Regarding the Shimano Case

I am writing again about the Shimano Case because there is a meeting coming up at Dai Bosatsu in a few days and decisions will be made at that time that may impact future directions.

A new document [pdf] has appeared on the Shimano archive website that gives some indication of the predatory practices and lack of regard for students which Eido Shimano has practiced.

“Olivia”, in a open letter to the new abbot and ZSS board has written some of her story in an effort to attempt to bring further results to the severance of Shimano from that organization. There seems to be a great reluctance to let go there and numerous members have even called for a continued teaching relationship with him.

Students have left, board members have quit, outside parties have become involved yet the dependence for some is such that no amount of evidence will allow clarity of thought and vision.

In the letter, the author states that she received a sexually transmitted disease from Shimano and that even though she thought she was the only one he was involved with in this way there were several others simultaneously involved.

You can read the letter yourself at the above link for her story but a portion I want to quote here. After describing her joy at Zen practice and the surroundings of Dai Bosatsu she writes:

It was painful to leave all of that behind, as well as the possibilities that I imagined for the place as a whole. Unlike Eido Shimano, I was essentially banished from the monastery. In the aftermath of one of his own scandals, Eido Shimano has written that he “bravely marches on”. Marching on over the lives of women and men he has directly impeded, slandered or thrown aside—with the overall support of the board—is hardly a form of courage.

Olivia has shown great courage in revealing her story to add some perspective to the issue. These are not abstractions but human beings who have been injured, ignored and who must live with the way they have been betrayed, not only by Shimano but also by those who would not hear words against their teacher-god.

I don’t know what kind of Zen that is.

I don’t know what kind of Buddhism that is.

I don’t know what kind of never ending dream some choose to abide within.

Such fear.

This post also appears on The Buddhist Channel in the Letters section,10409,0,0,1,0


There’s White and Then There’s Whiteness

[Oct. 18, 2014 If I were writing this today it would be somewhat different. I see some problematic aspects. But it represents my state of knowledge at the time. Dealing with this is an ongoing effort. If we’re lucky we learn more and especially learn that there is so much more to learn.]

I put a link two posts back from a Sinhalese Buddhist woman who expressed her experience of coming to reclaim the Buddhist portion of her birth identity and dealing with that in terms of whiteness in the North American Buddhist community. [This situation has escalated very unpleasantly since I started writing this post–and I’ve been offline for a couple of days-but I think what’s here captures a  portion of what’s going on.]

Whiteness is a social construct, a definite part of institutionalized racism. It’s an attitude that comprises privilege and exclusivity. Whiteness is all about privilege. It’s a subset of privilege. It is not about individual white people. But it is about attitudes that colonize the minds of white people primarily. Occasionally it occurs in people of color as well who adopt white standards as the default or the norm or the ideal without regard for other viewpoints. These attitudes are perpetuated and reinforced in white culture, especially in the media and they are deeply entrenched in institutions of all kinds. They are very much based on unchallenged assumptions. It is sometimes referred to as a colonization of the mind.

It is a sociological descriptor of attitude and environment rather than something linked to one particular group of white people, unless they decisively choose that, or specific individuals alone. The most overt group manifestation of it presently would be in neo-Nazism as one decisively chosen. But there are many expressions which are subtle, covert and restrained so it is somewhat difficult to tease out. It is similar to the idea of corporate culture. The Zeitgeist (or atmosphere) of a given culture or institution carries on, once it has been built and accepted regardless of the individual participants.

Most of us have worked at an organization that is tainted or toxic. Sure the folks we work with are nice and the work may even be pleasant yet there is an anxiety and discomfort everywhere that is hard to pin down. We come home far more exhausted than the work suggests, sometimes even lashing out at our family members for seemingly trivial offences, have difficulty sleeping or focusing. That is the effect dysfunctional corporate culture.

Consider then what it might be like if that kind of tension and even fear happens all the time, in every social situation, with nearly everyone you meet, with most of the media you see and nearly every event you attend. While no one may be overtly expressing racism the feeling of the potential of it continuously exists because it is so prevalent. One can’t help but live primarily on the defensive.

I can recall being in a position of authority doing new hires for entry level staff and sitting on hiring committees for higher level staff in a very liberal progressive college and hearing things from colleagues and bosses such as “You certainly believe in diversity with these new hires” (said as a joke), “We’re being outnumbered by Arabs here.” (another joke about 3 Persian women I hired. Persians are not Arabs.) “They have foreign credentials so I think their English skills won’t be good enough.” (assumption made without even meeting the potential candidate) “Are we going to have to stop work when they say their prayers?”  “He’s hard to get along with because that’s his culture. He won’t take orders from women.” (an observation made by my boss about one of my staff who worked harder than just about any one else and who I never had any problems with.) And on and on and on.

And just like in a dysfunctional corporate culture, global “whiteness” culture cannot seem to self-examine and correct for this bias problem. People can individually do this, and if that were to happen en masse then shifts might occur, as the shift from overt racism was made unacceptable (in many but certainly not all areas) and became expressed as subtle exclusions, unconscious posturing, derailing, marginalization, diminishing of persons and in many other ways.

We don’t often look at the reasons why we continually have many of these bias and exclusionary problems. We don’t often look at why we do anything. There are assumptions and hidden areas that we overlook and are not taught to recognize. And in some aspects we are even taught to ignore rather than question many socio-cultural assumptions. People unknowingly reinforce that atmosphere by continued unquestioning participation in it, lack of examination of self or context, narcissism, fear, insecurity, identity confusion, silence, groupthink, seeking gratification from an external locus and mostly ignorance not only of racial-marginalization issues but their participation in them. And occasionally it’s also deliberate.

“Whiteness” in this way is kind of like a meme, a mind virus. All privilege is like that. We don’t even really know we’ve got it until it is pointed out. Like having spinach bits stuck to our teeth while we’re smiling at everyone in the room. Once pointed out there is embarrassment, discomfort and sometimes defensiveness and anger, even threats and violence. For some people there is further refuge taken into the privileged attitude. That becomes a nasty type of defensiveness which attempts to put all the blame on those who speak of their marginalized experience. For a few that becomes a secure psychological place that will brook no assault. Intimidation becomes more predominant and vociferous.

But again that is not saying being a white person is pathological. Let’s be very clear about that. What I am writing about here is the prevalent and subconscious social attitude which has a malignant tendency if unchecked. And then there are biological facts which are…well, facts. Being white and being whiteness are not the same thing.  One is born white but born into whiteness. Neither are chosen initially but the latter becomes more optional as a personal attitude the more one self-examines. Sociologically it is not possible at this time to extricate one’s self from whiteness completely as it is strongly reinforced by the milieu. People assume your whiteness for you, even if you reject it, and operate from their own unconscious privilege biases which include you.

Perpetual refuge within the “whiteness” mindset is rather pathological and extremely damaging in terms of larger society and especially globally. It is also extremely damaging to the individual who constantly feels it necessary to defend their privilege at all costs. The position becomes so defensive and paranoid that even a rational mention of race issues incurs a frightful over reaction.

One of the most obvious manifestations of “whiteness” as a social attitude is that of  difference. And in this context difference means I am better than them. I am right. I hold the moral high ground as well as every other high ground.  It is a value judgment.  Unfortunately convert Buddhist circles in the West are pretty good breeding grounds for this attitude of superiority. And the constant tying of Right Speech to Nice Speech reinforces it.

All of these value judgments revolve around preferred self-concepts.  Self-concepts adopted by “whiteness” (remember that is the attitude not a label of all white people in their entire being) all contrast with opposing, non-acceptable concepts which are assumed to be true of the other.  There is a certain pride in being modern as opposed to backwards, 21st century as opposed to medieval, free form as opposed to rigidly ritualistic, technological as opposed to non-technological, rational as opposed to superstitious,familiar as opposed to foreign or strange, logical as opposed to emotional, financially comfortable as opposed to poor, clean and hygienic as opposed to dirty, conscientious as opposed to careless, honorable as opposed to untrustworthy, educated as opposed to illiterate, benevolent as opposed to ungenerous, compassionate as opposed to uncaring, knowledgeable as opposed to factually ignorant, socially conscious as opposed to socially unaware, noble as opposed to petty, independent as opposed to dependent, restrained rather than too expressive, individual as opposed to socially self-ed.

When difference is viewed as this kind of value binary it becomes assumed that those who are different possess not only some but pretty well all of the unvalued characteristics. These are like descriptive clusters one finds in a thesaurus, one leading to another. There is a tendency to grossly overgeneralize and over group and project the entire cluster onto the devalued other. There is also a tendency to project the undesirable values onto the other without examination as to their veracity. This is where stereotypes are born. Lumping the misunderstood other into such stereotypes reinforces our security and the correctness of our own value systems without consideration of what might be shared values or the validity of or reasons for different values.  There is a lot of pride taken in these value judgments.

It might be tempting to point to various prideful displays that marginalized people put forward, such as Black Pride and similar movements, as manifestations of the same thing. They are not. They are not manifestations of privilege but reactions to marginalization. This is the same for racism in general. Marginalized racial groups do not have the power to be racist because racism is supported by institutionalization just as sexism and many other marginalizing mindsets are. POC groups and individuals can become prejudiced and biased or even hateful but racism is impossible without a power structure to support it. It’s the power differential at play. Two similar socio-cultural phenomenon can have very different origins, meanings and purposes. It’s all about intent. Black Pride and similar cultural Zeitgeists are consciously manifested and constructed in most cases. They are the result of sociological examination and lived experience. Privilege is not. Privilege is taken for granted and assumed at birth. It is not a considered position. It is usually not even a conscious position and that is why it is so dangerous. It is wholly based on an assumption that privilege is the norm rather than an aberration.

The decision to take up a Pride stance for a POC or to even speak up in a situation in which one is dominated is contrasted with the other possibility of continuing to cooperate with the prevailing dominance, that is to be a collaborator with the dominant, oppressive circumstances. There can be little or no consciousness of the decision making process without a good deal of self-examination. Privilege does not self-examine. There is no reason to. Marginalization is a constant source of self-examination since there is no rational reason for discrimination yet it still occurs. When one is consistently being discriminated against the question is perpetually being put forward and one’s very being is constantly being challenged. That is to say marginalized people know a whole lot more about privilege than the privileged do generally because they are confronted by it constantly.

In more liberal circles at times when differences are pointed out or discomfort is expressed with this social contradiction the concerns are subsumed under some monist umbrella “We are All One” without having them redressed or even heard. The issue there is who is defining the All One. Whose terms are being used? All One along with Big Tent, Post Racial and other lofty ideals are code for whiteness setting the terms, tone and conditions and others accepting or acquiescing to them. All One doesn’t want to hear any truth but it’s own. All One means conformity not true inclusion.

The author of the original post was angry and expressed herself as such. She wrote about her reclaiming of Buddhism as part of her cultural identity. Then she wrote about the suicide of a friend using the Buddhist story about the Mustard Seed which she seemed to take some comfort from. She was clearly grappling with overwhelming emotions and situations.

It would have been “nice” if some of those who read her words could have checked their egos and their whiteness attitudes and made a space for her anger, could have tried to understand her viewpoint, could have even choked up “I many not agree with what you say but I support your right to say it.” But no. That would have called for some kind of generosity of spirit and even compassion.


She’s gotten harassment for having an opinion and feelings and then some nasty patronizing and dismissive comments.  A number of people completely ignored her distraught context, which she gave explicitly,  in order to defend what apparently they felt was their stake, identity-wise in her critique of whiteness. A number of others dismissed her arguments in favor of tending their own minor hurts.

Read some of the comments there and in further commentary by others. They are not only the usual derailing kinds of things but outright “Go back to Sri Lanka” kinds of racist crap. Along with a big dollop of the usual sexist raving. The whole blog was actually off line for quite a few hours after these started to come in. Comments have been made about the whole blog being by some crazy person or words to that effect. The blog is a collaborative effort by many people. Look at the contributors tab. Context before comment seems irrelevant to some commenters.

I wonder how many death threats she gotten, since that’s generally par for the course for anyone who expresses strong opinions that unsettle the status quo. Yeah even in McBuddha Land.

The thing is some of these comments exactly prove all the points she was makes. And as they continue to come in the points are becoming further reinforced. I’m astounded at some of it.  Is it any wonder people don’t want to attend meetings or seem a little uncomfortable when in a situation of dealing with an overwhelming white majority sangha. You never know who’s going to question not only your right to speak or attend but every statement you make and even your right to make it and every feeling you have and your right to feel that way. You never know who is going to take offence just because you are voicing your experience and someone doesn’t like what they hear because it endangers their comfortable liberal view of themselves.

So marginalization by intimidation is once again flexing it’s muscles, my compassionate Buddhist friends. Don’t try to understand where someone is coming from or acknowledge that maybe their experiences in life have been painful, especially recently, especially when they state it explicitly.  Or that someone else may see the world on terms that are quite different than our own. Punch them in the face instead for having an opinion or circumstances or a life experience that irritates.

Sorta like this…

<whiteness-speak on>

You know we can’t be wasting our precious time with generosity of spirit and compassion which we only reserve for people who agree with us or who thank us profusely or for poor brown people who give us good photo ops so we can prove how kind and generous we are when everybody is watching. You know then we have something to publish and broadcast so the world knows our intentions. Our intentions are always good, always for your benefit whether you realize that or not.

From now on let’s just use the multi-purpose privilege dictum, “You said something but my issues need to be center stage, my hurt feelings trump yours. And it’s your damn fault for saying anything. My experience is what really counts. So shut the fuck up.”

And if that isn’t enough to keep people in their place minding their manners then they can just leave, not only the Internet space or the sangha space but the whole damn country. After all we’ve gotta keep the riff-raff out. Right!?! Shut them up for disturbing our mindful “serenity”. They need to do metta meditation for their “oppressors”. What kind of nonsense term is oppressors anyways, I love everyone. I’m the karuna champion. What business do They have coming over here and telling us anything? Who do they think they are to question my intentions? Why should we take that kind of crap after all we’ve done for Them. We’re saving the whole damn religion from their backward heathen ways. We know Buddhism better than anyone. We obviously know what metta means way more than they ever will. We travel to their countries to get the Dharma and a good vacation and lots and lots of photos to prove we know original Buddhism and have walked in Buddha’s footsteps. [He was probably a white guy by the way] We’ve improved their damn poor economies with our spiritual tourism. We’ve even brought some of the nicer ones to our place. And they knew how to behave in proper company.  Besides we’re on both the DL’s and Thich’s preferred guest lists. That proves we’re not racists.

And we don’t really care to consider that politics, economics, culture and religion and all other sociological phenomenon while intrinsically linked may be somewhat different things in your case. It is in our case too but we do it correctly.  We don’t want to know anything about you but the Buddhism part and we can then use a lot of logical fallacies to blame your Buddhism, as fraught with errors as it is, for every cultural, social, economic and political problem you have. Yes and every war you ever had-it was Buddhist Warfare and not related to any other factor. It’s because you don’t interpret Buddhism correctly. Our Buddhism is pure. We save it only for special occasions and don’t let it get messed up with those icky cultural and political things. We even have a name for the scum who try to do that. We call them Engaged Buddhists because it’s easier then to segregate them away from us Normal Buddhists. You haven’t even refined your Buddhist system to do that, that’s how primitive you are.

In our culture politics stays in it’s own area as does economics, ecology and other stuff. Then we know what to blame. And we can protect our special understanding of Buddhism, which you don’t have. You let it get dirty with all this worldly stuff. You insult Buddhism by your insistence on letting it out of it’s clean holy box. Purity, purity, purity is the proper mantra here.

And in your case it’s always your improper Buddhist approach to blame for every problem your country has. But in our case it’s global politics, corruption of our corporate governments, anarchists, socialists, feminists, the economy, CEOs, misogynists, racists (which I am not!), lack of education, over intellectualism, the media, Hollywood, Fox News, politicians, the government, supply and demand markets, unions, fags, multiculturalism, Islam, immigrants, free markets, the Internet, liberals, conservatives, fundamentalist Christians, over-regulation, terrorists, greed anger and delusion of other people and about a million other things that cause all the problems. but not our Buddhism. Our Buddhism is that pure. Our beliefs are that pure. It causes no problems whatsoever. And besides your country is just not as complicated as ours. You don’t have our technology. You are a simple people. And therefore simple minded. You don’t understand complexity. You can’t reason. You are too emotional. You cannot control yourselves. You live in a big illusion, like a fairy tale. You are like children we must protect from themselves. We know that and try to be kind and guide you to see things the right way. But sometimes you’ve got to hear the truth. No make that always. So that’s what I’m saying here.

We’ve got giant dharma centers with 5 star retreats. We’ve got YouTube dharma talks and teleconferenced jukai ceremonies. We’ve got neurological images of meditating brains. We’ve got scientists who are dissecting meditation as we speak. We’ve got stuff to regulate all of our moods and thoughts so we don’t have to bother much with existential suffering. We just want to be comfortable and we are. We’ve got apps for meditation, chanting, sutras and everything. Hell we’ve got Iphones! Pretty soon we’ll be able to upload the Nirvana experience and download it into every person on the planet at the blink of an eye. That’s how good our Buddhism is.

And we’ve got big meetings and conferences that you are too snobby to attend. What’s wrong with you? Show some gratitude at least for the invitation. No instead you want to bring along all your unruly friends. Translators even. Why can’t you just speak English like normal people?

We invite your biggest stars. Karmapas even. Though we know he gets death threats on a regular basis he may not bring along any security persons, translators or others and should act like the child he is. Like the children you all are. The recipients of our paternalistic benevolence. Doesn’t matter that there are huge political issues involved. Or that he is a stateless refugee who is subject to the whims of various foreign governments.  Or that we cannot in any way assure our government would even give him a visa. What is most important is our invitation. This happens every time with him. Here is something about the last time he refused to appear when we wanted him too. Why is he so obstinate? Why do these Asians have such political issues? They are a simple people who make everything too complicated with their ignorance. Why can’t they just let people do what we want them to? Why can’t they all just do as they’re told?

But then again it would be terrible if they brought their friends. Then they’ll start bringing their families and where would we be? In a mess. We might then be out numbered. Even worse we might have to talk to them. And they might not listen to us instruct them on THE TRUTH. Can’t have that now can we?

We are certainly the arbiters of THE TRUTH. In everything. Especially when it comes to Buddhism.

By God we’ve studied our brains out. We can recite the entire history of Buddhism in every country of the world. [sort of] We might know dick about the culture or larger political issues but that’s only extraneous baggage anyways. And we sure as hell don’t know many of the people involved but those people don’t really matter in our Buddhist way anyhow. At least not THOSE people. I mean really they don’t even speak English! Or Pali! Or Sanskrit! Just some other jibber-jabber. We must never let them forget that it’s all about our people. The Saviors. C’mon you know who we are.  We’ve memorized most of the suttas IN PALI just for you and tried every school and sect there is. We’re the fucking experts. ACKNOWLEDGE US AS THE EXPERTS WE ARE DAMMIT.

Ungrateful bastards.

And they even dare to criticize Richard Gere. The ultimate Buddhist role model. He’s so kind and generous and handsome and rich and popular and famous. They’re going to go after Goldie Hawn before long. She’s OUR girl. Blond and everything. We can’t let this go any further. We’ve got to protect our celebrity Buddhists or else we won’t have anything left to worship. Just because all of their celebrity Buddhists don’t make movies or records they are all just so jealous.

And then there’s all these God-damned white apologists taking the side of these insolent foreigners. What’s wrong with them? I, of course would not go so far as to call them race traitors, but really! Someone wrote about race traitors:

A traitor to the white race is someone who is nominally classified as white but who defies white rules so strenuously as to jeopardize his or her ability to draw upon the privileges of whiteness.

These guilty white liberals sure are some of that even if I wouldn’t call them by such an offensive name. I mean they’re willing to join the other side against their own. Where will they belong then? How do I classify them? What will that do to my position? How can they be stopped? [Just like the God-damned male-feminists. What’s with that too? Girly men. Don’t even get me started…]

Back to my main point.

This woman in particular, I suspect has some other issues in her life that may be more deserving of her attention. Of course that is for me to decide not her. I mean she did mention that her friend had only just committed suicide but that’s no reason to get all emotional or anything. And obviously she’s projecting her grief onto this little non-issue. And it’s not an issue because it’s not an issue to me and that’s all that matters. I mean I can understand the results of suicide and all but this other stuff should be kept separate, even if it may be related to what she was writing about. Not that I’d bother to ask or anything. My supposition is good enough.

This person really needs to work through some of this anger and be thankful for her own privileges in life. I don’t know what sort of Buddhism she practices but perhaps she needs to find a teacher to guide her. I know just the center if she can afford it. And Metta meditation is definitely needed on her part. She should follow the prescription that I give because I know better than her what her problem is and I can tell her what to do about it.  Obviously.

Buddhism is not an identity we get from others, even if that is one’s cultural heritage. If I can’t make that claim then neither can you. Even if you are born with it you are not allowed to claim any identity tied to it. That’s just not fair to us who have adopted it. Its a path we walk to enlighten ourselves and help the world in the process. And that’s what I’m doing right now by helping you get over your third world viewpoint. Forget about that stuff it’s all history. Real history begins now.  When you encounter us. When you take our wise council.

She probably believes that Theravada as codified in Sri Lanka is all of Buddhism. I mean her cultural frame of reference is just so small. It’s her own personal experience. When we speak we speak for us all. She doesn’t even acknowledge us in that way. She does not see things the way we do, the way she’s supposed to see them. Not only are we the final arbiters of what is and isn’t Buddhism everywhere but what is and isn’t on her own mind as well. You don’t get that kind of maha-siddhi action anywhere else. We know.

If she came into my sangha she would be warmly welcomed. Why doesn’t she see that? We know we are nice. We have policies. Why doesn’t she read them? Why doesn’t she educate herself about us? Not that I’m tokenizing or anything but I can even give you a list right off the top of my head how many minorities we have coming to our sangha on a regular basis. I’ve counted them. They’re marked on my progressively multi-colored mala that I wear on my wrist. I know it’s mostly white but here…the yellow beads are for the Chinese, the red beads are for the aboriginals, the brown beads are for south and southeast Asians and the black ones are for…you know…blacks. I know the mala is a little short but we are working on collecting the whole set.  I bet she can’t do that with her temples back home! She just leaves no room for dialogue. She doesn’t want to talk to us when and how we expect to be talked to. She must make room for us in her statements. She must leave an opening for us. Always.  She doesn’t make accommodation for us to respond and tell her how and why she is wrong about everything she thinks and feels. I wonder why not? We’ll always be happy to talk to her and fill her in on the proper way to do things including how to express herself so as to be agreeable to us.

And her tone, well that has got to go. Forget about the fact that she comes from a country that has been torn by war and terrorism for decades. Just like those refugee Tibetans. Forget about the fact that people have lost family members and seen bloodshed and horror the likes of which we cannot imagine. We cannot imagine it nor do we want to, so don’t go bringing all your PTSD stuff and other nastiness to our table. And by the way it is our table. Talk pretty there or don’t talk at all.

We just can’t have any back talk. We set the tone and the circumstances in which you may speak. It would be even better if you asked our permission first. And let us edit the copy just in case you might offend one of us. Though really it would be better if you didn’t speak at all. Just listen and learn from your betters. By invitation only, on our terms, works best for us. [This paragraph pertains partly to the sexist elements in comments-most women are familiar with being called banshees, screechy, rude, etc when their mode of communication does not meet the expectations of privileged males.]

And don’t you dare rock the boat. Don’t you dare get angry. That’s completely un-Buddhist. We can get angry, even go bat-shit crazy writing threats, lies and abusive language, but that’s Real-Buddhist anger, skillful means, upaya, not your common superstitious kind. You’re just so trapped in your duality and cultural relativism. Get the universal perspective. We have it. Can’t you tell?! Don’t you dare try to challenge who we think we are. There will be consequences. Damn huge consequences.

We will crumple you up into a little heap and throw you into the dustbin of history where you belong, you backwards imbeciles. After all weren’t your ancestors feudal lords who crushed the people? [Never mind that mine were too] Doesn’t your government wage sectarian war against minorities? [Never mind that neighboring countries supported terrorists for decades often at our behest. Or that my current government does the same, but not on our own soil of course. We don’t want to mess OUR house up.]

Do not present us with any inconvenient facts. Do not present us with your fairy tales. This is our narrative, our story. The only one that matters.

And we’re not going to let anyone mess with that.

</whiteness-speak off>

What do white people do about white privilege besides feel guilty, angry and defensive. From the post Anti-racism, race traitors, and whiteness.

  1. We need to talk about racism.
  2. We need to educate ourselves.
  3. We need to work in coalition with people of color in our communities on their issues (which are our issues, as well).
  4. We need to point out examples of how white people can do antiracist work.

Read that whole post for further explanation and contexts. And the comments get into all of these issues and then some.

Here’s a few more educational links.

DETOUR‐SPOTTING for white anti‐racists [PDF]

The Point Is Not To Interpret Whiteness But To To Abolish It by Noel Ignatiev

Derailing for Dummies-a good one for opening up, examining and deconstructing any kind of privilege.

The point about self-education on these matters is that one can’t really acknowledge what they don’t really know. It’s very popular to say “Yes, yes I know I have privilege.” and leave it at that as if that makes one some kind of hero just by the admission. The ability to make that assertion without follow up or consequences and just walk away is privilege itself.  If one really wants to manage their privilege in a conscientious and compassionate and human centered way then some serious unpacking is in order.

It begins with questions. And through both self-education and self-examination. And don’t ask the marginalized person to fill you in as if your education is their responsibility. It isn’t.

  • What is privilege?
  • What kinds of privilege do I have?
  • How do I know when I’m being treated in a privileged way? [One way to get an answer is to listen and consider the reports of barriers placed in the way of people who do not have the privilege in question. Or carefully read the reactions of those who respond defensively to those reports.]
  • How has that manifested in my life? [Cops don’t pull me over due to the color of my skin, etc.]
  • How have I participated in maintaining privilege? [The primary answer revolves around maintaining silence.]
  • How have I marginalized others? [What underlies my words? Self-interest and self-protection or seeing reality?]
  • How have I overlooked the interests of others in favor of my own? [Have I derailed discussions? In what way?]
  • When have I turned away when discussions of privilege became uncomfortable? Why? [Guilt/shame may be part of it]

Even if you can’t or don’t want to deal with those questions consider this one.

Can I articulate my own privilege so I know what it sounds or looks like?


There’s an example which I’ve just done above.

Do a “whiteness-speak” exercise for every privilege area you think you have. The way to do this is to first find out what marginalizing speech is, then imagine (or find examples) of marginalizing speech or writing and make a monologue about it. In my above example, on the issue of race and Buddhism, I drew on posts and comments around the blogosphere, my personal childhood experiences, things I’ve heard friends and family say, stuff I’ve read, behavior I’ve observed in others [particularly in Asia] my travel experiences (that’s a good one for bringing out the inner privileged child in everyone-Did you ever mentally shout on a plane or in the airport for example, “Shut that damn kid up”, “Move your damn suitcases out of my way”, “What kind of idiot wears lace up boots through security?”? BTW I’ve mentally said all of those.  That’s your privilege speaking, “I’ve paid. My comfort is more important than anyone else’s. I should be respected. I should have my way.) Combine all of that, model it on those you imagine exemplify privilege (like Donald Trump or someone who flaunts all of their privileges ad nauseum) and let loose with a monologue.

The thing is in order for it to happen realistically one has to connect to their inner privilege. If you can manage to do it, as appalling as it sounds, you’ve found the attitude in question. That’s the objective. Remember that feeling. Try to catch yourself every time you slip into it. Consider the circumstances that provoke privilege behavior. There’s a real mindfulness exercise for you.

By writing this down, and it took a few days, I’ve ferreted out all kinds of little pockets that I’d not fully articulated to myself previously. I only started with one paragraph and as I dug deeper it kept expanding. It’s an ongoing thing.

The second part of the exercise is to imagine what it is like to be on the receiving end of that kind of monologue every day of your life. What would the reaction be like? Maybe a little angry? No need to imagine though. There’s plenty of people writing about it if you really want to know.

In case you don’t want to look for it here’s some lovely videos of privileged behavior. [thanks to newzdude76 for the link to the first one]

How to Tell People They Sound Racist


End Note:

I’ve been sitting on this post for a few days now.  Partly due to being offline for some of that time and partly doing a little bit of adding and editing and really trying to examine and unravel some of the issues. Like most of my posts that have strong words I’m not 100% sure if it’s the “Right” thing to publish. But if I wait for 100% surety in anything I’ll probably be 100% dead before that comes along. This topic is something I’ve been dealing with for a long long time, not only academically and in the work world, but in myself.

I recall the first time I recognized “whiteness” in myself. It was brought to my attention by one of my professors. I had written a paper about some aspect of Indian culture using some kind of Marxist theoretical analysis. Now Indian academia, particularly in the field of anthropology has a great many scholars who have written a great many papers utilizing Marxist [economic] theory. These scholars are rather famous for it. My prof pointed out that I was writing about India, using these theories yet I didn’t cite a single reference from this entire body of scholarship which I was certainly aware of since he had assigned readings from it. I had only cited white male scholars. Then he asked me why that was the case.

I had no answer. It just hadn’t occurred to me that the people could speak for themselves, in this particular way or that I could cite them. Or that they were “real” authorities. My authority models up until that time had all be white males. It was a huge oversight on my part. Certainly not deliberate. I just didn’t see it. That’s how privilege works. And why it is so insidious.

From that point on my world opened up in ways I could not possibly have imagined. And it still has not stopped. So thanks to Professor Sharma for that!

Peace out y’all.

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