On Buddhist Sanghas, Divesting in Post-racial Whiteness, and Nina Simone

This blog is a continuation of my initial observations about normative whiteness at the San Francisco Zen Center’s 50th Anniversary celebration as well as my second posting about those observations/feelings.

A. Breeze Harper

This past weekend I attended the Spirit Rock retreat, “A Day of Healing for Women of African Descent”. It’s a Buddhist meditation center out in Woodacre, California. Zenju Earthlyn Manuel and Konda Mason led the retreat. It was 8 hours long. I have never participated in anything like this before. I felt completely at home. And the funny thing is that about 7 or 8 people commented on my earrings and knew who it was (LOL). I was wearing Angela Davis… but I also wanted to share with you that Nina Simone was played on the sound system in the space we were together in. Amazing feeling that we collectively knew who Nina Simone was, the depth of her words, what she represented etc. “We are listening to Nina Simone… Angela Davis is on Breeze’s earrings.”  The song Four Women, by Nina Simone, echoed through the air:

My skin is black, my arms are long
My hair is woolly, my back is strong
Strong enough to take the pain, inflicted again and again
What do they call me? My name is aunt Sarah
My name is aunt Sarah, aunt Sarah

My skin is yellow, my hair is long
Between two worlds I do belong
But my father was rich and white
He forced my mother late one night
And what do they call me?
My name is Saffronia, my name is Saffronia

My skin is tan, my hair fine
My hips invite you, my mouth like wine
Whose little girl am I? Anyone who has money to buy
What do they call me? My name is Sweet Thing
My name is Sweet Thing

My skin is brown, my manner is tough
I’ll kill the first mother I see, my life has been rough
I’m awfully bitter these days, because my parents were slaves
What do they call me? My name is Peaches

And in that space, with these women who were in attendance (and that includes the ones who not only registered , but those in the room in spirit such as Nina Simone and India.Arie) I could be myself. With these women, there seemed to already be an understanding of how racism, colorism, class struggle, sexism/sexual violence, whiteness are unfortunate realities in our collective lives; that we need to heal from it. For me, there was no frustration of trying to ‘prove’ that it is real. For me, there was no high blood pressure being raised to provide a list of ‘published materials’ to educate anyone about the realities of racialized-sexualized violence. And I loved the love and openness gifted to all women of African descent there. We were all of different hues, ages, sexual orientations, able-bodied status, age, socio-economic backgrounds, etc. I know that in many cases, just because it’s a ‘black’ space doesn’t mean that all women of African descent will feel at home. I acknowledge the severe issues of colorism, transphobia, homophobia, and ‘you must only be in romantic relationship with a black person’, that exists in the collective USA community of African descent. This space was truly one of healing, because I didn’t hear any of that nonsense being perpetuated. It was great that I didn’t have to ‘defend’ why my husband is a white man (you wouldn’t believe how many times I have been questioned about how my soul-mate is not a man of African descent by black people!)

This past weekend was such a different space to be in, in comparison to my experience with San Francisco Zen Center and Zen Center at Green Gulch. And I have to admit that the Dharma teachings really “click” with me when it came from the teachings through Zenju and Konda. With their personal experiences with the traumas and anger of racism, sexual violence, the desire to want to be an activist and change it, etc, the buddhadharma truly resonates with me. I believe that their method of teaching the buddhadharma is significantly shaped by the lived experience of being racialized and sexualized as “black” and “female” in the USA. It’s called what Katherine McKittrick refers to as a black female socio-spatial epistemology. See her book Demonic Grounds and she will break down how we develop our knowledge-base (epistemology) through our embodied experiences in racialized-sexualized spaces in the USA. What does the collective knowledge system of women of African descent look like, particularly since it has been produced through geographies of violence (lynching, rape, Jim Crow, racial neobliberalism, racialized uneven development)…and geographies of resistance (the space that Nina Simone’s words creates for women of African descent; the space we were participating in at Spirit Rock that helped us ‘defy’ the ridiculous notion that America is ‘post-racial’ and that having such a ‘racially exclusive’ event ‘keeps racism alive’)?

Yes, there are a lot of challenges that non-white racialized people face, even in spaces of Buddhism, when we want to have such events, or write solely about the fusion of being a practitioner of Buddhism and being a non-white racialized subject.  I remember Angel Kyodo Williams had difficulty finding largely white Buddhist bookstores who would sell her book (which is about being black and practicing Zen). They saw that as a way of ‘creating divisions amongst human beings.’ In my opinion, her book is a literary space of resistance against the devastating consequences of perpetuating the myth that the only real Buddhism is one entrenched in ‘post-raciality’ : Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace (Compass)

And I don’t mean to knock the other Buddhist spaces of whiteness that I have really only experienced Buddhism in. I do appreciate what I have received from them and the relationships that I have developed… but I simply don’t get the same “Click! I get it!”, that I did at the retreat. I think with the exception of a few times I have spent talking to Abbott Sojun Mel Weistman in which I “get it”, no one else in the other Buddhist spaces of whiteness has really made the Buddhadharma click with me the way Zenju Earthlyn has. As a matter of fact, it was Zenju Earthlyn’s book Seeking Enchantment that really helped me “see” what the “purpose” could be in bringing the dharma into my rage and anger from racial trauma and normative whiteness. The other people I give due credit to are Thich Nhat Hanh and Jan Willis..

A lot of women were in attendance at the retreat, which tells me that this was REALLY needed, and that women of African descent are interested in what the Buddhadarma offers (and I say this in response to a plethora of Buddhist practitioners- usually white- who make the claim that black people have no interest in what the Buddhadharma offers.) Us women of African descent craved this fellowship and healing space. I am so grateful for Zenju and Konda for bringing the Buddhadharma to us and truly understanding where so many of us were coming from (in terms of needing to heal from the anger and trauma of racial and sexual violence). And what was even more beautiful was that the event was “accessible”. They had a sliding door registration fee of $25-$55, but also, they said that no one would be turned away due to lack of funds. And if you didn’t have a car to get out there, then there were car pools. Accessibility is key, and I think about the various times I have wanted to do certain retreats and go to certain Buddhist retreats, or just stay there for a few days but it was clearly only available to wealthier people.

I know there are many “forms” to engage in Buddhism. It would seem that the forms/styles that Zenju and Konda offered seemed to “click” with many of us there, who couldn’t quite “get” how we were perpetuating the cycles of our own suffering. After spending the whole day there, I realized how ridiculous it is that I have spent so much time in largely ‘post-racial’ white dominated spaces in which I physically and emotionally exhaust myself trying to explain what “racism is”, how “whiteness operates”, and that, “No, I’m not making this sh*t up in the head.” I have been depriving myself from these types of healing space my nearly entire life. At the end of the day of that retreat, I really asked myself, “What would happen if I stopped participating in certain spaces in which I can never just be ‘me’? What would happened if I shifted and just focused on spaces like the ones today?” Maybe I should not stop participating all together, but rather really limit my time in spaces in which ‘post-racial’ whiteness is not really acknowledged as ‘problematic’ (and by this, I don’t mean all white spaces or white bodied spaces. I am speaking specifically of spaces of whiteness in which the subjects of structural racism and implications of whiteness are ignored as significant problems). Maybe I should consider stoping my engagement with all the same questions, ‘Well, I don’t understand white privilege or my whiteness. Can you please tell me? Can you please educate me?’ Because it’s obviously really just strained me; and coupled with the facts that I NEVER get paid to spend HOURS of my life each month, educating people for ‘free’, yet I’m unable to pay for my tuition to finish my doctoral program, adds more to such stress.

I invest my time into critical whiteness/race awareness education for the racial status quo, but I’m not being ‘invested in’ in terms of getting help or assistance for me to finish the very education that makes it possible for me to teach the collectivity of white folk who ask me to teach them for free. I know I should not be expecting to get rich off of what I do, but it would be nice to be able to pay basic bills, complete my education, etc. I was reminded of the concept of Dāna, yesterday, as a form of appreciation and investing into a belief system of harmlessness and the people who uphold it that I truly believe in. I believe in Zenju and Konda. And I also believe deeply that though they taught us with love and open hearts, they should not be doing this for ‘free.’ We live in an economy in which cash-money is a very necessary energy for survival.  The women accepted any Dāna we could offer. This made me think about how so many of us black females are simply not ‘invested’ in, in the USA. We are usually ‘divested in’; this is how I understand how structural and institutional racisms, as well as the machinery of whiteness, operate. Too often, black women are simply expected to be [white] society’s emotional and physical mammies. Too often we give A LOT of our selves but when it is time for us to be invested in, it is usually not reciprocated in terms of monetary investment.

Zenju and Konda should not have to bare the burden of such expectations and I was glad that the women at the retreat contributed Dāna to these two wonderful spirits. Investing in them, their work, is investing in women of African descent who are committed to resisting the violence of what Roland Barthes calls post-empire whiteness (see the chapter  Theorizing White Consciousness in a Post-Empire World: Barthes, Fanon, and the Rhetoric of Love)  and I call neoliberal whiteness (another way to refer to this is post-colonial whiteness); it is a divestment in structural racism, a divestment in spaces of post-racial normative whiteness, and a divestment in other legacies of racialized colonialism. I invested in Zenju’s newest book, Tell Me Something about Buddhism: Questions and Answers for the Curious Beginner

. And as I think about these concepts of investment vs. divestment, I have started thinking about if my participation in sanghas of ‘post-racial whiteness ‘(well, more like ‘post-racial’ middle to upper class whiteness), whether my dana over the past 5 years to these spaces, has been a ‘divestment’ or an ‘investment’ for myself (as well as women of African descent that I rarely, if ever, find in these spiritual spaces.) Tough questions I am still trying to grapple with….

I also realized that I don’t think I responded to the San Francisco Zen Center the way I deeply and truly wanted to. I have to think about this and figure out how to articulate what I mean in the near future, but I realized that when I met with Abbott Stucky to discuss the ‘meaning’ of my blog post about the whiteness of the 50th year SFZC celebration, I didn’t really fully engage in the way I wanted to because I think to some extent, I continue to be incredibly overwhelmed and exhausted from explaining “whiteness” to white institutions (despite me ‘thinking’ it is my calling to do so… and that’s another story for another time I guess). And not only am I exhausted, but I still wrestle deeply with the fears and the repercussions of being “honest” to white organizations or institutions about “whiteness” (even if they ask me to be ‘honest’). I will have to sit on this a little more, but I do struggle through my fears, trying to be more transparent and honest. I think that such fears are something that is hard to explain to the collectivity of white males that I have interacted with throughout my life (I say ‘collectivity’ to indicate that it’s a theme I see from the majority, but it’s not necessarily all). I don’t hear the same fears from them of being punished or reprimanded for speaking the ‘truth’ about the realities of sexual and/or racial violence and injustice that is produced by the machinery of whiteness; their conscious or unconscious possessive investment in whiteness (see George Lipsitz’s The Possessive Investment in Whiteness) simply protects them from it or/and makes them oblivious to it. And it makes sense, because they collectively aren’t usually ‘victims’ of racialized-sexualized violence within the machinery whiteness (check out Steve Martinot’s book Machinery of Whiteness), so why WOULD they have such fears? My apologies if this is not coming across as articulately as I’d like it to. I ‘fail’ so often at trying to be “me”, which means being fully honest and transparent in talking to “white” collectivity (even in ‘mindful’ compassionate oriented Buddhist Sanghas) about whiteness.

Yes, let’s talk about ‘fear.’ I do have fear. I’m not going to lie. I have tremendous fear. Fear holds so many of us back, regardless of our racial or ethnic experience.

I have collective cultural memories/images of “punishment” of black racialized people being retaliated against for trying to be transparent, honest, or changing the way things are. I have images of lynching. I have images of police brutality. I have images of chain gang workers. I have the memories of friends and family telling me how they have been retaliated against for trying to reveal, expose, talk about and teach about whiteness and racism. I have images of so much… more than images… it’s deeper than that. It is somatic. I can tell myself intellectually that I should not focus on that past or on that collective history of racialized violence that occurred to ‘us’ to make sure the status quo’s possessive investment in whiteness is not ‘taken down’… but the somatic takes over and I am shut down at being FULLY ME because I feel like I need to survive….

I remember a type of fear the impeded my response at Green Gulch 3-4 years ago, after the Sunday public lecture. It was during lunch, outside. A white woman told me and a Chinese woman that she didn’t understand labels like “African American” or “Black American.” The conversation was a long time ago, but I remember I was briefly explaining that I was a new graduate student interested in African American females and vegan food studies. The white woman said with confidence, “What’s the point of referring to people that way? I mean, racism would just disappear if we’d stop referring to each other like that.” I remember I  and a Chinese woman were sitting at that table and being blown away by such ignorance of how racism and whiteness operate; how it could simply be ‘erased’ if you (and by ‘you’, the white woman meant us non-white people) didn’t engage in identity politics. And this white woman wasn’t trying to be mean, she was ‘sincere’ with her ‘understanding’ of how to eradicate racism. I remember being too scared to reply to this white woman with complete honesty. The Chinese woman simply shook her head at the white woman and said, “You don’t understand.” It was all she could really say. I could feel the frustration in her response as she was shaking her head. I could feel how she wanted to say more, but simply couldn’t. I know we both wanted to, but I felt emotionally paralyzed…But now I realized what I could have said to this white woman: “My friend, there are two things you should know: ‘Forget that I am Black….and never forget that I am Black.'” That would have been a perfect answer for that situation.

Because that it much of what I learned during the retreat. Yes, I am a woman of African Descent; a black female racialized-sexualized subject…. But, how can we be mindful of what that means? How do we understand its impact on our lives but at the same time, not let it be the defining factor of our life?  How do we forget that we are Black and never forget that we are Black and how do zazen and the precepts allow us to find liberation?

0 thoughts on “On Buddhist Sanghas, Divesting in Post-racial Whiteness, and Nina Simone

  1. Hi Breeze, thank you for your remarks. Sorry you had that experience at Green Gulch (I’m a white Jewish woman/former resident of GGF). I have always wanted more POC to practice at Zen Center, but understand if their needs are not met they will have to create their own spaces. The issue of identifying in any certain way (e.g. African-American or GLBT) is a matter of hegemony and thus is up to the group in question. We can’t practice unless we are vibrantly ourselves, and this includes but is not limited to our various identities. Best of luck to you.

  2. This is awesome! I wish I could have been in the space. My aunt was really great friends (still may be) with Zenju. She gifted me her Black Angels cards. I use them everyday!

  3. I was there with you at Spirit Rock, on Saturday & yes it was a wonderful experience. Please visit the East Bay Meditation Center, in Oakland for the POC Sit on Thursday nights from 7-9pm for some dharma talks with People of Color.

  4. Someone I have never met before but contacted me through Facebook and who read the post, has spent the entire day breaking down my entire experience and observations, bit by bit, and has reduced it to me engaging in ‘reverse racism’ and creating divisions amongst human beings for having participated in that event and even referring to myself as a woman of African Descent. They started off the dialogue by telling me that they don’t ‘get’ Black History month because it’s just perpetuating racial divides and that this event was no different and told me such a retreat is not the ‘true’ essence of Zen Buddhism. They have spent a lot of time typing up alot and sending their teachings to me.

    I have no idea how my entire blog post came across that way to them. I am quite confused right now. But, I think this person is trying to ‘educate me’ that if I stop using ‘labels’ such as ‘woman of African descent’, then I will be able to free myself from racism.


  5. Oh, Breeze. You are one of my favorite academics. You study the intersection of race and food politics much like how I aspire to study the intersection of race and environmental sustainability. What’s stopping me from pursuing this dream is what you mentioned–fear and stress caused by a white establishment that will not acknowledge its own existence. I totally commiserate with you and am ceaselessly inspired by your writings. Thank you for fighting the good fight, no matter how hard it may be.

  6. Thank you, again. Infuriating to read about the attempt to educate you by a reader of your blog post, but I’m also happy you are treating it as an opportunity for curiosity. Wise. Wise. Wise. Damn, to have developed half as much control of my own passion fires! Perhaps the line of questioning/critique the person presented is rising in reactive culture, as I’ve recently been confronted with it again from a gentleman I know.

  7. i am so sad to have missed this sacred space share by many sistas i know were there, including the beautiful arline hernandez 🙂 yes, we definitely NEED this, and as arline mentioned, there is the poc sangha on thursday nites at the ebmc in downtown oakland, and this center often holds half or day-long retreats for women of color or for sistas of the diaspora, so i hope that you have the opportunity to attend sometime…on the extensive reply by the woman exclaiming reverse racism, i had to shake my head and wonder why. perhaps she is unwilling to divest (and i mean, sit still with her self and look at her sh*t) from her white privilege…don’t know, but that kind of talk and belief from white folk is tiring…
    i enjoy your blog posts and look forward to the next.

    1. How is this racist, Republic of Zen? Just because our white ancestors didn’t own slaves does not mean she should not speak up about these issues, and that she isn’t entitled to our deepest care and respect. Let’s not spiritually bypass crucial issues like this. My ancestors fed slaves who ran away along the Underground Railroad, but I still feel the collective shame of my race, because I KNOW those threads of racism are strong in my non-slave owning ancestors. It hurts us, as white people, to remain ignorant about these issues. We are wounding ourselves, and in so doing, end up wounding people who are not like we are. I suggest you read up on the issue before telling someone to grow up because she wrote a clear, thoughtful and articulate expression that came from her truth. Why doesn’t she deserve to have a voice about this? Of course she does. And we should shut up and listen, and get to work on our own internalized racism. Please do not use zen as a means to spiritually bypass this issue. I suggest you read the book on Spiritual Bypassing, and Wendell Berry’s Hidden Wound, for starters.

      1. Republic f Zen, it’s CLEAR that you don’t know what whiteness is, how racism works nor that there is NO way for Breeze to be a racist. Can she be prejudice? Of course. We all can be. But she cannot be racist. Oh, and while you’re over here telling Breeze what she can define and who she is, why don’t you read some of Time Wise’s work, here: http://www.timwise.org/

        All people could benefit from his work, but I feel it is of the greatest importance that white people who are committed to co-creating and living in a racially just world, that they study his work thoroughly. Otherwise, you are simply being racist!

      2. I have made clear I do not know what whiteness, hence I asked. And I am very well aware of racism, I did live in the UK twice and received a lot of racism.

    2. Please, let’s look together at what whiteness is or seems to be.

      It might include the sense of personal superiority needed to dismiss a long heartfelt post on someone’s personal experience of the dharma with a harsh one-liner off the cuff. It might include the sense of having *inherently* greater dignity and maturity than another person you don’t know, entitling one to tell that person to “grow up!” It can include the sense that the problem must be all inside other people’s heads, because it really doesn’t seem to affect you when you look around your experience in life.

      I hope this doesn’t sound too harsh, but that’s what I see in your initial comments.

      It’s easy to say or think that in the dharma there is no white or black. To quote Bodhidharma on the precepts, “In the realm of the equable dharma, not dwelling on I against you is called the Precept of Not Putting Myself above Others.” Yet the world of no form is an abstraction, however we experience it personally. We’re always living right *here* in the world of form where we cook and eat, study or work, and meet others who perceive us as white-skinned or black-skinned and have to work with their perceptions of us. To deny that reality or dismiss it as irrelevant misses the point. It’s right here that our work in the dharma has to happen, in the ebb and flow of each interaction.

      If it’s OK, I’d like to ask you a personal question. I’m curious: do you actually practice zazen currently? Do you work with a teacher, on matters such as understanding of the precepts? Or do you use “zen” in your pseudonym because you think you feel an affinity to it and wish to bring yourself into closer association with the practice? Obviously I think there can be a lot of benefit to working with a teacher and to steady practice over a long period of a time, so if you are, I encourage you to keep with it and to keep focusing that light on the light; and if not, I encourage you to get onto a regular zazen practice and find a teacher who resonates with you.

      Disclosure: male, 50s, haole/caucasian, 30-some years of zen practice off and on in the Honolulu Diamond Sangha. This probably limits my perspective some in ways I don’t see; I do my best to get past that.

  8. The blogger’s response to your post being a bit by bit counter to everything you said screams defense mechanism! The desperate need not to be part of the group that has persecuted. The same feelings even come up for me sometimes, the shame and guilt for who I am, what people who look like me have done, and the suffering others have to bear because of what they look like, where they’ve come from. I have been told that as soon as we speak in order to ‘correct’ someone or tell them what they are doing our good intention is gone. When you ask yourself before the words come out what is the intention of my words, if the answer is “to change them or correct them” dig deeper to find the real reason. It’s not so easy.
    I also have a question if you find the time to respond. I do not have much experience in the Vipassana tradition and I am wondering if you think there is something inherently more welcoming to a diverse crowd than the temples/traditions/ceremonies of Soto Zen.

  9. I have been really moved and impressed by your posts about these issues and what has followed from your experience at SFZC. New to the Bay Area and looking for a sangha, I have had difficulty finding a home. As a white male, it has only been in Zen Centers where I have been called to task for raising issues of race. My partner is Anglo/Chinese and we are not necessarily at home in an Anglo sangha nor in a Chinese one. There is a true lack of space for mixed families in the Zen community and while I was sorry to hear about your experiences, I took heart in what happened to you and how you have sat with it. I would love to share my experiences of raising these issues in a sangha in a more private conversation as my attempts at my old sangha resulted in my being told basically, “don’t discuss it.” Best, J.

      1. Ohhhh Republic of Zen, are you being purposely ignorant about world history? Everything that is discussed on this blog about normative whiteness, white privilege, and structural racism has played itself out in the form of ethnic cleansing in Canada, Europe, Australia, and in other places where the colonizers have attempted to eradicate the indigenous “other”.

        To suggest that Breeze is perpetuating reverse racism speaks to your own complicity in the very thing she is bringing awareness to and makes you come off as an angry white male.

      2. People of ethnic groups ethically cleanse people from other ethnic groups. That is the way history has already been. Your ego is taking over if you think only black people suffer. All humans suffer at somepoint.

        I’m not suggesting that Breeze is perpetuating reverse racism, I highlighting the point that if she goes to a one race only group she is being a racist. Not a reverse racist, an actual racist.

  10. Thank you so much for blogging about racism in Zen Buddhism. As a Zen Buddhist, I’ve really struggled with racism and white privilege in my sangha and in the broader mahasangha. I’ve wrestled with leaving Zen practice because of this. Finding your blog posts and posts by others in the blogosphere have been really healing for me. I was just reading a chapter about “Not discussing the faults of others” by Robert Aitken (in The Mind of Clover). In this chapter he wrote about how until we acknowledge our weaknesses and attachments, we can’t let go of them, and that helping others to see their weaknesses and attachments — in as appropriate a way as you can — is upholding the Dharma. I think you have done a very sensitive and balanced job in discussing racial conciousness and Buddhist practice. I am so grateful for your posts.

  11. I find myself tempted to say that “repub. of zen” is not a very good buddhist given the anger and broken precepts but I suppose there’s no such thing as a good or bad buddhist, just a buddhist. It’s a good reminder that just because we practice doesn’t make us perfect or kind or wise, that’s why we need the practice. And as I look at their anger or unkind words I need to ask myself about my own….

  12. I just don’t understand how a Buddhist sangha could exist in San Francisco or Alameda County and be majority white. That makes no sense. If it’s a Buddhist sangha and there are no Asian people there is a reason.

  13. I will also be attending this event Sept 26, 2012, because these issues that I’m talking about span past Buddhism. This special guest speaker will be talking about post-racial mentality as it relates to Christianity. It’s taking place in N. Berkeley, CA on Sept 21 at 930am.

    http://plts.edu/founders_day.html is the link. And here is the description:

    Bonhoeffer’s (and Our) Postracial Blues: The election (and now the possible reelection) of Barack Obama to the U.S. presidency hailed for many the dawning of the postracial condition. And yet virtually from day-one of his presidency, unpleasant racial realities intruded upon our postracial cultural fantasies—with issues of religion and Christian identity being quite often front-and-center. This lecture turns to an unlikely place—to a 1940s German prison cell and to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s prison poetry, with its African American blues signature—to examine the postracial condition of race, or his and our postracial blues.

    Dr. J. Kameron Carter is an Associate Professor of Theology at Duke Divinity School and a member of the graduate faculty of religion at Duke University. He has a growing number of articles and essays in the fields of theological, religious, and American and African-American studies that have appeared in various professional journals and edited books. He is the author of Race: A Theological Account (Oxford University Press, 2008), which explores the theological roots of the modern racial imagination and the making of racial identities. He is working on several book projects, including a book on political theology titled Fugitive Politics: A Counterhistory of Political Theology (contracted with Yale University Press) and a book on the American expatriate writer, Leftist intellectual, and Native Son author Richard Wright tentatively called (W)right Religion: The Religious Imagination of Richard Wright.

    Schedule of Events

    8:30 — Registration
    9:00 — Opening Greetings, Graduate Awards
    9:30 — Dr. J. Kameron Carter, Bonhoeffer’s (and Our) Postracial Blues, with audience response & questions
    10:45 — Break
    11:15 — Eucharist, with Dr. Carter preaching
    12:30 — Lunch
    1:30 — Round Table Discussion with Scholars in the Field
    2:30 — Closing

  14. I was also at the retreat for women of African descent and I loved it. I also previously have had the experience of whites wanting me to spend large amounts of my time educating them when I was in graduate school. So I would like to share a few things I learned then, and some that I have re-interpreted since then.
    First, just because someone asks you a question it does not mean that you have to answer it, and it certainly does not mean that you must engage in a long, emotionally draining conversation with them. This is especially true since often the other person is not attempting to understand your points but they are really trying to win the argument. So nothing is gained by this.
    Second, If I am willing to engage in a brief conversation, I find that I am most effective when I tailor my comments to the ideology of the person asking the question. So in an academic setting I refer them to articles, books and other scholarly materials. In a Buddhist setting I might refer them to the precepts, here I am thinking of the precept against stealing or not taking what is not given freely. If you do not give your time freely, then they are stealing from you.
    Third, I remind people that it is not my responsibility to educate white people about their racism. They must take responsibility for their own behavior. This is the same as saying drug addicts must take responsibility for their addiction. No one else can fix them. I also sometimes refer to their work ideology, as in “it is not in my job description” to spend my time (possibly at this event) attempting to educate them. I also might refer them to my work contact information and indicate that I am available for paid consultations. This generally ends the conversation.
    Fourth, I do not try to change the subject. My experience has been that white privilege leads many whites to want to control the conversation. so the only way to change the subject is to end the conversation and physically leave their presence. This does not necessarily mean leaving the event. It could mean making a “necessary” trip to the ladies room, or noticing a person on the other side of the room who I absolutely must talk to now.
    Finally, I think of my time and energy in a manner similar to the way I think of my body. No one has the right to control it but me. No one can use it without my consent. And “No” means “No”.
    I hope my thoughts will give you some ideas of ways to protect yourself from these emotionally draining demands on your time.

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