Mindfulness and Racism

 Mindfulness & How Not to Respond to Allegations of Racism

Today’s sermon is about the application of the Virtue of Mindfulness in one situation that white people will sometimes encounter: Allegations of racism and how not to respond.

Some time ago, I had to witness racism out in the wild. Courtney and I went to a going-away party for one of her friends. When we walked in, she immediately started socializing, of course. She saw a white man she knew from the ecstatic dance community talking to a young black man she did not yet know. She went up to speak with them, and the white man, who, remember, had spoken with and eaten meals with Courtney in the past, immediately mistook her for JoAnn Hardesty, a former Portland city commissioner. She was put in the awkward position of having to correct what was easily one of the stupidest mistakes I have ever personally seen. For reference, the commissioner is twenty years older, about four inches shorter, several shades darker, and probably ten pounds lighter than Courtney. She also has completely different facial features and bone structure; Courtney has much better cheekbones than the commissioner. Hardesty’s hair is all in dredlocks and mostly gray, where Courtney’s hair is dark brown and black with a couple of gray hairs here and there, partly in dredlocks but with the sides kept cropped short. When he realized who she was, he basically wrote her off as “Cliff’s ex.” (I feel it is important to point out that, at the time Courtney approached them, these men were talking about social justice.)

After talking to several other people and getting some food, Courtney finally went in to take this man down and call him out on his racist bullshit. While I unfortunately did not get to see the beginning of her correction, I did get to hear his response. He basically told Courtney that black people need to express their feelings about racism in a way that does not hurt white people’s feelings and make them defensive.

Let’s talk about that for a minute. Why should Courtney, the injured party in this situation, be obligated to sugar-coat her frustration at having been once again mis-identified as JoAnn Hardesty, whom she does not even resemble, by a dumb entitled white guy, just so he does not get defensive? It has been discussed at length and decided that she does not owe him shit, and he needs to put his big-boy panties on and face up to his stupid mistake and apologize like a grown man.

This is a situation that calls for Self-Control and Patience, but mostly Mindfulness. It is important, when you accidentally hurt somebody, to own your mistake and do what you can to make it right. You do not get to tell the person that you hurt how they are allowed to express that hurt to you. If you stepped on somebody’s foot, and they got mad because people have been stepping on their feet for years, you would not get defensive if they did some swearing. But for some reason, people who say racist things -keep in mind, I am not labeling the person a racist, but rather calling out racist behavior- seem to believe that they should get a pass because the comment was not intended to be racist. The thinking is: “I do not identify as a racist, therefore nothing I do is racist.” To go back to the foot analogy, that would be like telling the victim that, since you didn’t mean to step on them, they cannot get mad. Hurt is hurt, intended or not. As an adult, you are obligated to apologize and make a sincere Effort to improve. You should be thanking the person who called you out for giving you the opportunity to become a better, kinder, less accidentally racist person. Not all of the lessons you learn in life are going to come to you gently, and once you come to terms with that, you can accept those hard lessons with a little bit more Mindfulness and grace.

One final lesson, and possibly even the most important lesson I got from bearing witness to this little saga, is that we must apply Mindfulness when greeting another human being. Really look at -really see- the people you interact with. Even people who do look alike have their own auras and energy, and we should all do others the courtesy of treating them as unique individuals rather than representatives of a race or other demographic. The worst part about that man’s misidentification is that he had interacted with Courtney in the past. I cannot imagine anyone forgetting about Courtney after spending more than five minutes in her company; she is a singular human being and tends to leave a lasting impression, so his failure to recognize her is truly puzzling.

It is important to practice the Virtue of Mindfulness in our daily lives and our interactions with others. Be aware of the Universe before your eyes as well as the Universe behind your eyes, and always see what or whom you are looking at.

Would you call out somebody who made a racist mistake like this?


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