racial justice

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 …

"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 …

Photograph by shah noor hussein

Meant to Survive: Creativity as a Path to Abolition

Over 40 years ago, Audre Lorde evocatively reminded us that “we were never meant to survive” as Black people of the diaspora living under colonial empires with capitalist agendas.1 In 2012, Alexis Pauline Gumbs revisited this pivotal poem, “A Litany for Survival,” in her article “The Shape of My Impact,” stating that survival has “never meant, bare minimum,” but rather “references our living in the context of what we have overcome”.2 Speaking to each other across decades, Lorde and Gumbs emphasize the exceptional power of surviving under systems of oppression, imperialism, and colonialism. To live through these experiences while finding ways to express ourselves, honor our creativity, and nourish our spirits is no small act. We have overcome tremendous traumas, and this is a great strength. As Octavia Butler proclaims, “God is Change,” and if God is a Black womxn, we are her children.3 Black folks have adapted to many things—colonization, imperialism, and climate change, to name a few—shifting our ways of being in conjunction with spiritual and ancestral teachings. While we must be weary …

Issue cover

The Necessity of Including Embodiment and Lineage in Racial Justice Work

  Issue Contents Chief Editor’s Introduction (available to subscribers in the complete issue) by Gabe Dayley Guest Editor’s Introduction (available to subscribers in the complete issue) by Kelsey Blackwell Black Boys by Vernon Keeve III Race and the Body: Why Somatic Practices Are Essential for Racial Justice by Kelsey Blackwell Body Knowing as a Vehicle for Change by Arawana Hayashi Borders by Jessica Stern ‘May I Also Be the Source of Life’: Embodied Resistance, Existence, and Liberation in Bodymind as It Is by Mushim Patricia Ikeda How to Love a Mestiza Woman by Laura Soto Examining Whiteness with Meditation by Kalen Tenderness Tierney On Lineage and Whiteness by Alexandria Barnes I’ll Meet You There by Jahan Khalighi Reflections on Embodiment, Culture, and Social Justice Work in Selected Buddhist Traditions by Arisika Razak The Movement Within the Movement text and poetry by Nicole Klaymoon photography by David Wilson mask art by Tigre Bailando Cover design and illustrations by Alicia Brown Comments The Arrow welcomes comments in response to issues we publish. Please submit comments for review to editor[at]arrow-journal.org. Comments may expand on an …

Going to the Root: How White Caucuses Contribute to Racial Justice

Caucusing is a form of upāya—skillful means. To caucus is skillful because it reduces harm. For Buddhists, practicing harm reduction is a relative bodhicitta practice. In my experience of 24 years of facilitating racial justice work, I have found that it is not helpful to put together in the same room folks who have had racism aimed at them all their lives and folks who haven’t had to think about it very much, if at all. The latter group, white people, need a place to start thinking and feeling about it, a space for using prajña (insight) to discover how white conditioning, through no choice of their own, has been embedded in their ego. There is no white person in North America who does not have white conditioning.1 —Robert Horton, Co-FounderThe UNtraining: Healing Personal & Social Oppressions The current political landscape of the United States has made it impossible for us to avoid our racial karma. In recent years, the news has been littered with it: police violence and murder of Black and brown people …

Why People of Color Need Spaces Without White People

I’m breathing deeply as I write this. What I’m writing about is charged. I feel this energy in my body. It’s a heat in my throat and a rumbling in my belly. It’s an intensity that’s frustrated that these words must even be written. It propels me through my fears of backlash and worry about not getting it exactly right. What I say may anger you. You may disagree. You may feel more confused, and this, I would say, is good. It means the work can begin. Breathing. People of color need their own spaces. Black people need their own spaces. We need places in which we can gather and be free from the mainstream stereotypes and marginalization that permeate every other societal space we occupy. We need spaces where we can be our authentic selves without white people’s judgment and insecurity muzzling that expression. We need spaces where we can simply be—where we can get off the treadmill of making white people comfortable and finally realize just how tired we are. Valuing and protecting …

Expanding Awareness: How Patterns of Interaction Support White Supremacy

Lately, I’ve been feeling a deep sensitivity as I move about my world—a vulnerability, a brewing sadness, that comes, I believe, from the rawness of beginning to peel back the layers and peer into the depths of my own internalized oppression. I see how often I let myself become small, allow someone else a final thought to keep the peace, and ignore the use of words like “ghetto” (when a place is not) and “afro” (when a hairstyle is not) to protect a white friend from feeling uncomfortable if corrected. Often these subtle aggressions happen closest to home, when engaging with my friends and other seemingly aware white individuals. To be clear, these people are not racists. They’re activists supporting marginalized populations, creatives dedicated to raising social consciousness, and general do-gooders making not enough money to do meaningful things. No doubt upon reading this, they will stand by my side and say, “write on!” (pun intended). Yet the fact that even individuals conscious of the oppression of marginalized populations inadvertently reinforce their own privilege indicates …

Image of people singing around a campfire

Rising to the Challenge: Race and Inclusivity in the Sangha

Last summer I traveled from my home in Berkeley, California to Pátzcuaro, Mexico for a weeklong “young” sangha meditation retreat. I say “young” because in our group of roughly 20, though we varied in age from early 20s to 40s, chronological years didn’t matter. We were artists, activists, educators, and scholars united by a curiosity to explore how creativity and contemplative practice might inform the larger social and environmental ills of our time. As a 33-year-old dancing, writing, Buddhist, I felt right at home. In addition to the Mexican participants, the young-at-heart arrived from across the United States and Europe. By day, we meditated, studied the Dharma, and engaged in experiential activities. By night, we enjoyed campfires, conversation, and maybe a few sips of tequila. As the days turned into what felt like years, we became close. Romances blossomed, disintegrated, and blossomed again. Our nighttime campfires morphed into uninhibited sharing free-for-alls with impromptu poetry, mystic storytelling, and group sing-alongs. We were connected to each other and the lush, blooming forest that held us—one beautiful, breathing …