The poisoned workplace

We’ve all been there. Because the poison runs deep.

The identification tags shown above are for an employee at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.  Maurice Walker has detailed five years of such abuse in a lawsuit filed on Wednesday against the hospital and his supervisors.  Among other things, the lawsuit details “racial taunts, stymied job promotion, and forcing him to wear official hospital ID badges with the image of Jimmie Walker.”

What was the hospital’s response?  Continue reading

The unbearable whiteness of being

Image composite from Angry Asian Buddhist

The Angry Asian Buddhist* often writes about the invisibility of Asian Americans and the dominance of white people in U.S. Buddhist media.  AAB has looked at the writers published in the various Buddhist rags, created a photo composite of the Buddhist Geeks conference and now has also created one for the Under 35 project (partially pictured above).

Here’s the part I find interesting about the Under 35 post:

If we look at when Asian Buddhist authors submitted their work, we see a huge spike at the end of last year, when the Under 35 Project first went online. But during the nearly six months since Shambhala SunSpace began promoting this project by mostly reposting pieces by white authors, only one Asian author has submitted her work. She wasn’t included in the weekly Under 35 post.

Got that? It’s as if the Shambhala Sun posted a sign.

Henry Sugimoto

The message was pretty clear.

*I note that the AAB is undoubtedly an optimist too, always wishing that maybe, just maybe, somebody will surprise us.  


This is Te’Andrea and Charles Wilson.  They were recently married.  Just not in the church they attended.  Why?  Because “there has never been a black wedding at the First Baptist Church in Crystal Springs, Miss., since its founding in 1883.”

Geez, you gotta start sometime.

But the pastor said church members threatened to fire him if he married the couple.  So he married them in an alternate venue.  Because he didn’t want to lose his job, yanno.

Apparently the church allows black members and black employees.  It just doesn’t want to host black weddings.  And according to pastor Stan Weatherford, the church is now holding meetings to decide how it should respond if other black people want to be married there.

Power for good

Often I think that religious entities reinforce and support existing racist structures.  Additionally, members of religious groups often use their religion as a defense against accusations of racism.  Or are openly racist.

So it’s always nice to see religious groups moving towards social justice:

Tav HaYosher is part of the ethical kashrut movement, a sort of fair trade kosher that is beginning to establish a toehold locally. Kosher establishments that receive the seal meet an ethical labor standard, including paying workers at least minimum wage, giving them appropriate breaks and time off, and maintain a safe working environment. A similar standard has recently been developed for kosher food producers.

Developed by Orthodox social justice organization Uri L’Tzedek, the Tav HaYosher certification program was a response to the widespread fraud and violations of child labor, immigration and environmental policies at Agriprocessor, the country’s largest kosher slaughterhouse and meatpacking company, based in Postville, Iowa.

On race and Buddhism

So how does it feel to come to Zen practice as a person of color? And they will come; they do come. My friend Sala Steinbach says an African-American woman at SFZC says, “If it is about liberation, people of color will be interested.” They are. The Dalai Lama draws stadiums full of people in Mexico. In South America there are Zen and Tibetan teachers with very strong lay sanghas. So I ask my Asian, and Latino, and African-American friends about how it feels to come here, to San Francisco Zen Center or Spirit Rock. And I ask myself what feelings come up. Dogen suggests we take a step back to turn one’s light inward and illuminate oneself. What I see there in myself is then reflected back into the world.

The answer to how it feels to anyone largely depends on two further inter-related questions. First, does one feel safe and seen in the community? Are the conditions of your life acknowedged, welcomed, explored in the sangha? I suspect that this is sometimes yes, sometimes no. Thoughtless words can turn people from the temple and from the practice. I have seen this happen here and elsewhere. An offhand comment is made about the white, middle class makeup of the community with people of color sitting right there. Again, through the unintended eye of white supremacy (hard words, I know) people are made to feel invisible and uncounted. Maybe I should say something about white supremacy. It is a building block of racism, part of my blindness to my own privilege as a white man. It is at once personal and systematic. If one wants to see it, the practice of individual mindfulness, of turning our light inward needs to be blended dialogue with friends and sangha members who don’t carry this very particular privilege.

The same kinds of painful things happen if you are homosexual, or if because of injury or fact of birth you can’t get up the steps of the temple. These blindnesses hurt and turn people away. That’s what it might feel like from one side.

On the other side, the Buddha’s understanding is “all beings have the wisdom and virtues of the enlightened ones, but because of misunderstandings and attachments they do not realize it.” This understanding is so precious that we are obligated to share it. I don’t mean proselytizing, but keep in mind, the Buddha never stopped preaching Dharma. But now we have centers and institutions. To make zazen and Dharma available, we need to tell people they are welcome and invite them to practice with us. Already we are taking practice to jails and hospitals, to people who might not be able to come to us.

The next obvious step is to find ways to open our doors to those who can come to us. I hear that some San Francisco churches have created a kind of covenant of “open congregation.” This means that in their literature and at their services, classes, and events they make it known that they welcome people of color, gays and lesbians, and so on. Being pro-active rather than passive on questions of diversity and inclusion.

This is necessary because in America, passivity means white supremacy. It’s subtle and pervasive, conditioned by and conditioning our magazines, movies, tv, our clothing, all the things we buy. It is a virus infecting my mind as a person with so-called privilieges, and the mind of someone who might not have such privileges. Last week I was invited to talk about Buddhism and race to a diverse group of teenagers doing an interfaith social action internship in San Francisco. Now maybe I did a good job talking to them, but I was the first Buddhist choice that came to mind for the organizers. There is some irony in that. Buddhism in America gets defined as and by people like me. I have to watch myself carefully not to buy into this.

Go here.


A meander.

Lately I’ve been reflecting again on the sanctuary of some spaces.  Sanctuary is, or should be, a place of refuge.  However, sometimes it’s not.

I always feel conflicted about “others” (and by this I generally mean white people) in spaces that were historically sanctuary.  On one hand, I do often feel that I should be welcoming to newcomers.  I know very well what it is like to be in a space where everybody is not like me.  Welcome to a large part of my life.  On the other hand, sometimes people just make it so darn hard.

It’s especially difficult if you belong to a religious community that others have exoticized.  There’s a certain amount of feeling like you’re in a fishbowl when all you want to be doing is living your life.  I remember what it was like to be taken to a Catholic church as a young scout.  Everything seemed so foreign and peculiar to me.  The holy water.  The kneeling and the crossing.  The latin.

But I see my eight-year-old gaping self in the faces of grown adults.  Worse yet, they want to take pictures.  Here are some natives in their ritual ceremonies! Continue reading

Religion and social justice

I often wonder why many religious groups don’t have more of an emphasis on social justice.  And I often wonder why some religious groups seem so hateful.  I once received a particularly vitriolic racist e-mail from somebody, and the signature line included that fish and a biblical phrase.  So I sent back a four-letter e-mail:  WWJD?

Anyway, that’s an overly long warm up for this link.  It’s a rabbi writing about why Jews should not use the term “shv*rtza”:

Jews are called by the Torah to be a light unto the nations, and it is religious Jews in particular, who live lives openly committed to Jewish ritual and values, upon whom this responsibility first devolves. But what light is it that we impart when we use a term of vulgarity that betrays the Torah’s most sacred value, that there is only one God in heaven who created every human being in His likeness.

He lost me when he got to the part about Wright and Farrakhan, but oh well.