A recent Wednesday evening virtual gathering was devoted to people sharing their experience during the isolation because of the shutdown. Specifically, I wanted to hear how people are experiencing the separation, then also a sense of gratitude that may have arisen during this time. What was obvious to me before this exercise was that people are experiencing this in many ways. The responses from people demonstrated the reality, not only my surmise.
People who are younger and living in cities have a greater sense of isolation and separation. Those who are older seemed to ride this out with a bit more composure, feeling more a sense of inconvenience, but at the same time enjoying the solitude.
Within each group there were specific sentiments worth noting. Several people who are performing artists feel distressed by an inability to perform with others and before an audience, which is not just their predilection, but also their livelihood. It was interesting that one person who lives in New York City had traveled the subway for the first time in months and was pleasantly surprised by the courtesy people show in their concern for others by wearing masks and observing social distance. Several people who are older and live in our rural area do feel a disconnect from the Sangha and a sense of foreboding at the other events occurring at the same time in our world.
New York State, Massachusetts, and adjoining states in the Northeast have done an admirable job of going from the worst-case scenario in the world for SARS-CoV-2 infection and deaths, to a new case load below other states. Had we not employed social distancing, masks, and isolation; we would still see the statistics climbing with new cases and death. The vast majority of people I see when I go out, which is a skewed sample since I do not venture out often, are wearing masks and observing social distance. There are a few people who from ignorance, politics, or orneriness, choose to ignore commonsense and go without masks and observe social distance. These are a – few – people, at least in my neighborhood.
All the people who have been rational and followed the CDC guidelines should be pleased that we have contributed to reducing morbidity and mortality of the pandemic.
Before too long we will be meeting in person. We will still need to follow some precautions. I don’t think the measures will be that onerous. But, what a relief to be able to greet people in person. It will be a little longer until we gather in the kuri (abbot’s residence) for the discussion and have potluck diners after the meditation service.
We have all been living through this surrealistic time with slightly different experiences, though it has the same cause, a nasty virus. Then we turned the page onto a new chapter last week. Covid 19 was no longer the headline with charts of new cases, the number of deaths, statewide, nationally, internationally, and in-depth articles of how we would reopen. Bam – a new reality, a new equally deep concern, the extrajudicial execution of George Floyd in Minneapolis. This incident started as a slow boil as reports came in, and then exploded with a eight-minute 46-second video from an onlooker’s smart phone. It was mental whiplash.
As someone has noted, “Police brutality toward Black people has always been present, the difference is that now we are seeing it because everyone has video.” These cases of Black people being murdered are lynching by other means.
“I can’t breathe.” We heard this first on a street in Staten Island by Eric Gardner six years ago. “I can’t Breathe” was the plea again by George Floyd in Minneapolis last week. These are only two of the scores – no hundreds, thousands, of similar incidents in the last decade. How many occurrences in the 401 years since slavery was introduced to the Americas? Occurrences are so ubiquitous so as not to receive widespread public notice. I can’t breathe is a plea of all African Americans who have lived in a racist society created by slavery, spread by Jim Crow Laws, perpetuated by segregation, aggravated by discrimination, maintained by white supremacists, and enabled by all of us who have not reversed the course of systematic racism. This racism extends to all who are nonwhite, Latinx, Asian, Native American; anyone who has not benefitted by white privilege. African American’s experience is the most egregious and enduring form of racism.
Cops killing African Americans is wrong, it brings out the protests, but the real effect of racism is much more corrosive. It effects the minority population in jobs, housing, economics, health care, prison system, the judicial system, education, virtually every area of existence in America. It also effects the majority population, directly by not providing our society with the talents and creativity available, indirectly by being party, albeit through complacency, to oppression, we are morally and materially complicit.
Race ‘troubles’ in America to the White population seem to be episodic. To people of color, it is an everyday, every moment, way of living. We view racism on a spectrum, which is a convenient willful ignorance of the problem. If you think of yourself as non-racist by not holding racist thoughts and being sympathetic to the minority people you are living a delusion regarding your complicity. If you are actively working to eliminate structural racism in every institution and sphere of American life, you might, just might, be an antiracist.
We are on the edge of a precipice in overcoming racial injustice in America. If we work to dissolve, maybe smash would be a better term, the wall that separates White America from Non-White America we will create an nation that lives up to the promise made several centuries ago. If we feel empathetic to the problems of race but respond with half measures, we will perpetuate a historic injustice and ignore the nature of reality. Awaken, Awaken, do not squander your life.
There is much more that I would like to write about this, but I’m sure everyone is feeling inundated with too much information right now.
There are several books you might consider that discuss ‘Whiteness’ and systematic racism in depth. There are plenty more, if interested, ask and I’ll make other recommendations.
Carol Anderson (2017) White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide. Bloomsbury Publishing PLc.
Michael Dyson (2017) Tears We Can Not Stop: A Sermon to White America. St. Martin’s Press.
Debby Irving (2014) Waking up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race. Elephant Room Press.
Ibram X Kendi (2017) Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, Bold Type Books; Reprint edition.
Nell Painter (2011) The History of White People. W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition.
My dear friend and colleague from Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Larry Wallach forwarded the following to me. I pass it on to you as a reflection.
My name is Monshin.
I am a 71 year old white American man.
I can do, say, and be all of these things without fear (as can my family).
I stand with my black brothers and sisters.
I will not be killed.
I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery).
I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothemSean and #AtatianaJefferson).
I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride).
I can have a cellphone (#StephonClark).
I can leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards).
I can play loud music (#JordanDavis).
I can sell CD’s (#AltonSterling).
I can sleep (#AiyanaJones)
I can walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown).
I can play cops and robbers (#TamirRice).
I can go to church (#Charleston9).
I can walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin).
I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party (#SeanBell).
I can party on New Years (#OscarGrant).
I can get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland).
I can lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile).
I can break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones).
I can shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford) .
I can have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher).
I can read a book in my own car (#KeithScott).
I can be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover).
I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese).
I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans).
I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood).
I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo).
I can run (#WalterScott).
I can breathe (#EricGarner, #GeorgeFloyd).
I can live (#FreddieGray).
This is reality.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
Change the first two lines to your name and your identity and share with as many people as you can.
Silence kills. Ben Cohen (co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s)
It is happening again. We are now reaching for the next shiny object, rioting in the streets associated with peaceful protests around the nation. Add to this the deliberate misdirection of using military force on American soil by the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There is much to be said about how some of our police are contributing to racism, the overall oppression of African Americans, and violence in the streets. I’ll leave that for another time. I do not want to lose focus on the immediate issue of systematic racism in light of the recent sanctioned murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and uncounted others.
For this week I want us to think about how we, people of every color, ethnicity, and national origin, are dealing with race in our society. This is not only a societal problem. It is a question at the core of our consciousness. For Buddhists it is implicit in our precepts, our vows and teachings.
I do see a promise for a societal reboot regarding race in America. Such a reboot will occur through the institutions that have been tools of oppression, such as criminal justice, policing, education, medical, and yes, religions.
We have an opportunity to be instruments of healing, leaders toward racial justice. The seed begins in our hearts, it buds in our minds, and flowers in our actions. To quote:
May all beings be happy.
May all be joyous and live in safety.
Let no one deceive another, nor despise another, as weak as they may be.
Let no one by anger or hate wish evil for another.
As a mother, in peril of her own life, watches and protects her only child.
Thus, with a limitless spirit must one cherish all living beings.
Love the world in its entirety – above, below, and all around.
With an infinite goodness and with benevolence.
While standing, or walking, sitting or lying down, as long as one is awake,
Let one cultivate Loving-Kindness.
This is called the Supreme Way of Living.
You are cherished. Please accept my blessings until we speak again.
Love and Gassho … Monshin