liu, May 20, 2012

[Photo removed by request.]

Right at the get-go, the Baby Boomer generation socially engaged Buddhist expert white guys on the panel were intolerable. All four Buddhist Peace Fellowship event panelists, the two men plus two younger women of color, were seated on chairs on a stage, along with the facilitator, who was a person of color. There were maybe 35 – 40 people in the audience, looking up at the panelists, who had just been given the first question by the facilitator. The white men spoke assertively and with authority, cutting off the women and even interrupting one another. One even noted smugly, when another panelist tried to speak up, that he had the microphone. Since the people on the stage were lined up like ducks in a row, they couldn’t make eye contact with one another. The facilitator was oddly passive and did nothing to intervene.

The title of the event was “Who speaks?” and an acute, prickly discomfort immediately filled the room of the Oakland Peace Center. People shifted uneasily in their chairs, and one person muttered that they couldn’t take it and left. I had completely forgotten that “a secret mission” had been promised in the publicity for this intriguingly titled event, but I didn’t get angry, although I did feel surprised. I’m a Baby Boomer too, and when I was a kid in Ohio a popular TV show was called “Candid Camera,” in which a hidden camera recorded reactions from innocent passersby to people doing bizarre things but pretending they were normal. I knew all of the people on the stage and, unless they had been replaced by lookalike pods from outer space, this was obviously a setup. The tension in the room, nevertheless, escalated rapidly to an unbearable level.

As voices of irritated protest were heard, someone shouted, “Mic check!” and a person in the back of the audience began reciting a speech pointing to the common dynamic in which voices of cisgender, white, heterosexual, owning class, educated men were allowed to silence and dominate the voices of others. The audience, including the panelists, repeated the phrases in call-and-response, in the pattern popularized here by the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Oakland movements. The panelists and facilitators descended from their elevated positions, joined the “audience,” and we broke into small groups to discuss our experience of what had just happened. After this, we arranged all of the chairs in a big circle and the facilitator and panelists started a general discussion of the topic at hand, with everyone else invited to join in.

From facing a stage to sitting together in a circle.

I appreciated the thoughtfulness that had obviously gone into planning this event. Several of the chairs had statues set on them to represent people who could not be present. A portable air filter was plugged in and turned on for people with asthma and multiple chemical sensitivities, and, at my request, after the first email announcement had gone out without any mention of disability accommodations, a second email announcement had been put out with a request that people not wear scented products to this event, along with a carefully worded paragraph about wheelchair accessibility, since the meeting room in the old church was wheelchair accessible but the bathrooms were located at the top of some stairs. A handheld microphone was passed around during the discussion so that people with hearing issues (and everyone) could better hear everything that was said. And, throughout the evening, people could view and purchase revolutionary spiritual artwork offered by another longtime Buddhist Peace Fellowship activist, Kenji Liu. “Who Speaks for Engaged Buddhism?” was obviously intended to be a breakthrough model for a new, more egalitarian, empowering, and nourishing way of inspiring Dharma for social change, going beyond the “talking heads sitting on a stage” type event.

In the general discussion that followed the small group discussion of the opening experiential skit, I personally thought that two of the most interesting points were made by panelist Alka Arora, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Religion, and Women’s Spirituality at the California Institute of Integral Studies, and a first generation Indian-American with spiritual roots in the Yogic philosophy of Hinduism. If I heard her correctly, these were:

  1. Given that most of us probably agree that we want everyone to feel valued, heard, and seen in the Dhammic society we are trying to create, there still needs to be a place for so-called experts, or people in leadership positions who have demonstrated experience, skills, and commitment in certain areas. “If I’m in a medical crisis, I want a doctor who can save my life,” Alka said (I am paraphrasing). “I don’t want a medical team that is trying to reach consensus on how to treat me.” My takeaway from this is that we do need experts, teachers, mentors, and leaders in any area and in any social change movement. And we do need systems that ensure that the expertise of experts and the strength of leaders doesn’t result in their being accorded a “higher” status, disconnection from those whom they serve, and abuse of their power.
  2. Alka also said that when we ask ourselves, “Who speaks for engaged Buddhism?” we might look within. For any given speaker, is that person practicing mindfulness, and are they in touch with the part of themselves that is speaking at that moment? How much of what they are saying comes from self-aggrandizing ego, and how much comes from multiculturally sensitive bodhicitta (the selfless motivation of a bodhisattva to liberate all beings, using skillful means)? Is the person speaking aware of power and privilege dynamics in the room, and what is their relationship to how they use their power and privilege – as power over others, or to be an ally to people in groups targeted for oppression?

Traditional Buddhist monastic practices emphasize restraint of the senses and what Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh, arguably the originator of socially engaged Buddhism, has called “mindful manners,” or codes of behavioral conduct which establish a respectful, peaceful community environment in which social harmony and spiritual awakening have a greater chance to flourish. Hierarchy has its benefits, as those of us who have attempted to write by committee or choose artwork by committee can probably attest.

And every human gathering has its own logic and intention. I am a mother of a young adult, and I have worked a lot with children and youth, so I know how much social conditioning is required to produce a socialized human being. It’s normal behavior for preschoolers in the U.S. to have occasional meltdowns in which they kick, bite, and try to strangle and spit on each other. By the time we get to kindergarten, we’re expected to be able (sometimes with great effort) to sit in a circle, follow directions from the teacher, not interrupt one another, not exhibit certain body behaviors, not steal things from one another, and not use socially prohibited words. That’s a lot of conditioning and reinforcement on the part of the adults doing the training, and a lot of impulse control on the part of the child. We all need to go through this lifelong training in discipline and discernment and, in some cases, such as training in self-defense, to decondition our politeness.

Thus, as socially engaged Dharma practitioners, how and when is it necessary to stop following directions and stop acting politely if by so doing we’re reinforcing a dominant structure that is stifling, disempowering, and monocultural? And, if we speak up, if we object, are we in touch with how our own anger and aggression may be manifesting in how we speak, and do we have an appropriate alternative to suggest? When is the Zen Buddhist master slapping the student upside the head an act of nondualistic wisdom and compassion which precipitates the student’s insight and gratitude, and when is it best responded to by the student leaving the room, pulling out a cell phone, and calling an attorney, or posting a scathing rating of the teacher on Yelp? As Buddhists observing the First Precept to do no harm, are we automatically committed to embrace a stance of nonviolence in social change, and if so, how do we define nonviolence?

“Who speaks?” is part of an ongoing series the Buddhist Peace Fellowship is promising to deliver, to find out “What’s up with engaged Buddhism?” Their approach is innovative, fresh, radical, and empowering and, in my opinion, it deserves to be supported and grown. So if this report inspires you to pull out your checkbook or open your piggybank, don’t be shy. Call BPF staffpersons Dawn and Katie and offer your help. Show up for BPF events, be present, build the liberation movement. As starship Capt. Jean-Luc Picard says in the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation,

Engage.”

Comments (56)

  • Jim Willems

    After the 70′s when men learned that women actually exist, and that they might have something useful to comment, we have come full circle to white men speaking wholly from the head. How could this possibly be bodhicitta? Dominance is more than a habit, it is arrogant willfulness.

  • Max Airborne

    WOW! Thanks, Mushim, for the fantastic description of this event! Just reading the first part pissed me off — I felt like I was in the room! So sad I couldn’t be there.

    I’m really grateful and encouraged to know folks are talking about this and doing creative events such as this to help our diverse communities look at these dynamics. The proverbial white guy who takes all the air space is waaaay too familiar. I hope that we can all learn skillful ways to deal with this when it arises. Was any of this discussed? It’d be great if there were follow-up sessions where we got to do role plays about how to deal with this skillfully. My unfortunate tendencies are to roll my eyes, shut down and/or leave. I need to develop more skills to stay in the room and ENGAGE, and I’d like to develop this skill with others, so that it can more easily become part of our culture.

  • Mushim

    Thanks, Max. I love your recommendation of role plays for “the audience” and would love to see more written about the “roll my eyes, shut down and/or leave” response and how it can be transformed into the Capt. Jean-Luc “Engage!”

  • Mushim

    Jim, I appreciate what you wrote here. Are you saying that all dominant behaviors are conscious and intentional?

  • Jim Willems

    No Mushim. I am sure quite often the white men simply have been trained to be aggressive in conversation. Their interruption of one another is example of that. But the lack of civility and the refusal to let women of color speak is surely partly conscious. Yes. It makes me sad. I am personally tired of hearing myself speak and would love to have shut up and listened to the other folk talk.

  • Katie Loncke

    I’m excited to think together about the difference between conscious understandings of dominant behaviors, and the ways we may also unconsciously repeat or allow these patterns and behaviors. One of the reasons we BPFers really wanted to try surprise guerilla theatrics as a way of illustrating power dynamics is because this format can communicate on a bodily and emotional level in ways that intellectual discussions often can’t. I think someone summed it up well in a comment that appeared on my Facebook wall today, under Mushim’s link to this post:

    “WOW! Nice account Mushim. I may have mistakenly been one of the ones who “couldn’t take it” and left early. But seems like the experience of it makes for more radical shifts in ideas than just talking about it. Getting it in the bones so to speak.”

    That’s exactly where we were coming from. I feel sad that the dramatization alienated one person so much that she left, and I hope we can do a better job around that next time. But the ways we experience these behaviors “in the bones,” or viscerally, also seems really important — something I’m learning more about through friends who are training in generative somatics, or body-based healing work connected to social justice.

  • Katie Loncke

    Loving this idea about more role plays and skill shares. It’s something I think the folks at generative somatics incorporate into their trainings. Have you ever done somatics work along these lines, Max? Any recommendations of any groups that you think do the role play thing really well?

  • Gonshin

    Wow..reading these posts makes me feel badly about having been born white and now for being a 41 year old Buddhist White Male.
    Is this a Racial Profile?????????
    No Anger…just a question…..

    Gassho,
    Gonshin

  • Mushim

    Hi Gonshin, thanks for your question. The good folks at Buddhist Peace Fellowship who designed the opening piece of theatre at this event could give you more information about their thinking behind it. You may already be familiar with Peggy McIntosh’s work, which is a wonderful resource for white people, cisgender men, and heterosexual people who want to become more familiar with how unexamined privilege may impact their own lives and those of others. It’s on the Internet for free download. Here’s one link: http://www.iub.edu/~tchsotl/part2/McIntosh%20White%20Privilege.pdf

    Thank you for your intention of compassionate dialogue.I gassho to you, as well!

  • Bonnie Duran

    What an excellent account of a wonderful event–Sadhu, sadhu Mushim. I recently spoke at a public event and had the humiliating experience of a white man in power trying to silence/direct my voice, right in the middle of my talk — and it wasn’t staged. I can testify to the hurt, confusion and powerlessness one feels in the moment. I subsequently went into retreat for a month and the incidence popped up repeatedly in my meditation. Now I know what I’m going to do: I’m going to sit down with my friend, the “perpetrator” and share this article…

    I think this approach resonates with the embodied, non-speculative dharma that the Buddha taught… The person who left is a symbol of how our reflex is to turn away from suffering (negative vedana), which is not a neutral position, but an act of cruelty to others and ourselves. Opening to Dukkha is the proximal cause of compassion to arise.

    hugs Mushim and Jim.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Dr. Duran,

    Just to clarify, because I feel a little confused, are you saying that you see the person who left the event as participating in cruelty by turning away from their own and others’ suffering?

    Thank you.

  • Dawn Haney

    It’s one of the striking features of systems of oppression: we are born into certain social positions from Day 1 and have little ability to change our position. We’re then either given or denied access to privileges based on this social position.

    We are born white or Black or Asian or Latino or Native or of mixed race, and from Day 1, the world starts treating us differently because of this. The different treatment actually started before Day 1 – like how my white parents were able to move into a “good” neighborhood so I could go to decent schools, while Black and Brown parents were still subtly excluded from neighborhoods and sometimes whole towns in the 1970s in rural Indiana. I didn’t choose it, but I generally got better schooling than Black and Brown folks in rural Indiana who are the same age as me. And that has given me an unearned advantage in the world.

    For a somewhat tongue-in-cheek version, there’s an article going around comparing privilege to a video game, “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is” – http://jezebel.com/5911165/straight-white-male-the-lowest-difficulty-setting-there-is

    We were excited to do the dramatization as a way to notice how so many of our socially engaged Buddhist elders, those we look to for help framing engaged Buddhism, are white males from an older generation. Which isn’t to say we didn’t want to hear from them – I have so much respect for Donald & David, and have learned so much from their years of study and leadership. The questions for me are: Are these the ONLY perspectives I want to hear from? Are these the most relevant perspectives that should be shaping the FUTURE of socially engaged Buddhism? [I'm writing more about the development of this event, which will hopefully be posted next week on Turning Wheel. More to come!]

    Lots of resources are available, and one of the things we might work on at BPF is developing more of these resources that include a Buddhist understanding (since all these systems of oppression serve to keep us separate rather than support our interdependence). I’d love to hear what would be most useful & engaging to folks!

    Lots of info on White Privilege & how it’s institutionalized/White Supremacy: http://cwsworkshop.org/resources.html

    Anyone have a good resource list on gender? I found this interesting, but haven’t read it all:
    http://www.shakesville.com/2010/01/feminism-101.html

  • Dawn Haney

    I second Katie’s recommendation of generative somatics – it would be cool to have a workshop of engaged Buddhists role playing this together!

    I also think this is a skill we can learn from some of our small town and rural peers. Having moved to the Bay Area recently, I find it a particular big city privilege to be able to disengage from people who don’t already think like me.

    When I lived in a small town with 15,000 people, I didn’t have the luxury of leaving when someone started behaving obnoxiously. I suppose I could leave, but I would just see them later that day in the grocery store. Or the following week at another meeting. And with only 15,000 people to choose from, if I shut everyone who was obnoxious out of my life, my circle of friends would have gotten very small!

    I would love to see a skill share that recognizes this expertise from small town folks – especially since so much “expertise” flows the other direction.

  • Mushim

    Dawn, this is the first time I’ve ever seen the point you are making, related to geographical diversity and whether we come from a smallrural town or from the “Big City.” Here’s a newspaper article that I thought demonstrated the “expertise of small town folks” you’re talking about: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/04/us/maine-resident-struggles-to-heat-his-home.html?pagewanted=all

  • Mark

    When asked the question, “Who speaks?”, shouldn’t the response be ‘compassion’, regardless of its outer form?

  • Lee Lipp

    Dear Mushim and Staff at BPF,

    I have much enthusiasm and admiration for the fantastic educational and “can feel it in the gut” experience that BPF provided. And the title of your article, Mushim, surely got my attention…I’m so glad, cause the article is mighty fine as it sounds like the program was. With appreciation for the humor and clarity you are oft able to bring to some mighty difficult issues – I hope everyone will be able to spend a few minutes to read the article. I’m sending it on to others. With warm regards and gratitude, Thank you, Lee
    __._,_.___

  • Noelle Imparato

    “Who Speaks?” is an interesting question specially in the context of the cultural/economic crisis we are going through. People staged the way in which women are being silenced. That’s good, but I think that’s been addressed now for quite a few decades. What I don’t hear about in the “Engaged Buddhism” articles is the recognition that our government has been highjacked by the malevolent forces of hyper-capitalism. People talk a lot about consumption and the desire of people for these glitzy goods. But no one seems to unveil the fact that these desires have been manufactured, excited, fired up by corporation via propaganda. Remember the set up to make cigarets desirable by women? It’s all PR and propaganda. ANd in my opinion people would be a lot more sober if our own president was not telling them “Consume and save the country.” So what’s the point about telling people to control and restrain themselves when all day long they are brainwashed with propaganda. We need to speak out the truth. We need to acknowledge that our government has been highjacked by the ‘malevolent’ forces of hyper-capitalism.

  • Mushim

    Hi Noelle, you may be familiar with the exciting work that this event’s panelist David Loy has been doing in a Dharmically based critique of capitalism that relates directly to the good points you raise in your post, above. David Loy’s book “A Buddhist History of the West: Studies in Lack” was described thus by the Journal of Asian Studies: “A polymath’s tour through intellectual and social history, David Loy’s Buddhist retelling goes far in revealing the historically conditioned limitations of many dominant Western terms, metaphors, and assumptions. By reinterpreting greed, ill will, and delusion as structural rather than personal problems, Loy offers a compassionate account of ways that we make ourselves unhappy and a trenchant critique of market capitalism’s manipulation of these habits of mind.” — The Journal of Asian Studies

  • Dawn

    What a heartbreaking article. Breathing in compassion, breathing out compassion.

    I have experienced that sense of tight knit community in mountain towns, particularly where everyone has to work together for basic survival. When I lived in the high desert in Colorado, people banded together across party lines regularly. Because whether you were Republican or Democrat or Independent, everyone knew that the most important political issue for the area was making sure the community had enough water.

    I’ve appreciated Thich Nhat Hanh’s articulation of “non-attachment to views” as a way to stay connected with people who view the world really differently than I do. Which I had to do regularly sitting in rooms with people of so many political stripes!

    “Aware of the suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, we are determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. We are committed to learning and practicing non-attachment to views and being open to others’ experiences and insights in order to benefit from the collective wisdom. We are aware that the knowledge we presently possess is not changeless, absolute truth. Insight is revealed through the practice of compassionate listening, deep looking, and letting go of notions rather than through the accumulation of intellectual knowledge. Truth is found in life, and we will observe life within and around us in every moment, ready to learn throughout our lives.”

    All of his mindfulness trainings are available here: http://deerparkmonastery.org/mindfulness-practice/the-fourteen-mindfulness-trainings

  • Dawn

    I’ve been pondering a point made by David Loy at the event on May 20 (videos of each of our 4 featured speakers will be going up next week, so you can see them yourself!)

    David quoted Slovenian philosopher Slavok Zizek who said, “while Western Buddhism presents itself as the remedy against the stress of capitalism’s dynamics–by allowing us to uncouple and retain some inner peace–it actually functions as the perfect ideological supplement” (in this article: http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/2122/).

    How has Buddhism – particularly forms that emphasis stress reduction or becoming more comfortable with what is – been hijacked to support capitalism? Is Buddhism inherently supportive of capitalism? Are there elements of Buddhism that we’ve lost in the move West that would help us question and dismantle our current form of capitalism? When we ask “who speaks,” do we get any clues about why Western Buddhism and capitalism have become such good bedfellows?

  • Bonnie Duran

    Dear Anonymous, (Please call me Bonnie)
    Unfortunately, as unenlightened beings, we all engaged in multiple acts of aversion daily: cruelty is one kind of aversion. I apologize if it seemed I was casting inappropriate aspersions on the person that left.. I “myself” was very very close to not even finishing Mushim’s brilliant article because of my own reflex to turn away from suffering (Dukkha) but probably since I’m just out of retreat and worked specifically on deconditioning aversion for negative vedana, I finished the article. I am the person who left too…
    sorry If I was overly harsh or direct. Thanks for your question.
    Much metta to you Anonymous,
    Bonnie

  • Bonnie Duran

    Dear Anonymous,
    Joseph Goldstein gave a brilliant talk about Compassion as a key component of awakening, and indifference to suffering, while I was at the Forest Refuge– I just looked for the URL to post it, but its not up yet. Ill check back at Dharmaseed and post it when its up.
    Metta
    Bonnie

  • not happy

    I am so happy to see these things being talked about , listened to ect ….as Indigenous people , Native m tribal , clans , whatever you want to call us or what we call ourselves , people of color whatever , identity is an issue on us all the time and always so ,much pressure , leave us alone ……. stop just stop stop stop stop .
    I am not so well in myself as I am being sent mad by all this crap and then try find peace in a mediation or zone that is meant to be helpful and instead, I find that I feel I am constantly in a war zone where all I get is exhausted by constant questions and people wanting from me all the time and wanting from Aboriginal people , culture , or just I don’t know what …what is that they want ??? so I save up and then I go to retreat , and it is silent , but , after when people talk they still are going on and on and on and on ,….. I AM sick of priveleged white people going on and on and on and on . sick of educating them , sick of being patient , sick of the colonisers , sick of it all , even look below , to post this you have to know what they call simple Math , well , right there is a barrier , most , a lot , of the Aboriginal people I know DO not know basic math , and then you say , that is to know if we are human , hmmm, right there folks right there is colonisation in action still NOW today , today folks not in the past ,

  • not happy

    its not a bout color its a bout culture , its about ways of being and doing , its about class more than race , privelge , privelge and entitlement , and gender , all of it , people can be coloured and be class priveleged and have a sense of entitlement too , or be arseholes who treat women badly and use their colour to put others down , who are lighter skinned , etc , but yes , mostly ‘ WHITE ” CULTURE /. we should MAYBE say COLONISING CULTURES . are what is the problem …. and it still is going in now , hey I got a lot of white friends , most are ok … heee hee .. u know , they aren’t that different , heck some of them even have showers and have clean houses .

    oh there is that damn security question AGAIN , GEE JUST AS WELL i SPEAK ENGLISH . AND CAN DO MASIC MATH , OR I WOULD NOT BE HUMAN , HOW BOUT we ask people to add in lakota and do basic pow wow , ,u know , so we know they human , hmm. yeah u right I am unhappy and yes suffering , maybe I should go to a nice white run male led retreat with someone with their own home they inherited from their parents who got it from money made from stolen land and broken treaties and pay or get a scholarship and oh be so grateful after for how much peace if gives me ….. its a load of crap./

  • not happy

    sorry , look A LOT OF GOOD people , I know , trying hard to do better and be better humans and metta and all that , helped me alot too in my life , but , right now , right now , I am just not caring anymore what I say , not being polite , not being quite , not keeping the anger and sadness adn grief stuck inside me anymore , cause it is killing me /. so , well , there u go , you want to help , heal , want reconcilation with us , wnat to help make it better , THEN hear this , Indigenous people are sick of ebing treated like shit , racism suxs and we are over it . I am over it , so you want to help , then liasten breathe this in and try make a difference in the real world ,

    now I will feel., bad for saying all this .. blah b;ah should be all healed and worked out and forgiven it all , but sorry that failed , I am just now angry hurt mad as hell.

  • Katie Loncke

    To not happy, yes! I’m really appreciating a lot of the points you’re raising, and agree with what you say, here and below. Class often means more than skin color, especially these days, when it comes to colonizing dynamics; and how burdensome it is to be exoticized within mostly white spaces of meditation. (I think that’s what you’re saying? Forgive me if I’m wrong… it reminds me of what someone in the meditation center I attend said in praise of the People of Color meditation group on Thursday nights: that it was such a relief to not have to constantly deal with the question, “Oh, where are you from?”)

    I’m thankful you brought up the “basic math,” because I also have been feeling weird about the math spam-blocker here, both in the wording (making sure you’re a human) and in the function, since I’ve gotten the question wrong hella times already! I’m sorry for the trouble it’s causing — we are actually working to overhaul our entire web site, and in the future I hope we can have some spam blockers that do the job well (so we don’t have to be constantly monitoring for spammy comments, which has happened in the past) but also make it as easy and accessible as possible for folks to share thoughts here. In the meantime, what we can do is disable the math problem for the comments and see how that works. If we get overwhelmed by spam, we may need to turn it on again until we figure something else out.

    Most of all I just wanna thank you for speaking your truths, which I am certain resonate with a lot of folks of color encountering the dharma in meditation spaces. For myself, I know I have definitely felt a cultural message, intentional unintentional, that in order to practice dharma, I should calmly and kindly accept racism and cultural b.s. directed towards me, and placidly beam out golden rays of light as I educate others about my culture or background. Wack! It is okay to get angry about these dynamics, in my opinion. Then the question is, what do we do with our anger?

    Anyway, thank you again for contributing — this is exactly why conversations like this are so needed, in my opinion. Hope you’re well,

    katie

  • Katie Loncke

    its not a bout color its a bout culture , its about ways of being and doing , its about class more than race , privelge , privelge and entitlement , and gender , all of it

    Yes, just wanted to say again that I think this is really important. Especially because “decolonization” in so many places has merely resulted in native nationals taking over the same ruling-class structures, instituting massive corruption, and collaborating with neocolonizing powers like the World Bank.

    And on the subject of “Who Speaks,” I think that’s very important because it reminds us that tokenism gets us nowhere. Plenty of people of color are racist and reactionary; plenty of women and gender-variant folks are super sexist and patriarchal. To me, the content of someone’s politics, or as you say, ways of being, is critical.

    And yeah, this stuff should make us mad, I think! Otherwise, perhaps we aren’t truly confronting it.

    much thanks and metta in struggle!

  • Not haPpy

    Thanks for the reply and response … Maybe this is as much about ” who is listening ” who speaks is one part but who listens .
    We – as in Indigenous people are screaming – suiciding at ages as young as like 10 years old … Being put in prisons for things like swearing … ending up dead for daring to challenge ” the man ”
    Out health remains the worst in the world despite being in A first country and no matter how angry or loud we scream or for that matter how NICE we are generous and understanding kind and resilient – things remain the same — little very very little changes … Where are the woman and people of tribal backgrounds on the posters in the films on tv except as ” s

  • Not haPpy

    Sorry got cut off – just saying …. What u already know — but i see in. The USA black african American people of color and hispanic latino in movies sports films shops mefia etc way way more than indian or first nation first peoples indigenous tribes peopkes same here in Australia – and withthe dharma hello buddha was Not a White guy ??? Nor was Jesus a white guy ! What is white is a colonised mind not a color – mind has No color .
    im going on a bit here as im bein anomynous so i feel safe plus i currently am really sruggling and as i said before very angry and very full of grief sadness loss sad at injustice sad at how i see peopke cut otgers down sick of seeing EGO everywhere selfishness tired of trying … Very tired – sorry for mtself im not spouting positive ” we can do it ” slogans … Tried that … Maybe ” we cant ” because its not ” us” who needs to change – we been changing since they came in on their ships and stole our land massacred us took our languages and lands took us as. Children to missions and hones or adopted us ( becquse we were light skinned or half caste ) labelled us studied us researched us exotised us and niw want us to teach them about the land and spiritual life and get skin names … Hello its not us needs to change we changed we need those ” white colonised mibds to shut up stop speaking listen and change ” ” yes They can ” and no we wont – nomore enough no more – im not gonna be kind or put up with shit anymore – they can kill me lock me up i dobt care anymore im goi g crazy anyway – which is what thos does to you in the end … Please keep talking with me ok . Thanks meta

  • not happy

    thanks for LISTENING kATE , THANKS A LOT ,

  • Not haPpy

    Thanks for listening and responding

  • RV

    I was not at the Buddhist Peace Fellowship event, and I appreciate the article by Mushim, but I felt some knee jerk reaction to the title. I am a person of mixed raced. I am mostly a person of color. I know it is important to acknowledge race and inequities but not in a negative context. I feel the title to this article is inappropriate. If the title stated “The People of Color were Intolerable”, I’m sure many people would take issue. I have dear family from the south who are white. They live in one of the most repressed cultural communities I have seen due to religious and economic pressures. They are poor whites who suffer more then many of my friends of color from a social economic stand point. Again, I realize people of color in this country have their unique past and present history of repression due to racism and privilege but all people suffer. The suffering of a privileged white person may or may not be worse than a person of color. As Buddhist, we need to be open tall suffering equally while acknowledging the differences at the same time.

  • Katie Loncke

    Hey folks, quick housekeeping update: we gotta turn the math problem spamblocker on again for now, because we’re getting inundated with spam (almost 50 comments today already and it’s only 3pm!) and it’s taking up too much time to try to keep up. But we’re also working on getting a replacement spamblocker: hopefully one that just asks you to copy the wiggly-looking set of random letters and numbers. If you have suggestions for other WordPress plugin spamblockers that you like, please send them our way!

    Sorry about this, and thanks for your patience! Meanwhile, I’m appreciating the discussion.

    ~katie

  • not happy

    no worries I reckon in the end the mathnis easier than the swiggles that are even harder to work out , esp if non engish speaking … sorry for makig a dificulty , but it was such a perfect example of what we live with all the time . also I have liked being able to join this convrsation asI have been really sufferinga round class , race , and otherness issues and its been killing me and I feel see it everywhere and once where I felt I could make a difference and also felt kind and patient and so on , that education etc was the way , I have I think hit a bottom of burn out over work , and sick of egos and selfishness and MALE DOMINATION AND WHITE MIND WORLD COLONIAL THINIING AND SICK OF IT so much so HAVE BECOE VERY UNWELL . SO THANKS . I WILL GWT BETTER .

  • Breeze Harper

    not happy, my heart goes out to you. There have been a plethora of studies showing how racialized minorities have higher rates of of high blood pressure, anxiety and heart attacks to name a few, that are linked to having to deal with systemic whiteness 24/7.

    I think Joseph Cheah’s new book “Race and Religion in American Buddhism: white supremacy and immigrant adaptation” (Oxford Press 2011) would be a great text for people to refer to. Particularly those on here who think that the article is about attacking individual white people versus understanding what systemic whiteness does to one’s consciousness; what racial formation does to everyone’s consciousness and how it affects approaches to even ‘mindful’ practices such as Buddhism.

  • roadrunner

    Have you considered changing the forum to council practice? This way you bear witness to all that needs to be heard. Another idea is to ask is asking three small things…is it kind, is it necessary and is it time? One has to carry the lamp for oneself at all times; at all moments. Too much analysis does not produce peace. We bear witness to the suffering of others; we do not add to it.

  • Marianna

    I wondered if “a bout culture” was a purposeful pun or not – Deborah Tannen says we have “an argument culture” which promotes competitive speech. It’s easy to get caught up in it.

    I like your point about the security question. I wonder if some of the online comments are weeded out for people who have math challenges or visual disabilities – I know I sometimes can’t read the damn things.

    The business of passing the microphone is very important – those who can’t hear also can’t participate effectively in the conversation. I see this with my mother as she loses hearing.

    Oh goodee! I know what 13 + 3 is. I guess that makes me a human. But wait, haven’t calculators been able to do that simple math for many years? Are they people too? And people who can read and write but can’t do math – they’re not human are they?

  • Dawn

    Another part of the dialogue that I hope continues is on allyship.

    I happened to be born with characteristics that give me a certain amount of privilege in this world – white skin, an able body (at least for now), some financial stability growing up. I could sit around feeling guilty about this, or I could figure out ways to use this privilege to help dismantle the systems that gave me unearned privilege in the first place.

    I appreciated this article, and the distinction it makes between “guilting” people about racism versus helping white folks find options about how to be “good” white people: http://racefiles.wordpress.com/2012/06/01/the-good-white-people-a-quick-tip-on-countering-interpersonal-racism/

    In general, I’m suspect of any strategy that relies on guilt and shame as a way to change people’s hearts. And I think that even this strategy of helping people be “good” whites still relies on this underlying sense of guilt and shame about racism. But I also think it creates space for white folks to get past the initial guilt and start engaging in questions who benefits when poor white folks are pitted against poor Black folks. (or you can substitute middle class, or women, or Native Americans, Latinos, or Asians)

    It’s one of the reasons I find “The 99%” rallying cry of the Occupy movement to be so evocative – because it points to who benefits the most when the rest of us are busy fighting each other because of race, class, and gender differences.

  • not happy

    I really apppreciate Breeze and others writing here , yes and it is ” whiteness” as in white is not a culture, and is a color I guess … u know , we say ” white ” and we mean , colonisers , oppression , the ” man ” usually ” white and heterosexual ” and short , hee hee … nah , really …. Look , in the USA you use therms like People of color and a whole lot of terms in Australia we don’t use , we also don’t do the half caste , half blood , quantum thing , well not in theory. You either , white Australian , meaning born here and mostl likely coming from a european white coloured people place , or way back 200 yrs ago is as far back as you can from irish or welsh mro scots or poor brits who were bad off and sent here as alsaves along with islanders from the pacific who were slaves here too and the chinese immigrants – then we have us , the Aboriginal mob , us , we got wall messed up 1 in 3 of us were taken from families and out in homes or adopted out , cause we were’ light skinned ” or had mixed parents … we have passes to leave missions ( like reservations ) and they massacred us , posioned us all the same as there … we are only in our 3rd generation or second of this recovery … I am .. my mum had me taken off her …. so … yeah grew with white traumatised folks who also had tough loves , noone has a corner on INDIVIDUAL SUFFERING , THIS IS NOT about that … but , whitepeople , well I am sorry , but white folks got rich on pur backs man , stole the land , stole our identity , still stealing it … and they do not listen , LISTEN , SHUT UP AND LISTEN , u KNOW , just listen . you do not know everything ( who am I talking to now ) I do not know…. I am sorry , I am having a f…. breakdown for real. so I am a mess , and dharma used to be a refuge , for me the only place felt sane and safe , now my mind it is blown a fuse , 3rd time , this life , butthis tiome I don’t know ….. we willl seee………… anyway , what i want to say and saying it very badly is white folks PLEASE GET OVER IIT AND IF U ARE TAKING IT PERSONAL GOOOOOD cause it is personal , it impacts me every damn day I wake up and see my half caste mongrel breed face staring back at me ,and I am gay too …. so ….. yeah if your offended GOOD , cause I am sick and I mean sick of vbeing nice , nice noce nice to all ya and any people who look at me and think Im white can go jump too , I am light skinneed so what , I am Aboriginal I am aboroigianl aNDF i know who I am ,…. and I cna usually spellbut at the moement cant be borhterewd as on medications adn so can jhust write thjios off as well as being the words of a nut case right.

  • Mushim

    Breeze, thank you for your response. I want to read the book by Joseph Cheah asap!

  • not happy

    yes it was intentional a BOUT OF CULTURE… HEEE HEE. CAN U SEND me any papers links > interested .

  • not happy

    can u send me email ? hmm how do we do that privately ????

  • Katie Loncke

    if you’re talking to me (katie), then yes, I can hit you up using the email address you provided to comment! for other folks, hm, i’m not totally sure if we can communicate our addresses here without everyone else being able to see them … if other folks have suggestions or workarounds, pls chime in!

  • not happy

    i want to read that book as well thanks breeze

  • not happy

    IN RESPONSE TO ROAD RUNNER , SAY more please , how are we adding to it , doscourse with kind intent is what is imporatnt as well and sometimes things need to be expressed , snd if they are about suffeirng then is that not bearing witness , say more , do you thnk things are being said hat are hurtful or negative , is it not a case of neither this nor that , you know we are where we are , … I am unclear what you are saying , say more please .

  • Mushim

    As I follow the unfolding of this dynamic and powerful online dialogue, I feel a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude for David Loy’s and Donald Rothberg’s willingness to play the part of “the bad guys” in this theatrical presentation. They are both allies to people of color or POC in the U.S. (I’m acknowledging that “POC” is a U.S. term and also that it is a term not used by all non-white people in the U.S. I also acknowledge that the term “POC” can be problematic for people of mixed heritage if they are asked to choose between caucus groups that are for “white people” or “POC,” since neither group reflects how they self-identify.)

    To effect positive social change and to work toward Dhammic or Dharmic societies, we need everyone, 100%. To my knowledge, the Buddha didn’t discriminate against the ultra wealthy people of his time, nor did he discriminate against the poorest of the poor, or anyone in between. The monastic Sangha accepted everyone who was willing to enter a more level playing field, so to speak, which for the wealthy people meant giving up their comforts, luxuries and privileges, and for the very poor people probably meant a relatively safer and better supported lifestyle in terms of food, clothing, and medicine offered by laypeople to the monastics. That having been said, there must have been lots of differences between monastics who were highly educated, and those who were illiterate; between those who were in vigorous good health and those who found it difficult to walk the dusty roads as the Buddha traveled from place to place.

    Fast forward to today in 2012, to the largely laypeople-constituted membership of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and we can see that, as Not Happy has so powerfully written from Australia, we aren’t talking about individual suffering, which deeply affects people of all races, all cultures, all nations. This BPF event pointed to the need for new structures and formats and ways of being together in which all voices are supported to be heard, and the hearers develop increasing capacities to be curious, open, patient, and respectful when listening to voices they find difficult to relate to, empathize with, or understand.

    In listening to another human being, when do I shut down, become dismissive, cynical, or cease to respect them in my mind? Is it because I’m exhausted and drained (a common health issue among marginalized peoples), or angry and irritated, or because I am frustrated because I don’t feel seen or heard? Does the facilitation of a given event recognize and try to correct for differing levels of power and privilege among participants, whether they are presented as “experts” or as “audience members”? How can we benefit from what experts, whatever level of power and privilege they may have, can tell us if they actually do have expertise — in other words, if we give someone with a lot of knowledge on a given topic who has carefully prepared an information-rich and insightful presentation 10 minutes to speak, and we give someone who for personal reasons wants to talk about something completely different the same 10 minutes, is this what we’re aiming for in the interests of “equality”? As the good folks at TODOS said when I took a diversity facilitator training with them years ago in Oakland, “When people gather together to do grassroots work, there is struggle.” How can we be in and with this struggle long enough and with good health and good humor enough to co-create and evolve new ways of being together that are beneficial for the greatest number of people and beings on this planet? That’s the question I wake up with every morning here in Oakland, California.

  • Sam

    I read the BPF e-letter that went out and the account of the panel talk. I did not attend this event.
    One reaction was that while I recognize that BPF and engaged Buddhism is essentially a vanguard movement, the language and references used would be unknown, seem foreign or even alienatingto two thirds of Americans. In other words, are we finding ourselves just talking or arguing (narrowly) amongst ourselves, a small group? How is what we explore and work on relevant to mass change, relevant to most or a whole lot more, people? (An old issue and one too that confronts the Occupy movement, which is looking for “traction” too.) Example: Leonard Peltier? “Leonard who?” most Americans would ask and then move on, I imagine. AIM is a toothpaste, no? That’s not to say Peltier’s case or story doesn’t have value, it’s just that is realistically marginal or invisible for many people today.

    What can I add that might move us forward? I recommend watching the Ted.com talk by Professor Haidt on right vs. left thinking and how prioritized values influence political leaning and understanding them can help us find more common ground and so longer lasting change. Or read his recent book. It’s insightful, new and gulp, challenging.

  • Mushim

    Sam recommended we look at the online video of this TED talk by psychologist Jonathan Haidt. Here’s the link: http://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind.html

    The description of the talk says: Psychologist Jonathan Haidt studies the five moral values that form the basis of our political choices, whether we’re left, right or center. In this eye-opening talk, he pinpoints the moral values that liberals and conservatives tend to honor most.

    Jonathan Haidt studies how — and why — we evolved to be moral. By understanding more about our moral roots, his hope is that we can learn to be civil and open-minded. His new book is “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.”

    Thanks, Sam!

  • Rick Harlan

    I almost missed it.

    Funny thing happened to me on the way to preparing for the next day’s Joanna Macy-inspired workshop The World Is Calling. I saw a forwarded email from Bonnie, decided to read it, got upset and almost passed over the button “to read the rest of the article” for later! (which often ends up being “never”, I admit!)

    I was upset just like the person who muttered she’d “had enough” and left (hope she was part of the theater….). Only it was easier for me to leave– just scroll down to the next never-ending emails!

    I almost missed it, because in the email I got, the set-up, the theater, was all you see on this opening page. You don’t see that the photo and the opening description of the event describes a deliberately crafted, too-real, too-awful, too-often experience we all get to one degree or another all the time. Except that, to one degree or another we deal with it WITHOUT “engagement”.

    The more privilege and power (white, male, higher class background and/or current status, older, heterosexual, educated, WASP/Catholic, able, etc.—and I have half of that list) the easier it is to deal with these kinds of terrible experiences by shrugging it off, ignoring it, or even not noticing it on any level at all. But opposite for opposites, for members of minority oft-targeted groups: Jews feel they must notice who’s Jewish and not,: POC notice POC/white, even white poor or working class whites are “passing” but wary; and young sure notice old, etc., And this is true for noticing also not just who’s present, but also who’s in charge or just taking charge & getting the air time.

    So what’s actually new about this BPF “Who Speaks” event?…. Not even new tho rare to have someone put focus on these elephants in the room.
    –What’s new here is people setting up a meeting that turns out to be theater-of-the-oppressed kind of thing, where attendees have to process not only with their heads but with their hearts and bodies (uncomfortable, embarrassed, angry, scared, at least prolong-edly irritated!).
    –And also new that who’s doing this purposeful hi-jinx, BPF, is a historically non-ethnic-buddhist and mostly white organization that’s had plenty male leadershiip in the past. Altho I’d hope that “surprise” would have hearty approval from past Buddhist Peace Fellowship leaders like Aiken Roshi and and obviously from Alan Senauke (who’s credited with this perfectly selected photo–with the exception that the white guy doesn’t have his mouth open speaking!).
    –Also new to plan in a “people’s mike” rant where attendees have to hear then repeat what everybody should know AND fix/act on about these hegemonies and power-over’s.
    –And new that break-out groups happened right there right then while the energy was raised. Wish I’d been there! LIke to do something like it here in the Seattle area. Even tho now the secret’s out, it’s an inspiration and shows a broad range of connections in the Bay area for the new energy of Buddhist Peace Fellowship. Emaho, and Yay!

  • Mushim

    Hi Rick,
    Thank you for not missing it! It would be great if you initiated a similar engaged Buddhist event in the Seattle, Washington area! In case you haven’t seen this information previously, here are some great exercises from Theater of the Oppressed work that could be done up in your neck of the woods: http://organizingforpower.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/games-theater-of-oppressed.pdf , perhaps adapted through a Dharmic lens?

  • Denis Martynowych

    Kudos to the those that set this up! and to Mushin for writing so eloquently about it in this issue of Turning Wheel.

    I appreciate it when we get a chance to test the depth of our ability to act with grace ad wisdom in oppressive situations. What a great way to learn about oneself and notice if one fell asleep, went along, walked out, or were able to do something more useful for everyone.

    Too often we use our practice to “find a peaceful place”. Too often listening to Dharma talks is limited to an intellectual process instead of an embodied one.

    Thanks to BPF for offering a creative way to learn from our reaction to challenging situations and see how we can apply the practice of mindfulness in action!

  • Mushim

    Hi Denis, I appreciate what you say about using our Dharma practice “to find a peaceful place.” I think there’s an irony or perhaps an inevitability that for so many people, there needs to be an initial step of establishing a relatively quiet, peaceful feeling — maybe mellowing out to quiet “spiritual music,” doing stress reduction guided visualizations, and calming down enough to stabilize, ground, and center …. and then there’s applying and testing that inner stability in situations that are chaotic, stressful, and conflictual. That is, everyday life when all our buttons are being pushed and punched. Quite a few people have said they got so angry just reading the first part of this article that they stopped reading, assuming they knew what it was about, and thus didn’t realize that the situation was a theater exercise until someone pointed it out to them. At least one person read the whole article and still didn’t understand that it was a theater exercise because they were so upset.
    I recently took the 2-day Kingian Nonviolence Training offered by the Positive Peace Warrior Network (cosponsored by East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, California), and we saw a very powerful movie that showed civil rights protesters being trained to sit upright, silently and with dignity, while other protesters played the part of aggressive hecklers who circled closely around them, yelling curse words and insults. I doubt I would do very well under that kind of pressure, even knowing it was mocked up, and my admiration for the people who engaged in nonviolent direct action for civil rights is unbounded.

  • Bruce A. Jacobs

    As usual, Mushim, you’re in the thick of it, and that’s a good thing! Thanks for writing about this. When I started reading your piece, my first response was, “What the…?!” since I know one of the male presenters and I couldn’t fathom how he could possibly act like such a jerk. But after you revealed what’s behind the curtain, I felt (and still feel) a ton of respect for the cleverness and chutzpah of this little stunt and of those who pulled it off. I agree with both of your points: 1.) We do need experts (man, do I ever need the guy who just replaced my front brakes!), but we have to be careful to not worship or commodify “expertise,” which capitalism does really well: it gives us an excuse to not challenge approved “knowledge” or to use what we ourselves observe. And 2.) We need to be careful about substituting ego for awareness. I think, actually, that sexism and racism (and other supremacies) are really forms of hyper-ego that fool people into accepting a sense of dishonest power or privilege. I try to deal with this in the books I’ve written about racism (for anyone interested, info about my latest, Race Manners for the 21st Century, is at my blog: aliasbruce.typepad.com), and I find the trick is to deal with the reality that a lot of good people have very bad and destructive ideas, or, put another way, to see how embracing and loving the innate goodness of someone’s personhood is a foundation for fearlessly confronting the badness of some of their (and our own) ideas and behavior. What I love about the staged “forum” and the subsequent raw conversation of the “What’s Up” event you write about is that it brings everyone in the room straight to that place: in effect, “What the hell did we just do, and what of it is really who we are as opposed to what we have simply inherited?” We don’t get many chances like that to be plunged into the ugly moment with sexism/racism/other isms while also mutually embracing our shared goodness. I think this same process, actually, is key to building a movement that can enable the female/male/color/white/straight/gay 99% to break through the wedge issues that keep us apart so that we can start building an actual democracy. I’m glad you were there, Mushim, and that you wrote about it.

  • Mushim

    Thanks, Bruce, for feeling the powerful potential of this Buddhist Peace Fellowship interactive event, all the way from Baltimore! For me, you really hit the nail on the head when you say “We don’t get many chances like that to be plunged into the ugly moment with sexism/racism/other isms while also mutually embracing our shared goodness.” Both things need to be present for all of us to grow, collectively: confrontation with the horrifying pain of isms in their living manifestations *and* mutually embracing of people’s shared goodness. One is not complete or beneficial without the other. I personally think this is exactly what you do in your Race Manners books and this is what you exemplify in how you live your life. I deeply appreciate your faith in shared goodness and the many ways that you bring it out in others across lines of difference.

  • Mushim

    Men explaining things to women — here’s a great read: http://www.motherjones.com/media/2012/08/problem-men-explaining-things-rebecca-solnit

    In it, author Rebecca Solnit writes: I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the trajectory of American politics since 2001 was shaped by, say, the inability to hear Coleen Rowley, the FBI woman who issued those early warnings about Al Qaeda, and it was certainly shaped by a Bush administration to which you couldn’t tell anything, including that Iraq had no links to Al Qaeda and no WMD, or that the war was not going to be a “cakewalk.” (Even male experts couldn’t penetrate the fortress of their smugness.)

    (Solnit continues:) Arrogance might have had something to do with the war, but this syndrome is a war that nearly every woman faces every day, a war within herself too, a belief in her superfluity, an invitation to silence, one from which a fairly nice career as a writer (with a lot of research and facts correctly deployed) has not entirely freed me. After all, there was a moment there when I was willing to let Mr. Important and his overweening confidence bowl over my more shaky certainty.

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