We write this wishing you freedom from inner and outer harm, yet knowing the reality of deep turmoil in our country right now due to the horrors of racism and their reverberations. On behalf of the teachers and staff at IMCW, we open our heart to this suffering, re-affirm our dedication to diversity, equity and inclusivity within our own community, and to helping foster a more just, equitable and compassionate world. See the end of this email for links to two free events this week designed to help you process your experiences and emotions, and a month-long course for white people, on how to have hard conversations about racism.
Like our nation, IMCW is a collection of voices and experiences that represent the perspective of each individual’s lived experiences; in Buddhist terms, our individual causes and conditions. As such, we’d like to offer reflections from two members of our leadership as we navigate these deeply troubling times.
La Sarmiento, President-Elect, IMCW Board of Directors
As a child, my immigrant parents taught us that, in order to survive in this new country, we needed to assimilate into white culture and to disregard other people of color. I also realized at a young age that I was genderqueer though there was not a term for it at that time. For many years, I felt an odd specialness in being “the only one” in predominantly white, straight, cisgender spaces, had mostly white, straight friends, and even believed I was white (but not so straight!). So when I walked into Tara’s Wednesday Night class 22 years ago this month, I felt at home, though the only other person of color in the sanctuary was the Buddha sitting next to her.
Around 2005, Hugh Byrne and Jim Regan began to examine the lack of diversity within IMCW through the first incarnation of a diversity committee. Being one of the few people of color in the sangha, I was asked to join. It was through the work and dynamics of the committee that the People of Color and LGBTQIA+ Sanghas were born. Both sanghas were initially co-led by me and one other person then eventually me alone. What was to transpire through leading these sanghas and through my practice was confronting my own internalized racism and homo- and transphobia. I had long rejected my sense of self with regards to my race, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation based on what society deeply conditioned me to believe.
When the POC and LGBTQIA+ Sanghas began meeting, dominant culture friends of mine began to question the need for their existence or the relevance of difference:
“You don’t have to separate yourselves out; we’re all one.”
“Our doors are open to everyone.”
“White is a color.” Or “I’m as dark as you are.”
“When I see you, I don’t see color.”
I was the only person of color and genderqueer person on IMCW’s board 15 years ago and the experiences I had on it were the most painful and challenging with regards to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The aspiration was strong, yet the level of unconsciousness was stronger. I had to resign and set boundaries around my participation in any form of leadership within the organization for many years that followed.
So today, I am the incoming board president – a position I never imagined ever holding. Why now? Because it has taken 15 years for me to heal, to regain the stamina, to cultivate deeper relationships and alliances with fellow teachers, staff, and members of our sangha through being fully out with all of who I am, whether as a teacher or retreat manager, and continuing to build refuge for my siblings of color and LGBTQIA+ siblings so that they can feel empowered to be who they are in the world that wants to keep knocking us down. And I have witnessed IMCW’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion manifest through white privilege trainings for its teachers; more teachers of color and LGBTQIA+ teachers on residential retreats and in our Teachers Council; increased scholarships for underrepresented populations; providing ASL services for classes; expanding offerings for children, families, and teens; supporting programming for the POC and LGBTQIA+ Sanghas; supporting prison dharma programs and mindfulness programs in schools; supporting efforts to address climate change; and having the most diverse board of directors in IMCW’s over 25 year history beginning in July.
In the midst of a global pandemic and uprisings calling for the liberation of our black siblings from 500 years of being rendered less than human, we are at a critical juncture to profoundly wake up from this deep illusion of separation. I share my story with you as the racism that we are fighting in the bigger picture is also in our sanghas, in our families, in our workplaces, in our communities, in the marketplace, in our government. And this will all take time, hard work, the willingness to be vulnerable, the courage to stand with and up for each other, a fierce compassion, and a deep wisdom to dismantle oppressive power structures to move us towards true liberation for ALL BEINGS, in all directions, without exception. Together, I envision co-creating a greater sense of belonging at IMCW for all who seek the practice and the Dharma to engage in both internal and external transformation for the benefit all beings. Please join us.
As a white woman, I know racism is not a belief system most white people consciously subscribe to, but an invisible system we’re born into. It doesn’t matter how progressive our parents were (or weren’t), what kind of education we received (or didn’t), or who we were friends with. The greed, aversion and delusion of white supremacy was the air we breathed growing up, and over time became part of our very cells. Examining the effects of breathing this polluted air, including the many ways we take advantage of this delusion of supremacy, is one of the great tasks of our lives. Writer Scott Woods says to white people, “[Racism] is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.”
As white people dedicated to Buddhist practice, uncovering the deep roots of racism in our lives, and acknowledging the benefits of access and power we wield as a result, needs to be a conscious and constant part of our practice. We must continually hone our ability to see ourselves clearly – bailing out our proverbial boats, if you will. And we must be especially wary of the temptation to jump right onto the spiritual bypassing lanes of “all is one,” or “there is ‘no self’ anyway…” in the face of such cruel acts of racism and aggression toward our fellow humans.
The best way I’ve found to do this is to explore these topics in sangha with my white brothers and sisters. Our black and brown friends are not responsible for educating us – we are. There are many groups around the area, and now virtually, where white people gather to do the hard work of examining privilege and dismantling internal beliefs around racism. While the neural wiring of racism built into our systems will likely never totally disappear, with great effort, courage and resolve, it is possible bring our unconscious programming into the light.
As Malcolm Gladwell said so eloquently, “Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push—in just the right place—it can be tipped.”
White Teachers Responding to Racism and Suffering: A Community Q&A with Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield and Trudy Goodman, Thursday, June 4, 7-8:15 p.m.
Hard Conversations: An Introduction to Racism and Its Undoing, with Patty Digh. Online classroom July 1-31 (content and course details delivered daily by email), and live seminars July 1, 8 15, 22 and 29 from 8-9:30 p.m. EST.