Earlier this month, 8 Limbs co-hosted (with Mindfulness Community of Puget Sound and Rainier Beach Yoga) a weekend with the Rev. angel Kyodo williams, a Zen priest from the Bay area and co-author of Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation. Click here to see the original class descriptions for Radical Dharma.
I (Anne Phyfe Palmer) took the following notes from the event for myself, but after the weekend closed I was drawn to share them to spread Rev. angel’s fierce and compassionate perspective on the history and reality of race in our country, as well as a liberation-based model for change. These notes were taken by a white woman from the South investigating her own whiteness and the reality of her country’s history. If anyone with a different perspective would like to add to these notes, or present another blog for publishing, please send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I have used quotations to show quotes I wrote directly from Rev. angel, and parentheses within those if there is a word or phrase I didn’t catch or couldn’t exactly read from my own writing. Sentences with no quotes or parentheses are my own synthesis of what was shared, or a quote I can’t completely be sure was word-for-word.
The event started with an evening for People of Color. This event, also called a “caucus” – as in a closed meeting for a group of people – was an opportunity for folks of color to spend time with Rev. angel without white folks in the space. Over 100 people attended. From what was shared the next day, it was an incredibly nourishing time for many folks who attended.
The Saturday and Sunday retreat was open to the public and sold out at 170 participants, who chose their workshop payment from three tiers: Supporting, Sustaining, and Supported. 8 Limbs staff and teachers were invited to take the workshop at no charge to support ongoing learning about systems of oppression and increase our ability to hold space for marginalized folks, and adhere to our new Social Justice Mission.
To read co-host Laura Humpf’s blog on the event, click here:
Saturday, December 16 at The Summit (space donated by First Covenant Church)
Whiteness: a specifically-designed construct that is self-reinforcing, almost invisible (except for to POC), insidious, draws people into collusion and has many mechanizations of collusion, including belonging (emotional, tribal) and access to power and power over. “If it weren’t so damaging it would be fascinating.”
“There are no stupid questions, except for the ones that are unasked.”
Rev. angel stacks questions for two reasons:
- for flow
- b/c of how there is an invisible “order” that folks are not even aware of that gives some people the call to speak first, while others don’t speak.
“If you are just now getting drawn into this (liberation, anti-oppression) work, don’t feel that it is your fault – it’s by design, that’s how the powers at be want it. We are on a flowing stream (of whiteness) and enormous energy and effort goes into keeping us asleep.”
“This journey is for your own salvation. You are not here to save others.”
Break up into groups of 5, each person shares for 5 minutes:
- your name
- where you are coming from
- what brings you here (?)
Explanation for need to break into circles to share:
“If people don’t have a chance to speak themselves and be seen, we spend time trying to figure out who we are and whether the space can hold us. A problem with whiteness is that people can disappear, and that doesn’t get interrupted. People disappear and aren’t accountable. When we name ourselves we are humanizing and touching one another. In spiritual communities this disappearing/isolation is common – we sit alone on our mats or our cushions. This is particularly detrimental for marginalized people. We are particularly attuned to tell if people aren’t receiving us in a way that helps us to feel honored.
“…Feel into each other, have a moment of witness. We are contextualizing ourselves. We aren’t just bodies. We also do this (share in circle) for nervous system disruption. This need is especially strong for marginalized folks.”
“Our physical embodiment is communicating all the time.”
When she entered Buddhist spaces, she felt witness to racial and gender dynamics and named it: “I feel witness to racial and gender dynamics.”
“We have to leave room for the “errors” we make, the awkwardness, the attending sadness. It’s not good or bad, it’s all part of the mix. The integration of the reality of our racialized world is so much to absorb.”
“We can come to a spacious place of acknowledging, however awkward, however challenged you may find yourself or someone else, that the fact that we are HERE (at this workshop) is deeply meaningful, and not easy for many of us. The impact of being here will weigh on us differently at different times.
We are breaking the silence, interrupting the normal discourse of what it means to succeed.
It’s heartbreaking that we didn’t know better for far too long.”
Break and Group Exercise
Feedback and Questions after group sharing:
A woman of color spoke about feeling sooooo nourished by the POC evening the night before, how she hadn’t known how thirsty she was and it was like drinking and drinking from a fountain, and how showing up Saturday am, for mixed group, was so different, and not as nourishing, and that felt difficult.
A Native American woman took issue with how we (event hosts) acknowledged being on Duwamish land. and Rev. angel responded: “To not latch onto trends, we have to ask questions. That takes time, it takes not being capitalist (get shit done-ness, check off box-ness).”
(We need to ask why we don’t know (whose land this is, what happened, how Native folks feel about it, what is honoring). What’s the relationship we need to cultivate (ie with a Native person), and ask “what is your experience?”)
A woman of color said there were several folks in her group from the South. And she was aware that there were two radically different experiences (white woman from South and black woman from South) and wondered “can that person (with the different experience from mine) be trusted?”
A Black man shared he had just moved to Seattle from the South and had been brought to this event and was very moved and in shock to be in this kind of conversation. “I didn’t know people did this.” Rev. angel asked “how are you doing?” He said “I’ve been making it.” and Rev. angel said “we want to go beyond making it and become whole.”
Rev. angel asked Svani, her support person, who is a white woaan, to speak as a white person on what she heard from the circles.
“I heard white people wanting to get it right, feeling that ‘I don’t matter if I don’t know all the answers.’”
Rev. angel: “We need to ask ourselves “How is it that I assume that I belong (in most/certain spaces)?”
This assumption of white folks that they belong sucks up the energy, the water, from POC. It happens in black spaces too but doesn’t have the same impact b/c with white folks it comes with power. Belonging is tribal, yes, but it doesn’t always come with power, as whiteness does.
DOMINANT CULTURE (hetero, white, male) – Their HABITS have an impact on other groups that are out of balance. Their likes and dislikes have an impact on marginalized people. They have unearned weight of power that burdens people without power. They’ve (literally) taken the water (ref. to woman who spoke about being thirsty) out of the earth. a
DOMINANT CULTURE – means certain presumptions have a burden on others.
“The force of your dominance, whether you’ve asked for it or not, has great effect on others. It has impact on my life (in general and as in it could kill me) just because you don’t like something.”
A white man is just living in his world of likes and dislikes, attachments and aversions, and he might affect my access to my livelihood, or my health, or my life.
Tribalism + dominance + institutional support = extremely dangerous
We are often asking personal questions of systemic realities.
(ie “why did he/she/they do that?” vs. “what is wrong with a system that encouraged/allowed it to happen?”)
“It’s not equal, it’s not fair, it never has been.”
Man of color speaker: “Intellectualizing oppression removes/distances us from it. We can remove ourselves even in a space like this. The way we identify is not always in sync with how are identified (ie I may self-identify as non-binary but I am perceived as a black man.”
Rev. angel: “If the weight of oppression isn’t leaning on you, you have to question what you are claiming.
“We are in a mess. We didn’t make this mess, but we’re in a mess. We’re going to be in the unknown for a long time. We can do this. We are trained in the ability to live in discomfort as yogis. We need willingness to be in the soup of the unknown. Be aware if your energy is drawing the energy out of the room.”
“We ALL have some location in which we are the privileged.
We ALL have some location in which we are the oppressed.
We have to do the work to figure out where that is.”
“In this work there are a bunch of clueless children and a bunch of traumatized children. And there are not enough adults to go around. And that is part of the process. We are in a tricky space.”
“White people, as you come into awareness as to how deep this is, the level at which you’ve steeled yourself – you have to do this balance and dance, (do the work and care for yourself) you have to grow up and be an adult.”
“We are all these children in adult bodies. We’ll keep running up against the conditions and the conditioning.”
“We are all living in the house of the Traumatizer. We are all part of this mess of a system together.”
“To turn our rage on the people who are trying to figure it out is advancing the system. It divorces us from the recognition that we are all operating within a system.” (speaking to anger/frustration with folks who still have a lot to learn about racism)
There will be times you will have rage, but you’ll work with that b/c if you rage:
- it advances the system
- it doesn’t aid in your liberation.
“I work in communities of liberation b/c that’s already the goal. Folks in Buddhist and yogic communities are choosing a path of liberation, which means more is asked of you – personal responsibility.”
Re #metoo – “Don’t focus on the people (perpetrators), focus on the system. That is not letting them off, it’s acknowledging their humanity within a system of oppression.”
A (white?) woman asked what she can do. (or something like that)
Rev. angel: “When you (as dominant culture folks) ask “What do we do?” you are asking what do we do to remain safe. You have to risk yourself. To work for liberation for all and not risk anything is not possible and it’s not viable. You’re asking about how to intervene in a problem without risking yourself, without cost, and having it go your way. YOU WILL HAVE TO RISK YOURSELF.”
A (white?) woman spoke about being weary, how hard this work is.
Rev. angel: “You’re going to have to take care of yourselves and be in a learning process of how to take care of yourselves, what to do when you’re weary. We’re (Natives and black folks) 400 years weary. Take a rest, send someone else in, and then come back. Get help from folks. Take breaks. The force is so strong to stay asleep.” Mentioned FB page called “White Nonsense Roundup.”
“For some people discomfort feels like risk. We’re just gonna have to trust each other. For some of us discomfort is just felt as a risk, even if it is not a risk. Investigate the difference between just being uncomfortable and being so uncomfortable that you lose ability to be present. I’m not here to punish white folks, men, straight folks, etc. Some part of you is trying to figure things out. Great, b/c we have to start.”
“Shame is not helpful. Shame is a system whiteness employs to keep people in check. Shame is not a tool to use. We can’t shame people into their whole selves. Don’t use the master’s tools.”
“How have you weaponized your own experience? Can you disarm and divest yourself of the weapons of white supremacy and patriarchy (ie can’t make mistakes, perfectionism, needing everyone to like you, needing to have what you like)? We use these weapons to feel safe.”
Notes from AP: check out the following link on White Supremacy Culture: http://www.cwsworkshop.org/PARC_site_B/dr-culture.html
“The awareness is essential but it can spill like acid. We should only be having conversations about race from a seat of love (not necessarily “lovingly”, that’s different). We must be rooted in love, first and foremost self-love. If we can’t come from a seat of love, efforts will just perpetuate the system. The aim to not cause harm. Pain and discomfort are OK. Be in choice. There is no magic here.”
“Don’t weaponize the tools, but be in your truth.”
Learned Centering Practice and practiced it while being pressed upon by another participant.
“What is it like to try and find your center while under pressure?”
Rev. angel mentioned how if a white woman is girding, guarding against pressure, a black woman, wondering if she is safe in a space, might be affected by the white woman girding, and that will completely affect their interaction. When we gird against pressure it affects how others experience us. (Consider also that marginalized folks are under pressure most of the time.)
Finished afternoon with slide show on Race in U.S., including a long section titled “White Affirmative Action: (1650) to present” – it held many powerful facts about the history of racism of America, including many of the laws that specifically targeted people of color and gave white people advantages for almost four hundred years. She wants to make the slideshow available to the public on YouTube and is raising funds to do so through a project called LoveStream. No notes were taken during this slide show, sorry!
Sunday, December 17 at Garfield Community Center
Opened with folks sharing what they heard on Saturday. Lots of intense sharing.
Didn’t take notes, just listened for much of it.
Rev. angel: this is systemic and systematic.
“Trump’s decisions seem so crazy and surprising, but they are just resetting what’s always been the case. It’s not surprising, it’s not an anomaly. It’s “as if this accident never really happened” (referring to a line from a law that literally allowed white folks to harm/kill black folks in slave times and to go on as if the “accident” never happened).
“Busyness and distraction are the main ways these systems continue to perpetuate.
So we choose to deeply inhabit our bodies, and this helps us to find this current situation intolerable.”
“Liberation practices are about community.”
Rev. angel appreciated the POC for speaking their truth/experience about Saturday’s information/session.
“For Black folks – expressing oneself can be dangerous.”
“Most white folks don’t know who they are without whiteness. Most black folks don’t know who they are without organizing against whiteness.”
A black woman spoke about her experience as a POC in Buddhist spaces.
Rev. angel: “Liberatory practices have come to live inside white supremacy. It is within a bubble, so whiteness is not questioned. They must be freed from white supremacy. This is radical, as in whole, complete. Can we bring the truth to bear on the entirety of this, the inheritance of whiteness?”
“It’s not bad that white folks are interpreting the practice in a way that is useful for them, but it’s not liberation. Is it a kinder, gentler suffering?”
“These practices are meant to be liberating.”
“There are isolationary ways of being in our so-called “communities.”
Whiteness = gnarly knot of greed, hatred, and ignorance.
“If your practice is not attenuating your relationship to white supremacy, you need to change your practice. If your world is not turning upside down, you are not practicing liberation. We live inside and upside down twisted system, it should feel that way. Practice isn’t for you to feel good/better about yourself, it is to know yourself. Disconnect from places you’ve been comforted by ignorance. If you don’t feel undone by yoga/dharma, it’s probably not liberating you.”
“Don’t use practice to feel better.”
“Housing bubbles are cyclical and designed to extract money from people of color.”
There is a disconnect. We need to heal to feel whole and in community with each other.
“We must be willing to bear witness to discomfort.”
A white woman spoke to the fear of really changing her financial situation, another who has worked for years for equity spoke to how tired she was and depleted.
“The language of whiteness does not permit the spiritual.”
“It should not be equal because it never was.”
Rev. angel spoke about dhana and the concept of generosity, true generosity. We can double pay women of color for their unpaid work and it would take (centuries) to pay them back…
“POC spaces are necessary and so is white people working on their whiteness. We need to know that white people are doing their work. If you (white folks) don’t know you need to heal, we (POC) can’t be safe. If you don’t know how it (white supremacy, whiteness) is operating, you can’t mitigate/stop it. You think you’re just being you, but you have been given the tools of white supremacy/patriarchy…It’s not YOU that is a threat, it’s not knowing if you are a threat or not.”
“We’re in a unique time, in which white folks need to distinguish themselves as ‘good’ white people. Black people always have to do this, identify as safe, or they become unsafe.
“My job is to make not being liberated untenable…the fear becomes overcome with the awareness that not being liberated is intolerable.”
A white woman spoke to the special treatment white woman can receive: “we walk down a path strewn with rose petals, and then when we step on a thorn we throw a fit and all the attention goes to us.”
Rev. angel’s response:
“We have to speak to the induction of white woman into white supremacy. Because women couldn’t own their own wealth and their men were raping slaves. Hysteria was how white women got attention. And it has continued to be. Everything stops when a white women gets upset. (People have been killed because a white woman was upset.) But it comes from oppression as well. Patriarchy is the issue, not the woman’s behavior. It’s not your fault but it is your responsibility. Where is it coming from and how does it impact you?”
“We can’t move ahead if we tear each other down. We’re not attacking here, we’re just naming.”
“White men may have ‘space’ but actually have the least amount of space to be themselves. They don’t’ get to have feelings, to not be in control, etc.”
“We don’t have to be fully healed before acting.”
“There is a difference between an inherited feeling of discomfort and actual unsafety.”
“If you’re accustomed to having everything, anything less will feel like a diminishment.
Use centering to give yourself a little more space and perspective.”
“To do nothing is collusion.”
“Capitalism requires people to be devalued, quickly, and sharply, so we can discern who can have, who should not have. Otherwise there’s no way to capitalize off resources (natural or human).”
“Wealth comes from some place.
It’s always being moved from one place to another.
It comes from lost wages, lost time. It is coming from somewhere. It’s a result of some people having less.”
“What else are we here for? There’s nothing better that I could use the time I’ve been given for then to make whatever small contribution towards collective liberation. I can’t conceive of my liberation without yours. It’s not altruism, it’s b/c I want liberation and we’re tied together.”
“Being sustainable equals being in love, with you, and all your foibles. If I believe you are ugly b/c of your actions, it’s what I believe about myself. If someone is judging, it’s b/c they judge themselves. It is b/c they are suffering.”
“Our sense of being included is not the greater than our burden, but we can become uplifted. Every day you can include someone else. We’ll aim to do the work of reaching into our hearts and holding people so that we can all move forward and be free.”
“Our freedom is what we need people to witness, not our shame, our guilt.”
“How can you leverage your privilege, without weaponizing it against other people (ie with shame or guilt).”
“We don’t want you to be perfect, we want you to be whole.” When you are not whole POC are often the victim of that need.
Interested in further discussion? Stay tuned to the Yoga & Social Change page on the 8 Limbs website. Spring offerings will be posted by January 15, 2018.
Want to learn more about Rev. angel Kyodo williams? Check out her website and read her book Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation.
Posted by: Anne Phyfe Palmer, Owner of 8 Limbs Yoga Centers