Reflecting on Racism with James BaldwinOn Sun, 7 June, 2020 - 15:51
Dear Sangha friends,
I wanted to offer you a podcast to listen to in these times.
Listen to the podcast on ‘Nothing Is Fixed’ by James Baldwin’
Paramananda and I met on May 25 to record a conversation for The Buddhist Centre Online. At the time George Floyd had not yet died an unjust death in an encounter with police. Another black man Ahmaud Arbery’s shooting while jogging in Georgia was in the news. Our conversation began with a poem from James Baldwin and opened to reflections about the relevance and purpose of meditation in the times we are in - pandemic, the highlighting of anti-black systemic racism in the disproportionate covid-19 impact and recent murders of black people in the U.S.
The actual list of names of black people whose deaths link to the toxin of racism is much, much grievously longer. It is a unacceptably growing number of African descended peoples that started in 1619. 1619 the first year enslaved African were shipped and sold to colonialists undertaking the settling and seizing of territories that were home to Native Americans.
If you are not clear about the story of any of the black names above, I ask you to do your work to learn their stories. To bear witness. To understand the show of solidarity and moral conscience showing itself in large numbers of people turning up to declare that black lives matter and that we do not want to live in a world of policing that terrorizes black people and communities. This is a moral call and action and a call I resonate with as a dharma practitioner rooted in the first precept fo non-violence and love. A call that community building is where our nation’s collective energy and resources should be directed, and not to an increasing project of criminalization and surveillance and othering of non-white bodies.
Please practice deep, deep empathy about why there may be such an intense response manifesting in protests across this country. Please work hard to see the unjust systems at play in this country that lead to such disparate impacts on black people, black communities. Please resist being distracted into superficial narratives about looting (property loss is not comparable to the persistent, unchecked loss of black lives). I ask you, what is the main story here, the story we should be concerned about?
Please consider how concern can translate to action - and practice being active. Our practice is inclusive of acts of body, speech and mind. I’m not prescribing what that action should be. I am asking for Buddhists to not reduce the wonderful treasure of dharma to merely its contemplative gifts. In the podcast we ask, “What is the purpose of meditation?”
A final thought, we are now entering pride month. 51 years ago, LGBTQ patrons at the Stonewall Inn, led by people of color - specifically trans women of color - rose up against police brutality. This is not a new struggle. I leave you with the James Baldwin poem.
For Nothing Is Fixed
For nothing is fixed,
forever, forever, forever,
it is not fixed;
the earth is always shifting,
the light is always changing,
the sea does not cease to grind down rock.
Generations do not cease to be born,
and we are responsible to them
because we are the only witnesses they have.
The sea rises, the light fails,
lovers cling to each other,
and children cling to us.
The moment we cease to hold each other,
the moment we break faith with one another,
the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.
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I thank Buddhafield for posting these words and add my blog link:
Thank you for acknowledging that “When we make people ‘other’ than ourselves and in doing that shore up our own sense of security or control it is not obvious how this harms us all, but when we look deeper we can see that it does.
Many thanks for your podcast and your reflections and for writing about this. I loved that talk you did on Buddha Day too, a highlight for me of that day.
I really echo what you are saying about the need to inform ourselves and embrace the aspect of Buddhist practice which is about how we show up to witness and respond to suffering in the world.
A few questions I have been musing on for a while but now have more energy as a result of following the protests over the past few weeks:
How and where the Sangha can have a creative conversation about how to respond to the suffering that stems from prejudice, racism and oppressive behaviour?
How do we explore our own prejudices and biases and how do we free ourselves from them?
How does our conditioning create a lens through which we create “other”? What greater clarity would result from being able to see through the veils that our conditioning create?
What greater diversity in our own Sanghas might be possible and how would that come about?
This feels to me a real crucible where we can explore what Transforming Self, Transforming World really means today, in these circumstances and with each other.
I really hope the protests about the violence of policing brings about transformation and real change. And not just in the US.
Thanks so much Viveka for your words inviting me and others to reflect on the realities of racism and my / our Buddhist practice.. .
The death of George Floyd seems to have shocked me in to turning towards these issues and to start talking about racism in a much more open way than i ever have .My own unconscious and conscious prejudices and my desire to help support the growth of of a Buddhist community that acknowledges there is work to be done in this area and starts to do something …..? I know im not alone in thinking in this way s as a i talk to friends in my local Sangha.and i hope i and others can seize this window of opportunity. .Thank you Viveka for your suggestions of where to start if we are not sure … get to know the stories of the people you mentioned .
Thanks also for your comments Maitripala, i resonate with what you have expressed
love to all
Here are videos by two black Americans who strongly disagree with Black Lives Matter, and who give a very different perspective:
I object strongly to this very political piece being published on the Buddhist Centre Online.
I am deeply concerned by your response.
Did you not watch the video of George Floyd’s slow and painful murder? 8 minutes and 47 seconds in which 4 police officers slowly and deliberately asphyxiated him whose only alleged crime was poverty and the attempted use of a $20 counterfeit bill. Mr. Floyd was unarmed and most heartbreakingly was calling out for his mother, crying for help, as bystanders tried in vain to get the police officers to ease off.
Did you not watch the videos of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25 year-old black man, whose only crime was jogging in a white neighborhood. A young man who was chased down and then murdered by two armed white residents, one an ex-cop. They were not arrested and charged for months.
And lest we forget, Black people have been 3 times more likely in the US to die of COVID -19 - and let’s be very clear, this is also because of systemic and long-standing racism in this country (stemming from slavery).
My question to you is, why the need to change the subject and divert attention away from these horrific and violent crimes perpetrated against black people. I refuse to turn away from these painful truths.
I highly commend the Buddhist Centre online for publishing this letter, and thank Viveka for the balanced and wise sentiments expressed. What I object to most is that we would turn away - that we cannot rise to meet Viveka’s heartfelt request:
I think you need to reflect very seriously on your responses to myself, Garavachitta and Ratnaguna, and the assumptions which are behind those responses, especially when you use phrases such as ‘why the need to change the subject and divert attention away’. Such phrases are typical of those used in identity politics to stop discussion. Typically they divert attention away from the very serious need of those who are proponents of such politics to question their own motives, assumptions, serious prejudices, and habits of thinking with rigid (and often bigoted) political stereotypes.
Also, here is a statement that you and others supporting BLM should read and think very deeply about:
I imagine you still haven’t watched the video. But if you have, I’d be interested to hear what you felt and how your heart responded.
One more thing to say. I actually grew up in a working class family in the UK, so I do value those debates. I am on board with the fact that poor people of any race suffer tremendous injustice, prejudices and are disadvantaged in our cultures. I have personally experienced that. I have in fact examined data about police brutality against poor whites-And as a data nerd I have looked and notice that the data is different depending on who is publicising it and speaking about it.
What I mean by not turning away or diverting attention is - can we look at what happened with George Floyd and not see the injustice? Can we remain focused for this time on this issue-this painful, awful reality he and other black people have experienced and continue to experience.
I can tell you as a working class woman, as a queer woman, indeed as a woman, there are plenty of other just causes I’m engaged in. But I have copious personal experience in both the UK and US of my white skin giving me tons of unearned privileges my friends of color do not enjoy. A few examples:
- I have never walked into a store and been followed, or harassed - I have been with friends of color and seen that happen. Almost all these examples are well educated women, not in poor neighborhoods, but in nice middle class neighborhoods.
- I have only once been stopped going through an airport- happened to be Amsterdam and I was stoned at the time. Yet every time I go through an airport in the UK and US, I see mostly people of color being stopped and searched.
- I have never had racist slurs and threats thrown at me in the streets - I have been with friends of color when that has happened.
- I have never been stopped by police, unless I was doing something i shouldn’t have been - many of my friends of color have. I’ve also heard plenty of stories of black professionals talk of being followed by the police - this has never ever happened to me.
- When I am stopped by the police, they speak to me with respect. I don’t have to worry about reaching for my glove compartment and they think I’m reaching for a gun.
- I have never been refused a job or a place to live based on the color of my skin, and many of my friends of color have.
There are many more things I can list, but these are examples of how we might consider the unearned privileges we enjoy as white people. I do believe this is a time to focus on racial inequalities and injustice. We can simply look at the data of COVID fatalities. 3x more African Americans’ have died. And that’s a direct result of systemic failures in the US system to care for these communities.
And for what it’s worth, I don’t believe this makes me rigid. As a chaplain I am called upon to give equal care, attention, love and consideration to all my patients, many of whom are Trump supporters or christians who hate queers. I don’t see my compassion for black Americans as limiting my ability to connect with any of these people and show them care. In the face of their suffering, my views become irrelevant. What matters is their suffering and my heart’s response to that suffering. I’m confident that if I was sitting as a chaplain with Officer Chauvin, I would provide him the same compassionate care. That’s what I love about my job - it calls on me personally to go beyond my views in every encounter. To reach into that deep well of compassionate understanding and find expression for a larger Truth.
But that is not and will never be the same as accepting and buying into systemic injustice.
And once again, I appeal to all of us who are white to educate ourselves gently and kindly. Know we can make a difference.
Thank you Padmadharini, I find what you write well-judged and compelling. Best wishes to you, Mahamati
Thanks for this. I am with you completely.
Each time someone uses the phrase ‘identity politics’ my gut reaction is deep sadness.
It is a phrase by which any view is reduced and discarded and exposes something quite concerning.
I think it’s worth remembering that during the cultural revolution In China - which had many similar traits to BLM and the cultural Marxist movement surrounding it (such as the destruction of monuments on historical-ideological grounds, calls for self re-education,and collective expressions of guilt) they destroyed countless statues of our Refuge the Buddha.
Would that be an example of a ‘distracting narrative’, or would it be the case that angry, ideologically driven mobs and their liberal uncritical supporters are likely to reproduce the same mistakes and crimes they have throughout history?
I’m afraid I cannot see that replacing one form of evil with another is at all likely to lead to a skilful and happy outcome in any way whatsoever.
I agree, Garavachitta. There are strong parallels between BLM and the cultural revolution in China, and only harm will come from ideologies of evil. Also, here is an interesting piece about the current situation and its parallels with revolutions in the past:
I agree with your observations Garavacitta. They remind me of an article I read some time ago in Quillette, A Mania for All Seasons: The Continuing Importance of ‘The Devils of Loudun’. Huxley writes:
The effects which follow too constant and intense a concentration upon evil are always disastrous. Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes even perceptibly worse than it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself.
All the best,
I can only repeat what I said above to Advayacitta.
Perhaps by focusing on the lives of these innocent black men and women, we can take in and reflect upon the horror of what they experienced.
What Viveka is proposing is not an intellectual debate. She is asking us to consider the lives of real people, and real tragedy.
You may not be aware of how unsafe America is for black Americans. My 27 year-old black stepson has often been stopped by the police, and has expressed how afraid he is for his life.
I urge you to watch the videos and allow yourself to see what is happening.
Hi Garavachitta, you’ve employed a ‘slippery slope’ argument here, which is extremely weak. You imply that BLM activism and damage to some monuments is a slippery slope leading to a cultural purge as in communist China. To convince a reader you would need to convince us that the rest of the causal conditions that led to the Cultural Revolution were in place.
And meanwhile, serious murder of black Christians continues:
Where are the protests against it?
I came out of a secluded home retreat to pictures of burning cities in the news. It was a few days after the killing George Floyd and protests were going on in dozens of US cities. On retreat, I’d been reading the Chapter of the Eights in the Sutta Nipata and four of the suttas were about disputes and views, SN 4:5, SN 4:8, SN 4:11 and SN 4:13.
I think that set up the context for my reflection in a particular way. Specifically our relationship with the views we hold and how we relate to those who hold views that differ or conflict.
In my view, the practice of the precepts, though we often focus on our individual expression of them, also have a social dimension and this was a community of people saying that their very lives were threatened by hatred and their thriving hindered by daily experiences of aggression both intentional and unintentional rooted in prejudice.
These mass movements, like Black Lives Matter are secular organisations who need a theory of change to base their work on. They couldn’t be effective if they didn’t have some analysis of this, some worldview or paradigm on which to base their strategy. If I want to act in support of the positive change I want to see, I am going to be faced with allying myself with a group who have a worldview that isn’t explicitly Dharmic.
Here I would like to take something from what I understand Advayacitta and Garavachitta are saying. Its a missed opportunity if we don’t look through the lens of our Dharma practice and bring awareness to our own worldviews and why we hold them. We have a responsibility to act with wisdom and awareness so that we don’t become part of the problem, creating polarisation with those who don’t see things as we do, pitting one tactic against another as better or the “only valid way” etc etc.
We need to examine for ourselves, what worldview we find abhorrent? What does that tell us about our own worldview? Are we willing to critically examine our own worldview as thoroughly as the one we abhor?
But my concern is that we don’t bog ourselves down in this reflection in a way that hinders our ability to act, and act in a timely way. Don’t let too much analysis close down an opened heart. My heart has long been open to this issue and the last week has opened it much more. I am heartened by the picture of Viveka here and her request to us to practice deep deep empathy. My main impulse now is to form links with others who wish to respond in solidarity with those who are crying out for change. I want to wholeheartedly examine my own biases, my own racist conditioning. That is a path of freedom for me, not on a political or even a psychological level but on a deeply spiritual one.
Here are a couple of challenges if you care about this:
If the worldview of an organisation is too big an obstacle, find other campaigns that you feel more aligned with. Just as one example, the NAACP, one of the longest standing civil rights organisations in the US has been working on voting rights in the Black communities.
Try to really listen to people who have a perspective radically different from your own. If you struggle with Black Lives Matter, I could recommend a book called When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele, Patrisse was one of the founders of Black Lives Matter. This largely autobiographical book spoke to me of her deeply personal motivation to protect and serve her community and family who were suffering. You can find a free ebook here.
Thank you for the recommendation of Patrisse Khan-Cullor’s book ‘When they call you a terrorist’ Maitrisara. She has suffered a lot in her life and some parts of the book are painful to read but I am learning and reflecting a lot on it.
Thanks also for your recommendation of organisations such as NAACP for people who struggle with BLM’s viewpoint. A lot of comments on here are from U.K. so I will have a look what other UK organisations there are. Amnesty International for one highlights the injustice and militarisation of the U.S.’s criminal justice system.
Like a couple of others who have posted comments, I’m unhappy that such a political piece has been published here. Of course I’m against racism, but I’m also against group hysteria, because nothing good ever comes of it. Did those who demonstrated know that the killing of George Floyd was racially motivated? Of course not. They assumed it. It may be that that was the case, but a rational person would wait to hear the facts before acting.
In response to this, I quote from the Guardian, about some of the people that we know have been killed during the riots (there are more):
And we are supposed to resist being distracted by these “superficial narratives”?
I have to say I am most shocked that you would post this as someone respected in our movement Ratnaguna.
Are you talking about yourself Ratnaguna? That you would wait to hear the facts before acting? I think this can only come from an incredibly privileged perspective - that of a white person who simply has no idea what it is to be on the receiving end of racism.
The fact is that the death of George Floyd, an innocent black man murdered in plain sight served as the catalyst for pain, rage, disbelief - on the back of years of police brutality and the disproportionate number of black people who have died as a result of COVID 19.
Are we able to take that in? - and as Bhante himself calls on us in practicing the first precept - to imagine ourselves as the other - to place ourselves in the shoes of our black brothers, sisters, children, mothers, fathers, and sangha members– and deeply empathise with their need to shout from the rooftops that BLACK LIVES DO INDEED MATTER!
Ratnaguna - I also express my shock that someone as respected, wise and a self-professed anti-racist as yourself could presume that this killing was not race-based. That seems incredibly naive, cold and irrational. Indeed a ‘rational person’ could quite easily draw that conclusion from the concrete evidence of hundreds of deaths of black people against that hands of white police officers, the fact that Floyd’s killer has 18 complaints against him, that Floyd’s death was unprovoked, and the well-documented institutionalised racism prevalent in the US police force. What more evidence would you need?
Similarly, the point about looting not being a superficial narrative is a clear misinterpretation of what Viveka is saying. The point was about not being distracted by right-wing politicians and media down-playing the protests and accusing them all of being looters, destroyers, etc. Of course, loss of property during these weeks has been tragic, but the REAL story is systematic racism enshrined in the institutions on the US and many, many countries that demeans and degrades billions of humans. For that, I can give you tonnes of evidence.
FYI, the police in the US killed 1,004 people last year. About 250 of them were black. They killed 40 unarmed people last year. 9 of them were black. When you adjust the figures for crime rates, there’s really no difference between poor black and white areas as far fatalities involving the police.
If you’re interested in learning more about the statistics this video goes into a bit more detail:
I strongly suggest that instead of writing such things as ‘that seems incredibly naive, cold and irrational’ you really start to question your own assumptions and biases. Your response clearly indicates that you assume that either someone must have the same views as you, or they are naive, cold and irrational, etc. In other words you are good, they are bad. Very seriously consider this definition of ‘bigotry’ - ‘intolerance towards those who hold different opinions from oneself’, and then contemplate what you have just written.
Guess what? I won’t be taking your advice. Empathy and trust are needed for that and as pretty much everything I have seen you write here is defensive and offensive I see no reason to take your advice seriously.
I have lived in every major continent in the world for extended periods of time, and worked with some of the world’s poorest and most oppressed people. I have seen the injustices they face, often with dignity. So far from being a bigot, I consider myself to be one of the most open and tolerant people I know!
How about you Advayachitta? How do you go outside of your cultural comfort zone to face your own biases and prejudices (which all us unenlightened beings have)?
And as far as my judgements against Ratnaguna go, I was simply using his logic of ‘rationality’ against him, and genuinely, genuinely shocked at how he could come to such a conclusion. Can you empathise with that Advayachitta? Can you understand how a video which caught the horrific expression of Derek Chauvin on camera as he knelt on George Floyd’s neck, plus all the history of white supremacy and police brutality in the US etc etc. would lead me to be surprised that anyone could not believe it was race motivated?
Police killings disproportionately affect black people. Two-and-half times as many as white people. Comparing poor black people and poor white people seems unfair and skews the states when the proportion of Black Americans who are poor is way higher than the level of White Americans who are poor.
Hello Ananta. Could you give me more information about your statement ‘Police killings disproportionately affect black people’. I’m curious about why you come to that conclusion.
Have you had the opportunity to look at the video I linked to above? I myself am just about buried under a pile of videos recommended to me by friends, so I can appreciate that it’s not easy to find the time to watch yet another video on youtube. However, in this video Wilfred Reilly, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Kentucky State University, goes through how the statistics are actually done - not in too much depth, I’m glad to say.
He does seem to suggest that what you’ve said above in inaccurate. There’s quite a lot of interesting stuff in the video, for example, I had no idea that the poorest communities in the USA where either white or native american. Please do have a look.
“I‘ll tell you what‘s walking Salem—vengeance is walking Salem. We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!” (The words of John Proctor, from Arthur Miller’s play ‘The Crucible’:)
Hi Advayacitta. I am wondering whether you can take your own advice and deeply contemplate on what you have just written (or rather quoted).
I want to make a few comments on your approach to this subject. When you say “Did those who demonstrated know that the killing of George Floyd was racially motivated?” I wonder what kind of “facts” you imagine a “rational” person would need. Much of what is “racially motivated” in America is masked under layers of denial and an unexamined sense of entitlement. I say this as a white American who is familiar with my own tendency to an ignorant attitude that sees my successes as mostly to due to my merits. What is important here is that much that is racially motivated in law, culture and economic opportunity does not include a lot of easily uncovered “facts”. That said, historically in America, when facts about “racial motivation” are readily available and uncovered by researchers they are often not given a platform and are subject to a much higher degree of scrutiny than most other forms of thesis. That is why this statement is not really in alignment with an informed way of approaching this topic.
I am unaware of how much you know about the brutal oppression that Black people in America have endured in recent history. There has been system wide segregation imposed by government policy upon all parts of America. This segregation was imposed by federal policies even in places where it was not the norm and not requested by residents.(read “The Color Of Law”) In many places black people have been forcibly removed from neighborhoods thru violence and in some cases military style bombings(look up greenwood massacre 1921 and Hamburg Massacre 1876). As these kinds of things become more and more unacceptable in polite conversation, subtle euphemisms and ways of operating that could not be regulated became the norm. Banks for example would not extend loans to black people and insurance companies would not insure homes because “Home buyers who are likely to disturb harmony are a risk to home value.” “Racial Motivation” has been hidden to large degree without really having it mitigated as much as many white people like to think.
I hope this informs your understanding of the issue at hand. If you are interested you can read my story towards the end of this thread. Understanding these things is what will help make one “undistracted by superficial narratives”. Once you know the extent of this still hidden reality then perhaps a comment about the lawlessness might not be superficial. Know that people who want to deny the severity of what black people endure use the kind of language you are using to mask and misdirect attention from it. I am not saying you are doing this. Im just trying to help you understand.
Hi Ratnaguna, I suspect your reasoning is bad here. You imply that someone witnessing George Floyd’s killing could either check the facts before acting, to make sure the killing was actually racism, or they could descend into group hysteria. This is the fallacy of false dilemma, since there are other possible rational responses, for instance, concluding that the killing of George Floyd is one killing too many in an ongoing pattern, which in itself could not be attributed solely to racism, but taken together with other such killings, suggests to a reasonable person that racism is involved. Just to say with others, I know perfectly well that you yourself are not racist.
This comment has been removed by the person who posted it.
I’m interested in how to apply the fourth precept to debating areas of social policy we are not personally knowledgable about. The argument on this thread about the validity of the Black Lives Matter perspective is a good example. How do we know what’s true?
In the spirit of being willing to listen to disconfirming evidence against my own current opinion, I watched all 36 minutes of this interview suggested by Dayavajra, which is with Wilfred Reilly, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Kentucky State University.
Reilly’s claim is that “there is very little statistical evidence” for the disproportional impact of police violence against Black people. And thus Black Lives Matter is basing itself on a flawed rationale.
So in the same spirit, it seems reasonable to assess his data. He cited three sources of data during the interview.
The first was the Bureau of Justice Statistics which if you go on that website, is virtually impossible to find any data about deaths in custody broken down by race/ethnicity. The Use of Force page was the closest I could find to the relevant information. Further digging (see below) casts doubt on the completeness of the information on this site. I also found it virtually unusable as a data source for the layperson.
Fortunately, Reilly also referenced the Washington Post website who set up their database because of the flaws in the centralised statistics. This site is very clear and doesn’t agree with Reilly.
This academic site based at Harvard helps to inform journalists with reliable data.And it explains something about the inadequacy of the data around this topic. They reference a recent study that a black man is 2.5 times as likely as a white man to be killed by the police and a black woman 1.4 times though there are 20 times the number of killings involving men. (1)
But Reilly argues that if you adjust the data in various ways (adjusting for age etc) the differential “goes away” though he doesn’t reference this.
The only research he quotes is from 1995 by Dinesh D’Souza about income gaps. I looked up D’Souza. I don’t think its fair to assess him on the basis of his wikipedia page though its a bit alarming so I looked up D’Souza’s own website to see what he had to say about himself.
He seems to have a politicised angle, for example “the real party of fascism and racism is now and has always been the Democratic Party” and most of his publications and film making have been angled in a similar way so his research doesn’t fill me with confidence either. It would be the same if his website had a strong left wing bias.
So I’m sorry Dayavajra, but this hasn’t convinced me but it was a good exercise in testing evidence.
Meanwhile, I prepare for pre-mitra study tonight where we are studying the 4th precept. I was struck by the definition of truth Vadanya uses.
(1) Edwards, Frank; Lee, Hedwig; Esposito, Michael. “Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by age, race-ethnicity, and sex,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, August 2019
Thank you Maitrisara for taking the trouble to examine the evidence in such depth and for providing the links so we can, if we wish, follow your example.
Thank you for doing this leg work to check out the supporting evidence for these assertions.
I did the same in the past to check up on what turned out to be spurious claims regarding the incidence of false allegations of sexual abuse. A labour for which I never received the courtesy of even an acknowledgment let alone a response.
I hope that you fare better and receive the kind of reply that your work deserves …. but I wouldn’t hold your breath!
Much Metta, Aranyaka
It’s been one benefit of being furloughed to be able to have enough time to dig a bit into topics like this. But I rarely have the opportunity to spend time doing it and will be unfurloughed next Monday anyway.
Maybe the main reason I did this was as a reflection for my own learning - why do I believe what I believe? An attitude experiment for myself. What is it like to take in disconfirming views? Even though I couldn’t correlate the data with Reilly’s message, he made some valid points. My YouTube feed is now showing me loads of videos from a similar perspective as Reilly’s which only goes to show how quickly these algorithms reinforce a particular point of view and why we should be wary of watching video after video that Youtube suggests to us. It can be such an echo chamber.
That’s why I’m interested in the polarity maps (attached here) that you and Katannuta wrote about because if we are willing not to discount the “other” with a stereotyped view based on the worst we imagine the other “side” can be, we might have a more useful conversation. And redirect energy away from polarisation. Something creative comes out of diversity if we could only learn how to handle it.
I came across some writing from Lama Rod Owens, one of the first African American teachers in the Kagyu tradition. This is what he writes about Sangha and puts it very beautifully:
We can each only take responsibility for that for ourselves I guess.
Really loved this piece by Viv, especially about practising deep, deep empathy and to imagine others’ lives I think the Black Lives Matter protests and strength of feeling being demonstrated now are a sign of deep pain that African-Americans and black people in other countries have been feeling about decades and centuries of Systemic racism.
I think that this is a good time, rather than being sidetracked by views about looting and riots and offering up examples of other groups of people being persecuted, to examine our own conscious and unconscious racist views and conditioning. Yes, of course there are many groups of persecuted people whose plight is not being highlighted enough by the media, I agree with that. That was also my initial response.
I don’t often think about the fact that I am white confers me some degree of protection from others perceptions but at this time I am a lot more aware of it. Those of you who are objecting to the ‘political’ theme of Viveka’s article , I am assuming you are also white and that is why this subject may be causing you discomfort as it’s forcing you to think about something you take for granted. I agree with Viveka that educating ourselves about how our modern societies are built on the legacy of colonialism and are still affecting people now is a good place to start. Also then making some difference in the world with this knowledge.
The dismantling of statues in the US and U.K. reminds me of Iraqis toppling the statue of Saddam Hussein and people in communist Eastern Europe toppling statues of Communist leaders. I would say these were destroying icons of despised public figures who were reminders of oppressive regimes, rather than cultural vandalism, as mentioned about Buddha statues being destroyed.
Your assumptions about me are wrong. My response to Black Lives Matter and to identity politics in general is, first of all, based upon these verses of the Dhammapada:
“Those who entertain such thoughts as ‘He abused me, he beat me, he conquered me, he robbed me’ will not still their hatred.
Those who do not entertain such thoughts as ‘He abused me, he beat me, he conquered me, he robbed me’ will still their hatred.”
Moreover, with that context I have observed, over decades, the development of modern identity politics, and have long recognised that, whilst it apparently involves attempts to combat specific forms of hateful prejudice, it actually involves the development of what I call ‘inverted prejudice’. Thus it divides people up into good groups, who are ‘victims’ and bad groups, the latter being demonised and subject to hateful prejudice. Such identity politics personifies the first of the Dhammapada verses I have quoted.
I also worked for four decades as a clinical psychologist, helping people overcome the psychological harm they suffered as a result of hateful behaviour by others. In that context I have observed how harm affects people and, sadly, how many people who have been harmed go on to harm others. I also have observed the harmful effects of irrational guilt„ which is something identity politics specialises in trying to instill into the demonised group, such as white people (for example as the supposed inheritors of ‘privilege’ due to colonialism).
Furthermore, I have studied the cultural and political underpinnings of identity politics, especially how much of it has developed from Marxism, an ideology that has been responsible for many tens of millions of deaths.
That is the basis on which I condemn identity politics, in all its forms. I recommend two books on it: ‘The Madness of Crowds’ by Douglas Murray, and ‘The Tribe’ by Ben Cobley.
I will also here point out another worrying aspect to identity politics, the rise of antisemitism that is associated with it. It is of note that the BLM demonstrators in London defaced the memorial to Winston Churchill, the man whose leadership meant that Europe was released from the murderous rule of the Nazis, who were the appalling epitome of antisemitism.
And as someone wryly pointed out with respect to the ‘counter’ Black Lives Protest in London yesterday:
One suspects that these so called ‘counter’ BLM protests are in fact simply Right Wing Racist protests…..
I appreciate your concern for the effects of acting out of hatred. I hope you understand that anger and hatred are not necessarily the same thing. Anger over systematic disenfranchisement of black people and the unjust use of force can be an expression of compassion. And when you use this quote…
“Those who entertain such thoughts as ‘He abused me, he beat me, he conquered me, he robbed me’ will not still their hatred.
Those who do not entertain such thoughts as ‘He abused me, he beat me, he conquered me, he robbed me’ will still their hatred.”
I expect that you are aware that this is Dharma teaching so it is…
“of the Nature of a Personal Invitation, Progressive, to be understood individually, by the wise”
It is not something for laying judgment upon the anger of others who have and are being abused, beaten, conquered, and robbed.
In my opinion this is a serious misuse of Dharma teaching.
I hope you can understand this. Your condemnation of “identity politics” sounds like you are saying that those who are oppressed simply on the basis of how they are identified should stop complaining as if its their fault that they are targeted by the identity that they are branded with. Black people did not create the political situation that targets them and it sounds like you are saying they shouldn’t stand up for themselves. I hope thats not your intention. I also hope you aren’t suggesting that white people like me shouldn’t feel and act supportively in that effort.
If that is your intention… It’s a confusing one for me to behold in a fellow Buddhist.
I hope you are finding yourself well and I hope that what I say does not offend but inform.
You are making lots of seriously wrong assumptions. Please reflect very seriously on why you are doing this.
I do, I am, and I will reflect seriously. My intention is that you do as well. I doubt it ever helped to tell a person they are “seriously wrong” without further clarification. That is why I made the attempt to explain how things seem to me. That is one way that communication can work.
I also request that you seriously reflect not only on “why” but also on effect which you can only find out by listening.
Im hoping for you and all our good that we can do this together.
Disappointed with the response from some of the Order Members on this post.
Some of you were far too quick to dismiss this obvious plea to be heard. For once, let’s listen to the people who are obviously in pain, so that we might collectively heal from this.
Simon, The way you’ve quoted Ratnaguna is a little disingenuous, if you don’t mind me saying. His sentence that followed what you quoted is:
It sounds reasonable to me. Context is everything.
Thank you, Simon.
I share your sense of disappointment
I appreciate Viveka taking the time to write and share her responses to the BlackLivesMatter campaign. I find the responses both from my dear friend Maitrisara and people I know and respect like Ratnaguna and Advayacitta moving, interesting and unsettling.
The thing I feel most concerned about are the comments about this being ‘too political’, I don’t really understand what is meant by that and in what way it would be true. Could it not be said that issues that are too political are exactly the kind of issues that we need to bring wisdom and compassion to bear upon? At least in the UK and the States this is having a big impact on people’s lives and mental states and if we as Dharma practitioners and teachers don’t engage with it at all that seems weird and undermines a truth that the Dharma is a response to the world in its wholeness.
Based on my limited knowledge of the topic in hand I’m confronted with an immediate and unpleasant fact - I want to know and in fact be told what is right and what I should do. I find arguments and concerns on both ‘sides’ compelling and that undermines my want for simple certainty and the safety that brings.
This brings me back to what I can be certain of. I am certain that the capacity for; and openness to explore real issues and acknowledge at times highly diverse views is crucial to civilisation and something that I hope we as an Order can exemplify. I am certain that in my work at the Birmingham Buddhist Centre I can help all people feel more welcome and connect with the Dharma, and that at times it’s worth focusing on subsections of society. I am certain that I, and perhaps all beings, need to allow the discomfort of that desire for certainty to meet the complex, ambiguous and uncertain world we live in and still act upon and express our values. For me at least that’s hard.
You wrote: “The thing I feel most concerned about are the comments about this being ‘too political’, I don’t really understand what is meant by that and in what way it would be true. Could it not be said that issues that are too political are exactly the kind of issues that we need to bring wisdom and compassion to bear upon?”
I objected to Viveka’s approach being ‘very political’. The issue of racism, as well as other forms of hateful prejudice, are indeed ‘the kind of issues that we need to bring wisdom and compassion to bear upon’. However, this dharmic approach must include the consideration of appropriate levels of evidence, not just highly selected evidence, and not just from one point of view. (I write as an experienced expert witness, used to considering lots of evidence as well as the arguments made by people using selective evidence.) The use of highly selected evidence is typical of politics (as well as much, if not almost all, of today’s media).
I will add that there are further chilling parallels with the past. I will quote the writer Aldous Huxley, concerning the subject of his book ‘The Devils of Loudun’:
“The effects which follow too constant and intense a concentration upon evil are always disastrous. Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes even perceptibly worse than it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself …Today it is everywhere self-evident that we are on the side of Light, they on the side of Darkness. And being on the side of Darkness, they deserve to be punished and must be liquidated (since our divinity justifies everything) by the most fiendish means at our disposal…And on a very small stage, this precisely was what the exorcists were doing at Loudun. By idolatrously identifying God with the political interests of their sect, by concentrating their thoughts and their efforts on the powers of evil, they were doing their best to guarantee the triumph (local, fortunately, and “temporary) of that Satan, against whom they were supposed to be fighting.”
Another work to study is ‘The Crucible’ by Arthur Miller, about the Salem witch trials.
You have asked why some people posting here have described Viveka’s original article as too political. I did not actually write that in my earlier post but I agree with their view, and very nearly wrote it myself.
Why is it ‘too political’? The issue is with the editorial policy of the Buddhist Centre Online. Viveka’s article very strongly aligns itself with what could be called the Black Lives Matter movement which I understand has grown significantly beyond the original organisation. This is one viewpoint on the events in the USA, but it is not the only viewpoint. Judging by the comments here there are people (including myself) who hold differing ‘political’ views to Viveka in the Order. But where is their voice in the article? Or where is a balancing article offering an alternative position?
The Buddhist Centre Online is not a newspaper like The Guardian or the Telegraph with its politically aligned readership. It is the public face, and main communication hub for the Triratna Order and its surrounding community. It is what people come to and see first when encountering our online presence. Because of this it gives the strong message that the Order is aligned with the Viveka’s view when it clearly isn’t. Viveka is speaking as an individual Order Member, which is her right, but because of there is no balancing view within the article or in an opposing article it looks like she speaks for all. This is a pattern that has been repeated a number of times since the BCO’s beginning in politically contentious areas like the the environmental crisis.
Viveka’s article is highly contentious. It basically contains an exhortation for us to put aside reasonable questions about the ethical consequences of the protests and riots around the world and make allegiance with people who are breaking the law, and encouraging the destruction of property as well as enacting murder and unlawful killing themselves. It is a highly emotive, inflammatory article, and yet there is nothing offered to balance it.
It seems to me the BCO needs to sort out its editorial policy. Either it could recognise that contentious political articles have no place on its public pages, or it could undertake to publish articles balancing those views.
I wonder how comfortable the BCO would be if I asked them to publish an article on the front page written by me speaking out against abortion as unequivocably and emphatically as Viveka has spoken about the situation in the USA? Would it be too unlikely to imagine they might think twice about doing that, or that they would include opposing, or at least ameliorating views on the subject?
To put it frankly the Buddhist Centre Online looks a lot like it is politically biased, and it is making the Order look the same way. It needs much higher standards of editorial decision making. There are also questions about who they are accountable to which need to be transparently discussed.
You said that a dharmic approach must include the consideration of appropriate levels of evidence.
I don’t know what evidence you’ll admit to the courtroom of your heart.
I can give you the reported figures for the number of men, women and children who, over a period of 350 years, were captured in Africa, sold as slaves and transported to the Americas. I can tell you that around 1.8 million died en route. I can inform you that if you’re a black person in the United States today you’re more than twice as likely to be killed by the police than if you’re white. I can point out that during the past five years in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed, police used force against black people at a rate at least seven times that of white people.
If that’s not evidence enough for you to consider, I can urge you to read Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandela’s ‘When they call you a terrorist’.
And then I’d be happy to hear your suggestions for a dharmic response.
I have just discovered your response here. I wrote: “I objected to Viveka’s approach being ‘very political’. The issue of racism, as well as other forms of hateful prejudice, are indeed ‘the kind of issues that we need to bring wisdom and compassion to bear upon’. However, this dharmic approach must include the consideration of appropriate levels of evidence, not just highly selected evidence, and not just from one point of view.”
Firstly, this was in response to Viveka referring to specific US police killings of black people. There was no mention of the issue of US police killings of people overall, which is the context that must be considered. If one considers the statistics overall (as I did), then the thesis that the specific killings of black people are due to racism becomes very questionable, as all sorts of issues can be at play, like the crime rate among black Americans and how this is associated with absence of fathers, to name but two issues.
You bring up the issue of slavery. But again, what about the history of slavery overall? What about the enslavement of Europeans by Muslims, over many centuries? What about the long term Muslim involvement in slavery more generally, or in specific areas, such as in the East African slave trade? What about the involvement of black Africans in enslaving black Africans? What about the worldwide history of slavery?
I am also aware that the term ‘racism’ is so often employed to refer to one type of ethnic prejudice and discrimination - of white people towards non-white people. Typically, other forms of ethnic prejudice and discrimination get ignored. This selective use of the term ‘racism’ is itself racist.
A dharmic response to these three issues must be based upon an overall, considered understanding of the issues, and the evidence as a whole, and not upon selective presentation of evidence (which can be very misleading). The precept of truthful communication is very important here. Politics typically involves the use of selective evidence. A dharmic approach must not be based upon selective evidence.