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Does your dharma practice call you to compassionate awakening for the benefit of all beings? If so, how do you see the place of racial justice and healing in that path?

The ‘Unpacking Whiteness’ course opened my eyes and heart further to the ways in which I and other white people take privilege for granted, including within dharma communities. The first sessions explored the legal and historical construction of race in North America, and for me underscored the necessity of addressing the origins of racism within a UK/European context.  Britain’s long history of colonisation, imperialism and exploitation, the intimate connection between industrial capitalism and the enslavement of millions, the fathomless suffering of the Middle Passage: all these lie at the root of any ease and freedom in my life. Can this history – and its legacy in present realities – be felt and known in my bones, not with guilt, but with grief, humility, and a call to action?

If reading this your heart trembles with anger, pain, confusion or defensiveness please be invited to breathe, touch into the support of ground, hold yourself with care. Dharma teacher Ruth King writes: ‘Something alarming happens when we think or hear the word racism. Something deep within us is awakened into fear. All of us, regardless of our race and our experience of race, get triggered, and more than the moment is at play’[1].

The exercises, role plays and reading materials of the course continue to help me recognise reactions of freeze, flight, fight, appease and collapse that show up as I confront my racial conditioning. As I write this I’m aware it could be heard as self-indulgent or frail, particularly given the violence, racial profiling, micro-aggressions and prejudice that many black people confront daily. There is a pull to stay silent, which is part of privilege itself. The tools of dharma practice help me turn towards these reactions with honesty. I’m reminded that, as with the practice of embodied awakening, there is no ‘transcendence’ but there are supports to draw on in going deeper. The habit-patterns of protecting the ‘good white self’ are revealed, and I learn how these can release into compassionate clear-seeing.

This is long-term work that calls on those with white privilege to question assumptions, take risks, embrace imperfection, offer apology and reparatory justice, and to wake up here and now. I see with greater urgency how individual and structural greed, hatred and delusion lead to a lack of human diversity that mirrors the tragedies of ecosystem destruction, with dire consequences for our species and for all of life.

I’m grateful for the teachings of the middle way and their invitation to unhook from the binary of either shame or denial, and to move towards remorse, care and accountability. ‘How do you cross the flood?’ the suttas encourage us, ‘Not by standing still, not by forcing, but by continuing with patience and determination, step by step.’ This is also how we can cross the flood of systemic racism and white supremacy, for the benefit of this generation and all generations to come.

[1] Ruth King ‘Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out’ (Sounds True, 2018)

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