Saying No to the Silence of Whiteness

I’m mad. Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker all unarmed, all black men, now dead, just one typical month this summer 2014, USA.

Catherine Anraku Hondorp Sensei
19 December 2014
BlackLivesMatter Racism White Silence Catherine Anraku Hondorp Zen
Photo by Terence McCormack

A commentary by Catherine Anraku Hondorp.

I’m mad.

Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker all unarmed, all black men, now dead, just one typical month this summer 2014, USA.

I’m mad—that none of the white officers who killed them have been charged.

I’m mad—that even if they had not died, these black men would likely have been relegated to a second-class life in this land of “liberty for all.”

I’m mad—because in the suburbs of Saint Louis where I got my professional degree, there were no black faces in my graduation class picture, and I had no black professors in my four years of schooling. And where, radiating to the west of The Arch, there are white suburbs and black ones. Big houses with white families living behind gates and walls. And on the other side of the tracks? Well, you can guess who lives there. And all these are ruled by white police, white judges, white corporations, and white college presidents.

I’m mad—‘cause on the blogs I go to, it seems that black people have no doubt that there is racism, and white people, who look like me are still saying, “Don’t play the race card.” As if it were some kind of game.

I’m mad—that we white people can be so out of touch that we can believe each person really does rise on their individual merits, and that those in jail get what they deserve, and that there is an actual base of equality—“It’s the law, you know”—and that because we all look alike under the skin, we should just get over it and that Yeah, BTW, white people get killed by cops too and Oh yeah there’s that white guy that got killed by a black cop somewhere in Oregon, I believe and this makes it just the same… When there is actually no way, no how, that we’ve achieved equality and equal opportunity.

Yeah, I’m mad—because I’m Buddhist and I’m noticing that only black and brown people are cited in the Buddhist magazines when it comes to writing about racism and white people seem to only want to write about diversity.

I am not only mad. I’m outraged. Because when I ask, “How are you responding to Ferguson?” to my white (mostly) dharma teachers list-serve, only one white teacher writes anything back. Yet there seems to be a lot of conversation about form and ritual, about who transmitted what to whom, and congratulations and grandchildren and bells for sale, and voting on ethics statements. And I just wanna scream out, “ISN’T THIS ETHICS?”

And I’m getting madder. Because we are running late, and I am worried that my brown-skinned spouse might get pulled over for speeding. So I do the driving confident that I can get away with ten miles over the speed limit.

I’m mad because there are white friends of mine who tell me they love me and though they used to come to my home when I lived with a white woman, now they don’t. Now they say they are no longer “comfortable” in our home and are strangely vague when I ask why. But I know why.

It is all insanity and fear and the wanting to remain comfortable when the whole damn house is burning down around us, and if I do not get mad, I might sink back into the wonderful vague space in the attic that is above it all and I might feel just fine and I will float above the pain and won’t even feel it as the flames suck out all the air and the whole structure implodes.

And that makes me scared. I’d rather be mad.

I don’t believe anyone anymore who says that it is not “Buddhist” to be mad and that the precepts negate being angry. Those who do must not realize that getting mad is an appropriate response to this difficult koan we are stuck in, that doing something with this anger is actually shaking up, waking up the Buddha Way of one hand, one body, one-being, human being, all beings.

My mad says no, it is not ok to deny my white position, my dharma position, in this mess. And I don’t want to pretend anymore that this is the Pure Land, because right now it just ain’t so.

And so I feed my mad-ness. Why? Because I made a promise to save all sentient beings, to end delusion and to open up the dharma gates and enter into the world, which means the conflict and in this way I honor my ancestral roots in the church I grew up in to lord, lord God on high, lordy-lordy PLEASE make me an instrument of your peace, PLEASE take these seeds of anger and let them grow into strong love, which may not be your idea of pretty lord, but is the best I can do now in doing what the best teaching of my Zen teacher has been to date, which is, to trust myself.

So I hurl myself into this fire and let the bright whiteness in me scorch through the warnings of danger in speaking out, and my potent madness says NO to the sweet addictive silence of my whiteness.

And I feel my muscles tighten. NO!

NO, I shout in my mad-ness, like a child who tastes for the first time the rising vomit of injustice in my throat and wants to push it back down, down further, and skip backwards in time to a place when before this was the truth, and the cost was not yet seen clearly and there was only joy and laughter and friendship and rolling together like pups in springtime’s un-mown green grasses.

December 4, 2014

Catherine Anraku Hondorp Sensei

Catherine Anraku Hondorp Sensei

Catherine Anraku Hondorp Sensei is guiding teacher of Body-Mind Zen Temple in Northampton, Massachusetts, U.S.A. She is co-founder of Two Streams Zen, a nonprofit Multicultural Dharma Movement dedicated to transforming people and communities through fearless intimacy and living compassion.