Thursday, March 10, 2016

Intersectionality and Interdependence

This International Women's Day, I celebrated the fact that I am re-engaging with activism. This time, my focus is on racial justice, and in particular, working with white people on their own racism. Mindfully.

Mindfully, because I am now a Buddhist, unlike ten or so years ago when I was last directly active in any kind of movement. Mindfully, because I watched people burn out so badly and I have faith now that compassion is fierce and needed. Mindfully, because hell hath no fury like white people dissing other white people for their racism in order to distance themselves from their own tendencies.

Bringing these two streams together, what I am really feeling lately is how interdependence and intersectionality work together. Interdependence, as it is used in Buddhist circles, points to the positive ways in which all you experience comes out of overlapping and endlessly connected causes and effects. Intersectionality, as it is commonly used in activist circles, points to the many layers of suffering people experience when they are subject to multiple discriminations daily.

However, intersectionality is also positive. It recognizes that most people are many-dimensioned, full of multiple influences and heritages. Instead of looking at someone dealing with only homelessness, intersectionality allows for a bigger understanding of how race, poverty and education can all contribute to homelessness. And interdependence has its downsides - when we don't care for the whole, things fall apart and we ignore our responsibility to the entire situation.

This combination of interdependence and intersectionality is my main reason for the work I want to do now. I want us all to see - especially white people and other people of privilege who are most favored in white supremacy - to see their interdependence with others. Part of the power of recognizing intersectionality is disallowing larger systems' tendencies to divide and conquer us. If I can truly feel - and it must mostly be felt, not just cognitively understood - that my freedom is bound up in another's, then I will commit more strongly to the whole situation.

It can suck that people of privilege are not likely to take part in something unless they feel personally responsible for it. That's part of the dis/advantages of privilege. However, we use that knowledge.
I want to leverage self-interest for the better good. I watched a talk with the Dalai Lama yesterday where he spoke of positive self interest. That's what I am talking about. I want to get people intersecting with stories and experiences they don't normally allow themselves to truly hold. And from what I have seen so far, getting Buddhists - predominately white, middle class and middle aged in Madison - to apply all the power of their meditation to anti-racism work is going to rock. 

Meaning: the boat will rock (a lot), and it will also be awesome.

Even though enlightenment (whatever that means) and liberation (again, a large concept, but worthy of contemplating) are not going to come to everyone in this lifetime, both are worth working for.
Let's dig in. Mindfully.

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