Your Island Insight steering committee is engaged in practice to unravel the deep conditioning of white privilege, racism, and oppression. As part of this practice, we are reading and discussing Ruth King's new book: Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out. In this blog entry, the steering committee shares an adapted version of a piece Chas wrote in the context of Insight Meditation Society's commitment to healing racism within individual yogis and within IMS as an institution.
In our meditative journey we become aware of, open to, and become intimate with, more and more of the inner and outer world. Some things come into view more easily than others. For various reasons, there can be aspects of our inner and outer worlds that remain hidden from us. To see and understand these hidden aspects and our relationship to them, we often need more than meditation practice alone. For example, with stuck emotional places, sometimes therapy is needed to help bring them into view, hold them gently, and allow them to unwind.
For many white people, racism and other forms of oppression such as anti-semitism and nationalism also do not come into view very easily. It requires intentional investigation and connection with the structures of racism and pain that all people experience -- albeit in different degrees and ways – as a result of these structures. Developing or seeking out workshops and discussion groups can motivate and challenge white sangha (meditation community) members to do the work to see clearly into racism and oppression, and to not move away from the pain. Parallel groups offer sangha members who identify as people of color the necessary dedicated spaces to share experiences and find support within what commonly are predominately white meditation centers.
Dharma teachings state that experiencing Dukkha, or suffering (read: the pain of racism) creates conditions for the cause of suffering (read: racist structures) to be abandoned. The arising of craving that leads to suffering is caused by ignorance that suffering is present. Suffering is caused by ignoring what is true. The suffering of racism arises out of ignorance of the structures that perpetuate it. When white people cease to ignore oppression, this contributes to the end of suffering.
The Dharma teaching of co-dependent arising (paṭiccasamuppāda) informs the work of understanding structural white privilege and racism. Co-dependent arising observes that all things (sankharas) arise when causes and conditions that support them are present, and all things pass away when those causes and conditions change and disappear.
Systems of white privilege did not suddenly appear out of nowhere in our society. They arose out of deliberate actions that white people took to protect the social, economic, and political power they have held historically, and continue to hold. Education, training, and mindfulness practice create conditions for white people to become aware of the structures of white privilege and racism, and to choose not to perpetuate them. Some people will also choose to engage actively to dismantle these structures.
Co-dependent arising is another way of saying that all things are connected, including all of humanity. It is not possible for some groups in our society to be disenfranchised and harmed while others remain untouched. This simply is the law of the Dharma. Our liberation is collective, not individual. Connecting and opening to the injustice, pain, and suffering that people of color endure in this society, as well as opening to how white people suffer in their own way from structural dominance and oppression, allows for a greater understanding of interconnectedness.
As practitioners, we endeavor to make the invisible visible and the unconscious conscious. Because, however, white people often do not recognize the structures of white privilege and racism, sitting on the cushion is not enough. We can focus our practice to wake up to injustice. Each person can make an intentional commitment to to heal and transform privilege, racism, and oppression on all levels of our community –from the individual to the interpersonal, institutional, and structural. How might such a commitment look in our own daily lives? How might it look in our Island Insight sangha?