dharma monkey

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Conditioned to categorize, Part II


Yesterday’s post, combined with something I read in my What Would Buddha Do book this morning, has made me realize just how “race conscious” I am. It is part of my categorizing, and it really bugs me. But, I’m glad to report, I found a different way of looking at the world.

First off, the section of “Mindful Politics” that I read this morning was an essay by bell hooks. To introduce you to her, below is the first paragraph from her entry on Wikipedia:

bell hooks (born Gloria Jean Watkins on September 25, 1952) is an African-American intellectual, feminist, and social activist. hooks focuses on the interconnectivity of race, class, and gender and their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and domination. She has published over thirty books and numerous scholarly and mainstream articles, appeared in several documentary films, and participated in various public lectures. Primarily through an African American female perspective, hooks addresses race, class, and gender in education, art, history, sexuality, mass media, and feminism.

One of the main points of her essay, “Buddhism and the Politics of Domination,” is that race permeates everything in our (white people’s) thinking. While I know that my own mental conditioning isn’t as “extreme” as she portrayed the mainstream’s thought process to be, the fact remains that if she showed up at my Dharma group, I’d ask myself, “How did a black woman end up as Buddhist?” bell is quite aware of this line of questioning, based on her own experience.

She also made another point that really cuts to the core for me: Why would I ask myself about a woman of color coming to a Dharma class when some of the greatest Buddhist teachers, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Thich Naht Hanh, are themselves people of color? She really got me thinking about how something as insignificant as the color of person’s skin affects that way we think, both as individuals and as a society.

But guess what? Yesterday afternoon, as I waited on a crowded Red Line platform, I glimpsed over at someone and caught my mind doing it: “Geez, that guy’s got a fat chin.” It’s habit, I know, but afterward, I stopped to ask myself why I just made that mental classification in my mind. Of everything I could have thought (i.e., white, male, young, thin, dressed in gym clothes, carrying a bag like mine, listening to headphones), I picked out the thing that was most different from myself.

And then I thought about how His Holiness (and countless others) have taught that every person standing around me last night was, at some point in a past life, my mother, my father, my brother and my sister. I closed my eyes and really pondered what that meant, and then when I opened my eyes and looked back at the guy, I didn’t see his chin. In fact, for a brief moment, I didn’t see any differences among a crowd of diverse people. I just saw people waiting for a train, just like me.

It was a powerful – and staggering – realization. But it gives me hope.

Author: Sean

I am Sean, a writer/PR guy originally from the Rural South who grew up and settled down in Washington, D.C. My interests include local politics, Eastern philosophy, languages and reality television.


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