In an earlier post, I mentioned I was going to revisit the topic of white people & living with/among racists. I’m trying to get my head around how we — those people who fight for social justice, who try to live our lives grounded in Buddhist (&, to be honest, most religions’) principles — can work against the systemic white privilege & overt racism in today’s America. All without falling captive to the hatred so prevalent in today’s discourse.
As a Buddhist — as a humanist, as a progressive, as just a person in the world with kids & grandkids & nieces & nephews coming after me — I want to be a force for peace. I don’t want to be eaten up with the anger & hate that consumed me for more than a year after the elections. To hold on to anger, as the Buddhist saying goes, is “like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” So I actually stopped reading FB for several weeks, since it just ‘fanned the coals.’
But I’ve slowly returned to reading friends & family. And just the other day my sister posted an update on the renaming of the Tulsa school that triggered Caleb Gayle’s post in The Guardian. Robert E. Lee Elementary, which was changed to Lee Elementary (I have nooo idea why that supposed to placate concerned citizens!), is now Council Oak Elementary. Which is wonderful — definitely a praise-worthy name. The Council Oak is a wonderful piece of Tulsa history.
However, this change (posted, again, on my sis’s FB) initiated a vocal & lengthy thread calling the decision costly (??), politically correct (as an insult), an erasure of history, and more. The lament was that we were denouncing family members who might have owned slaves, and rewriting history.
At this point I joined the conversation, noting that my paternal grandmother was a class A racist: wouldn’t watch the news if there was a black or brown newscaster on it. I still love her. I just don’t want that part of her to be my children’s legacy from her. The conversation wasn’t loving, but it wasn’t hateful, either. No insults. Just folks exchanging comments on what this decision by Tulsa Public Schools’ board meant to them.
I felt pretty good at this point. We were talking! And I was hearing what folks really thought! Since I have muted most of the FB ‘friends’ who insist on fighting me (literally — complete with insulting my dearest friends & colleagues) about such political issues, it felt like a huge step to be able to hear folks who disagree with me, how they feel and what they have to say. Without insults, rancor, or hostility. How else will I learn? And surely there is some place we can still meet…?
And then the guys joined in…
I must digress here. Far too often a disagreement is seen as a red flag to assert dominance. People can be sooo certain they’re correct that they don’t listen. Especially if you’re disagreeing on something they a) hold fundamental to their beliefs, and/or b) think they’re an expert on. Insults flew (liberal BS, ‘butthurt’ Hillary, a few more for good measure). My carefully nurtured sense of communication, of return from the hot coals of anger, was beginning to burn…
And I realised: I WAS under attack. No wonder I felt so defensive, so angry! These 2 men were saying that my carefully couched comments, framed to be non-confrontational & respectful, were just BS. And had no basis in reality. They were dragging in total non sequiturs to derail a conversation. To assert dominance. To win.
That wasn’t what I was looking for, nor — I so hope! — were the original folks on the thread, who were trying hard to be respectful. These guys? Not so much…
My takeaway is this: I have to remember (to learn!) how to let go of my darn sureties. I need to listen (although maybe not to those 2 yahoos!). I need to NOT be ‘those guys.’ And I need to try every single day to breathe. After all, tea & breath, right? And engaged Buddhism is fed nicely by both.
I want to be more like Mr. Rogers. I want to be able to move beyond anger, my personal Buddhist mind poison. Known as kleshas to learned practitioners (and mind poisons to the rest of us), anger is what I’m both best at (wrathful compassion, addressed here & here, among other posts), and worst at (need I explain?).
Anger is like fire, my birth sign in both Eastern & Western zodiacs. I’m a fire sign, and a double fire dragon, for those of you who care about these things. As a child I wasn’t a fire starter, but I did (& still do) love a bonfire. Or embers in a fireplace. Fire is so very seductive: it warms us, and it’s so very beautiful, as well.
It’s useful, too. If controlled. Lately, as I cruise FB reading the heinous actions of our government, mine rages like a California wildfire. It certainly lacks control. I want to lash out, say hurtful things to people hurting those I love, tearing down things I love.
And so the universe (and sometimes my younger son) sends me reminders: a comic (my younger son), an article in a blog (the universe), other salient notes that rage really isn’t helpful. Again, think of the difference between boiling water for tea, and burning the entire field of tea leaves to ash. One comforts. One destroys. Some of the reminders are gentle — the lovely comic. Others? Well, let’s just say it’s payback when your FB thread erupts into hurtful rhetoric at someone you care about. You have to believe it’s (at the very least, partially) your responsibility.
I don’t have any easy fixes. I’m trying to remember to take healing breaths. I”m trying to exercise, to use up nervous energy. But I’m also sick, and dealing w/ the usual day2day minutiae: a beloved recovering from a serious bout of illness, a family member worried about insurance in this new travesty of assistance, a grandson battling the germs of learned immunity. Nothing so very out of the ordinary, but none of it pleasant.
Somewhere, I read that willpower is, like $$, something that can be wasted, or at least used up. I’ve been using mine to do things like eat more vegetables (admirable, but not soul-threatening!). Perhaps it’s time to turn from broccoli to Buddhist thought. Maybe, instead of focusing on what I eat, I should give more thought to what I say, and how I react. Meeting the hate of this current political wildfire with the soothing cool of tonglen. Breathing in the anger I feel, and holding it in my mind with all the anger of the dispossessed Americans — and others around the world. Then breathing out healing peace for all of us.
That’s my new plan, at least — one I have to recommit to at least several times a month!! So: here’s to a diet of less fire, and more of the fibre of life, what connects us and makes us human. Our fallible, lacerated, loving and lovable, human hearts.
Today I’m trying to juggle the despair I feel for the island of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands (which evacuated to Puerto Rico – did you know that?), with the happiness I felt all day yesterday as I sat w/ a dear friend & my family over a lovely brunch.
I have known since I was a very young child (8? 9?) that I’m privileged. Standing on one side of an iron gate to our villa, only blocks from the ambassador’s residence, I watched a young ViệtNamese woman – certainly not twice my age – tell me in the unmistakeable language of hands & eyes that her infant held close to her flat breasts was hungry. And she had no food. That was my first encounter w/ my own privilege.
These days, as friends & family from around the country drive or fly to visit us in our beautiful new home, w/wages they earn at secure jobs, I remember almost daily how rare this is for most of the world. Two of my three sisters have come to visit – one has come twice! The third is coming in two weeks. I live blocks from my healthy, well-fed grandsons & their parents. Tomorrow I will get in the car w/ my beloved daughter-in-law and go to a nearby pumpkin patch to gather pumpkins w/the four-year-old in our family. We have plenty of gas for such luxuries.
In Puerto Rico, there is no electricity. As a friend of a friend noted, this isn’t because the power is ‘out’: it’s because the lines are shredded. There won’t be power again until the infrastructure is rebuilt. Such an innocuous word, infrastructure: EVERY POWER LINE. EVERY water facility. Dams, and roads, and…
I can’t get my heart around what my head knows. In my everyday life, I’m looking forward to my sister’s visit. Basking in the time I spent w/ a dear friend who was here for the weekend. Figuring out what I’ll fix for dinner tonight. Anticipating an elective medical procedure fully covered by (admittedly crappy, but still extant) insurance.
But in this time of far too prevalent American refusal to care about our fellow Americans, I’m heartbroken for mothers, grandmothers, sisters. Women (& men) who have only the spectre of cholera to anticipate. The end of paychecks, because FEMA has commandeered all island fuel for hospitals. Meaning: noooo offices can open if they could otherwise. Hence, no $$. (You did realise that the currency of an American territory is dollars…??)
In this time of ‘fake news’ – so often perpetrated on us by our own government – I can’t forget that these other Americans, whose only ‘crime’ is being where a massive hurricane hit, are without food. Without water. Days away from a cholera epidemic. Living among the decaying remains of a thousand thousand drowned animals. A million million pieces of trash. Fecal matter floating in the water.
I hope that totally disgusted you. Because I know of no way, other than the words I’ve practiced using for decades, to wake America up. To outrage the status quo, so that we INSIST our government do something more. And please: don’t insult my intelligence w/ the ‘big ocean’ crap. EUROPE is significantly farther away, but they’re already rebuilding. Us? Who cares about brown folks who REALLY probably aren’t even Americans. Well,l French president Macron does. In the ravaged Caribbean, he was there less than a week after the hurricane hit. Our inglorious leader (I can barely manage to think his name…)? More than two weeks LATER: 3+ weeks AFTER THE HURRICANE STRUCK.
The population of Puerto Rico is about the same as my home state, Oklahoma. And let me assure you: the majority of that state where I’ve lived for decades, where I was born, could care less about sending their $$ to a place almost half of them don’t even realise is American. After all, that’s true at the national level. And I don’t think Oklahoma is any better.
I can also assure you that Oklahoma (& its legislators, please note) would NOT be ‘okay’ with the treatment Puerto Rico is receiving if the state was devasted by a category 5 tornado, a phenomenon much like Hurricane Irma. If the entire state of Oklahoma lacked any hope of electricity for the next several months, and cholera was in the water, and the children of the state were doing w/out asthma inhalers, food, medical treatment, et al…? The state would be in arms. Quite literally, I assure you. Like the guys in Florida who shot at the incoming hurricane…
I’m trying to moderate my visceral anger with my Buddhist tonglen. But truthfully? It’s almost impossible to breathe in my anger and breathe out peace. When (& if…) I succeed, it’s when I’m able to think of my anger as only a fraction — an infinitesimal nano-fraction of the 3.5 MILLION Americans — of the anger & fear felt by a thousand thousand parents, grandparents, siblings: … I breathe for them, hoping I can somehow take on their rage & grief.
What about you? How do you reconcile our privilege with the heart-shattering plight of Puerto Rico? I’d love to hear something I can actually do, besides just throw my privileged $$ at this horrific tragedy…
In the wake of the Fourth of July, I’ve been thinking. A LOT. Wrestling with a contemporary conundrum: just why (& when…?) progressives became stereotyped as not patriotic. Because it’s just not true.
But apparently, if you don’t support the neo-conservative platform(s) — unregulated guns & ammunition, Christian religion in public schools, charter schools supported by public funds, racial profiling, anti-immigration, sexism in health care, and more — you’re not patriotic. Please note: not being patriotic doesn’t seem to correlate w/not liking the president: we saw far more of that under Obama, from these same neocons, than we do from liberals & progressives with the current administration. Obama has the sad ‘glory’ of receiving the earliest death threats, as a junior senator running for president. He received at least as many death threats as G.W.Bush, whom neo-conservatives often insisted was the target of many liberal-backed conspiracies of assassination.
So it’s not simply that progressives don’t like #45. We don’t, but that didn’t seem to make the haters of the Obamas feel they were unpatriotic. No, it has to do w/something else, and I don’t know exactly what. But I want to make it very clear: the progressives & liberals I know are VERY patriotic. We are veterans, the children, wives, husbands, & parents of veterans who have given much for this country (unlike the current president’s family, none of whom have served, FYI). We believe in the American dream — we just no longer believe it’s possible for most Americans. And we still cherish & hold dear fundamental Constitutional rights.
My two sisters are veterans — one retired after a distinguished career in the Army, the other serving in the National Air Guard. My nephew is an Army vet. My father was an Army lifer, written up in history books for his contributions in WWII’s Battle of the Bulge. My beloved is a ViệtNam vet, U.S. Marines, thank you. My uncles all served in WWII, or Korea. Or both, as my father did. So don’t even start on how progressives don’t ‘get’ veterans’ issues. We’re not the ones cutting benefits, or lying about the status of veteran hospitals.
I grew up overseas — from the time I was 8 years old until I graduated from high school. Then my beloved & I lived for 10 years in the Middle East. I am more aware of the privileges that accrue to an American citizen (especially a woman) than most Americans, I guarantee you. I can vote (and do, every election, for every issue). I can own property. I can work w/out permission from my family. I have a safe home, in a safe neighbourhood, and I can travel where I like (within limits not imposed by my citizenship, but by my concern for safety). I can worship (or not) as I please.
These are what I think of — these practical elements of American life — when folks say liberals aren’t patriotic. No, I don’t fly a flag. Why not? Because the folks I know who do hold none of the American values I cherish in common with me. They no longer believe in public education — they’re advocating for charters, many of which are based on Christian curriculum, in direct defiance of our amazing American Constitution (‘separation of church & state,’ remember?). They want to discriminate against those who look different and/or worship differently: I can’t tell you how often I’ve been horrified to hear someone talk trash about Muslims, then questioned them only to find they don’t even KNOW any Muslims. No, it’s what they heard on TV, or in church, for cryin’ out loud!! When did the Christianity of my mother, my father, my grandmother & the rest of my family become license to let fear trump the Good Samaritan’s compassion??
I grew up in a time when we had civics classes. And government classes. And our history classes included reading the formative documents of this country: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address, JFK’s inaugural address, Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech. Unlike the Trump supporters who thought NPR’s excerpts from the Declaration of Independence were ‘propaganda,’ I’m familiar w/ our country’s incredible written history. Not simply the parts that appeal to me. I understand there are divergent readings of the 2nd Amendment, for instance:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Conservatives see carte blanche for gun rights. Liberals want regulation, and feel this in no way compromises the 2nd Amendment. Progressives are often in-between, as Bernie Sanders has been in the past — some regulation, but not perhaps as much as other non-conservatives might desire. NO ONE in the progressive (or liberal) camp wants to take away guns. But that’s the myth, and it contributes to the ‘anti-Constitution/non-patriotic’ labels.
I’m also not ‘pro-abortion.’ I am, however, pro-choice. And please explain to me: how do you talk individual rights (bearing arms, for instance) & legislate another person’s body?? And how do you claim the title ‘pro-family’ when your party refuses to clothe, shelter, feed, or educate children? When you are cutting back on all support networks for mothers & children? When your idea of healthcare makes it very clear that children w/ disabilities (the very ones poor women might have decided they could not afford to care for medically) are not worth medical insurance? That’s patriotism???
I believe in so many of what I think of as ‘original American values’ (as do most of the liberals & progressives I know): the great outdoors free from pollution; clean air & water; the right to a good education; the right to walk without fear of being shot for the color of my skin (the shooting of Philandro Castile has shown us that the 2nd Amendment doesn’t apply to black men, not to mention the numerous unarmed victims of racial profiling); the right to a free press (which is, by the way, the FIRST Amendment), currently made a mockery of by the administration’s refusal to have cameras inside government offices; the separation of church & state (also in the 1st Amendment, and later clarified in an 1802 letter by President Thomas Jefferson). I could go on, but these are NOT what neoconservatives seem to mean when they speak of patriotism.
Conservative patriotism appears to have more to do w/exclusion than not. The current frenzy re: ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance, for instance, is trumped up: The clause is added in 1948. It’s not original, & gained traction with the support of a Catholic (re: religious) order, the Knights of Columbus. It’s not, in other words, what I consider a legit test of ‘patriotism.’ It is, however, Christian. But there are thousands of Americans who are not. As of 2015, almost 6,000 American troops identified as Muslim, and there are reports of Muslims serving in the US Armed Forces as far back as the Revolutionary War. And yet my hometown wanted to ban Muslims from marching in the Veterans Day parade.
This is a lengthy post for a blog, I realize. But I am sick at heart to be labeled as ‘unpatriotic’ because I believe in the Bill of Rights. It’s like being called non-Christian because you live by the Beatitudes (preached by Jesus) instead of the Old Testament’s Leviticus (currently the ‘law’ in many Christian churches).
Personally? I am taking back MY flag, folks. I’m no longer going to sit silently (or even quietly, & maybe not politely!) when folks go off on progressives & liberals for their ‘non-patriotism.’ And I hope you won’t, either.
One of my sisters left her long-time FB account at least a month, maybe longer. She’s been on FB for years. A 2nd has muted several ‘friends’ & even family (as have I). While a third is cast-iron, and seems able to keep her sanity. Me? I recently unfriended — then refriended — my cousin. And yes: it was political: I unfriended him after he insulted one of my friends one too many times, ‘citing’ spurious ‘evidence’ from sources like Agent Orange (my current fave name for our ersatz president), Breitbart, and the worst of the alt-right idiots. Please note: my friend wasn’t blameless, but she didn’t start the ruckus. She simply took it to the next level.
And I can’t handle it.
It didn’t make me feel good to unfriend him; he’s family. But it did make me less angry than when he was constantly popping up in my feed saying crap that’s flat (verifiably) untrue.
Still, I felt like I’d failed as a Buddhist. I know we’re supposed to ‘listen’ to each other. But what if what someone is spouting is pure poison? Do I have to listen to Agent Orange (my beloved’s name for president #45) spew vitriol about the Women’s March I was so proud to walk in, with my niece & grand-niece? Do I have to accept it? What about his clueless ‘tariff’ on Mexican imports?? Or the Republican Congressman who said folks could pay for the prohibitively expensive Repub alternative to Affordable Care if they just didn’t buy iPhones?? I don’t have a simple Buddhist answer for this one…
I wish I had a nearby Buddhist teacher. The pagans & Wiccans have a word for me: solitary practitioner. I read Buddhist books, websites. Talk about Buddhism to anyone who will listen (some would probably rather not!). And bumble along, trying to live by this truth, and that precept. Mostly I couple tonglen with a sincere effort to be kind & practice compassion. It’s probably not enough, but it’s what I’m able to do at this point. And breathe, of course…
If someone reading this has useful insights, I’d love to hear them. Because I can’t believe it’s okay to ‘accept’ the hate masquerading these days as ‘give him a chance.’ I will NEVER give hate, intolerance, and evil pretending it’s ‘for our own good’ a chance. I don’t think THAT is good Buddhism, either. If you espouse hate, you don’t get my cooperation. Period. If racism is your way to ‘unite’ people — against someone different from you — I will call you on it. The very Buddhism that counsels me to be compassionate also grounds my social justice work.
I did, however, refriend my cousin. After all, he’s family. Besides — I’m off FB for Lent. I can deal with it in April, right? In the meantime, I’m serious: how are you dealing with these virulently polarised times? Any tips?