“If I didn’t belong to you, I wouldn’t have written this book. If you didn’t belong to me, you wouldn’t be reading it. I’m you, and you are me — you just don’t know that yet,” wrote Ruth King in the opening chapter of her book Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out. “We are here, sharing these pages, to embrace our membership in each other’s lives, to discover our wholeness, and to remember that we belong.”
For those of us who are on a spiritual journey, it’s all too easy to fall into an invisible trap of losing ourselves in the ultimate reality of “no-self,” a reality where we do not build walls of separation based on age, gender, sexual orientation, or the color of our skin. But if we care deeply about the world we live in right now and want to contribute to racial harmony among people, we need to keep in mind that we are also part of the relative reality, a reality where the “conditioned self” thrives on seeing otherness of others. Ruth King writes:
In relative reality, I am a woman, African American, lesbian, great-grandmother, artist, and elder. However, in ultimate reality, I’m none of these things. I am beyond conception; I am awareness dancing with the karmic rhythms of life. In ultimate reality, there is neither race nor a reason to suffer. We are undivided and beyond definition. But in relative reality, we’re all in considerable pain as racially diverse beings driven by fear, hatred, greed, and delusion.
Drawing on her professional background in designing diversity leadership programs, as well as her experience as a mindfulness practitioner and teacher, Ruth King recounts all the ways in which language, while being an indispensable communication tool, can also serve as a barrier to understanding and healing, especially when talking about issues of race. For example, white people often say, “I don’t see color. Aren’t we all the same?” while people of color often say, “Right, we’re going to talk about race. This means that in addition to being disturbed by white people’s ignorance, I’m going to have to teach white folks what they choose to deny knowing — amnesia of whiteness.” Reflecting on these common responses, Ruth King writes:
There is no getting around that fact that each of us is challenged with navigating the relative reality of race — the fact of these bodies in various shapes, colors, sizes, and experiences — so that we may know freedom. … To understand racial habits of harm — the ways we avoid more genuine connection and healing as individuals and racial groups — is to dive below our knee-jerk responses, beneath the words themselves, to examine our conditioning.
To truly examine our conditioning is not an easy task, for it requires us to work deeply with our minds so that eventually we can change our hearts. It requires us to step out of our comfort zone and willing to be uncomfortable, to unravel the deep web of subconscious programming that compels us to distrust each other. Ruth King writes:
Ultimate reality and relative reality are to be understood as two expressions of one truth, two sides of one coin. Ultimate reality is often associated with the ocean, and relative reality, with the waves. … We were all conditioned by each other in relative reality. The good news about habits [of racial harm] is that, with awareness, they can change for the better.
Mindful of Race, an essential read during these times of unprecedented global challenges and conflicts, consists of three parts. In part 1, Understanding Habits of Harm — Diagnosis, you will discover the narrative we hold along racial lines — both conscious and unconscious. In part 2, Mindfulness — Heart Surgery, you will explore how to stay present to racial distress through mindfulness meditation. In part 3, Cultivating a Culture of Care — Recovery, you will shift your focus outward by using spiritual archetypes and discover what it means to contribute to a culture of care with integrity, talk to children about race, nurture racial literacy through racial affinity groups, and much more.
Complement Ruth King’s insight with Just Like Me, a simple on-the-spot compassion practice, by an American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron.