Author: James K. Rowe

Baldwin and Buddhism: Death Denial, White Supremacy, and the Promise of Racial Justice

“Terror cannot be remembered… Yet, what the memory repudiates controls the human being. What one does not remember dictates who one loves or fails to love.” —James Baldwin More attention should be paid to why white people remain so attached to narratives of racial supremacy. This was a sentiment shared by authors Rev. angel Kyodo williams and Resmaa Menakem in an online fireside chat held in the wake of Jacob Blake’s shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin.1 If the purpose of radical analysis is to grasp injustices at their roots, then what might lie at the aching roots of white supremacy? Menakem’s provocative answer, in his excellent book My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, is that white supremacy is conditioned by generations of unprocessed trauma: “White bodies traumatized each other in Europe for centuries before they encountered Black and red bodies.”2 Left unprocessed, that trauma has helped fuel a will to racial supremacy that works emotionally to soothe people whose violent histories made them feel less-than. A question that …

PRISONS DO NOT HEAL

shah noor hussein is a writer, visual artist, and scholar focusing on black feminism, art, and teaching. shah is a doctoral student and Cota-Robles Fellow at UC Santa Cruz in the fields of Anthropology, Critical Race Theory & Ethnic Studies. From 2016 – 2017, they were a Writing Fellow at the California Institute of Integral Studies and currently works as an adjunct professor, a freelance writer, and a multimedia artist in Oakland. Their previous experience as an editor includes work for arts organizations, journals, magazines, start-ups, and book publishing companies including Umber Journal and Nothing But The Truth Publishing. shah serves as an Event and Program Coordinator at their spiritual spiritual home, the East Bay Meditation Center located in Okaland, California, which offers radically inclusive dharma practices through Buddhist, multicultural, and secular approaches that focus on social justice. Return to table of contents for Spirituality and Survival: Imaginative Freedoms for Abolition Futures.

There Was Love Included in It: Linking Art and Abolition

Interview with Malik Seneferu and William Rhodes On a rare sunny day in San Francisco, two long term friends, artists, and grassroots community leaders, Malik Seneferu and William Rhodes, met in the summer amidst the chaotic backdrop of 2020. While the year brought heightened turmoil to the world, California endured a reemergence of protests against police brutality, coupled with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and a particularly intense start to fire season causing terrible air quality and evacuations for many residents. These two old friends relished the opportunity to meet in-person, albeit outdoors and distanced, for a lively conversation on abolition and spirituality. Brother Malik and Brother William are lifelong artists, they serve as role models in their community, teaching and mentoring young artists, with a focus on Black youth in particular. Malik Seneferu is a prolific painter, muralist, illustrator, and sculptor whose work has traveled internationally, adorning book, magazine and newspaper covers as well as the walls of museums and galleries. William Rhodes is a sculptural artist with a fine arts flare; trained in traditional …

Spiritual Activism: On the Streets, at the Shrines

The Rally A little girl marches. Her face contorts. Her little legs struggle to keep up. Her fists raised in the air, she is angry. She wants justice. Her small voice unheard over the crowd. The chants: No justice; no peace. Documented. She becomes iconic. Be mindful of the children! Watch them Listen to them Seek their wisdom They are closest to the soul They are closest to the source They are closest to GOD At home, my parents had created a sanctuary, a place where I was free to be myself: reading, creating, laughing as loud as I wanted. Home was our tiny apartment in The Walt Whitman housing projects of Fort Greene Brooklyn—an oasis from the outside world. I was loved. The end. I was over-loved. My mother and father wanted more than just what the public school across the street could offer. My father, who had not long returned from a trip to Africa when I was around three, could not bear the thought of sending his child to a regular “White …

"Fed Up," protests at City Hall, San Francisco, CA, 2020. Photo by author.

In Solitude and Solidarity

Who Are You? If we are what we do then who are you? Are you who you say you are? Are you the same when you are sleeping? When the world is sleeping? When the lights are off? In the dark? Are you alive when you are dreaming? When awake? In the light? Who are you when no one watches? Who are you when no one knows? Are you the same? Are you living who you’re meant to be? Or are you living who they say you are? Self and other?  One and another? All or none? All  in  one? Whole Essential Soul Credentials Who Are  You? Pandemic Symptoms and Systems “… for there are times when disobedience heals a very ailing part of the self. It relieves the human spirit’s distress at being forced into narrow boundaries. For the nearly powerless, defying authority is often the only power available.” ―Malidoma Patrice Somé1 “Slow down. Inhale peace. Exhale worry,” I’ve had to remind myself. The more chaotic everything gets, the more peace I try to …

From “The Afro Tarot” deck by Jessi Jumanji

Queering the Archetypes of Tarot

We find ourselves walking down a path that our ancestors laid ____A spiral ________Up or down depending on which way you bend your neck ____________We’re in lockstep ________________Passing the same points of interest again and again ____________________The same but different ________________________Slavery ____________________We loop round ________________Sharecropping ____________We loop again ________The prison industrial complex ____Back again and again until we’re numb, I get dizzy and reach for a way out My hands find my well-worn deck of tarot cards and I pull at them hoping for answers I pull The Emperor  The oppressive chokehold, the knee on our necks, the invisible puppeteer that we fight against Oh how this world would love us if he were gone, or if he were like a redwood instead of a ram The Star The first glance of light after a lifetime of darkness Hope A way out of this dizzying madness 10 of Pentacles A question What will I leave behind and for whom? I walk the path that my Ancestors laid and suddenly I see it fork I see …

Language and Personal Narrative in Revolutionary Poetry

Book Review: I Am Still Your Negro by Valerie Mason-John I Am Still Your Negro: An Homage to James Baldwin by Valerie Mason-John University of Alberta Press, 2020 Dr. Valerie Mason-John, also known as Vimalasara in Buddhist Dharma communities and Queenie in slam poetry and theatre circles, is a world-renowned playwright, author, and beloved Buddhist teacher who co-founded the Eight Step Recovery Program. In their recently published collection of poetry, I Am Still Your Negro, Mason-John pays homage to James Baldwin through seven sections of poetic vignettes spanning nearly 100 pages. The topics range from slavery and colonization to global politics and historical realities, addressing the racialized and gendered intersections of African identity, diaspora, and ancestry. Mason-John’s opening section sets the stage, outlining the author’s intellectual history and accomplishments while simultaneously discarding the story of self we are expected to cultivate. As they explain in the introduction to this poetry collection, “all of that is the bypassing story. It’s what kept me alive.” In their Dharma teachings, Mason-John often draws a distinction between the stories …

Artwork by Rae Minji Lee, with photography by Carolina Marinati (CC0)

Spirituality and Survival: Imaginative Freedoms for Abolition Futures

In this collection on “Spirituality and Survival: Imaginative Freedoms for Abolition Futures,” authors engage key questions of Black survival in this moment: How are Black communities activating our ancestral knowledge to cultivate a future we are willing to fight for and worlds in which we want to survive? We invited authors to consider the following questions in their writing: How are you showing up right now to take care of yourself and to care for others? How are you showing up in mindful solidarity with the movements confronting police violence and demanding abolition? What contemplative insights, spiritual wisdoms, or dharmic teachings are you finding most relevant for society or for you, personally, in this time? How have Black histories of protest, riots, and revolutions related to spirituality? How have our ancestors, both familial lineages and intellectual inspirations, responded to past turmoils with insight and vision across the diaspora? How can the changes we need, including the abolition of prisons and police, be spiritually guided, mindfully motivated, and creatively conjured now and tomorrow? How can these …

We Need More Fugitives

radical Black feminist thoughtfeelings (& propaganda) “Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?… Just so’s you’re sure, sweetheart, and ready to be healed, cause wholeness is no trifling matter. A lot of weight when you’re well.” —Minnie Ransom And so begins Toni Cade Bambara’s 1980 novel, The Salt Eaters: Its protagonist Velma Henry, resistantly coming undone in the hands of Minnie Ransom, a trusted healer intimately acquainted with the voices of her ancestral guides. This novel is unsettling for many reasons. Structurally, the many voices and perspectives Bambara uses to tell the story disregard narrative conventions. Deeper still, Velma Henry, a black woman activist hospitalized and seeking healing after a sucide attempt,  stands as a haunting embodiment of the ways embattled resistance can literally tear apart the bodymind. I’ve written out parts of that opening line and posted it on my walls and doors in nearly every place I’ve lived over the past five years. Currently it sparkles in golden glitter ink on a white piece of paper next to my bed. …

Con*cep*tion

Prologue We all strive for understanding and meaning. Yet too often, we arrive at understanding by a consensus of the few. Our definitions, numbered and lettered, give us form from which we build beliefs and systems.  One of the skillful means I appreciate about Chogyäm Trungpa, an influential Tibetan Buddhist monk who brought Buddhism to the West, was his ability to play with words to reveal the potential of any word to hold wisdom. Each piece below engages in a narrative that invites you to reconsider the normative definition of a word or phrase and what is true in your experience.  Each may give you an opportunity to create and experience and witness one. Although all pieces below reflect some aspect of Black birth and mothering, they simultaneously engage with how we relate to our world. Con*cep*tion We are all capable of conceiving. Some make worlds, others systems, still others ideology. All of this contributes to our (personal) Now and This Now (cultural) of the last 400+ years, which has deteriorated our humanity. Yet, co-arising …