How can I not talk about what's been on my mind and the mind of millions? The race relations in America and the most recent events regarding Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner of Staten Island and countless others is at the forefront. The recent uprising of Americans from all walks of life is stirring up difficult emotions for us all who feel the effects. These issues truly do effect us all, even if some don't realize it.
Not too long ago there was an uproar over Trayvon Martin and throughout our history there have been similar crimes of injustice to men of color which has incited outrage, disbelief, peaceful protests and riots. But it just keeps on happening! Some laws change, Barack Obama gets elected as President of the United States, but still. It doesn't seem to be enough. It's the overall subconscious mindset that needs to shift. Injustice within the realms of race and class has existed from the beginning of time, in every culture. In America today, it's back in full force. Once again. I'm sitting here trying be zen, to offer myself some peace of mind, but boy is it difficult to live mindfully while striving to take a stand for social justice. I'm still trying to comprehend that a 12 year old black boy playing with a toy gun was shot dead upon 2 seconds of the police officers' arrival. Could it have been handled differently? If the boy was not black, would the situation have escalated so quickly? Was it just a mistake? Scenarios like this seem to be happening to men and boys of color on a consistent basis, one has to wonder why there is often a 'shoot first, ask questions later' mentality. The subconscious perception that black is less than, that men of color are automatically to be feared, is a centuries old viewpoint by many that needs to be internally and systemically transformed. But how?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his Buddhist confidant Zen Master Thich Nhat Han had that rare form of inner peace and deep understanding in order to stand up for what's right and ignite real change from the platform of peace. Their genius and compassion is a rare gem from within the soul. Inciting riots in Ferguson to 'burn this b*tch down,' isn't exactly how to do it. Mostly peaceful protests in NYC & DC evoked a clear message. Communities are coming together, people are talking, groups have formed to incite change peacefully...but is it all in vain? What will be the real-time result?
“You are, therefore I am,” a powerful quote from Thich Nhat Hahn. The Zen Master coined the term “Interbeing” as the idea that we inter-dependently coexist. The ego mindset of “Me” and “Mine” is an illusion. I do not exist without the sun and clouds in the sky that provide the rain, which provides the crops to grow, food to eat, water to drink. Get it? We don't exist without each other --- every person, plant, animal, mineral. Martin Luther King Jr. delivers the same message in his signature style...”We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.” If our modern-day capitalistic, individualistic society embraced the 'interbeing' mindset, I think we would have a happier world...with less stress.
How can we be the change to instill systematic, long lasting shifts in our society? For thousands of years, there has been this perpetual myth by some of caucasian decent that a darker skin tone equals intellectual and historical inferiority, (with rare exceptions), barbaric spiritual and cultural practices, unattractive hair texture & physicality, lives without much value and so many more negative attributes. All this made me think of Ancient Egypt and how 18th century European and American scholars were arguing back and forth whether Egyptians were negroid or caucasian. The Egyptian society was too advanced & civilized for it to be a negro society argued many scholars. Same goes for the controversy over a black Jesus. Scholars at large offer a varying array of theories on the race of Jesus Christ and no one is in agreement. But just imagine a world where people thought Jesus was black rather than white?
In my own family, my beloved Italian grandmother was in the state of shock when her only daughter was about to marry an African man in the 60s. Some of these stereotypes were sadly in the minds of my family members, my mother and father felt the pain, but throughout my life I have witnessed incredible transformation & acceptance from much of my white family and in-laws. My maternal grandparents were very close to us kids and were incredible role models for us. They loved their brown-skinned grandkids, but were still weary of blacks other than us. When I moved to Bedford Stuyvesant about 10 years ago, I took my grandmother, in her mid-80s, on the subway to the city when she could still walk. I'll never forget her sitting on the train with me, looking around at the faces surrounding her and whispered to me, “Hopie, there are so many black people here.” I had to laugh to myself. It shocked the sh*t out of her. Only after offering a brief history of the neighborhood did she understand. All the other Brooklyn neighborhoods I had lived in where not the same. I'm sure never in her life has she ever been around so many people of color at one time. She had just came from what I call “la-la land”...a stereotypical all white retirement country club in Florida. Can you only imagine the faces of my grandparents' friends at the country club when they first discovered us grandkids chillin' at the pool?
“Peace in Oneself, Peace in the World.” I've always been deeply moved by Thich Nhat Hahn's famous quote. Over the last few years I've tried to embody this way of being, but it's quite challenging and has required some serious attempts at transformation. It's a life long path. I do believe that if we focus on our own inner peace, look within deeply, let go of the past, consciously live in the present moment , love & accept ourselves more, then we can better support and connect with others that are different from us from a place of deep compassion. Now, more than ever, its important to have these hard conversations about race and class. In attempt to truly understand those that we can't comprehend, those that we disagree with or infuriate us, we must make time to listen deeply to those who we think are different than ourselves. Don't most of us want love, security, good health, enriching education, clean neighborhoods, comfortable homes, inspiring work, an abundant bank account, happy families? Releasing judgement is one of the hardest things to do, but it's a key to breaking this vicious cycle of injustice.
We have to do the inner work in order for it to transcend into the outer work. I'm still holding onto MLK's dream. As a society at large we obviously are no where near it yet. At the same time, in my life, I have lived and witnessed people of all classes and nationalities working together to make our world a better place. It's proof that we are on our way. We can all do our parts to contribute to peace. Calling all changemakers...let's continue to do what is necessary to be the change. One moment at a time.
I'd love to hear your thoughts. What do you do to create 'peace in oneself?' How can there authentic change in our society? Please share with me here.
Ironically, my signature dates back to my high school days of scribbling lyrics in notebooks. Quoting Morrissey forever: "Love, Peace & Harmony. Love Peace & Harmony. Oh never mind, never mind, never mind, maybe in the next world."
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