LThe Buddha tells us that perception is a function of mind that happens almost immediately after a sense contact is made. We see, hear, smell, touch, taste or think something, (in Buddhist psychology the mind is a sense gate, and what sights are to the eye or sounds to the ear, thoughts are to the mind) register it as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, and then form a perception of what it is, based on our past experience. Immediately following that perception come a cascade of thoughts and associations, based on our conditioning. For example, one person might hear a sound, perceive it as “bird” and feel happy and peaceful to be living where they can hear the sound of a bird. Another person hears the same sound, perceive it as a bird migrating in November; think that it’s almost Christmas and they haven’t started shopping, and what will they get for their nephew who is obsessed with violent video games, and what’s the matter with the world that promotes violence as entertainment, and what’s the matter with my nephew, and what can I do about it. Another person hears the same sound, and remembers hearing birds the day her father left the family for good, and feels suddenly forlorn and lonely, not knowing why. Same sound, same perception, different conditioning, thoughts, emotional responses.
The Buddha also tells us that when we slow down and closely observe our experience, we see that what seemed to be solid and unchanging is actually a multiplicity of interdependent factors, which we form these into constructs, which we then agree to regard as real unto themselves. A table, for example, serves a function, but is part of a process that includes trees growing in sunlight, watered by rain, nurtured by soil made up of decomposed organic material; loggers, millers, truckers, designers, salespeople, purchasers; all the people who raised and taught them; all the beings who grew, farmed, sold and cooked or were the food that animated those loggers, millers, designers, etc. And in time, the table too will age, break, be discarded and eventually return to the soil which grew the tree, in an endless cycle of co-arising phenomena. But it serves us to agree that for now, it is “table” even though it arose from all of these interdependent phenomena.
Out of these ever shifting co-arising phenomena, we clump things together to form concepts which are illusions, but serve a function, so we all agree on them.
Why is a ten dollar bill worth ten times what a one dollar bill? And why will it buy a cup of coffee in a Santa Monica, but not in Shanghai? It’s value and worth is determined by agreements that were made or not made, agreements to regard an illusion as real.
The concept of “Whiteness” is just such an illusion. it has no basis in genetics. Some “white people” have olive skin, some have pink skin, some have pale skin, or skin turned red with blood vessels. “Whiteness” is a social, political and economic construct, and its main defining characteristic is that it is not black. President Obama has two parents; one white, one black; four grandparents; two white, two black, yet he is considered a black man because he is not white.
Last week on two separate occasions, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Philando Castille in St. Paul, Minn. were shot by police who perceived them to be a threat. Then a few days later, white police in Dallas were shot by a sniper. As I write this, similar retaliation seems to be happening in Baton Rouge.
I watched the video that Diamond Reynolds, Castile’s fiancée, recorded on her phone while her boyfriend, shot by a policeman as he reached for his wallet to get his driver’s license, was bleeding to death, and which continued to run as she was handcuffed and put into the back of a police car with her four year old daughter. https://www.facebook.com/100007611243538/videos/1690073837922975/ I tried to imagine how I might feel if my beloved were shot and killed by police at a routine traffic stop, and realized that it is inconceivable that in this country such a thing could happen to me, a white, upper middle-class woman. And that it is not only conceivable, but a routine possibility and ever present threat in the black community. Mr. Castile was pulled over by police 49 times in 13 years.
Blackness, in men, is often perceived as a threat, in a white dominant culture.
In the aftermath of the dreadful week of all the shooting between black men and white men, and devastated by watching the video of the woman watching her loved one bleed to death in front of her eyes for no reason other than delusion and perception, I began to read about white privilege, and how to be a white ally. I wanted to share these readings with any of you who might want to learn what I’ve been learning these past few days.
This last contains links within it, which I will urge you to also click and follow if you are interested.
Lastly, John also sent this link, to a poetry slam of a white boy in Atlanta, which has gone viral:
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I believe that unless and until white people examine the concept and perception of “whiteness” and its implied and institutionalized supremacy, we will never get a different result from the escalating racial conflict and pain. It is in that belief that I am posting this.