August 1, 2017
City Center Launches Unpacking Whiteness — Reflection and Action, a New Monthly Affinity Group

Next meeting: Sunday, August 20, 4 – 6 pm
In the Sangha Room at City Center, 300 Page Street, enter on Laguna Street

by Lucy Andrews

On July 9, nine SFZC community members kicked off Unpacking Whiteness — Reflection and Action, a new affinity group at City Center. After a brief meditation, welcome, and introductions, participants read “The Painful and Liberating Practice of Facing My Own Racism” as an entry point into examining our own racist conditioning. The piece prompted discussion of our personal experiences of whiteness and the questions we each carry about racism, engaged practice, and our roles as participants (whether inadvertent or intentional) in racist systems.

City Center Buddha Hall Altar by Clare Hollander

Unpacking Whiteness follows an eight-week course that East Bay Meditation Center teachers Kitsy Schoen and Crystal Johnson offered at City Center earlier this year. The course, titled “Interconnected: Challenging Racism and White Privilege with Mindfulness and Compassion,” invited white people to explore the history of racism in the United States, examine their own personal experiences of whiteness and white privilege, and identify avenues for skillful work against racism. When the Interconnected course concluded, participants wished to continue learning about how we unconsciously perpetuate racism and invite other SFZC sangha members into dialogue.

“After the painful wakeup call of the election, I had the sense that I didn’t know how to be in this world. Of many concerns, protection of people made more vulnerable by the current situation was [at the top],” writes Mary Scheib, a member of the Unpacking Whiteness leadership team. “I’d like to untangle and bring awareness to how much of what we learn about race is subconscious and deeply embedded in our experience. This is a process of moving out of survival mode and into interconnection and action.”

“I hope the monthly group will bring a heightened awareness of unconscious bias and privilege among white sangha members which will, I think, contribute to making Zen Center more inclusive. I hope participants bring curiosity and openness to the group” writes Tova Green, another member of the group’s leadership team.

Curiosity and openness are the only prerequisites for attendance, as white-identified newcomers and seasoned practitioners alike are wholeheartedly welcome. No previous exploration of whiteness or racism is necessary, and participants are encouraged to bring whatever race-related questions are alive for them now.

“How can Zen Center support the development of more teachers of color?” Tova Green is wondering.

“How can I be an ally to people of color?” Mary Scheib is asking.

“How have I been conditioned to act as a white person in a racist society, especially toward people of color, and how can I work personally and collaboratively to transform racist systems?” I’m wondering as I write this article and reflect on the first Unpacking Whiteness gathering.

One Sunday each month, Unpacking Whiteness will compassionately and bravely consider these questions and others like them. We hope to see you there!

The next meeting will be on Sunday, August 20, 4 – 6 pm, in the Sangha Room at City Center (300 Page Street, enter on Laguna Street).

Monthly Unpacking Whiteness gatherings explore whiteness and the structures of racism so that practitioners learn to skillfully engage with and transform white supremacist systems and white racial conditioning. Meetings include reading relevant articles and discussing them, as well as bringing up and supporting one another in exploring difficult conversations we have had focusing on race and white privilege.