This week I include topics such as the First Amendment in the context of booksellers, racism in Germany, online court hearings, the intersection of pollution, white supremacy, and the coronavirus, and last liberation theory in social justice education.
This article piqued my interest because it explores the First Amendment in the context of booksellers along with a reference to libraries (my field). Spring writes, “As bookstores across the country field an unprecedented number of orders for anti-racism books, it’s time for the bookstore industry to face its own reckoning with white supremacy.” An important read for readers and librarians.
An international perspective on white supremacy. In this case, the author is looking at comparisons between Germany and the United States. If you don’t know anything about circumstances in Germany, then this is the read for you. For example, Bruce-Jones writes, “Making a comparison to the German context seems absurd to some, given that the scale of police killings is much smaller in Germany. However, scale is not the most interesting point of comparison between the United States and Germany. In Germany, if a person is killed in a policing altercation, there is no ability by the family to bring a private (civil) action on behalf of that person.”
Learned something new with this one. For example, video bail hearings have occurred in some places for over 30-years. But what is the impact on those being charged? And what about the dehumanizing aspect of video hearings? Kirchner writes, “some courts have reacted to the pandemic by putting almost all operations on hold for now — and with it, defendants’ right to a speedy trial. There’s an enormous pressure for courts to start back up again, and the safest way to do that is either by video or phone. What technological substitutes courts allow vary from state to state and are changing every day.”
What happens when you cross white supremacy, climate crisis, and the coronavirus? We truly have a moment of interbeing with these three topics. They are interconnected and people are dying. Britt writes, “While we might believe that the pandemic lowered pollution everywhere, that in fact has not been true, and in some places pollution increased substantially because of this rollback.”
I recently had the privilege of attending a East Point Peace Academy webinar with Victor Lee Lewis and I really appreciated what he had to share of teach. Much of his topic is covered in this article. It’s a short article and Lewis is looking to redefine social justice education. The foundation of which is the question: “Is this liberating?”
For this week’s long reads, we explore the topics of racism against Chinese scientists, linguistics and race, applying democracy to climate change, the lockdown and public works (by Naomi Klein!), and California’s privacy ballot measure. Plus one recommended podcast. I hope you enjoy.
“…the already strained relationship between the U.S. and China continued to deteriorate, worsening as the Obama era gave way to the Trump administration. Hundreds more Chinese American scientists have been scrutinized as a result. The U.S. maintains that it is doing so to protect against the threat of Chinese espionage, an argument it has maintained for decades. But a growing network of advocates and scientists fear that the FBI is targeting scientists based on racial discrimination, and that is not only destroying the livelihoods of Chinese American scientists but also damaging American science output as well.”
“There’s this anxiety over saying the wrong thing,” says deandre miles-hercules, a PhD linguistics student who focuses on sociocultural linguistic research on race, gender, and sexuality. “And so instead of maybe doing a little research, understanding the history and the different semantic valences of a particular term to decide for yourself, or to understand the appropriateness of a use in a particular context, people generally go, ‘Tell me the word, and I will use the word.’ They’re not interested in learning things about the history of the term, or the context in which it’s appropriate.”
“Climate change is a complex challenge, the largest collective action problem in history, and a classic illustration of the concept of a wicked problem. It is distinctive in many ways: unlike most forms of air or water pollution, the effects are not immediately obvious; harms occur mostly in the future, with a perceived temporal mismatch of costs and benefits. There is good reason to believe, however, that democracies overall are more suited to handling climate change than their authoritarian counterparts.”
“As in the 1930s, this generation is already being referred to as a “lost generation” — but compared to the Great Depression, almost nothing is being done to find them, certainly not at the governmental level in the U.S. There are no ambitious and creative programs being designed to offer steady income beyond expanded summer job programs, and nothing designed to arm them with useful skills for the Covid and climate change era. All Washington has offered is a temporary break on student loan repayments, set to expire this fall.”
California voters need to read this article. This November, Californians will be called upon to vote on a ballot initiative called the California Privacy Rights Act, or Proposition 24. EFF does not support it; nor does EFF oppose it.
Where did the notion of “whiteness” come from? What does it mean? What is whiteness for? Scene on Radio host and producer John Biewen took a deep dive into these questions, along with an array of leading scholars and regular guest Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika, in this fourteen-part documentary series, released between February and August 2017. The series editor is Loretta Williams.
As a long-time student of nonviolence, I was excited to pickup the book Healing Resistance by Kazu Haga. Not only was it published by Parallax Press, founded by Thich Nhat Hanh, but the jacket quotes from Michelle Alexander, Joanna Macy, and Larry Yang said this was a book for me to read.
Kazu writes in a very friendly, personable, and real style. We are brought right into the stories as he explores the intricacies of Kingian Nonviolence. We begin with some basic definitions of violence, nonviolence, and conflict.
As Kazu writes, “nonviolence is about action, not inaction.” This is an important concept to understand about nonviolence. He continues, “Nonviolence gives us an alternative way of responding: to face. Facing means looking your assailant in the eye, not backing down, not giving into fear, and not reacting in kind.” And perhaps most importantly, nonviolence allows us to heal.
Both Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Martin Luther King speak of Beloved Community. As I read the Six Principles of Nonviolence, I can’t help but draw parallels with the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing. Like the Trainings, the Principles are interconnected. They inter-are. And practicing one we can practice all the other ones.
The Six Principles of Nonviolence
Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
The Beloved Community is the framework for the future.
Attack forces of evil, not persons doing evil.
Accept suffering for the sake of the cause to achieve the goal.
Avoid internal violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence.
The universe is on the side of justice.
These were first articulated by Dr. King in his 1960 essay, “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence.” These are now the Six Principles of Kingian Nonviolence. Kazu has been a trainer and teacher of these since 2009 and form the heart of this book. Each are looked into with greater detail.
The last third of the book explores the Six Steps of Nonviolence. Namely, information gathering, education, personal commitment, negotiation, direct action, and reconciliation. It is this last one, reconciliation, that can be seen as the goal of nonviolent action. In this section of the book, we see how to apply these steps in the social justice movement. How to organize and to get things changed. To build and create the Beloved Community. To experience reconciliation.
It’s not all about external action. We learn that the internal work is just as important as the external work. Maybe even more important. If you want to learn more about what nonviolence means and how it can be applied in our lives today, then look no further than this book.
As Michelle Alexander wrote, “Kazu Haga’s deep, nuanced, and principled commitment to nonviolence has challenges and inspired me and many others.”
My early life can be characterized by travel and moving. And, because of my parents, was filled with service and peace work. How much does our early life influence who we become as adults?
My parents joined Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a relief, service, and peace agency shortly after their 1965 marriage. MCC represents Mennonite, Brethren in Christ and Amish bodies in North America. Their first assignment was to spend 3-years in Jos, Nigeria teaching at a high school. Jos is located in central Nigeria. It wasn’t such a large city in the sixties but today is close to a million residents. During this time, Nigeria experienced a series of military coups and the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970). It was in this environment that I was born in October 1967.
To this day, my dad remains connected with some of the young students he had in Jos. I certainly don’t recall this time in Nigeria, but it is a part of my story. Nigeria is where I was born, but my connection and roots pretty much end there.
When my parents commitment was complete, in 1968, they moved back to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and worked in the family lumber business. But our stay in Saskatoon was short-lived as my parents then moved to Akron, Pennsylvania where MCC is headquartered. My dad served as associate secretary of personnel services. Because this was the height of the Vietnam War, the MCC office was helping many young Mennonites seek alternatives to military service. Filing conscientious objector status was a time consuming matter.
Once again, I don’t have memories of this time in Pennsylvania. And yet I can’t help be wonder how much the peace work my parents were doing may have influenced me. To be surrounded by people taking a clear stand against war and being willing to serve in other capacities. To some extent, I can say the MCC grounding in service and peace has most definitely carried forward throughout my life.
In 1971, my parents were sent on another 3-year commitment overseas. This time we moved to Lusaka, Zambia. Here my dad was the country representatives in charge of 30 MCC personnel. It was here that I began school and making friends. I recall time on the dirt schoolyard playing marbles with other children. I recall the walk home to our house. Like many in Africa, we had house staff to help with cooking and caring for the property. I remember the people who lived with us. Their kindness and friendship. We had chickens running around the yard that we would use for food and eggs. I recall playing in the wilderness out behind our house where we could get lost in the tall reeds and trees.
My time in Zambia is a good memory. A time of play and friendship. And beginning to learn about the world around me. But it did come to an end. One lasting negative memory I have was just before we left when we ate a slaughtered family cow. My feeling was of anger and not understanding. Perhaps this was the start of my veganism?
On that note, we moved back to the United States. We arrived in Reedley, California in 1974 where my dad helped establish a West Coast MCC regional office. This move came after I was fully acculturated in Zambia. Zambia is where I began my formative school years. Zambia was really all I knew. I even spoke with an “English” accent as that was the national language in Zambia. The transition to American culture and living was a steep curve and came with many difficulties for me. A missionary kid in a new country, with different ways of talking, different ways of doing things, and with the whole landscape of sports and media I knew nothing about.
It was also here that I discovered some Mennonites who had served in the military. That was a shock to me because I already knew we were pacifists. But these Mennonites had been in the United States a very long time and had lived through World War II. And as German speakers, they needed to assert their patriotism. This is how I remember it. I knew my parents still spoke German and our family was from Canada (my parents are first generation Canadians).
I won’t go into the whole story of acculturating to America, that’s for another time, but suffice to say I remain in California since that move. I naturalized as US citizen 1991 so that I could vote and not be kicked out of the country for speaking my mind.
Growing up as part of the MCC community, the first 12-years of my life, I can most certainly say it influenced me in the areas of service and peace. I have been a lifelong pacifist, practitioner of nonviolence, and a strong advocate for social justice. And though I am no longer a practicing Mennonite, now a student of Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village tradition, I can see my practice today is firmly rooted in those early years in Nigeria, Pennsylvania, Zambia, and California
This week I offer five long reads and two podcast episodes. Topics include climate refugees, surveillance in education, food inequity, wokeness and cancel culture, racial capitalism, climate justice, white supremacy, religion and oppression.
Surveillance in schools reflects the values that schools have (unfortunately) prioritized: control, compulsion, distrust, efficiency. Surveillance is necessary, or so we’ve been told, because students cheat, because students lie, because students fight, because students disobey, because students struggle.
Communities of color are at the center of balance for bringing our species back into harmony with the planet. we must listen to the voices of Black and indigenous vegans and activists, and other people of color. There are countless Black thinkers and activists in this space. Sisters and authors Aph and Syl Ko have been incredibly important voices in discussing issues around veganism and communities of color.
Today we are having a new national debate about whether the United States is redeemable, about the nature of its founding figures and documents – even the date of its founding — and what to do with those who dissent. But one side is winning. Since George Floyd’s horrifying murder, an anti-racist discourse that insists on the primacy of race is swiftly becoming the norm in newsrooms and corporate boardrooms across America. But as in Douglass’s day, the sides are not clearly divided along racial lines. A small group of Black intellectuals are leading a counter-culture against the newly hegemonic wokeness.
This article expands our understanding of climate justice by demonstrating how racial subordination, environmental degradation, and the fossil fuel-based capitalist world economy are interrelated. It uses these insights to critique the emerging legal and policy responses to climate change-induced displacement and to examine alternative approaches emerging from climate-vulnerable states and peoples. The article argues that racialized communities all over the world have borne the brunt of carbon capitalism from cradle (extraction of fossil fuels) to grave (climate change) and that a race-conscious analysis of climate change and climate displacement can reveal the commonalities among seemingly distinct forms of oppression in order to forge the alliances necessary to achieve just and emancipatory outcomes.
Maria and Julio take on the national conversation about racist Confederate monuments and the push to take them down. They talk with Dr. Keisha Blain, an author and associate professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh, and Rebecca Keel, the Virginia Statewide Organizer with Southerners on New Ground (or SONG), about what it means to be honest about our country’s racist past and to reimagine how it is taught and remembered.
Lord and Pinn discuss the power and persistence of magical thinking as we face the current pandemic, the role of the church at a time when science is so important, Black Lives Matter and Pinn’s opinion on struggle and progress, how women of color deal with oppression based on race, gender, and class, and the issue with respectability politics. Pinn also proposes the question, “What does our nontheistic perspective offer folks at this moment? What do we offer them beyond the critique of religion?” as we face the pandemic and the ever growing need for honest discussions and action on the issues of race.
Recently I have been engaged in a conversation with a dharma friend who is questioning the idea of white people talking to each other about white supremacy and if it’s possibly doing more harm than good. What you will read below are my thoughts in response to my friend. It felt important to share some of this discussion. It may seem a bit random at times, but I hope enough meaning is present to be of value.
Slavery and Racism
I think it’s important to understand slavery as it was practiced in the United States. Slavery in the United States is a race-based system and came with the invention of white. This is very different from slavery practiced in other countries and throughout history. The term “white” only came into being a few hundred years ago. By saying slavery has always existed throughout the world comes across as dismissive of the Black experience in the United States.
That said, I do believe that racism extends into other parts of the world, especially in light of all the colonialism based in (European) white supremacy. Our role as white people is to take the bold step into looking at how it manifests in our lives and the impacts on POC communities. Despite working on it for over 20-years, it continues to amaze me how much more work there remains to be done to transform my own internalized racism and white supremacy. In some ways, it’s a lot like our mindfulness practice; we continue to grow and learn.
Some of the language in the justice movement talks about decentering as a method to lift up the voices of those who have historically been unheard. It is natural and easy to center on our own experience, but that may come at the cost for others. A good example is how we practice dharma sharing. When guiding these groups, we try to say “if you find it easy to share, try stepping back, and if you are shy about sharing, please step forward.” I think we also try to make sure that everyone gets a chance to share. Recently I experienced a group session whereby the facilitators invited people of color to speak first. Very direct. Bringing awareness to who speaks first, or the longest, or wants to share more than once is an enlightening experience for me. As a white male, I am working to not speak first or to speak less often when I am in mixed groups (gender and race). It’s part of my effort to shift systemic practices.
Regarding harm to people of color when speaking in mixed groups. We may say words that we don’t even know are harmful, especially if we come with a strong white lens. Words that might be consistent with the dominant narrative around race. We might say that others feel unsafe sharing in a mixed group for other reasons, but for POC people it may be part of their wide-ranging experience found in work, school, and daily life. It can feel exhausting. This is what I’ve heard.
Trauma and Racial Healing
In my observation, it’s difficult to talk about racial trauma in the context of other types of trauma. And each type of trauma can stand on its own. And if we are going to focus on racial trauma then we need to stay focused on that type of trauma and make an effort to withdraw all the other types. This is where harm can come in also because it is natural for us to compare, but I’m not sure it’s a fair comparison. My trauma is deep and ugly. And yet it can’t be compared with the collective trauma of an entire population.
I think we have a long way to go in healing racism in our society. So much harm has been done to people of color that I often think we need some kind of truth and reconciliation committee. We need to find a path forward for reparations and atonement. These need to be both societal and personal. The Yet-To-Be-Named-Network says, “The possibility of full-fledged reconciliation depends on full-fledged redistribution. Any sincere redress for unspeakable crimes against humanity requires action on a societal scale that individuals can never accomplish in isolation.” And this is where sangha has a part to play. To seek restitution for past harm and attempt to repair the damage done. In my view, working on whiteness is a step in the right direction. Does it have flaws? Most certainly. But the vast majority of racial justice activists (both POC and white) recognize that a conversation must take place among white people in a way that doesn’t perpetuate more harm toward communities of color.
Again, the Yet-To-Be-Named-Network says, “For those who identify as white in our network, this means the naming of the lives, lands, and cultures that can never be restored, and the turning over of time, energy, money and land to those impacted by the brutal legacy of colonization and white supremacy, most notably Indigenous peoples of this continent and Black descendants of slaves.” This is a concrete expression for racial healing.
Bias and White Fragility
I heard the criticism of Robin D’Angelo’s (White Fragility) work from some people, and at the same time recognize that just about any work in the public domain is going to face some criticism. I read both her books. The first was very academic and was based on her doctoral research. The second one tried to take that research into a more accessible format. I read them both as a means to grapple with some of the research findings and not to agree/disagree with everything. Another book that looks at research is called Biased by Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt. It finds much of the same information but focuses more on inherent biases found in everyone socialized in America. It links nicely with the Harvard Implicit Bias studies. Like white people, people of color also carry internalized racism and white supremacy. In the myriam francois podcast, the discussion said as much–we all contain internal white supremacy, including BIPOC people. I don’t believe we need to feel “guilty” for these circumstances, but to take action toward healing and reconciliation.
For me, transformation needs to take place at the level of consciousness. And at the same time transform wealth, patriarchy, and racism. Our practice talks about the historical and the ultimate dimensions. I think the ultimate dimension is where we can see equality and harmony. But in the historical dimension we are still very stuck in suffering, harm, and discrimination. A friend said to me, no oppressed group can liberate itself without the cooperation of the dominant group (for example, the right to vote for women required the men to approve).
Thich Nhat Hanh was a revolutionary. Constantly challenging the status quo. He did this directly and through his practice. I don’t believe that working on whiteness and how it has caused suffering for people of color is focusing on what’s wrong. It’s focused on healing. On reconciliation. On interbeing. It’s not making the situation worse. And not acknowledging the experiences of people of color will make the situation worse.
I am reminded of the Tenth Mindfulness Training where it says, “As members of a spiritual community, we should nonetheless take a clear stand against oppression and injustice.”