Essays

Towards the Impossible Possibility of Black Buddhist Liberation

This introduction appears in the issue “Between Amitabha and Tubman: Black Buddhist Thought” (Volume 9, Number 2). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue


The beginnings of this issue predate my time at The Arrow Journal. Its core themes, however, have been central to my journey as a queer Black person living in North America seeking a spiritual practice that reflects my diasporic history and upbringing. In many ways, those of us longing for a spiritual home, or unsure of what one looks like, may find refuge within these pages and within the words of our authors who share similar journeys.

Prior to joining The Arrow’s team in 2020, I came across Dr. Shanté Paradigm Smalls’ scholarship on queerness, hip hop, and Black feminisms. While researching my new doctoral program and the professors I’d be working with for the next few years, I discovered Shanté’s co-edited issue on “Black Queer and Trans* Aesthetics,” published by The Black Scholar (Spring 2019). This collection articulated an imaginative, abolitionist ethic necessary to bring forth “the ‘impossible possibility’ of Black liberation,”1 a call that I believe this issue in The Arrow answers and expands in new directions.

While the seeds of this issue were planted before I came to The Arrow, it’s been a pleasure to support and nurture its development. Beginning with the call for papers, it grew strong roots as a diverse submission pool emerged, and it formed a strong foundation as main themes and contributions clarified. Ultimately, the branches stemmed and stretched outwards, filling with leaves as illustrations, visual materials, and creative pieces came together in production. Now, as we offer this collection to readers, we wait for the fruit and flowers to bloom. This, we hope, will come from your engagement with the writing herein and how it inspires, moves, and challenges you.

“Between Amitabha and Tubman: Black Buddhist Thought” begins with a roundtable conversation curated by Shanté, akin to the kitchen table conversations that inspired Black lesbians and women of color to start their own publishing presses and feminist collectives. This dialogue sets the tone for an issue that delves deeply into the histories, narratives, and embodiment of Black people navigating Buddhist spaces, practice, and thought. The writing follows a trend in Buddhist publishing wherein practitioners of color, and Black folks in particular, have benefited from a flurry of attention and an up-tick in notoriety. Recent books by Rima Vesley-Flad (2022), Pamela Ayo Yetunde and Cheryl A. Giles (2020), and Lama Rod Owens (2020) point to this renewed attention to Black Buddhist thought and scholarship while building on the legacy of Black Buddhist trailblazers like Rev. angel Kyodo Williams, Jasmine Syedullah, Jan Willis, Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, Valeria (Vimalasara) Mason-John, and countless others. We are blessed to feature some of these voices in this issue, and to continue in the tradition of sharing the insights they offer.

The road to publication meandered, yet, together we learned how to produce meaningful work in conjunction with the multiple unfolding crises of our time. By exercising grace, acceptance, and care, we were able to move in a way that defied paradigms of publishing that can be strenuous or even harmful to diverse writers. Ultimately, I’m delighted to have lent a hand to stewarding this tree and witnessing it take root. I am abundantly appreciative of Shanté’s clear, intentional, and empowering editorial style and of the synergy we were able to cultivate throughout the process. I extend much gratitude to our Associate Editor, Ashley Wilson, for jumping into the thick of this issue; your support has been essential. Our work would not be possible without the efforts of Gabe Dayley, our Chief Editor, back-up copyeditor, and de facto production manager; your many uncounted hours are essential to the editorial team and the resulting high-quality, visually stunning issues we publish. Thank you also to the peer reviewers and to our team of copyeditors whose feedback strengthened each manuscript. Finally, a heartfelt thank you to the authors for allowing us to bring these important contributions to our readers, as well as to the illustrators and artists for providing the beautiful imagery that enhances these messages.

Our collected authors, poets, and illustrators in this issue emphasize the veneration, negotiation, and decolonization required to honor Black people in transgressive Buddhist spaces. I hope all the parts of this issue are useful to you and that you share those parts with people you care for and love, the people you teach and work with, and the people in your community.

shah noor hussein
Managing Editor
The Arrow Journal

Notes

  1. Shanté Paradigm Smalls & Elliott H. Powell (2019). “Introduction,” The Black Scholar, 49:1, 1-5, https://doi.org/10.1080/00064246.2019.1548054.