Awakening to Whiteness Series

Starting in January 2019, we will meet monthly on the second Saturdays of the month, for a total of six 2-hour sessions to follow a curriculum adapted from the open-source class series “White Awake.”  [Registration for spring 2019 is now closed, but we may repeat this series in the future if there is interest!]

Anyone, regardless of racial identity, is to participate in this series as long as you can commit to all six meetings (things happen, but you should be able to attend at least five), but this series is definitely aimed at helping white people recognize and take responsibility for racial injustice and become better allies and friends for people of color. There is often a sense of awkwardness and controversy when people say this kind of training is “for white people” – understandably, it triggers a long legacy of racial exclusion! However, this is about taking responsibility, not being exclusive, just as if a group of men gathered to explore toxic masculinity and learn to recognize how they have benefited from sexism and contributed, unconsciously or consciously, to a culture of discrimination and violence against women.

Course Participants: Click here for class agendas and study materials


Why Awakening to Whiteness?

White supremacy isn’t just about overtly racists individuals, it’s also about culture and systems. Those of us categorized as “white” benefit from the way our society works in ways we’re rarely conscious of, and usually know little about the challenges faced by people of color in America. We also tend to think our views, preferences, and experience – strongly influenced by our whiteness – are simply “normal,” and this makes thinking about race seem optional for us, unlike any person of color.

Part of Bright Way Zen’s vision is to make our Zen center inviting and accessible to anyone who seeks the Dharma, but our Sangha is – like most in America – overwhelmingly white. What can we do to awaken to the way the phenomenon of whiteness influences us, and may make our center less than welcoming for people of color? Organizations across the country have asked this question, and people of color have told them, “Educate yourselves!”

Importantly, investigating our own racial karma is vital to our practice. In Zen, we value those things that challenge our fixed ideas of who we are, and recognize how letting go of those ideas leads to liberation, happiness, and connection. A Dharma teacher named Kristin Barker who went through a White Awake series beautifully expressed how this work goes hand-in-hand with our Buddhist practice:

[Before the course] “The truth is that I didn’t know I was suffering. The understanding of deep interdependence means that operating in a culture that objectifies, exploits and oppresses, even and especially when hidden from the dominant view, divides the heart against itself… The upside [of facing our own racism] is so much greater than I knew, so much greater than just “accepting the hard truth” like a bitter pill. I submit that the upside isn’t even to do less harm to people of color although that is a necessity. The upside is wholeness. I have found that, just as promised, if I can turn towards the suffering of racism, against my ego’s self-protecting tendencies, I do experience pain … yet come to suffer less.” (1)

About the Course

Source: This 6-part curriculum was adapted from curricula offered by and WAIC-UP, by Laura Jomon Martin of the Zen Community of Oregon (which is now in its third iteration of this series).

Curriculum: In preparation for each class, participants do reading and sometimes watch videos. The assignments are substantial and it’s important to complete them before each meeting. Participants will receive the curriculum complete with live links to all articles and videos.

Meetings: Within each meeting, everyone meets together at the beginning and end for short periods of meditation, but most of the time is spent in small groups of 5 or so. You remain with the same small group throughout the program. Each meeting is structured and provides time for safe sharing and listening with little cross-talk; the series is about coming to terms with our own racial karma, not about debate. 

Leadership: There are no leaders for this course. Small groups choose their own facilitator each meeting, and that role rotates. Bright Way Zen’s teachers, Domyo and Shintai, will be participating along with everyone else.

Cost: This course is free for Bright Way Zen members, although we will collect donations at the end to share with the White Awake organization and another racial justice group we will decide on. Nonmembers are asked to make a donation of $100 to Bright Way Zen, but we don’t want anyone to avoid participating for financial reasons so simply pay what you can.


Awakening to Whiteness Six-Meeting Curriculum

Meeting 1: Why are We Here, and Personal Experience with Race

We open the series with some materials and exercises to help frame the journey ahead. We hope to motivate and sustain your commitment to this work and place you in the good company
of other white people who are turning toward racial suffering with wisdom, compassion and the resolve to co-create its end.

Resources — please read/watch before your meeting:
Racism as Dharma Doorway – Letter to White Sangha by Kristin Barker, one of the creators of the Spirit Rock curriculum.
Healing the Broken Body of Sangha by Ruth King
Taking Stock of Oneself by Bhikkhu Bodhi
Not Somewhere Else, But Here by Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker
Communication Guidelines from East Bay Meditation Center
Who Invented White People by Gregory Jay
Ways of Being White by Gary Howard
● Watch the video Race: The Power of an Illusion . $4.99 on Vimeo


Meeting 2: Historical Racism

This session brings us some of the stories, perspectives and dimensions on the construction of race, revealing a complicated and painful history many of us were not taught in school. It is important to appreciate the history of racial minorities in the United States is also a history of courage and resistance. Bryan Stevenson’s interview is a very helpful container for WHY we need to look at our painful history.

Meeting 2 Agenda (Click here)

Resources — please read/watch before your meeting:
Bryan Stevenson interview. Charlie Rose. Coming to terms with the legacy of slavery – why it’s important to reflect on our history (52:44 mins)
● Odetta “No More Auction Block for Me” (2:20 mins)
Lynching in America (some graphic descriptions included in this recent scholarship)
When Americans Lynched Mexicans
“Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” Sweet Honey in the Rock (4 mins)
Letter to my Nephew James Baldwin
We’ve Been Here All Along Funie Hsu
Prisons of Silence A Poem by Janice Mirikatan
Wellbriety: A Journey to Forgiveness – a video about Indian Boarding Schools (37:20 mins)
“Reverse Racism” – Aamer Rahman (comedian 2:30mins)

Black History in Portland
Portland Gentrification: The North Williams Avenue that Was — 1956 The Skanner
● OPB Documentary – Vanport (60mins)

Meeting 3: Historical / Institutional / Structural Racism

Meeting 3 Agenda (Click here)

These materials can help us find ways of seeing beyond individual racism, to be able to see structural or systemic racism. The OPB documentary on Portland’s Civil Rights history is one not to be missed and gives very clear, local, and inspiring examples, as well as telling an important story of resistance. Also inspiring is the primer on the Black Church, and its role in the community. Ta-Nihisi Coates and Bevery Daniel Tatum are both important voices to be heard in this discussion. And the “school-to-prison pipeline” is another important aspect of seeing how institutions, systems, and structures work to disadvantage certain populations. Take a couple of hours each week to read / watch / digest, and feel free to reach out to your groups in between meetings.

Resources — please read/watch before your meeting:
● The Unequal Opportunity Race (animated) (4:08 mins)
● MOVING THE RACE CONVERSATION FORWARD Intro video 4:38 mins – An eye-opening way to watch news and media coverage of race: Is it through an individual or systemic lens? These reports help us to see how we see what’s happening. (Download the 2-part report by plugging in your email address once you open the link below)
● OPB Documentary – Portland Civil Rights: Lift Ev’ry Voice Civil Rights in Portland (1hour22mins)
● Identifying and unwinding structural racism: The Case for Reparations Ta-Nehisi Coates.
● AN INTERVIEW (TRANSCRIPT) WITH BEVERLY DANIEL TATUM – Beverly Daniel Tatum, is a clinical psychologist, professor and President of Spelman College. She is an expert on race relations and author of Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? and Assimilation Blues: Black Families in a White Community.
The Black Church PBS Love and Terror in the Black Church by Michael Eric Dyson – The role of the Black Church historically, and in the wake of the Emanuel AME shootings.
Is This Working?” This American Life radio show — Intro (4 mins) and Act 1 (17 mins) “The School-to-Prison Pipeline — does it begin in preschool?” (listen or read the transcript)
Locked Out of the American Dream, video interview with Michelle Alexander (35:25 mins). Michelle Alexander is the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
● SYSTEMIC RACISM – FIVE ONE-MINUTE VIDEOS – very brief, pithy descriptions of five areas of systemic racism. Notice the links to sources for the information if you’d like to look more deeply:


Meeting 4: Awakening to Whiteness

Meeting 4 Agenda

One of the characteristics of white privilege is to deny its own contemporary, active and influential existence. For if it was clearly seen, it would so offend its carriers that it would cease to exist. As a kind of self-defence, it disappears to itself. However, with some practice, we can start to get “the knack” for seeing the ways white privilege continues to manifest and operate, both internally and externally. This session is designed to help us in that journey by revealing more dimensions, beyond the headlines, of how white culture operates.

Resources — please read/watch before your meeting:
● Remember the video from last month — the unequal opportunity race? Read about the reaction of some white parents in a school district where it was shown, calling it a “white guilt video”.
● Anatomy of White Guilt –
● White Fragility –
● White Privilege Invisible Knapsack –
● Whiteness Project – “Whiteness Project is an interactive investigation into how Americans who identify as white, or partially white, understand and experience their race.” Choose and watch several of these, and perhaps imagine being in dialogue. How might you respond? ● ●
● Words on a Plate (comic about privilege) –
● The Racist History of Portland, the Whitest City in America – The Atlantic –
● What are the costs to white people? – &


Meeting 5: Applying Our Spiritual Practice

Meeting 5 Agenda

What are ways that our practice can help carry us forward, individually and together? How might Buddhist practices and social and racial justice movements merge, inform, and infuse each other? Please make sure to make time for this wonderful dialogue between Angela Davis and Jon Kabat-Zinn. Ms Davis brings some poignant questions to the mix!

Resources — please read/watch before your meeting:
Making the Invisible Visible: Healing Racism in our Buddhist Communities This is a booklet, somewhat dated; before 2000. It is a collection of accounts of People of Color’s experiences in Western Buddhist Sanghas, some painful to read. The initial essays are short, followed by longer essays. Please read with an eye on your own possible internal reactions of white fragility, and notice how you can practice with that.
Section three is about practical strategies — consider (y)our own sangha and community organizations and what might be possible.
Encountering Grief a 10-minute guided meditation with Joan Halifax Roshi. Use as needed.
The No-Self of Identity Politics by Katie Loncke – How can the identities of people who suffer oppression continue to be honored in light of anatta, or no-self? “Can we befriend identities without reifying them?”
Call Me By My True Names by Thich Nhat Hanh
On Spiritual Bypass by Robert Augustus Masters
How Mindfulness Can Defeat Racial Bias by Rhonda Magee JD
“The Relationship Between Individual Transformation and Collective Liberation” A Conversation Between Angela Davis and Jon Kabat-Zinn


Meeting 6: Going Forth

Meeting 6 Agenda

We are closing this first experiment for now, and there is much reflection to be done. This month’s readings and videos are pointing to some ways to step forward, to interact, to have difficult conversations, and also to see ourselves in a process of awakening within a system of white supremacy. “Now what do we do?” is a question I hope we can answer together!

Resources — please read/watch before your meeting:
● BRING SOMETHING TO WRITE ON & WITH for the last meeting. We will have a chance to do some writing in small groups to collect our thoughts.
● DONATIONS: At our last meeting, we will be collecting donations from participants in this program (some have made donations already, thank you), and distributing them between White Awake and a racial justice program TBD.
● White Supremacy Culture:
● Calling in:
● How to Talk with Other Whites About Racism – Beth Berila (2 hours) – “This webinar is …in two parts: the first hour offers wider context and strategies for approaching racial justice work as whites; the second hour addresses very common responses that arise in white discussions around racism and offers mindful antiracist ways of reframing them. Feel free to watch it in two sittings.”
● Jay Smooth How to tell someone they sound racist (3 minutes) –
Outlawing Bias – Portland Tribune 2/7/17
○ On Removing Confederate Monuments in New Orleans:
● These two very recent brief talks from a PechaKucha event held at the Seattle Public Library in June 2017 seem appropriate as “going forth” addresses: (7 minutes) by Roger Fernandes — “Roger Fernandes is a Native American storyteller who shares the myths and legends of the local Puget Salish tribes of western Washington including the Snoqualmie, Muckleshoot/Duwamish, Tulalip, Suquamish, and the S’Klallam.” (8 minutes) by Ijeoma Oluo — “a Seattle-based writer, speaker & internet yeller. She was named of of the most influential people in Seattle, by Seattle Magazine. She’s the Editor-At-Large at The Establishment – a media platform run and funded by women.”