Author Topic: TELL ME SOMETHING ABOUT BLACKNESS AND I'LL TELL YOU SOMETHING ABOUT BUDDHISM  (Read 1405 times)

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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CHARLES JOHNSON:

TELL ME SOMETHING ABOUT BLACKNESS AND I'LL TELL YOU SOMETHING ABOUT BUDDHISM
 
"My understanding of the Dharma comes in living color, so to speak. As a black woman I can see and experience things others may not, which in turn gives me a 24/7 practice of compassion." Zenju Earthlyn Manuel.
 
E. Ethelbert Miller asks: "What are some of the 'problems' Black Buddhists confront within the Buddhist community?  It seems as if our attempts to be people of the spirit keeps being held back by the chains of the skin. Is there no escaping racism?  Are we ever enlightened?  Are we trapped by the monkey mind of race?"
 
 
 This is a very important and timely question. And fortunately this month  Buddhists of color are addressing it in articles that are powerful, beautiful, and enlightening in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly.
 
 
 Buddhist nun Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, the author of Tell Me Something about Buddhism: Questions and Answers for the Curious Beginner, is interviewed in Tricycle. There she says:
 
        "When I walk out my door, it is guaranteed that someone or something will let me know that my dark skin is not good enough or let me know that I am not welcome. All I have to do is look at a billboard, be followed around in the store, or have the clerk smile to everyone but me. So, every moment the depth of my practice as a black woman in the Dharma is one that requires deep-sea diving and unbroken awareness. My understanding of the Dharma comes in living color, so to speak. As a black woman I can see and experience things others may not, which in turn gives me a 24/7 practice of compassion. I have no time to waste, protest, yell back, or play games. And it is exhausting to act out when I feel wronged. So, with Buddha’s teachings I understood that I could change my response to the human condition. I ask each day, how do I walk as vulnerable and as soft as I feel without looking over my shoulder? I walk with what I know to be true if I am awakened to the true nature of my own life. This is my face. I walk with it. That is how I understand the teachings from the body in which I was born."
 
 
           Zenju's inspiring interview can be read in its entirety if you click on this link: http://www.tricycle.com/blog/difference-and-harmony-interview-zenju-earthlyn-manuel?page=0,0
 
 
The new, winter 2011 issue of Buddhadharma also directly takes on today's question with a powerful and important forum entitled, "Why is American Buddhism So White?" The panelists discussing this issue are Larry Yang, a leader of the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland; Amanda Rivera, a member of Soka Gakkai International; Angel Kyodo Williams, founder of the Center for Transformative Change in Berkeley, California; and Bob Agoglia, executive director of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. The photographs of Buddhists of color that illustrate this forum are just stunning. It was my privilege and pleasure to write the introduction for this panel discussion. I include that introduction below for your reading pleasure, and urge you to pick up the new issue of Buddhadharma:
       

           I would wager that every Buddhist enjoys the story about Hui-neng, the sixth patriarch of Zen, who presented himself as a poor “commoner from Hsin-chou of Kwangtung” to the abbot of Tung-shan monastery in the Huang-mei district of Ch’i-chou in hopes of study, and was rebuked by the abbot with these words: “You are a native of Kwangtung, a barbarian? How can you expect to be a Buddha?” Hui-neng replied, “Although there are northern men and southern men, north and south make no difference to their Buddha-nature. A barbarian is different from Your Holiness physically, but there is no difference in our Buddha-nature.”

For more than two millennia one of the appeals of Buddhism is that happiness and freedom from suffering can be achieved by anyone, regardless of race, class, or gender. But we must remember that all convert practitioners are embodied beings who come to dharma study from somewhere. They are firmly situated in a particular moment of history. If they are American practitioners of color, who from childhood learn to be bi-cultural, some portion of the real, daily suffering they experience in America will arise from racism and social injustice. And in the post-civil rights era this social suffering assumes forms that are so subtle, so deeply interwoven with our individual being-in-the-world, they are nearly invisible to white practitioners.

These unexamined, ingrained patterns of conditioning, are, when viewed from a Buddhist perspective, perfect examples of what we mean by illusion if the racial or cultural self is taken to be an unchanging, enduring entity or substance. They are assumptions about identity that are as close to us as our breathing, so familiar that when these presuppositions are unveiled “awakening” to them can be experienced as deeply unsettling by practitioners who cling to a sense of “whiteness.” James Baldwin explained this well when he said, “It’s not the Negro problem, it’s the white problem. I’m only black because you think you’re white.”

In the societies where Buddhism has taken root, it has adapted to the everydayness of the lives of the laity. But problems arise in a multi-cultural society if one racial group of practitioners, with its preferences and prejudices, has historically been privileged and dominant over others.

The overwhelming whiteness of American Buddhist centers is not a problem just for teachers who want to transmit the dharma to everyone. The United States is presently undergoing a dramatic sea change. Demographers predict that by 2042 minorities will outnumber whites. This “browning” of America is arguably one of the greatest cultural issues in the 21st century, a change that is already affecting everything from employment to popular culture, and especially our system of public education.

 A recent article by Jen Graves in Seattle's The Stranger, entitled "Deeply Embarrassed White People Talk Awkwardly About Race," reports on how progressive whites are addressing this issue through organizations such as the Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites. “Whiteness is the center that goes unnamed and unstudied, which is one way that keeps us as white folks centered, normal, that which everything else is compared to," CARW cofounder Scott Winn says in the article. "I think many white people are integrationists in that 'beloved community' way, but integration usually means assimilation...As in, you've gotta act like us for this to work." 

And Peggy McIntosh, the anti-racism activist and Wellesley Centers for Women scholar, sums all this up well when she observes that, “I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious.”
       
In order to solve this problem, whites must listen deeply to Buddhists of color who are particularly well-suited (and perhaps even karmically directed) to take the lead in healing these wounds, not only in the American sangha, but in the larger society as well.

Offline Battle

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Monday, 15th June 2o2o
Racism Is Terrible. Blackness Is Not.
by Imani Perry








A lot of kind statements about black people are coming from the pens and minds of white people now.

That's a good thing.

But sometimes, it is frankly hard to tell the difference between expressions of solidarity and gestures of absolution (See, I’m not a racist, I said you matter!) Among the most difficult to swallow are social-media posts and notes that I and others have received expressing sorrow and implying that blackness is the most terrible of fates.

Their worrisome chorus:


“I cannot imagine … How do you … My heart breaks for you … I know you are hurting … You may not think you matter but you matter to me.”


Let me be clear:

I certainly know I matter.

Racism is terrible.

Blackness is not.

I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn’t earnestly happy about the fact of my blackness.



When my cousins and I were small, we would crowd in front of the mirrors in my grandmother’s house, admiring our shining brown faces, the puffiness of our hair.

My elders taught me that I belonged to a tradition of resilience, of music that resonates across the globe, of spoken and written language that sings.


If you’ve had the good fortune to experience a holiday with a large Black American family, you have witnessed the masterful art of storytelling, the vitality of our laughter, and the everyday poetry of our experience.


The narrative boils down quite simply to this:


“We are still here! Praise life, after everything, we are still here!”

So many people taught us to be more than the hatred heaped upon us, to cultivate a deep self-regard no matter what others may think, say, or do.

Many of us have absorbed that lesson and revel in it.

One of the classic texts in African American studies is Zora Neale Hurston’s 1928 essay


“How It Feels to Be Colored Me.”


Her playful yet profound articulation resonates for me now.


She wrote,


“I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all but about it … No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”

Some of her words, I must admit, are too hopeful, at least for me right now.


In fact, I do weep at the world; I am, in a sense, part of the sobbing school; and I am skeptical that my lone oyster knife can cut any of the rot out of this nation.

But, like Hurston, I refuse to see the story of who I am as a tragedy.

Joy is not found in the absence of pain and suffering.

It exists through it.

The scourges of racism, poverty, incarceration, medical discrimination, and so much more shape black life.


We live with the vestiges of slavery and Jim Crow, and with the new creative tides of anti-blackness directed toward us and our children.

We know the wail of a dying man calling for his mama, and it echoes into the distant past and cuts into our deepest wounds.

The injustice is inescapable.


So yes, I want the world to recognize our suffering.

But I do not want pity from a single soul.

Sin and shame are found in neither my body nor my identity.

Blackness is an immense and defiant joy.


As the poet Sonia Sanchez wrote in a haiku about her power—and her struggles:

Come windless invader

I am a carnival of

stars a poem of blood


People of all walks of life are protesting the violent deaths handed out by police officers.

This is extraordinary both because the victims were black—and when does black death elicit such a response?

—and because Americans in general have a hard time dealing with death.


Think about how uncomfortable many Americans are with grief.

You are supposed to meet it with a hidden shamefulness, tuck yourself away respectably for a season, and then return whole and recovered.

But that is not at all how grief courses through life.

It is emetic, peripatetic; it shakes you and stops you and sometimes disappears only to come barreling back to knock the wind out of you.

Black Americans right now are experiencing a collective grief, one that unfolds publicly.


And we are unable to tuck it away. 

I do think Hurston would have to admit this too, were she around today.



She wrote her essay before Brown v. Board of Education, the Montgomery bus boycott, the Birmingham crusade, the March on Washington, Freedom Summer, the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Acts, the rise of black mayors, the first black governor, the first Black president.


She wrote her essay before we understood how tightly this nation would grasp onto its original sin even after legions of black people came with razor-sharp oyster knives and hands full of pearls.

Black Americans continue to die prematurely—whether under the knee of a police officer, or struggling for breath on a respirator, or along the stretch of the Mississippi River known as Cancer Alley, or in the shadow of Superfund sites, or in one of the countless other ways we are caught in the spokes.

The trauma is repetitive.

We weep.


But we are still, even in our most anguished seasons, not reducible to the fact of our grief.


Rather, the capacity to access joy is a testament to the grace of living as a protest—described by Lorraine Hansberry, who, as one of the greatest playwrights in the history of American theater, wrote A Raisin in the Sun.

Whenever she recounted the story of black America in lectures or discussions, she pointed to the extraordinary achievements we attained under obscene degradation.


“Isn’t it rather remarkable that we can talk about a people who were publishing newspapers while they were still in slavery in 1827, you see?” she said during a speech in 1964.

Some of us who comment on racial inequality these days are averse to such accounts of black history, thinking them romantic and not frank enough about the ravages of racism.

So I hope that no one is confused by my words.


American racism is unquestionably rapacious.

To identify the achievement and exhilaration in black life is not to mute or minimize racism, but to shame racism, to damn it to hell.

The slavers were wrong in the antebellum South, when they described the body-shaking, delighted chuckle of an enslaved person as simplemindedness.

No, that laugh—like our music, like our language, like our movement—was a testimony that refused the terms of our degradation.

In the footage of the protests over the past several weeks, we have seen black people dancing, chanting, singing.

Do not misunderstand.

This is not an absence of grief or rage, or a distraction.


It is insistence.

And so, I must turn the pitying gaze back upon any who offer it to me, because they cannot understand the spiritual majesty of joy in suffering.

But my rejection of their account also comes with an invitation.

If you join us, you might feel not only our pain but also the beauty of being human.


















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