Mindfulness As A Tool For Undoing Racial Bias

This past week or so has been intense.  Still feeling the aftermath of the Ferguson decision and reeling from the revelation of the Eric Garner grand jury verdict.  Still experiencing woe and frustration and even exhilaration as a student who is politically active on the issues of race and justice and democracy.  Struggling with what it means to organize effectively, struggling to maintain my own sense of peace and clarity as I engage in this work, so that what I am offering are tools for peace and not for conflict.  And yet, how to stay sufficiently on guard?  How to stay sufficiently critical and unrelenting in the quest for equality, and for a system that helps put people and communities back together, rather than tear them apart.  Screenshot 2014-12-11 09.53.54

My take is that it starts within us as individuals, who are able to provide and receive support from others.  But again, it starts with us.  It starts with the kinds of thought processes we consciously or unconsciously engage in.  And that can lead to right action.  But change must start from here first.  Awareness of our own consciousness.  Then awareness of outward, physical habits.  Then awareness of effects, and the ways that shifting our consciousness can spur change within our own cognitive processes.  Then that change within us can evoke something from others.  Something in the ways that others speak or act.  Ways that others engage with us.  And from that, change in terms of how we treat one another and empower one another to perceive, to cognitively process, and to act, differently.

I am excited to share a post that a friend and colleague in the movement towards greater freedom — spiritually and thus socially/politically — has forwarded on to me.  It was published today on the Huffington Post and describes a study recently conducted showing a connection between mindfulness practices and the capacity to dissolve or at least begin shifting what scientists and criminal justice advocates call “implicit bias.”  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/09/mindfulness-racism_n_6288040.html?ir=Black+Voices&ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000047

I often hear other law students complain because they do not “buy” the implicit bias tests one can take — “it must be flawed” is the favorite response I’ve heard.  But I’ve taken this test, and try as I might to fight it, there is an implicit bias there that makes me more easily see white folks as safe and smart and happy and good and see people of color as the opposite.  Now, I’m not a big fat racist, that is not what the test says.  But I am “moderately” racist.  The thing we need to remember is that the fact that we (most if not all of us) have an implicit or unconscious racial bias does not mean that our bias cannot change.  What it means is that we need other mechanisms for changing our consciousness than the surface level conversation that has occupied most of our energy in race relations in previous decades.  It cannot rest simply on court decisions either, or on our faith that the justice system will address these biases adequately over time.  Clearly, as recent grand jury cases show, this is not the case.

What we need are techniques that enable us to interrogate our own consciousness, our own internal frame of mind in a way that allows us to fundamentally change our brains, and the bias that pervades our (racist) ways of viewing ourselves and others.  The study just published tells us that mindfulness practices can assist with that.  The engagement of meditation in order to gain a more macro, detached perception of our inner (cognitive) processes is what enables us to be engaged learners in a more traditional educational/pedagogical sense, and it is what allows us to learn more about our own prejudices — and CHANGE them…

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