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An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC penguinrandomhouse.com Copyright © 2019 by Rhonda Varette Magee Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader. TarcherPerigee with tp colophon is a registered trademark of Penguin Random House LLC. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Magee, Rhonda V., author. Title: The inner work of racial justice: healing ourselves and transforming our communities through mindfulness / Rhonda V. Magee. Description: New York: TarcherPerigee, 2019. | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2019010665 | ISBN 9780593083925 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780525504702 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Racism—Psychological aspects. | Mindfulness (Psychology) Classification: LCC HT1523 .M325 2019 | DDC 305.8—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019010665 Some names and identifying characteristics have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved. While the author has made every effort to provide accurate Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content. Version_1 IF THE PATH COULD SPEAK Beneath these words rests the awareness of generations. And of generations. And of generations that have come before. The awareness that each one of us is a vital part of the earth that we call home, is of the wind, the rain; , the fire. And so inherently belongs. If the path could speak, it would say: “We must assert that which exists deep within us, namely, a sense of kinship with all those with whom we share the earth.”1 On repeat. In every language. Unceasingly. —Rhonda V. Magee Contents TITLE PAGE COPYRIGHT IF THE PATH COULD SPEAK FOREWORD BY JON KABAT-ZINN Introduction PART ONE Grounding Chapter One Pausing and Reckoning Chapter Two Sitting with Compassionate Racial Awareness Chapter Three Honoring and Remembering Chapter Four Mindfulness Practice as ColorInsight Practice Chapter Five True Inheritance PART TWO Seeing Chapter Six Looking at the Reality of Racism Chapter Seven Deepening Insight Through Compassion Chapter Eight Seeing Implicit Bias Chapter Nine RAINing Racism: Recognizing, Accepting, and Investigating Racism with Non-Identification Chapter Ten Developing Mindful Racial Literacy amid Complexity Chapter Eleven Making the Invisible Visible Through Mindfulness PART THREE Being Chapter Twelve Mindful Social Connection Chapter Thirteen Personal Justice Chapter Fourteen Entering a Room Full of People (and Elephants), and Leaving a Community Chapter Fifteen From Identity-Safety to Bravery Chapter Sixteen Particularity as the Doorway to Empathy and Common Humanity PART FOUR Doing Chapter Seventeen “Fuck!” and Other Mindful Communications Chapter Eighteen Deconstructing Whiteness and Race Chapter Nineteen Color-Blind Racism and Its Consequences Chapter Twenty The Wolf in the Water: Working with Strong Emotion in Real Time Chapter Twenty-One In Living Color: Walking the Walk of Mindful Racial Justice PART FIVE Liberating Chapter Twenty-Two Walking Each Other Home Chapter Twenty-Three That Everything May Heal Us Chapter Twenty-Four Hearts Without Borders: Deep Interpersonal Mindfulness Chapter Twenty-Five Stepping into Freedom ACKNOWLEDGMENTS NOTES INDEX ABOUT THE AUTHOR Foreword In terms of our DNA, we humans are 99.7 percent the same. This sameness doesn’t negate or belie the reality and beauty of our differences. Yet we persist to a large degree in overt and unconscious disregard and “othering,” both of which make it extremely hard for us to see our own implicit biases and the toxic effects these can have on others and, ironically, on ourselves as well. Often, it is even harder for us to want to see and disentangle ourselves from such automatic and unexamined biases, especially since they are usually supported by laws and social customs favoring some at the expense of others. Such asymmetries have wide-ranging consequences, especially for those individuals who are most at risk and vulnerable to endemic injustices. At the same time, they also erode the short- and long-term health and well-being of all of us, our societies, and our entire species. If we humans are going to make it on this planet, sooner or later—and hopefully it will be sooner—this form of mindlessness has got to be met with the openhearted clarity, wisdom, and selflessness of mindfulness, an awareness that calls into question, investigates, and ultimately reveals the limitations of narrow identifications with any sense of self as a fixed and enduring entity. With seven billion people on the planet and counting, and the extent of the violence we are capable of with our weapons and our intellects, our well-being as a species is unsustainable unless we wake up and learn to love our differences, celebrating them rather than fearing them, as we come to recognize our commonalities. Obviously, this is a work in progress in our country and around the world, and very much in the forefront of public conversations about what kind of society we want to be and what kind of world we want to inhabit. This book is a major contribution to that conversation. It wasn’t until I was in my seventies that I began to realize—listening to people of color giving voice in recent years to what was obvious to them but opaque to me—that my own life trajectory had benefited in major ways from my skin color, family, and openings not afforded to all, in spite of the rhetoric about us all being created equal and the implicit suggestion that that “equality” carried forward through life as “equal opportunity.” Over time, I have come to welcome this hard-to-absorb lesson, and I am grateful for the voices of colleagues and friends who helped me tune my ear and my heart to this level of ignorance and to recognize a tendency to not quite let the enormity of it register fully at a visceral level. Various presentations at conferences over the years, as well as books by brave and empowered voices, revealed levels of outright blindness in myself that cut me off from a sense of commitment—beyond my merely intellectual and thought-based abstractions—to learning from those whose trajectories through life were totally different from my own as a result of legalized and normalized injustice. Now, with this book, Rhonda Magee offers the world a wise and caring way of recognizing, through the lens of mindfulness, these harmful and imprisoning patterns in ourselves. Mindfulness has the potential to catalyze transformation at the individual, societal, and legal levels when applied to these very issues and to the forces of asymmetric power and misconstrued “self” interest that keep them alive. This book is an invitation to join a conversation that is uncomfortable at times, but ultimately freeing—not only for ourselves, but for the world—because it shows us a viable approach to living together on this planet in ways that minimize harm and maximize well-being for all of us, while we still have the chance. In that regard, this inner work of which Rhonda speaks rests on a profoundly ethical and moral foundation. The beauty of mindfulness is that through its practice, no matter who we are, simply by being human, we learn to cultivate a gentle intimacy with awareness itself. From an evolutionary perspective, we might say that our innate capacity for awareness is the final common pathway of what makes us human. When we learn through the ongoing cultivation of mindfulness to inhabit the space of awareness itself, we come into creative relationship with the full range of our experiences, even in the face of the unwanted, the toxic, and the painful. In awareness, we have the opportunity to name, investigate, and discern both inner and outer conditions as they actually are rather than as we would like them to be. And out of that awareness, we can learn and grow from our very willingness to bravely place our attention—with gentleness, openness, and kindness—where we usually don’t, and to keep it there (or maybe I should say “here”) for longer than we might at first feel comfortable doing, and bring it back over and over again when it drifts off or gets overwhelmed. Indeed, such an intentional cultivation of intimacy with our own awareness and capacity for wakefulness is nothing less than a love affair with life itself. In the end, it can be hugely healing, even in the face of the unwanted and the horrifically painful—and where race is concerned, from a constellation of overt or implicit bias, unconscious microaggressions, and institutionalized injustice. What is more, these biases and other forms of disregard and harm are often invisible to those of us who benefit most from the status quo, only compounding the pain and frustration of those who are experiencing every day the brunt of the disregard, the toxicity, and the harm. Cultivating mindfulness is not and cannot be merely an individual pursuit. Because we can be so blind to our own mental processes, biases, and racialized identities, we need one another to point out what we can’t or won’t see, and what we don’t even know we don’t know. That ignorance is at the root of our own imprisonment and isolation, and at the root of the harm we can so easily cause others, wittingly or unwittingly. This is one of the fundamental challenges of being human: that we often have no inkling that we don’t know what we don’t know. We create stories in our minds that separate us from others, and often separate us from our own wholeness as well. We easily assume that we know the other, when we don’t. In actuality, we don’t even know ourselves. This is where learning how to default to and inhabit the domain of pure awareness comes in—an awareness that transcends our highly conditioned patterns of unawareness and therefore our blindnesses. Knowing that we don’t know is itself transformative. It invites us to be open, to look, and to see, as best we can, beyond our own attachments and the ways in which we might be benefitting from the status quo. The practice of mindfulness ultimately involves a willingness to engage up close and personal with your moment-by-moment experience, no matter what arises. This attitude itself changes everything. It changes things in ways that might seem tiny but in fact are anything but. Such a process is hugely uncomfortable at times, as you will see from Rhonda’s candor about her own experience and her descriptions of various dialogues about race in her law school classes. We are faced with the paradox that we have to do our own inner work if we hope to wake up to and embody the fullness of who we really are. No one can do it for us. Yet at the same time, we need one another to function as mirrors to point out where we are most unaware, most blind. Our lenses are often too clouded over with unexamined opinions, inherited prejudices, biases of all kinds (and if you identify as white, then with what some call “white fragility”), and stories about who each of us is as a person—usually a good, well-meaning, kind, and aware person. We need a community of folks to challenge us at times and reveal our most stubborn and opaque blindnesses. The ultimate responsibility is ours. We can’t rely on others to do our own inner exploration for us, or even to repeatedly point out where we go blind. That said, once we start to inquire and investigate along these lines for ourselves, plenty of allies and opportunities are likely to appear to help orient and sustain our efforts to understand and work to dismantle the constraining realities that perpetuate injustice and suffering. Instances of human caring and connectedness across differences are everywhere, if we are willing to look. We may find them at work and in our families. They occur everywhere people gather and interact, especially face-to-face. Rhonda’s teachings create such environments. Her accounts of her students’ experiences with racism and mindfulness provide a lens and a compass for doing the inner work ourselves. Ultimately, it is unawareness of greed, hatred, and delusion in ourselves, as well as in our institutions, that is the root disease, and the source of our dis-ease. Communities of belonging, deep listening, inquiry into the actuality of things, and attempts at truth-telling can and should draw inspiration from history, from the enduring legacy of those who stood up in the face of injustice, often risking or sacrificing their very lives. Their example invites all of us to wake up to systematic injustice, income inequality, and the immense suffering that flows from them, usually only fleetingly reported or entirely disregarded in the mainstream press and history books. Yet herein lies the transformative power of awakened social movements. Equally important and transformative, if less dramatic—each of us, in any and every moment, can, if we remember to do so, cultivate insight into deep inequalities and injustices, especially around race and gender. Awareness is capable of holding all of this in a given moment, and seeing things as they are, including the presence of bias or disregard, however gross or however subtle or unintentional. Seeing things as they are is a form of knowing before acting. It is inherently wise. In taking in what is unfolding, we radically accept the entirety of it in the moment, even as we discern the injustice, harm, delusion, oppression, and structural forces that sustain all of it. However, acceptance does not mean passive resignation. Nor does it mean turning away. Quite the opposite. It invites a turning toward these forms of ignorance in ourselves and the violence and suffering that ensue from them. It invites and encourages holding them in awareness with some degree of kindness and compassion, however difficult, and then acting out of a greater wisdom and compassion, including for oneself. In this way, we can respond moment by moment, as appropriate, rather than merely reacting. We can work toward naming and righting inequities, institutionalized injustices, and intrinsic biases, because if we do not, then we are de facto complicit by omission. Indeed, such engagement is what social activism has always been about. In this illuminating, timely, and frankly, intentionally challenging book, Rhonda gently guides us through the sometimes frightening, sometimes painful, but in the end, illuminating and freeing process of bringing awareness to our blind spots and our strongly socially conditioned habits of racializing and degrading others, and in the process, ourselves. To bring such patterns into awareness and to do something about them is indeed the work of both personal and societal liberation. This “inner work” illuminates the very heart of social justice and how it might be approached and nurtured through mindfulness practices in community and through the discernment and new degrees of freedom these practices entrain. In the end, it is a radical act of love and sanity to cultivate mindfulness in these ways through regular embodied practice. It can also be a courageous political act in support of truly equal justice for all. Rhonda shows us why such work is so necessary and how it can be so profoundly healing for ourselves and for our world. Jon Kabat-Zinn May 22, 2019 Northampton, Massachusetts INTRODUCTION It’s 6 a.m. on a cold morning in San Francisco, and I’ve been standing on the curb for a few minutes more than I’d like. The Uber I had called to get me to the airport for a short flight to Southern California is late. I’ve got a day of challenging conversations ahead of me, and I am feeling both exhausted and more than a little nervous. Waiting for the Uber is not putting me at ease. For days, I have been preparing to present a speech on contemporary barriers to inclusion, and to facilitate a conversation about building community, on a college campus roiled by recent racist incidents. This could turn out to be a fiasco, and there is only one way that I know to complete my preparations for the work ahead. I take a deep, slow breath in and a long breath out. I feel the ground beneath my feet and begin to regain a sense that the resources I draw on are not merely in my head. They are in my bones; they are who I am. In those few moments, I’ve come back home. Within minutes, I am in the Uber. As I settle in, I am feeling supported by the knowledge that whatever the day brings, I can drop anchor and tap into this inner ground, this deeper well within, through mindfulness meditation. People often ask me how I came to the practice of mindfulness—which, at its simplest, is paying attention to life as it unfolds, grounded in the body and breath, and allowing that awareness to settle the mind, increase presence and consciousness of interconnectedness with others. I came to meditation for one reason: I needed deep healing. I was born in 1967 in the small city of Kinston, North Carolina—an increasingly segregated town thirty miles and a wide cultural gulf from the coast, where tobacco farming, furniture making, and a quiet strain of white supremacy had long framed the way of life. The main road through the black part of town has since been renamed Martin Luther King Boulevard, but those seeking to use this street to leave the city were met, at least for a period of time, with an almost literal dead end. In an effort to keep tourists from venturing into the neighborhood deemed least camera-ready, the city had simply decided to wall it off. And even when the physical barriers were eventually removed, other barriers to residents moving on to greater opportunities remained very much in place. My childhood home still sits in the heart of Kinston, on the other side of the wall that once existed. It is part of a racially segregated subsidized housing community called Simon Bright. To me, it had been an apartment, but to others, it was “the Projects.” My mother had made our home pretty as best she could—with white vinyl pillows, a black vinyl couch and chair, and a carpet woven in red and black. After the little rental on Desmond Street where we lived before the divorce, this was home. Despite being born into a family traumatized by many things—including the legacies and ongoing dynamics of racial and economic subordination, my father’s military service during the Vietnam War, and his subsequent alcoholism and tendency toward domestic violence—I knew from a very young age that there was something more to life. Even as my family struggled to get enough food to eat each week and put up with the tacit assumptions of others that we would always be members of a servant class, I knew that this was not who we were. And even when my mother’s second marriage left me vulnerable to my stepfather’s repeated molestations and abuse, I held on to the belief that I would one day be free. Indeed, as I grew into adulthood, I somehow knew my worth was not measured by the gaze of white people, or those who had internalized prejudices against people like me. And I knew that, despite the history that met me at every turn, life was meant to be lived joyfully. Seeing the realities of my family’s situation fully might have been cause for bitterness, but for me, it was not. I saw how my grandmother’s religious commitments steeped her in a larger, more hopeful view of herself and of the world, even as her life options were mostly limited to the sort of labor—tobacco picking, housekeeping—that would have been hers in a slave society. I saw how my mother, despite the many disappointments and abuses she had experienced across a lifetime of similarly restricted options for livelihood—shirt factory worker, nurse’s aide—tended to lead with optimism and to give people the benefit of the doubt. And I loved the black experiences into which I had been born and all that they had given to the world—especially the many models of people struggling against injustice for ourselves and for beloved communities everywhere, all the while maintaining loving, praising hearts. These things, together with the unexpected gift of mindfulness meditation teachings and practices originally from Asia, have helped me to tame and clarify my own often-troubled mind. And notably, they have also opened me to the possibility that we can transform the world. My meditation practice began in fits and starts supported mostly by books, without producing any signs of great promise at first. I would sit down in my apartment alone, close my eyes, take a few deep breaths, and try to keep my attention on the flow of my breath, in and out. Immediately, my mind would wander or I’d feel bored. Sometimes, I would feel a bit defeated and stop trying for a while. I would remind myself that each instance of “failure”—each moment in which I realized my mind had wandered and intentionally tried to bring it back—was a moment of the very mindfulness that I’d been seeking. And so I’d begin again. And again I would find it hard to do! Indeed, in those early days, I would often find myself just sitting there for a few minutes, mostly lost in my usual repetitive and unhelpful thoughts. Even though I definitely was not a natural at it, I usually did feel a bit clearer after trying to practice mindfulness. So I kept trying—not every day at first, but often enough that I began to see some differences in my overall outlook and in how I handled life’s challenges. Still, the fact is that I had mixed feelings about committing to a regular practice. None of the people who seemed confident that meditation could help make me saner looked like me or came from a background like mine. After many years of struggling to develop a practice on my own, I was invited to join a group of lawyers who regularly met and meditated under the guidance of Norman Fischer, a former presiding monk at the San Francisco Zen Center. This helped settle me into a regular practice and an appreciation for a community of support for doing so. By this point, I had quit my job practicing insurance law at a corporate law firm in order to teach law, a move that I had long dreamed of making. I taught Torts (personal injury law), as well as courses on race in American legal history, and contemporary issues in race and law. My work required me to keep turning again and again toward suffering around racism—what we call, somewhat antiseptically, “discrimination.” Many evenings, I went home feeling sad and dissatisfied. As my years in the classroom stacked one upon the other, I found myself tilting toward depression. I was also frustrated by the extent to which my students seemed to suffer as they studied in traditional ways—reading, researching, arguing, writing, and delivering formal presentations about some of the most difficult issues of our time. I knew that the work was worthwhile. But it sure seemed to be hard on all of us. During my darkest hours, I thought of those in my family who had not had my chances for success. I thought of my Grandma Nan—whom we called GranNan—and the way that she had centered her life in spiritual practice and a deep sense of purpose—the very thing I most wanted for myself and, if possible, for my students. Yet since I had never encountered a professor who explicitly strove to blend inner work—mindfulness, awareness, and compassion practices—with the subject matter that he or she taught, I felt somewhat despondent. By grace, I found a good therapist. She said something that would change my life’s course forever: “You can always leave your job as a tenured professor at a university in a city that many people would kill to live in. That option is there for you at any time. But what if, before doing that, you really explored how you might bring all of yourself, including your commitment to inner work and deepening awareness, into your work in law?” And so, with the support of my meditating lawyers group, I began to do just that. Eventually, I met Jon Kabat-Zinn and learned more about his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course. Hearing in him a language that I knew would work in law, I deepened my commitment to bringing mindfulness more fully into every aspect of my life. I saw that if I was going to continue to walk the path I’d begun—building bridges between communities traditionally seen as different—I would have to find a way to deal with regular indignities without going crazy or suffering further damage to myself and others. We were all suffering, after all. Even those who acted out the most extreme forms of violence, I sensed, had themselves suffered in some way. How could this not be so if they could so easily harm others? And so I deepened my commitment to sticking with myself and with others through the challenges of being vulnerable and opening my heart. It had taken years for me to settle into a set of daily mindfulness practices, an array of supports that suited my needs. But as I practiced, again and again, I found a measure of peace. My heartbeat slowed, and my nervous system calmed me, breath after breath, as I developed the capacity to hold suffering more effectively. Meditation became a steadfast support for the everyday work of wading into the often murky and treacherous waters of having conversations about race with people I did not know well, and the sometimes murkier waters arising in such conversations with people I knew like family. I came to see how these practices were crucial to the work of creating spaces in which people from a wide variety of backgrounds could sit together and talk about histories that we often do not discuss. For one, the practices help in the delicate work of tending to wounds that have not yet healed. In my classes, we would sit in reflection on the pain caused by racism, by one group after another against one group after another. Over time, we could see how fear, greed, miseducation, and the desire to be seen and appreciated were important drivers of all of this pain. We could see this and not become embittered, and we were not repeating the pattern. With the support of the practices, we were becoming whole. It became clear to me that we could do a better job of working through race issues with the support of awareness and compassion practices. In all of this, something my GranNan used to tell me reverberated in my mind and felt more poignantly true each time I sat with others in their pain and vulnerability, listening with compassion: we are all one family who have forgotten who we are. Through personal mindfulness practices, we can begin to ground, heal, and ultimately transform our sense of self, no longer clinging too tightly to a narrow and isolated sense of “I,” “me,” “my wounds,” and the collective pain-stories of “my people.” We can begin to be able to infuse our experience of ourselves in culture, community, and context with a sense of the valid, often painful experiences of others. And as we take in more of the whole, we grow. The practices in this book can help us to process the pain and confusion that arise when we push ourselves or are pushed by others outside of our racial-identity comfort zones. These practices build the resilience we need to stay in the conversations and to deepen community when the going gets tough. In this book, I tell stories about people from a range of backgrounds who have used these practices to think differently about race and racism, and to work for “justice,” a word that I define here as “love in action for the alleviation of suffering.” Justice begins with our awareness of the present moment, extends through caring for ourselves, and shows up in the love we bring to our interactions with others and our responses to the social challenges of our time. This book is composed of five parts. In “Part One: Grounding,” we examine how race and racism shape our life chances, relationships, and points of view. We also explore the core mindfulness practices that ground us in awareness, insight, and resilience. “Part Two: Seeing” spotlights in more vivid detail how contemporary racism lives in us, in our relationships, and in our communities. We expand our awareness of racism by considering its personal, interpersonal, and systemic dimensions, and we practice deepening awareness through mindfulness. In “Part Three: Being,” we allow ourselves to be with the difficult thoughts, emotions, and sensations that arise when we become more aware of racism. Through the practices of mindfulness and compassion, we soften the sense of a separate self and create the capacity for healing. Eventually we notice and begin practicing being with the ease and even the joy that arise as we re-create integrated communities together. In “Part Four: Doing,” we consider what it takes to deepen racial justice work. This requires not only engaging in mindfulness practice, but also studying our histories and exploring concepts like “white fragility,” while working with our communities to engage in transformative social change. Because conflicts will inevitably arise, we also examine skills for sustaining racial justice work and developing resilient relationships and organizations. Finally, in “Part Five: Liberating,” we examine the fruits of our mindfulness practice as we experience social change and transformed lives. Because there are so many rivers of pain joining and forming the ocean of racial suffering in our times, personal awareness practices are essential for racial justice work. In order for real change to occur, we must be able to examine our own experiences, discover the “situated” nature of our perspectives, and understand the ways in which race and racism are mere cultural constructions. It may be helpful for you to read this book alongside others so you can share different points of view and support one another in the meditation practices. As you’ll see from my story and those of others you’ll meet here, healing takes place in community. By experiencing new ways of looking at race, we can grow in our capacity to be with one another in ways that promote healing and make real our common humanity and radical interconnectedness. And this will set us on the path toward acting with others for justice—in solidarity with those suffering the most—with humility, kindness, and the capacity to keep growing and rowing on. I hope that in this book, you will find support for living with your eyes wide open to the role of race in your life and in the lives of others. I hope that you will find guidance for working toward justice for all, through grounded, public-facing, radical compassion—the kind that touches everyone and all things, leaving no one and nothing out. May we form a vast ocean of healing to meet the suffering, one that refuses no river and renews us all. When things get hard along the way—as they will—may the practices, stories, and insights in this book be a reliable and lifelong source of support. PART ONE Grounding Deep mindfulness arises from a view of our radical interconnectedness, that which links us each and all in our particular pain and possibility to earth, fire, wind, water, and space. Be like the ocean that refuses no river. —BABA MANDAZA KANDEMWA CHAPTER ONE PAUSING AND RECKONING I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. —REVEREND DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.1 But race is the child of racism, not the father. —TA-NEHISI COATES2 The Weight of Our Racial Experience In June 1984—twenty-one years after Dr. King bellowed the above words across the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and dropped his hope-drenched dream into our collective consciousness—I was perhaps the most hopeful sixteen-year-old girl in all of Hampton, Virginia. Because despite a childhood that had often been a painful one, I had reached that moment when the dreams that had gotten me through it were actually starting to come true. College—my passport to freedom—was just around the corner. And for the very first time, I was in love. His name was Jake. Yes, at that moment, there was more right than wrong in my world. Which is why what Jake told me just days before I was to leave Hampton for a summer university course hit me so hard. “My dad just kicked me out of the house,” Jake told me over the phone. “He did what? Why?!” I said this, knowing what would come next. “You know why. . . . I told you how he is. It’s because of us. He said no son of his is going be dating some black girl. . . .” Oh, did I fail to mention that Jake and I had been raised in a world in which he was considered “white,” and I, “black”? (Micro reflection: Had you already made assumptions about Jake’s race? Was the question forming in your mind? Either way, congratulate yourself: you’ve just brought awareness to some of the ways that your brain “does race”—i.e., the way that you make race-based assumptions and fill in the blanks as you go when reading stories, names, résumés, and so on).3 Jake had used the word black when he might have used some other. I knew that his father’s way was something he was actively resisting. We were on the same side in this, and that meant everything. But even with Jake’s support, I still remember the pain that gripped me that afternoon, on hearing that my race—this category created by others that did not and could not capture much of who I really was—had made me unacceptable to my true love’s family. My race had made me the Other. I had known that this might happen when we started dating, of course. But that did not make it any less devastating. And I remember learning something more—that my being “a black girl” had not only made me unacceptable to Jake’s working-class Virginia family, but had made me so unacceptable that they were willing to throw their own, reportedly beloved son out of their home and onto the streets like garbage. It hit me hard that this notion that they had about me—or more accurately, about people supposedly like me, as they had never actually met me—had made me so unacceptable that they were willing to hurt their own son, and thereby themselves, and all to teach him, me, and anyone around us a multifaceted lesson. It was a lesson about what must never come of his having been the first generation in his family to attend a racially integrated school in the South: as a white man, Jake must not come to see black people as equally deserving of dignity, inclusion, and love. It was a lesson about who they—Jake’s parents—took themselves to be: people profoundly and pervasively “white” in the American South in the twentieth century. They may not have had college educations, or achieved greatness in the eyes of the world beyond their hometown. But what they had inherited—the cultural, sometimes economic, and psychic value of whiteness—meant something and was in a way defined by their willingness to reject me, to reject this thing called blackness. Whiteness was more valuable than the safety of their own flesh and blood. Despite my being an A student, a model leader who would soon be named Teenager of the Year in our town, I was not good enough to be associated with them. This hurt me badly. Yet I was clearly not the only one suffering. To this day, I cannot imagine how Jake must have felt to learn the limits of his father’s love. The pain we both experienced in those moments has faded over the many years. But for me, its clarifying lessons remain. What happened to me and Jake taught me a lot about racism. Racism is a complex of behavior and explanatory stories that enable some human beings to assert power over other human beings. Though it can seem natural or simply biological, it is not. Racism depends on the social construction of what sociologists have come to refer to as “racialized” bodies, which is to say, the idea and practice of people being assigned racial labels that, as we have been trained to understand, sit in a relative hierarchy of worth in relationship to other racial labels. We often refer to people as white, black, or some other race, without thinking twice about it, as if race is a part of the natural order of things. But race is a matter of social imagination and construction, of perceptions shaped by a given context. Someone who might be considered “too white” in the Caribbean might be considered unequivocally “black” in the United States. Throughout this book, I will use the same shorthand (black, white, Asian, Latino, and so on), but what I really mean is how a person has been racialized in the place and time in which he/she exists. Racism operates in obvious and nonobvious ways that render the target of the behavior vulnerable, by degrees, to disrespect, disadvantage, harm, or even death. Racism, in my view, is not limited to individual bad actions based on intent to harm others, nor is it limited to those individuals who consciously endorse beliefs about the inferiority of others (although such actions and beliefs would certainly fall under the definition I use here). Racism encompasses both explicit and implicit beliefs and acts that justify the assertion of power—individually, collectively, or systemically—against racially maligned people and their white allies, so as to minimize their freedom, access to resources, and sense of value in the world. So how does the definition of racism provided above apply to the conduct of Jake’s father? The behavior was the act of throwing Jake out of the house. The explanatory story was this: because no son of his was going to be dating some black girl. The power was that possessed by Jake’s father—a white man who had complete control over Jake’s access to safe lodging, and denied Jake that access and safety as a punishment. And because this left both Jake and me vulnerable to heartbreak and physical distress, Jake’s father had asserted his power over both of us. Thus, Jake’s father’s reaction was an act of racism. In witnessing and reflecting on the actions of Jake’s father, I learned a hard but important lesson about race and racism in America: despite all of our own triumphant experiences in finally desegregating Virginia’s public schools in the late 1970s and early ’80s, white supremacy—the dominant culture’s deep-seated belief that white is above black in the hierarchy of all things—had not gone away. We had not sung it away in the “integrated” basement of the Bethel Free Will Baptist Church, whose buses entered our neighborhood every summer Sunday morning, picked up brown-skinned kids by twos and threes, and hauled us across town to a pristine sanctuary where we sat alongside white kids and sang, as loudly as we could, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world!”—before being bused right back across town to our very separate and unequal homes. No, white supremacy and racism were alive and well in hearts and minds, behind neatly trimmed yards and around the cul-de-sacs of city and suburb alike. They had not gone away, as we were given to believe, simply because the adults around us—especially the white adults, the ones in charge at our “integrated” schools—had stopped talking about them in public. And they had not gone away simply because we had been taught, under a twisted interpretation of Dr. King’s inspiring words, to be “color-blind”—i.e., never to acknowledge, discuss, or respond to racism’s continued existence and vitality, and instead, to pretend that none of us even “see” race. What I learned was that the centuries-long war to end the policies and practices of white supremacy, to encourage a realignment of our allegiances in favor of common ground rather than our racialized identities and so-called affinity groups, had not ended. The battle over the degree to which black people and other nonwhites should be included in, or excluded from, the so-called American body politic had not been won by the civil rights movement after all. As I came to see, we had only settled into an uneasy truce. All it would take to inspire a new skirmish in this war would be what my romance with Jake represented: evidence that two people who had been racialized differently had, in fact, judged each other by character and not color, and for a moment, at least, found one another worthy of love. And, as I would learn much later, all it would take to rekindle the full-out war would be the unexpected rise, through this quietly smoldering landscape, of the walking embodiment of the threat to white supremacy posed by the gains of the civil rights movement: a president of mixed racial and cultural heritage named Barack Hussein Obama. In 2019, there are people who are surprised to see evidence of this ongoing war of inclusion/exclusion. They are shocked by its especially antiblack character and its virulently anti-immigrant themes. They are incredulous that the legal, political, and cultural changes that have taken place since the mid-twentieth century to shift the United States toward inclusive democracy have also engendered deep resentment among those racialized white. But I am not surprised. I lived through the clarifying summer of 1984, and have been awake to the slippery yet ever-present nature of racism ever since. I have seen how readily it can be put into service to deem certain people unlovable, to raise questions about our common humanity, and even to cut ties with one’s own kith and kin. What I learned that summer inspired in me a desire truly to understand race and racism in our everyday lives and to see them for what they are: deep and pervasive cultural conditioning for grouping others into categories and placing them at enough distance to render their suffering less visible, for obscuring our intertwined destinies, and for turning us against one another rather than toward one another when we suffer in common. In short, what I learned that summer inspired my life’s work: dissolving the lies that racism whispers about who we really are, and doing whatever I can to reduce the terrible harm it causes us all. Practicing “The Pause” You have just read a reflection on an experience of race in American life, an example of what I call a “Race Story.” For just a moment now, let us stop. Take a moment to check in with yourself. What was it like for you to read these words? What thoughts are coming up for you? What do you feel in your body now? What emotions do you feel as you consider what you just read? And again: Where in your body are you feeling these emotions, sensing the thoughts, questions, and other reactions you’re noticing now? Throughout this book, you will be asked to stop and reflect like this. This is an embodied practice that I call “The Pause.” The Pause is an aspect of the practice of mindfulness meditation that can lead you to the experience of body-based mindfulness. What is mindfulness? It is simply paying attention, on purpose, with the attitude of friendly, open, nonjudgmental curiosity, and a willingness to accept (at least for now!) what arises. Over the course of this book, you will be exploring and deepening the practice of mindfulness, which can be hugely important for understanding our experiences around race and identity. Mindfulness is essential to developing the capacity to respond, rather than simply react as if on autopilot, to what we experience. To practice The Pause, you simply stop what you are doing and intentionally bring your awareness to the experience of the present moment. This is the first step in engaging in mindfulness practice. Pausing and intentionally directing attention to particular focal points in your experience help you more routinely to focus your attention at will, clarify the mind, de-stress, and minimize any trauma-based reactions in the body. Just for a minute, turn your attention to the sensations of breathing in and out and rest here. As you do so, notice: What thoughts are in your mind right now? See if you can release those thoughts. Practice letting them be for the moment, just as they are. It may help to imagine them as leaves falling gently from a tree, or as clouds crossing a blue sky. It may help to think of the out-breath—here and throughout the practices described in this book—as a micro practice of letting go, of coming home to the resources of peace within you. As you bring your attention back to the sensations of breathing, what do you notice? Settle into the experience of breathing and sitting, noticing your feet on the floor, your buttocks in the chair. Feel the support that exists for you in the body and the breath at this very moment. Now allow yourself to explore any emotions or other bodily sensations arising—the sense of “I like this,” or “I don’t like this.” Open up to what your body is telling you in this moment. Try not to judge your feelings and sensations. Be as specific as you can about what you notice. Most important: as much as possible, be kind to yourself. Later, we will look at research suggesting the value of such mindful reflection—particularly as a means of developing the embodied emotional intelligence, self-regulation, and overall resilience required to work through the challenges of examining racism in our lives. But for now, see if you can just allow yourself to get to know what is arising in you in this very moment. As you bring this Pause to a close, sense the ground beneath you as you breathe in and out. Settle into the support of this breath, this connection with the earth, this deepening grounding in awareness. Finally, if you can, take a few minutes to write about what has come up for you during your Pause. This is especially important if you experienced strong emotions, or if some of your own memories or Race Stories emerged from their buried places. In my own experience, and as research has shown, even short periods of writing about emotionally difficult events in our past can assist us in deep healing.4 As you continue reading, engage in the loving awareness practice of The Pause whenever you need additional support. CHAPTER TWO SITTING WITH COMPASSIONATE RACIAL AWARENESS Biologically speaking, we are programmed toward being tribal as a means of survival. We literally have to transcend an aspect of our own biology. —REVEREND ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS1 Population geneticists agree that all of us are literally one human family. What would our world be like if everyone acted on this truth? —SHARON SALZBERG2 Mindfulness of the Racialized Self What we call the self is shaped by the cultures in which we live. And because race is a cultural feature of societies built on racism, notions of self include notions of race. The racialized self is produced by and helps reproduce racism in our cultures. Mindfulness helps us understand and expand our notions of self. And yet, talking about race and racism and examining these through the lens of mindfulness is uncommon. This is not to say that it is not being done at all. But many practitioners of mindfulness have been taught, whether explicitly or implicitly, that looking at racism and exploring efforts to address it—or to otherwise engage in talk of “justice” or “politics”—go against the core commitments of mindfulness. This may be a consequence of two factors. The first has to do with the social locations of those who have brought mindfulness into the mainstream. Many of the teachers from Asia, to whom we owe most Western mindfulness practices, lived in cultures where racial difference has not been the dominant mode of oppression. And on top of that, most of the Western teachers of mindfulness are white in white-dominated cultures. As a result, they have had to work harder to see their own race and racism in the world, and to break the cultural norms against doing so. The second has to do with the fact that Western notions of social justice are not reflected in contemplative traditions, at least not in the same manner or to the same degree. Contemplating Racial Justice So let’s pause together and reflect: What is racial justice? The heart of what I mean by racial justice is guided, first, by Dr. King’s notion of justice—“power correcting everything which stands against love.” Racial justice, then, is about taking actions against racism and in favor of liberation, inspired by love of all humanity, including actions at the personal, interpersonal, and collective levels. Why might it be appropriate to consider engaging in racial justice as an aspect of living mindfully? The short and simple answer is that racial justice, like compassion, is just one form of an ethically grounded, mindful response to suffering in our lives. Moreover, mindful racial justice seeks to alleviate not merely isolated incidents of racial suffering, but all suffering caused by racism—including suffering that is very hard to see. This necessarily presents a profound invitation to a lifelong practice of awakening that seeks greater liberation and justice for us all. Racial justice cannot exist apart from the effort to alleviate the socially constructed, unevenly distributed suffering of all marginalized people, or what I would call “social justice.” And social justice cannot exist apart from racial justice. Grounding in Racial Justice We live in a world especially polarized by race and racism. Experts in peacemaking have noted that we must find ways to talk with one another across these lines of constructed differences, if we are to have any hope of resolving and dissolving those differences. And we must keep talking about these issues. But just talking about race, even among people we know and love, seems so dicey and so fraught with potential for conflict and confusion that we need support. We need support in the cultivation of the ability to sit compassionately with and talk about our own particular experiences with race, race-related injury, and alienation. We need help developing the capacity to be able to listen to the very different stories of others with compassion; to have conversations across lines of real and perceived difference that help and heal, rather than hamper and hurt; and to exercise the will to come back for more, with increasing capacity for empathy and a deepening desire for others to heal and thrive in the world. This book is here to help you do just that. The Differing Roles and Faces of Race While we all need support in doing the work of racial justice, the specifics of that work will differ for each of us. The very nature of race—a concept, an idea created to implement and justify the hierarchy resulting from white supremacy—is that its impact can differ dramatically from one person’s life to the next. Some of us have to deal with race on a daily basis, because our bodies stand out alongside the more apparently similar bodies of others and we thus are repeatedly reminded—through the actions, words, and assumptions of others—exactly how we have been racialized in the minds of others. Some of us have experienced racism in deeply personal ways, to the point that race and racism feel like constant, haunting presences in every moment of our lives. Some of us have experienced subtle or overt institutional racism, such as bias in the systems of education, housing, health care, or employment in our communities, and know it has affected our life chances. For others, race and racism impact life significantly, but under a completely different banner. The people who have become known as Puerto Rican, for example, have been given what amounts to second-class U.S. citizenship—without statehood, the right to full representation, or even the right to proper disaster relief from the U.S. government when a catastrophe such as a hurricane strikes. The people of Hawaii had to struggle mightily for the right to statehood, due to concerns on the mainland about the “racial diversity” of the islands. The people of Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands—all of them, too, can attest to a long list of indignities suffered at the hands of the U.S. government. The force animating these mistreatments, of course, is the same one that lies behind race and racism: white supremacy and related ideas of European cultural supremacy. It is no accident that all of the people mentioned have—or are perceived as having—darker skin tones relative to whites. It is also not surprising that there is no similarly degraded U.S. island, territory, or former colony where the inhabitants are people who have been racialized as white. Yet, those who hail from these places may describe their struggle as one against the ongoing legacies of colonialism, including cultural oppression and resource appropriation; they may not typically use the language of race and racism at all. Nevertheless, for present purposes, we recognize the unity of these issues under the umbrella of the term racism. Still others, for different reasons, have not thought much about race as a factor in our own lives at all. This has often been true of white people owing to their status among the majority of the racialized groups in the West. Yet the recent rise in visibility of the contemporary white nationalist movement has perhaps brought issues of race to the fore for people racialized as white, engendering a range of different responses. Some have rejected that movement outright and are looking for ways to forge alliances with people of color. Others may wonder whether their suffering in a time of rising diversity is actually some new form of racism against which they should be mobilizing, even perhaps through acts of violence. Still others are experiencing loneliness, feeling that there is nobody with whom to discuss these issues other than those who might try to encourage their fears and capacity for bias. And there are those, typically racialized as Asian, who have been drawn to or have identified with the “model minority” myth, the idea that some racial or cultural groups are inherently superior to others. These individuals may find themselves a part of a larger narrative that seeks to blame those who fail to succeed, and tries to dismiss racism as a false justification for failure. Those who subscribe to such views may not be convinced otherwise by this book, but it is written with the hope of opening up your mind, too. Still others of us find ourselves on the margins when we hear the word race, because the conversations tend to be centered on the experience of specific racialized groups—black, white, Asian, Latinx—and we do not fit neatly into any one of them. And people for whom the term multiracial resonates may have a unique set of questions, challenges, and anxieties around the issues of race and racism. For a variety of reasons, some of us would prefer not to think about race too much at all. We have been taught, as Supreme Court Justice John Roberts suggested, that “the way to get beyond race is to get beyond race”3—the mantra of color blindness. And given that we are for the most part poorly trained to discuss what feels like a difficult, weighty, and risky subject, it seems easier just to ignore the issue and try to “move past” it. But for all of us, our racialized identities shape much more than we realize. They influence who we end up gravitating toward or away from in our social lives, and the resources, experiences, and opportunities by which our lives are shaped. Your experiences around race may place you squarely into one or more of the groups described above, or you may find that you occupy a very different place on the spectrum. Whatever your experience may be, this book, and the awareness-raising work it calls forth for us all—is for you. ColorInsight As explained above and as we all as know, our experiences of race and racism differ radically from person to person. In order to assist my students and others in seeing these aspects of our lives more fully, I have developed an approach that combines mindfulness and compassion practices with engagement with individuals from diverse groups. I call this approach, and the set of skills that support it, “ColorInsight.” I believe that it can serve to lessen and perhaps even release the grip of race and racism on our sense of ourselves and one another. The work of developing ColorInsight is multidimensional. First, we ground our efforts in the desire, the will, and the courage to turn toward, rather than away from, race and racism to examine its role in all our lives. Second, we work to develop a deeper and more nuanced capacity to perceive and to understand how race and racism operate in our own lives and in those of others. Third, we deepen our ability to be with others as they reflect on these aspects of their experiences—to listen without judgment and with compassion, and to work together with them toward mutually healing personal and interpersonal transformation. And finally, we commit to looking for ways to act in favor of liberation that touches on the collective and the systemic, thereby opening the door for transformation that benefits us all. Mindfulness is essential to developing ColorInsight. Over the course of more than twenty years as a law professor practicing mindfulness and ten years teaching mindfulness to others as a support for understanding race, racism, and justice, I have found that incorporating mindfulness into hearing others’ painful Race Stories—like my story of heartbreak in chapter one—has multiple positive effects. For one, it often starts the process of healing for the speaker. Equally important, however, it serves to soften and encourage the listener to respond by sharing his or her own stories, a process that ultimately leads to healing in the broader community. And once each of us has gotten our own healing under way, it can strengthen the inner justice advocate in us as well. To read the following Race Story mindfully, Pause and take a cleansing breath. Release the thoughts and questions gathering in your mind for the present moment, imagining them, if you will, falling onto the ground below. Reminding yourself of your intentions, practice remaining lovingly in touch with your own embodied experience by noting reactive thoughts, emotions, and sensations in your body and responding to what arises with extreme self-care. A “Race Class” This is Seth’s story. Seth joined one of my Race and Law classes with a level of enthusiasm that surprised me. Looking at him, most would identify him as white. But in his own mind, his background was different. He shared with me that he was part Jewish and part Cuban. He had grown up in a neighborhood in Oakland, California, filled with people from a wide range of backgrounds, including a large percentage of black people. He identified with the views of those he had grown up with, but he didn’t look like them. He therefore struggled to fit in. I liked Seth immediately, because he was earnest and willing to be vulnerable about the things he needed to better understand. He met with me early on in the course, and shared with me his deep desire to learn how racism made people of color more vulnerable to oppression and harm and how best to respond. He cared about doing his part to help make things right. While I appreciated his concern, I could see that he might gain even more from a closer look at his own experience of race. If he could explore and recognize the role of race in his own life, he might be able to develop insights about race that others might find more compelling. “What about coming at it from your own lived experience?” I asked. “My what?” He was surprised and skeptical. “Your own experience. What has your own life experience taught you about how race matters?” “Well, that’s just it,” he said. “I don’t know. I am not sure what race I am.” He shared that while people would most often think of him as white, his background left him feeling otherwise. “And what does ‘looking white’ mean? How does it impact your interactions in the world? What does it mean to you, really, to be racialized white? How might it benefit you and the world if you understood this better?” “I don’t know,” Seth said. He sat in silence for a moment. “But I like that you’re asking me this. No one ever has. I’m excited to be thinking about this.” Seth and I spent many a Friday afternoon that semester pondering questions like this. By the end of the course, he told me something that moved me to deepen my commitment to this work. He said that while he had learned a lot about race and law, he had learned even more about himself. “A class like this should be required for law students!” he said. “And really, it should be available to everyone.” Creating Space for Racial Justice Work For those who are new to this work, we may have to create space for learning about something that we thought we already knew. It may take a while to get comfortable thinking and talking about race in new ways, to feel a sense of what multicultural educator Robin DiAngelo calls “racial literacy.”4 Racial literacy requires emotional awareness. If you are like most people, you will feel strong emotions in reaction to what others share about race—and you will also feel emotional when you reflect deeply on your own experiences. Sometimes there will be tears. You should give yourself permission to feel your feelings, and to know what you know in your body. You may sense sharp judgments or the fuzziness of feeling “some kind of way,” or you may feel exhausted or even bored. And you will sometimes feel elated, as you connect with others and their experiences in more meaningful ways. These and other emotion-laden reactions are important to notice. If you are not comfortable speaking about emotions, a big part of the work of ColorInsight will be about becoming more emotionally intelligent—that is, emotionally aware, articulate, and capable of acting in alignment with the insight that arises from all of this. Painful, perhaps even previously suppressed, memories may come rushing into your mind, including reactions tied to unhealed wounds as they rise to the surface. And as a black woman, I realize that this work is often particularly painful for me and other people who have suffered from racism and identity-based bias. “Nonwhite” people may feel uneasy or even angry when engaging in this work, for many reasons. It may be because we are openly acknowledging—perhaps for the first time—that the pain of racism falls disproportionately on us, or it may be due to the common experience of having to deal with these issues in ways that seem designed to serve the interests of culturally dominant whites instead of ourselves. And all of us may feel the frustration or anxiety that comes with the thought that nothing will ever really change. Whatever their source and shape, the “bad” feelings that often come with addressing these issues may make it hard to embrace the mindfulness practices, to enter into conversations about race and racism, and to stay engaged. Because we are mostly trained to turn away from looking at race (especially in the company of differently racialized people), uncomfortable feelings are quite normal as we seek to learn more about one another’s experiences and prepare to do the work of racial justice together. Yet we need to be able to sit with these feelings and experience that discomfort in order to learn and to grow together. So a big part of racial justice work is about becoming more comfortable with being uncomfortable. Especially within cultures and institutions where a premium is placed on “being nice” or “getting along”—which is certainly true of most Western cultures—simply shifting the expectation to one in which we can stay in our discomfort long enough to deepen insight, but without getting stuck there, is an important part of the process of healing and transformation. It is also very common to encounter a variety of reactions to the reactions—for example, clinging even more tightly to old ways of thinking and being. Denial and avoidance are not effective ways to deal with racism in the long term, but they often seem tremendously appealing in the short run. Resisting uncomfortable feelings and reactions and remaining addicted to unskillful responses are easy to do, but they are precisely what keep us from dealing with racial issues when they arise around us. As we set out to look deeply into racism with mindfulness, we need to maintain a commitment to meet whatever arises—including our own and others’ emotions—with an uncommon level of kindness and love, and with a genuine wish for healing. We need to develop and embody radical compassion and the will to be a space within which racial truth can be spoken and heard. A Pause for Human Kindness Having explored the value of a self-reflective pause in deepening our capacity for racial awareness and justice work, take a moment now to explore a micro practice I call the Pause for Compassion. We begin, again, by noticing a moment of racial discomfort. We pause. We take a deep and grounding breath. What are the sensations in the body that make this discomfort known to you now? Consider placing one or both hands on the area where you feel discomfort. Inwardly recite these phrases: “This is a moment of racial discomfort. Such moments are common in a world shaped by racism. I deserve kindness in this moment. And I offer kindness to others impacted by this moment as well.” Now bring kindness to an often underappreciated part of your body. Take a look at your hands, the palms, the outer skin. Notice any reactions you have to the color of your skin. Then, think of all the ways you have put your hands to work, the ways they have supported others, enabled you to feel connected to others along the way. As you breathe in and out, appreciate this part of your body as an immeasurable gift. And offer it love and appreciation. Extend the sense of appreciation from your hands to your arms, chest, heart, neck, head, and back down through your midsection to feel the ground. Breathe in and out with a sense of appreciation, of love for the gift of the body—the earth that walks, the physical manifestation of your unique journey through time, space, and cultures untold—for getting you to this place. CHAPTER THREE HONORING AND REMEMBERING We take our stand on the solidarity, the oneness of life, and the unnaturalness and injustice of all special favoritisms, whether of sex, race, country or condition. —ANNA JULIA COOPER1 Honoring Our Roots The awareness that we explore here, the capacity for being more present to the relationships in our lives, is basic to human experience. Whatever our background, as humans, we share the ability to be more engaged, and to wake up more fully to the moments of our lives. Many of the original teachings that form the basis of mindfulness meditation and related practices come to us from the recorded history of the Buddha, who was reportedly born into a life of great privilege. Upon learning that all humans suffer, however, the Buddha embarked on a quest to find the end of suffering. He explored the workings of his own mind and embodied experience, through meditation and other practices. He came to many profound understandings, including the biases of his time as reflected in the caste system and in the treatment of women. And he rejected the notions, deeply ingrained in his culture, that noble birth determined one’s character, and that only men were suited for monastic life. The Buddha also taught that the body is inherently impermanent and unworthy of undue cherishing or conceit. We owe much of what we presently know about mindfulness practices to a diverse set of Asian heritages that kept the Buddha’s teachings and practices alive and spread them throughout the world. These practices are not religious; they do not require any belief system at all. Rather, they help us know our own minds and develop capacities for self-healing and embodied insight. To do this, we will need more than a passing participation in looking at ourselves and our communities. We need deep commitments to working with others to minimize everyday oppression, whether it be through over-policing and the excessive use of force, immigration policies that separate children from their parents, or some other form of harm. We need the will to repair the many separations that characterize the sense we have of ourselves as individuals apart from one another, and distinct from the air we breathe and the earth to which we will all one day return. For this work, then, we will each need strong foundations. Foundations for Racial Justice Work Through mindfulness and deep compassion, any one of us, whatever our heritage, may become clearer about our relationship to racism and how we relate to others in ways that actually, though unintentionally, contribute to it. How do we develop this uncommon level of awareness and deepening sense of compassion? Over the years, I have come to see that certain fundamental attitudes or traits evolve as a result of these practices, supporting this and related inner work.2 Perhaps the most important foundational attitude is an openness to explore without judgment. This one is so difficult for those who care about suffering that I often refer to this as being “as nonjudgmental as possible” in a given moment. We are each a sort of work in progress, after all, with heavily conditioned and easily engaged minds. We will judge. But an important distinction mindfulness asks us to make is between automatic judgment and the more considered, deliberative evaluation that we might describe as discernment. This distinction is essential to the work of learning how to alleviate others’ suffering, or of “practicing justice.” A second important foundational trait is what many mindfulness traditions call lovingkindness. This is the feeling of care and concern for the well-being of oneself and others. While there are specific practices for developing this sense of caring for those we do not know, the essence of lovingkindness may already exist in your heart. It is the warmth and softening of heart that arises when we experience love and empathy. The third most important foundation is compassion. I define compassion as the will to act to alleviate the suffering of others. It is distinct from pity, the way we may sometimes feel sorry for the suffering of those whose lives and circumstances we see as distinct from, and often somehow less than, our own. Compassion is close to but also distinct from empathy, even though feeling with and being able to take the perspective of another is essential for effective compassionate action. Compassion is the will, the wherewithal, and the motivation to actually do something to assist in alleviating suffering, whether it’s our own or others’. We need compassion that embraces our own suffering—self-compassion. And we need compassion that embraces the suffering of others—other-regarding compassion. The fourth important foundational attitude in support of the journey to live mindfully with the desire for social justice is patience. The fact is that the best answers to the most profound questions of our lives are not given to us at once, fully formed. Indeed, they may not even arrive in our lifetimes. The problems we experience in our relationships with others and in our efforts to live free of racial bias were not created in the span of one lifetime. Therefore, expecting to solve them in short order is a recipe for frustration. So as we deepen our capacity to work with racial injustice, an important trait to develop as we go is our capacity to be patient with ourselves and with others. A fifth foundational attitude for ColorInsight is what mindfulness teachers sometimes call the “don’t know” mind. This refers to our ability to accept our own ongoing need to learn, and to live with inevitable uncertainty. We resist seeking overly simplified answers to the most complex questions of our lives. We realize that we experience and form the answers to our most profound questions as we go about holding the questions with compassionate awareness. One of the foundational traits of living mindful justice, then, is being able to be humble and open to learning more, to live with ambiguity, to stay present and engaged even as the answers we seek, the outcomes we pursue, elude us. A sixth foundational trait is steadfastness, the capacity to stay in the struggle. It is the will and the ability to turn toward the difficult, to go with the flow of our lives, even when it involves uncertainty, tension, and conflict. Contrary to what has been long and widely advertised, living mindfully is not living without discomfort. It is living with awareness that discomfort, like joy, is a part of a life well and deeply lived. It is living in a way that allows us to take each of the things we wish we could change, the things that cause us discomfort and even pain, and accept them for the moment as simply the way things are, however ugly or unpleasant. And yet it is doing so without feeling reduced or diminished as human beings, without cutting ourselves off from others. Finally, we turn to that trait without which none of the others can be adhered to with consistency when the going gets tough. The seventh foundational trait is the courage to seek and act for justice. Healing social wounds requires that we engage in public acts of acknowledgment of harm done (whether intentionally or through oversight or neglect), offer apologies where appropriate, and take action seeking to make amends to those injured or harmed—to make things right as best we can. It is sometimes said that we do this in the spirit of restoring the community to the state of well-being it knew before the harm; however, given that our country was actually founded on racial inequality and forms of exclusion, we need a vision not of restoration, but of real change. We need to understand why and how justice in action may lead to healing and redemption for ourselves and for the generations to come. While these traits may come naturally to us, they also can be further strengthened through practice. And when we can see that racial injuries are just one of many causes of deep wounding, we need to step up to the great challenge of our time—that of creating something that has never truly existed before: a world in which everyone truly belongs and is supported in thriving alongside diverse groups of others. Each of these foundations of mindful racial justice work are crucial. The good news is that we can develop each of them along the way, through our regular engagement with mindfulness and compassion practices. This work will be difficult. It will challenge us to examine the subtle ways we participate in, and in some ways benefit from, the patterns of racial suffering we see. In this book I distill teachings and curated practices from a range of traditions that support us in this work, as well as research in social psychology, sociology, and neuroscience, and the invocations of some of the most eminent peacemakers of our time. My core personal practice—and the one at the heart of this book—is the formal mindfulness meditation practice. As you’ll see in these pages, mindfulness meditation may take a variety of forms. One of the practices, Awareness of Breathing Meditation, involves focusing your attention on the sensations of sitting and breathing—each in-breath and out-breath—with an attitude of friendly openness to your experience and with the intention of becoming more aware of the fullness of life in the moment. It’s a practice that can help make you more present to your experiences, so you can see the choices you have when it comes to relating to them. Most of the time, we almost forget that we are breathing throughout the day; we breathe without even needing to be aware of it. And yet, the moment we suffer from breathing difficulties of one sort or another, we see that we are dependent upon the miraculous respiratory system for our easeful existence. When our breathing body works, simply and as it should, we are infinitely blessed. The moment that we are aware of our body breathing while we sit is a moment to appreciate the infinite miracle of our simply being alive. Regardless of the pain of the moment—whether physical, emotional, or psychological—there is much more to the moment. Sadly, however, if we are not careful, we can go months or more without fully appreciating the simple truth of this. With attention and kindness, focusing on the sensations of breathing may give rise to a sense of our blessedness in being alive, and a deep source of gratitude for who we are—whatever our background or race; our state of illness, disability, or ability; our monetary wealth or lack thereof. For these reasons alone, committing to a regular mindfulness practice would likely be a good thing to do. A growing body of research also confirms a range of physical health benefits—from lowering blood pressure to improving your immune system and beyond. More to the point, the body’s capacity to recover from stressful situations appears to be enhanced by regular mindfulness practice. The mindfulness and compassion practices in this book assist you, then, in becoming more skillful dealing, in real time, with difficult emotions and reactions that arise when working directly with race and racism. Taken together, they may be considered basic operating instructions for managing the uncertainties and challenges that are inherent to the human condition—including “race problems.” Our ability to skillfully handle difficulties deepens over time as we practice mindfulness. These exercises have been shown to literally rebuild our biological capacities for well-being—the central nervous system that helps us downshift from stress-induced arousal, the part of our brain capable of experiencing compassion for others. They have even been shown to have the effect of slowing the aging process, which may otherwise occur more rapidly as a result of the stress of racism.3 For those raising children exposed to racism and other distresses, the practices of mindfulness and compassion—both for themselves and for their children—may set the next generation on a path for greater health, well-being, and resilience over the course of their lifetimes. Even more profoundly, simple mindfulness shows that the air that we breathe depends on the actions not only of ourselves, but of those around us, and of the natural world. Knowing this, our hardened sense of ourselves as separate (and too often, alone) begins to soften. We see that everyone and everything is connected, and we learn to better respond to the interpersonal and environmental conditions, policies, and structures that cause distress and suffering. We can change the way we act in the world to minimize the suffering of others. The benefits I have described so far are especially important to those of us who, as a result of various factors—our inherent life circumstances, the activist work we do, the diverse relationships we choose to maintain—see, encounter, and engage with racism or other forms of social injustice on a regular basis. Deepening Awareness Through Mindfulness In mindfulness meditation, we set aside time and space to become more aware of our experience. In this way, we slowly develop more of our inborn capacity for meeting each new moment with fresh aliveness. Often immediately, and certainly for many over time, these practices assist us in calming our minds and bodies, in seeing more clearly and comprehensively, in lessening our reactivity, and in becoming more wise about our responses to the stimuli of life. We can begin to see, then, how mindfulness meditation might help give us something to draw on in the midst of a difficult moment or conversation. When anger arises suddenly, for example, we may find ourselves reacting in kind. Yet if we are able to notice the sensations that accompany anger and examine them, we may be able to learn something. We can slow down the reactive habit long enough to see what there is to see about our habits, our conditionings, our patterns of emotional reaction. And we can choose a better way to respond. When we are able to engage our awareness to choose how to respond, we wake up to a new power for navigating the world. We can allow for the fierce and enlivening energy of strong emotions like anger to help us gauge when we should take action to address injustice. And we can decide to act on that energy in a way that lessens anger’s raw, destructive potential. When we come to know more about our own mind and when we learn about its conditionings, habits, and tendencies, we are better able to regulate responses in ways that maximize our effectiveness in the world. The following core mindfulness meditation practices—Awareness of Breathing, Body Scan, Moving Meditations, and Mindful Reflections—provide the basis for developing, deepening, or maintaining your own daily mindfulness practice as you read this book. Although additional practices will be introduced as we go, you should use one or more of these core practices for grounding in awareness every day. AN “AWARENESS OF BREATHING” MEDITATION PRACTICE FOR EVERY DAY Practicing mindfulness meditation on a daily basis will help you develop the capacity to stay with the challenges of racism as it arises in the world and strengthen your ability to work against it. As we deepen our ability to stay present and to notice and regulate our emotions, we will increase our emotional and mental flexibility, so we can process the events that cause us distress—including the thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations that come with them—in new ways. To start, consciously establish a posture for your practice. Decide whether you will practice in a seated position on the floor or in a chair, or if you would prefer to stand or use some other posture—you must trust your own instincts for how best to support yourself here and throughout this program. Now, as you consciously settle in, increase your focus on the position of the body in this moment. If you are using a cushion on the floor, experiment with sitting on the cushion until you are able to sense solid support from the floor up. Hold your spine erect but not rigid. You may prefer to have your eyes closed or open. Either is fine, but if you choose to keep your eyes open, select a point on the floor, a few feet away, and keep your eyes focused there as best you can to avoid distractions. If you are seated in a chair, sit so that your feet can reach the floor, and place them flat and flush with the ground beneath you. If necessary, use a pillow or other surface to raise your feet so that they are flatly supported. With this version of mindfulness meditation, we turn to a point of focus, some point in the body where we can rest our minds and soak in awareness of the experience of the moment. Because the experience of breathing is at the very center of our body’s natural ability to manage stress and emotion, most teachings recommend beginning meditation practice with a focus on awareness of breathing in the body, moment to moment. (If focusing on breathing is simply too difficult for you, skip to the next practice, the Body Scan.) Now simply take a few deep and focusing breaths, gradually increasing your capacity to maintain light but clear attention to the sensations of the entire flow of the in-breath and the out-breath as they alternate. Allow your breathing to settle into an easeful, comfortable rhythm and pattern, and bring your attention even more fully if you can to the experience of breathing. If it helps, locate a particular position in the body where you can feel the sensations of breath flowing in and flowing out, such as the outer nostrils, where you may feel a slight change in temperature with each breath in and out; or in the region of the belly, just below the navel, where you can feel a deep breath as the diaphragm expands into the region and displaces the organs, causing the sensation of rising and falling. Place one hand in the region for even further support and focus. Whatever you select as the point of the body on which you will place your attention as you breathe, continue the practice, focusing on the sensations of breathing in and breathing out. If and when your mind wanders, simply and gently bring your attention back, with kindness and with as little judgment as possible. Begin again with the next focused in-breath and continue following along. Start with practicing for 2 minutes, then for 5 minutes, and increase your awareness of breathing practice to 15–20 minutes per day. If it helps—when you first start practicing or on any given day that you need extra support—you might consider counting inwardly just beneath the breath. Gradually, extend your practice periods up to 30 minutes per session, once or twice a day. A “BODY SCAN” PRACTICE FOR GROUNDING IN AWARENESS Given that examining bias and racism in ourselves and in others takes an emotional and mental toll, it’s important to practice becoming more aware of emotions and sensations of distress as they arise in our bodies. We need to become more aware of the subtle ways that we carry race and racism in our bodies, including how we carry wounds and trauma that need to be seen and lovingly acknowledged in order for them to be healed. We need to deepen awareness of how we tend to react to emotions and other sensations of distress in the moment that we first sense them as tightness in the neck, as turnings of the stomach, as flashes of apprehension or fear in the heart region. The Body Scan Meditation is one of the best tools for getting to know our bodies in ways that help us work with race issues because it increases our sense of connection with our bodies in the world. As with any of the meditations that I guide here, please be kind to yourself as you engage. The body has most likely experienced any of a wide array of traumas, and hence we need to be especially aware of how some of these practices may challenge your sense of being safe. Here as elsewhere, be your own best guide as to how you engage in this practice, and if it proves too challenging, consider shifting to a movement-based practice (see this page) or back to Awareness of Breathing. So let’s begin by consciously taking a position for your Body Scan Meditation practice. You can practice in any position, but traditionally, this practice is done lying on the back, with the hands resting at the sides on the floor. If you’re sitting in a chair, adjust your posture so you feel the support of the ground beneath you, place your feet flat on the floor, and sit with your spine upright but not rigid and with your head resting in alignment. If you’re standing, bring your attention to your feet on the floor, about shoulder-width apart, and settle into a sense of grounded support. And if you are lying in the traditional position, allow yourself to feel the weight of the body sinking into the supportive ground below, holding you in a sense of belonging to this place at this time. When you are ready to begin the body scan, direct your attention to the sensations, the life energy in your left foot, starting at the large toe and allowing your attention to move gently from one toe to the next. Then, bring your attention up to the top of the foot and the bones, muscles, tendons, and systems within it. What can you sense as you attend to the feeling in your foot? Moving up, rest your awareness on the sensations in the ankle, the shin, the knee, the hip. Then, switch to the right foot, and repeat. Once you’ve scanned both legs, bring your attention (as your comfort level allows) up through the buttocks, the groin, and into the abdomen. Notice the sensations in each area of your body. If any thoughts or emotions arise, simply notice them, allowing them to be present as you breathe in and out. From the lower abdomen on up through the diaphragm, lungs, and chest, scan up through your midsection, feeling, as best you can, the aliveness in each of these important regions of your body. As you move through the region of the heart, sense how you feel there. Is there tightness? Is there openness? Are you able to feel the strength of your own beating heart, its spacious capacity to give and to receive? Breathing and releasing focus on the heart, gently scan up through the chest and shoulders, and then down each arm, hand, and finger. Return to the upper body and scan up the throat, into the face, and up to the crown of the head. Now take a moment to direct your attention to the skin. Reflect on your skin as the largest organ of your body. Be kind with yourself as you allow any thoughts, sensations, or feelings to surface. What do your skin and skin tone mean to you? How have you been wounded or how have you benefited as a result of the particular skin that you live in? Gently let go of all that has arisen for you as you’ve explored being in your body in this way. As you come back to the sensations of breathing, allow a sense of your full being to expand and flow down, from crown to toes and back up again. Sit in awareness of the sensations in the body as a whole, allowing that which is good and well within you to be known, felt, and appreciated. Movement-Based Meditations Having explored meditation while staying relatively still, we are now more ready to explore meditation while in movement. There are many kinds of movement-based meditations, including tai chi, qigong, yoga, and some of the trauma-releasing practices that I explore in small part below. All of them assume some degree of capacity on your part to move your body at will, which may or may not be possible for you. Moreover, some positions may be more triggering or desirable for you than others, depending on your past experiences. So please engage in the following only to the degree that you feel comfortable, and be encouraged to adapt these practices to suit your particular body and physical needs. We will explore two different types of moving meditations: Basic Moving or Walking Meditation, and Gentle Yoga. BASIC MOVING OR WALKING MEDITATION To begin, come into the position you would typically inhabit to move your body across a room. For most of us (unless you’re in a wheelchair), this means coming to a standing position. In this position, place both feet flat on the floor. As much as possible, bring your awareness to your feet, to the feeling of being in contact with the floor, and through the floor, with the earth. Select a path for your moving meditation. It need not be very long. Ten feet or so would be plenty. More would also work. Standing (or sitting) comfortably, feel the length between your feet and the crown of your head, your height. Stand erect but not rigid, and breathe deeply in and out, feeling the flow of energy and awareness through your body with each in-breath and out-breath. Now, we’ll begin to practice mindfully moving forward. If walking, notice the impulse to lift one foot. Feel the shift of weight into the stable leg, and feel the movement through the lifting leg as it rises and prepares to meet the earth, heel first, then ball and toes. Notice the feeling of the foot as it moves and lands, and notice the rise of the alternate foot. With each step, notice the feeling of connectedness between the body and the earth. If you’re using a chair or walker, notice the motion in the hands, feet, or other parts of the body as you move forward, keeping your awareness in the body as best you can. Take a few paces, keeping your attention on the body in motion. When you come to the end of your path, pause and prepare to turn around and begin moving back toward your original position. Notice the body turning to one side or the other, completing the turn with awareness of what it feels like to shift perspective. When you are ready, mindfully move forward, one step or push or lift at a time. Through regular practice of this form of meditation, traditionally known as Walking Meditation, you may become familiar with what it means to feel the body in motion throughout your daily activities. Slowly we become used to maintaining awareness of the body even as we go through our busy daily lives, and to living in more grounded support as we go. GENTLE YOGA The most well-known movement-based meditation is yoga, the ancient tradition aimed at deepening the sense of union between awareness and the body. There are many forms of yoga. For our purposes, we embrace a simple set of standing movement practices to provide a taste of what it means to bring the mind to rest in the sensations of the body being stretched a bit and kindly testing its limits. We’ll start simply, by coming to a standing posture with your arms dangling comfortably at your sides, your hands alongside your hips. Again, please modify and begin in whatever position is comfortable for you if you are unable to stand. Seated yoga is equally beneficial for our purposes here. Take a few deep breaths. On an in-breath, raise both of your arms slowly away from your sides, extending upward as far as you comfortably can. Keep your attention focused on the sensations of raising the arms, allowing attention to remain in the upper arms, the lower arms, the hands, bringing your hands closer and closer together. If possible, bring them parallel to one another above your head. Hold this position for about 20 seconds, keeping your attention on the sensations in your body. Now allow your arms to gently float back down to your sides, keeping your awareness in the body, until the arms and hands rest once again at your sides. What is the energy level like in your body now? Now let’s practice neck half-circles. Begin by lowering your chin to your chest, and then, at an easy pace, gently roll your neck to the right, left, center, right, and center again. Repeat this 8 times. Next, explore some shoulder circles, beginning by bringing your shoulders together over the heart, then rolling them back and expanding your shoulders out, bringing your shoulder blades together at the center of your back. Repeat for 8 cycles, then reverse direction, beginning by rolling your shoulders back and continuing for 8 cycles. Keep your attention on the body in motion, and on the breath as you breathe in and out in rhythm with these movements. Now place your legs hip-width apart, place your hands on your hips and, starting to your right, make a circle with your hips as best you can. Again, be careful with your back and don’t push beyond what is only lightly out of your comfort zone. Reverse direction, repeat, and come to center. Finally, bring your legs together, bend slightly forward, and place your hands on your knees. With a little dip motion toward the ground, swing your knees around in a circle for 8 cycles. Reverse direction and repeat. What is the level of energy in your body now? As you pause, check in and see what sort of movement your body most wants to feel. You may wish to gently fall forward at the waist, allowing the hands to drop to the ankles or, if you’re flexible enough, the toes. You may wish to explore a balancing posture, shifting your weight to one foot and then lifting the other. You may, if space permits, wish to explore lying down practices. Or you may simply want to shake it off. Be gentle! The various body-based postures are endless. As you explore these practices, you may decide to work with an experienced teacher to get the greatest benefit from embodied mindfulness. But for now, see if you can begin to bring greater awareness to the sensations of life, of movement and stillness, within your body as you move throughout your day. Trauma-Releasing Practices As trauma experts like Peter Levine, David Treleaven, and others are helping us understand, the body holds on to trauma—events that cause deep distress and leave us feeling helpless, frightened, overwhelmed, or unsafe. The severity of trauma varies along a vast spectrum, from stress to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Traditional sitting mindfulness practice, alone, will likely not be enough to help us release the trauma that we carry, individually and in various collectives, around race and racism. Indeed, if not engaged in with care, meditation can in some cases exacerbate trauma and cause further harm.4 Mindfulness can help you become both more trauma-sensitive and more trauma-resilient. It may help you recognize when you or others are touching upon or reacting to latent trauma, and help you respond with appropriate acts of care and compassion. So when you begin to feel the pain of your own race-related wounds, or if through the application of mindfulness you become aware of tension, unnecessary fear, or other unusual body sensations when in the presence of a racial Other or when recalling memories of such encounters, make it a practice to gently and compassionately explore ways of noticing more fully and working on releasing your embodied trauma. While the full work of releasing racial trauma is beyond the scope of this book, I include a few suggestions here (and in chapter nine) for the foundational work of honoring the messages of your body and tending to your own needs through practices that have been proven beneficial. Set aside time to support your body in ways that may allow you to release the particular pain you carry. Gentle, trauma-releasing body movements may include yawning, stomping, coughing, sighing, humming, and singing.5 Writing, drawing and coloring, storytelling and mindful speaking, and listening can also help. For our purposes here, simply notice when you are feeling the signs that for you indicate an unhealed wound, and find a private space where you can choose to move your body or otherwise do what might help you experience some relief. If you feel the need to shake, growl, dance, yell, or otherwise enact a physical release, give yourself deep permission to do so. Don’t worry about looking silly. Give yourself the freedom to heal. Many of us know that dancing, singing, and holding hands with caring others seem naturally to support us in healing and coming back to our sense of well-being. Other practices, combining movement with visualization, may also help. One such practice is what I call the “spiral of healing.” Begin in a standing position or while seated on the ground. Touch into the part of you that suffers from a race-related or other wound. Breathing in and out, offer kindness and the wish for healing to that part of you. Now imagine a spiraling movement extending from that place in your body, and see if you can move in a way that allows a spiral of healing energy to move from that place outward through you. Start small and increase the size of your spirals as you go. Allow yourself to shake and release as you move in whatever way you’d like. Try giving yourself 5 to 10 minutes in the practice. If it helps, listen to music that you find nurturing and inspiring. As you spiral the wound energy outward, also allow the reverse—and spiral inward the energy of loving healing. There is no one right or wrong way to do this; recall that your body is mostly water and is built to allow energy and information to move through, release, and be transformed in the direction of your greater good. You deserve to heal. We all do. A trauma-releasing movement practice may be just the thing to assist you in deepening your process. And your own deep, embodied healing is an essential part of the process of bringing justice into the world. AN OCEAN OF LOVINGKINDNESS MEDITATION This practice is about opening the heart to feelings of kindness and wishing well-being for yourself and others. First, think about a person who has made you feel loved, cared for, or nurtured. Extend a wish for well-being toward this person, either by imagining your love expanding like a light from your chest reaching out to them, or by inwardly repeating phrases such as the following: May you be happy. May you be at ease. May you be free from suffering. Now offer those same wishes or phrases toward yourself. This may be challenging, but do release any judgments or criticism, taking a deep breath, and offering these phrases to yourself. If it helps, select an image of yourself at a point in your life when you particularly needed a loving response, such as a mo