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.