“Awakening from Whiteness”

with Steve Scholten and Lani Banner
as part of the Windhorse Educational Initiative* 

*The Windhorse Educational Initiative is a new branch of community programs beginning in the fall of 2022. These opportunities encourage the expansion of WZC’s definition of community to a larger, democratic, and more all-embracing space. Our focuses will include positive mental health, secular meditation offerings that could be steppingstones into Zen practice, and inclusive community. “Awakening from Whiteness” is our first offering and is the result of a sangha interest survey. More information regarding this topic will be coming soon.

What:

This class provides an opportunity to “focus on awareness about the effects of Whiteness both systemically and individually and provides tools and education.”

Who:

The first class is open to anyone of any racial background who wants to participate. Then, the program will morph into an Affinity group available to anyone who identifies as White and who wants to take a deep dive into racism and Whiteness in a safe space. Further, while this opportunity is sponsored by a Buddhist organization, all spiritual paths (or no spiritual path) are welcome.

When:

All classes are on Sunday evenings from 7:00-9:00 PM, EST.

Sunday, September 25:

Introduction to Awakening from Whiteness

Sunday, October 2:

Why are We Here – Personal Experience with Race

Sunday, October 16:

Historical Racism

Sunday, October 30:

Institutional and Structural Racism

Sunday, November 13:

White Privilege: Part I

Sunday, November 27:

White Privilege: Part II

Sunday: December 18:

Going Forth: Application to Spiritual Practice

Where:

Zoom

Why:

See our article below

The Why behind “Awakening From Whiteness”  By Lani Banner – with Steve Scholten

With gratitude to Linda Frischmeyer and the Zen Community of Oregon 
and Dr. Najee E. Muhammad (may he rest in power)

     Let’s get uncomfortable.

     Let’s get into, as Representative John Lewis once said, “Good trouble. Necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.”

     Let’s take a deep breath, open our eyes and hearts widely, and step into an opportunity where we unpack:

• Our conditioning. 
• Our privilege. 
• Our history AND our herstory. 
• Our definitions of what it means to “work hard.” 
• Our idea that the American dream is accessible to everyone. 
• How we, as White people, benefit from institutional racism.
• How our spiritual practices may create and perpetuate barriers invisible to “us,” but clearly seen for those who we label as “other.” 
• How our religious community structures – even Buddhist ones – may in fact be rooted in White supremacy. 
• That, we, in fact, perpetuate racism.

     It’s certainly necessary, hard, heart-wrenching work. Racism isn’t something that you can wake up and say, “I’m no longer racist,” or “I don’t see color” or, “I have Latinx friends.” It is a life’s work; it is a life’s journey. And we can’t do it without struggle: “Pain is usually essential to healing. When it comes to healing America of racism, we want to heal America without pain, but without pain, there is no progress” (Kendi). Or, as my dear mentor, Dr. Najee Muhammad, once said to me repeatedly, “the cure is in the pain.”

     Still, there must be action to work with and to cure this dis-ease. We cannot wait for others to do this work; we cannot be impartial. We must consider the greater good. Author and activist Ibram X. Kendi said, “There is no neutrality in the racism struggle…One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is not an in between safe space of ‘not racist.’ The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism” (Kendi). And in order to move into action, we must examine ourselves:  “When liberal Whites fail to understand how they can and/or do embody White supremacist values and beliefs even though they may not embrace racism as prejudice or domination (especially domination that involves coercive control), they cannot recognize the ways their actions support and affirm the very structure of racist domination and oppression that they wish to see eradicate” (hooks).

     We wish to answer the call.

     When our sangha brother, Steve Scholten, began to turn towards the pain of his privilege, it was after the murder of George Floyd. He said, “I was seeing these amazing posts on social media – first-hand accounts of what it’s like to be Black in this country. It made me start to be aware of myself as a racial being and be much more aware of how I, as a retail employee, was treating my African American customers. I also noticed that White people I knew were taking stances that seemed racist, but I couldn’t put into words why these comments were racist. I began to question the discourse around ‘don’t break the law or resist law enforcement, because that is what you get,’ amongst a host of other White-washed comments. The protests that followed shook me out of my apathy, which I now see as an option born of privilege. It motivated me to learn more about historical and systemic racism. It led me to wanting to clarify to the extent in which I disagreed with the people I knew – and why.”

     For me, I began to examine my own privilege in college in the 1990s. I was actively involved with both feminist and LGBTQ+ groups on campus, but where my first epiphany happened was when I met one of the most important people in my life: Dr. Najee Muhammad – or “Doc,” as we called him. He was the first Black professor I had ever had; he was also the first Muslim I ever met. He encouraged me to question what words really meant and how language could be used to give, take away, and manipulate power structures. I told him I wanted to be a “successful educator.” He immediately asked me to question, almost like a Buddhist koan, what the word “success” meant. The words “liberal,” “White,” “Black,” and “teacher,” followed. He truly guided me to the educator I became: one that questioned discriminatory school policies, one that encouraged partnerships with communities who did not look like me, and one that tried her best to integrate democratic learning opportunities alongside her students. I was a trouble-maker – and damn proud of it.

     Still, days were hard. The district I taught in was exceptionally conservative (but would later make much growth) and the year President Obama was first elected was the most difficult one of my career in terms of the outright racism I witnessed towards the few Black and Latinx students in the building. Don’t get me wrong, I am not naive enough to believe that there wasn’t racism in my district before the election, it just became more “acceptable” to be vocal about this kind of ignorance and hatred. I remember trying to address these issues in my classroom as skillfully as I could, but there were days where I felt like I created more of a divide than bringing people together. I remember reaching out to Doc when moments like this came up. He reminded me that I was working in this district to change hearts and lives and that the “merits” of my work I would most likely never see. I needed to trust that one day, my kids would have their own epiphanies. This is what you sign up for as an educator, he said.

     When I decided to leave my profession to become a full-time resident at Windhorse, I knew that my passion regarding Cultural Studies would still be there. It would just evolve into something new. Doc once told me that he considered himself a Buddhist Muslim; and while he passed away in 2014, I think he would be proud of my choice to work in partnership with the community in an ontological way.

     It is with these ideas and experiences in mind that Windhorse is called to offer an online opportunity called “Awakening From Whiteness” beginning September 25. The first class is open to anyone of any racial background who wants to participate. Then, the program will morph into an Affinity group available to anyone who identifies as White and who wants to take a deep dive into racism and Whiteness in a safe space. Further, while this opportunity is sponsored by a Buddhist organization, all spiritual paths (or no spiritual path) are welcome. All classes are on Sunday evenings from 7:00-9:00 PM. Here is the schedule:

Sunday, September 25:

Introduction to Awakening from Whiteness

Sunday, October 2:

Why are We Here – Personal Experience with Race

Sunday, October 16:

Historical Racism

Sunday, October 30:

Institutional and Structural Racism

Sunday, November 13:

White Privilege: Part I

Sunday, November 27:

White Privilege: Part II

Sunday: December 18:

Going Forth: Application to Spiritual Practice

Each topic will have assigned readings and/or videos for you to read and watch prior to the class.  Course materials are provided. We would encourage anyone who is interested to attend the first session and if the structure and discourse calls to you, make a commitment to attend the rest of the classes.

     Yes, this work is challenging. 
     Yes, it will be uncomfortable.

     Yet, “The key to moving forward is what we do with our discomfort. We can use it as a door out – blame the messenger and disregard the message. Or we can use it as a door in by asking, Why does this unsettle me? What would it mean for me if this were true?” (DiAngelo)

     And finally, “The good news is that racist and antiracist are not fixed identities. We can be a racist one minute and an antiracist the next. What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment, determines what — not who — we are” (Kendi).

If this information speaks to you, please register for the course:

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to:

Awakening from Whiteness is not possible without the efforts and contributions of Linda Frischmeyer and the Zen Community of Oregon. We are grateful for their willingness to share their expertise and experiences with us, as we embark on a similar journey.