(Deshi Joe is Chaplain at a local hospital here in Columbus, Ohio)
Today, I would like to talk about racism, and i would like the freedom to be completely honest about it with all of you. I am a racist. I think, if most of you listening are honest, you would admit that you are racist as well. I'm not trying to be a dick about it, but i also don’t want to sugar coat it either.
I can tell you when I realized I first realized i was racist. I have told this story before. As a chaplain, before Covid, I would round in the Emergency Department at the beginning of my shift. Over time, I realized that there was a specific group of people that I was hesitant to visit and sometimes even avoided: people of color. I wasn’t initially conscious of it, but once noticed, it was pretty apparent. And once I became aware of it, I began to see it manifesting in other areas of my daily living as well.
At first I equivocated it. It's not racist because it's benign. It's not racist because it's not really hurting anyone. It's not really racist because it doesn’t fit the image of the stereotypical racist that exists in my head.
Many of you may not even feel that what I have offered is a racist. Some of you may think it's too strong a word or that making a distinction between being racist or prejudiced or some other word matters. But here’s the thing. The mental gymnastics it took to justify that "I’m not a racist" took far more work that just saying. F, I’m a racist, I’d better deal with it. Further, if a weed needs to be uprooted, does it really matter what we call the weed or how we define it? No, it just matters that we try to dig up all of it. I will return to the analogy of racism as a weed later.
There is no shame in acknowledging that you are a racist. It harms no one. What does harm people is pretending that you are not. Our brothers and sisters are literally dying because our delicate sensibilities are hesitant to be rigorous in our honesty and radical in our acceptance of ourselves and address it.
Study after study has indicated that each and everyone of us have inherent bias that we are unconscious of. While it is easy to believe that they are benign if they do not harm anyone or to think that, because we are not in positions of power, it doesn’t really matter. However, this avoids the issue instead of addressing it. I get that no one wants to think about themselves as racist, but it also means that most of us are unwilling to do the work it takes to address our racism.
The Buddha taught that the root of suffering is attachment and aversion. We tend to talk more about attachment, and I get that. But I would argue that racism has at its heart, aversion. Aversion allows us to distance ourselves from others. To think that they are less than. To think that their difference from us justifies treating them with indifference. This indifference leads to exactly what we are seeing now: our brothers and sisters being murdered and an indifference that allows it to happen over and over again.
I talked about racism as a weed earlier. It is up to each of us to address this is our own gardens. However, be advised, weeds are persistent, cyclical, and built into our environment. If you are going to undertake the practice of weeding your garden be honest with your weeds, and weed often. Also, help others recognize the weeds in their garden, even if they are willing to call them weeds or not.
I am a racist but I’m trying not to be. I'm tending to my garden and hope it makes a difference. I understand that it may be difficult to admit that you, too, may be a racist. It sucks to admit that their are weeds in your garden and its far too easy to ignore them. George Floyd died because people didn’t weed their gardens. Ahmad Arberry too. Eric Garner, John Crawford, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Yvonne Smith…