Racism Isn’t the Problem

Anti-racist-rally-Sydney-2005-Dec-18-smallRacism isn’t the problem.

Some people probably won’t read past the headline of this article before they start telling me that we don’t live in a post-racial world, that just because Barrack Obama is black doesn’t mean we’ve solved all our racial problems in America, that white privilege is real and all the rest of it. But I’m standing by that statement.

Racism is real. Racism is a problem. It’s just not the root problem.

Human beings are social animals. We form packs, just like dogs and wolves. We defend our nests from others of our species the same way ants do. We imagine that we’re far evolved beyond other animals, but that’s not really true. We’re just a few thousand years removed from the days when we roamed the savanna in small bands of closely related individuals.

We have evolved to quickly differentiate between our pack and other packs. We use visual cues as our first means of deciding whether someone we meet is one of “us” or one of “them.” When we meet someone whose entire body is a different color from ours, that is a powerful signal. Even when our skins are roughly the same shade we’ll divide up along much more subtle differences like the shape of someone’s nose or eyes or their hair color. Racism isn’t about skin.

It’s not easy to try and change millions of years of genetic programing. I am amazed we’ve gotten as far as we have in so short a time. There is plenty of work still to be done. But the fact that we’re able to live together peacefully most of the time in spite of our differences is truly incredible. It can be useful to take a bit of time to stop and notice that.

The worst part about what I keep reading in all the chatter about race these days in the wake of the events in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere is how so much of it perpetuates and exacerbates the very thing the folks who write it think they’re trying to fix.

It’s “us” who understand white privilege and know all about subtle racism, against “them” who say racism is a thing of the past and tell others they “don’t see race.” We write insulting Facebook status updates and articles chastising those who don’t share our more enlightened views. Instead of appealing to the people who need to hear this stuff the most, it alienates them, drives them away, makes them defensive and angry.

One of the most terrifying things I learned from my Zen practice was how much racist shit is in my own head. It’s incredible. How could I be racist at all? I spent a good portion of my growing up years in Nairobi, Kenya, where every police officer, every politician, every judge, nearly every authority figure of any kind I encountered was black. I was a child then, but even so, I knew that if I ever had a run-in with the law, my being white would be a significant strike against me. Being white meant I was viewed by random strangers with anger and suspicion. As an adult, I spent over a decade in Japan where the situation was much the same. I can’t tell you how many times I walked past guys with bullhorns blasting angry anti-foreigner rhetoric on the streets of Tokyo. In my family, the worst words you could say were racial slurs. My parents would accept the occasional foul language, but if I’d have said something racist I’d have gotten in real trouble.

Yet sometimes as I sat on my cushion watching the kaleidoscope of my mind churn out its various shapes and colors and visions and words, I saw deeply held prejudices and fears arise, and I saw myself construct elaborate defenses of those attitudes and fears. I wanted to deny that garbage was in there, but the harder I tried, the fiercer it fought back.

As I learned to allow that stuff in, to see it for what it was, I saw that it wasn’t “me” in the way I thought of “me.” I saw how hard I tried to create and maintain the fiction of “self” and how much the fiction of “the other” was necessary to establish “me” as real.

If you want to really eradicate racism, you have to disappear completely.

If you want to effectively educate those who don’t understand racism about racism, you have to educate yourself about your own deeply held and cherished tendencies to create an “us” to contrast with “them.” You have to understand the ways in which those bad racist people out there are you.

Racism is not the root problem. You are the root problem.

*   *   *

Your donations are deeply appreciated.

*   *   *

There are still a few days left to sign up for our  Three-Day Zazen and Yoga Retreat Dec. 5-7, 2014 at Mt. Baldy (near Los Angeles, CA)

Sharing is caring! Tweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on StumbleUponDigg this

128 Responses

Page 2 of 2
  1. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon December 7, 2014 at 4:27 pm |

    France is bacon.

        1. Mumbles
          Mumbles December 7, 2014 at 6:20 pm |

          Fred, While I think everyone on this site would benefit from it, I know you are one who is ready for this. It will complete the circle:

  2. Lorenzo
    Lorenzo December 7, 2014 at 5:52 pm |

    This entire article is so vain – it does not offer a rational argument – instead it distributes statements of errors. How the author can have this delusion: “… the fact that we’re able to live together peacefully most of the time in spite of our differences is truly incredible”…is beyond ignorant – it is poisonous .

    Getting rid of the self is not to be confused with fooling oneself. If the author thinks institutional repression of an entire segment of our population is ‘living together peacefully’ – then he does not understand America’s political system and its designe to maintain the status quo – by making sure the privilege in our country do not have to face the fact that nothing is peaceful when the weakest among us are deprived of basic human rights.

    This article is a vehicle of convenience for the author to turn the Dharma wheel into a story of self. There are people dying out there everyday as we Zen folks poetically state what has historically been mainstream America’s code of denial -offering condolence from our place of comfort – in our intellect – limiting the enlightenment of our ‘tribe’.

    1. justlui
      justlui December 7, 2014 at 7:24 pm |

      Not even you can limit your enlightenment.

      Sorry, haha I just had to say it 😛

  3. Mumbles
    Mumbles December 7, 2014 at 7:13 pm |
  4. Andy
    Andy December 8, 2014 at 4:40 am |

    Hi again Woken

    “You appear to be conflating that humans evolved to eat meat — a biological accommodation — with biological necessity. It is only necessary to eat meat, dairy or eggs when there are no other options. ”

    I addressed this in my first post of the subject. Humans won’t die if they are stopped from having sex, but have a look at how the catholic church (among others) has fared with that. If you deny something that’s part of you, it will devour you.

    So then you agree that it is not necessary for humans to eat meat, dairy or egg, and that your assertion “ This is not supported by science. This is purely anecdote and opinion from the vegan/vegetarian reich, like virtually all your “evidence” was perhaps a little knee-jerk.

    Instead you equate suppressing sexual instincts with not eating meat. Yeah, and quitting smoking isn’t pleasant too.

    Yours there is very weak line of argument. Food cravings derive from two main contexts. Firstly, some types of nutrition deficiency can lead to people craving foods that contain the nutrients the body needs; replace the nutrients and that aspect craving goes. Moreover, and connected to the second point, people will also focus that kind of craving on foods they have learned to associate as a source for that nutrition; this can be unlearned, in the same way that the sugar habit I had has been replaced by eating fruit and also by having a diet in which my blood sugar levels are more consistently regulated. The second area is the craving that derives from habituation and reward. I sometimes desire that big fat juicy burger I used to reward myself with. It passes, like the desire to have a cig.

    So the only use one could make of your line of argument there is that people should take care when changing their habits, especially if they’re long-standing ones. A child brought up eating no meat and with the right dietary input will not suffer the way a child would if brought up in a sexually repressive environment.

    “And where and when there is no need for a human beings to eat meat, it does become a moral and ethical issue.”

    Indeed. However Humans are omnivores. We need to eat meat for full health. Pretty much all reliable, unbiased research has led to this. IMO, this means mental and physical health. The ethical issue is how we treat animals and source our food. ”

    […]”There is no “evidence” advocating vegetarianism/veganism as superior to a ominivorous diet from a reputable, neutral scientific source. That’s why I suggested people look for themselves.”

    Again: No we do not need to eat meat to satisfy some imagined ideal of ‘full health’ . We need to have the substances that can be found in such things as meat, which can be found elsewhere, including a few supplements. ‘Full health’ is a red herring. There is no such thing. There is only the best options available depending on your context and your particular dietary needs.

    The same goes for “all reliable, unbiased research” . There is no monolithic, reliable, unbiased research for either of us to make simple, reductive binary judgements on this subject. What we do have is an ongoing, gathering accumulation of research from reputable sources contained in a plethora of journals that points in a certain direction for those people, like me, who live in a modern, western industrial society. I didn’t decide to become vegetarian.
    I decided to go over all of the things I ate and looked at what the research pointed towards for each of them, having done my best to find the best contrasting viewpoints for each that I could find, and only then making a decision about that particular food when I was satisfied that the choice either way also stood the common sense test – for example: is this choice a a flip of the coin gamble or just inconvenient

    The balance of the scientific evidence from many different sources, for the context in which I live and many others like me , points significantly in one direction, for the physical and mental well-being of individuals and collectives.

    The way you are attempting to make science say things it can’t verses the direction that accumulated evidence points towards is similar to the way the smoking lobby used science.

    The issue about how we do our individual research and how we interpret the evidence in real word terms is at the heart of this debate.

    “And it’s a straw man to point out that a fair few people pushing the veggie agenda consider meat eaters as morally Inferior to themselves? Am I wrong about that? Smacks of fundamentalism to me. ”

    No it’s not. I was patently not referring to how you’ve now re-framed your original straw man where you dismissed the assertion that we don’t biologically need to eat meat and dairy products by expressing that such a claim is based on evidence sourced from the ‘veggie/ vegetarian reich’ .

    Good for you. As long as you don’t try to force your beliefs on others.

    Really? Repressed Catholics and Muslims, fascism, child abuse, and now people like myself should take care with my silly religious beliefs regarding diet and not force them upon others!

    Patronizing ‘good for you’ aside, my choices about diet have been derived from considerable research and self-monitoring. In fact, my wife and I both resumed our old diets for two weeks as a comparison and the difference on our moods and energy levels were tangible and significant.

    If I had children now, I would take care with their diet in the same way that I’m taking care of my own now. If you were in the same position and told me that your opinions as provided here were informing your choices for your children, I would not frame you as someone in danger of ‘forcing’ your beliefs onto them, as though you were some religious zealot, brainwashing the weak and vulnerable. This sort of re-framing and projection suggests more about your own entrenched prejudices and assumptions of moral superiority.

    Humans living in the first world do not need to eat meat to live a wholesome, healthy life both physically and mentally, and the accumulated evidence is snowballing with regard to the regular intake of the meat, fish and dairy products that their sources present them with. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean I think Ist worlders who regularly eat meat and who take some basic care over their diet and exercise can’t live a wholesome, healthy life also.

    From our research my wife and I have come to the conclusions that our diet as it stands presents us with less long-term risk and higher short to long-term benefits for physical and mental health. This includes that our choice involves constant monitoring and ongoing evaluation of research, which is a beneficial attitude in itself, in comparison to the half-assed attitude we previously adopted.

    Our experience over this year has also confirmed for us what the balance of the accumulated evidence suggests with regard to the short to medium term: we are most certainly healthier both physically and mentally to a significant degree and our recent medical check-ups have added empirical support for the physical side too.

    This doesn’t make either of us omnivores feel morally superior, in fact we both have commented on how it feels like having woken up a bit more, woken.

    1. Andy
      Andy December 8, 2014 at 4:50 am |

      Correction: my words from “points significantly in one direction… ” to “… at the heart of this debate” should not be in italics. Sorry for any confusion.

  5. Michel
    Michel December 8, 2014 at 5:43 am |

    sums up quite a bit of what I think and have observed.

    And, by the way, SamsaricHelicoid, not only have I read Evola (albeit long ago) but it’s Michaelstaedter, not Michelstraeder…

  6. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon December 8, 2014 at 9:23 am |

    Adolph Hitler was a vegetarian. He also made many completely unsubstantiated, unscientific claims about vegetarianism. Who in this discussion is just like Hitler?

    1. justlui
      justlui December 8, 2014 at 9:30 am |

      Not much of a surprise, considering Hitler was a Buddhist.


  7. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote December 8, 2014 at 9:37 am |

    I was a vegetarian for four years, two of it vegan. My conclusion was that something was lacking in my diet, and I returned to eating meat.

    Science in the last 50 years has offered up some funny stuff. Apparently the link between cholesterol and heart disease was only a possible when it was proposed in the sixties, but as the scientific community and the popular imagination seized hold of it, it became the mantra and the accepted explanation. Now it comes out that it’s not cholesterol in the diet, and the advice to avoid saturated fat, eggs, and so forth did great harm, leading people to aim toward a diet rich in carbohydrates and hydrogenated oils, resulting in a steady rise in obesity and diabetes in the U.S.A. in the last 30 years.

    ‘The smaller, more artery-clogging particles are increased not by saturated fat, but by sugary foods and an excess of carbohydrates, Dr. Chowdhury said. “It’s the high carbohydrate or sugary diet that should be the focus of dietary guidelines,” he said. “If anything is driving your low-density lipoproteins in a more adverse way, it’s carbohydrates.”

    … a number of the omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, commonly found in vegetable oils and processed foods, may pose risks, the findings suggested.’


    I believe the research now points to an interaction between the immune system, inflammation, and the artery wall plaque as the mechanism of stroke and possibly heart attack.

    I return to the clinical experience of Dr. Shame in Marin with thyroid hormone, of Dr. John Lee of Marin with natural progesterone, and of Dr. William McK. Jeffries (somewhere on the East Coast) with cortisol that showed physiologic doses of these hormones had many beneficial effects on their patients, and the research of Dr. Shames who was part of a study on a Chevron toxic plume that revealed that exposure to toxics can elevate the body’s immune response, and that the immune system can continue on overdrive indefinitely even after exposure is removed.

    I haven’t heard evidence that B12 can be had from a plant-based diet. I personally don’t get the same result from B12 supplements. I’ve said before, that Andrew Weil’s mentor Dr. Fulford the osteopath stated in his book that he had difficulty feeling the life-force he relied on for his healing practice in vegans, and so he advised against a vegan diet.

    Yes, I’m down to this, trusting the science and experience of individual physicians, and my own experience of my personal necessity. I am looking to change.

    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon December 8, 2014 at 10:58 am |

      “…Dr. Fulford the osteopath stated in his book that he had difficulty feeling the life-force he relied on for his healing practice in vegans…”

      Jibbers Crabst…

  8. Michel
    Michel December 8, 2014 at 9:40 am |

    Justlui: Adolph Hitler, a Buddhist? That one’s really far fetched. But it seems that we have already reached the Godwin Point…


    1. Fred
      Fred December 8, 2014 at 9:58 am |

      A bunch of non-Vegan gun-toting, Moslem loving, anti-abortionist Buddhist Nazis who do zazen sitting on the toilet.

      1. Fred
        Fred December 8, 2014 at 10:07 am |

        Sam Harris the Maitreya says “Heil Buddha, eat a cheeseburger you ritualists.”

    2. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon December 8, 2014 at 11:06 am |

      If Adolph Hitler was not a Buddhist then why did he make the swastika the primary symbol of his political party?

      1. Fred
        Fred December 8, 2014 at 2:09 pm |


        “While the swastika was originally a relatively harmless symbol, the far-right Thule Society appropriated it. Many of the original Nazis were involved in this group, and as a result turned it into an emblem of racism”

    3. justlui
      justlui December 8, 2014 at 3:04 pm |

      No I’m totally serious.

  9. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer December 8, 2014 at 10:28 am |
  10. Andy
    Andy December 8, 2014 at 10:40 am |

    Yes, no surprise that the Godwin point has been reached again, instigated by an habitual grudge-bearer. So I’m out of this discussion now.

    My reasons for posting were to provide some counter points, not to go through all the research that has consumed me for months.

    My first port of call now is nutritionfacts.org, and the folks running it seem to be quite trustworthy, friendly and responsive.

    Mark, take a look at what they say over on that site about b12 – perhaps the dosage you were taking was low.

    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon December 8, 2014 at 11:13 am |


      “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” Matthew 7:3

  11. The Idiot
    The Idiot December 8, 2014 at 4:20 pm |
  12. Fred
    Fred December 8, 2014 at 5:29 pm |

    Brad Warner:

    “As I learned to allow that stuff in, to see it for what it was, I saw that it wasn’t “me” in the way I thought of “me.” I saw how hard I tried to create and maintain the fiction of “self” and how much the fiction of “the other” was necessary to establish “me” as real.”

    Thanks John


  13. Andy
    Andy December 9, 2014 at 2:40 am |

    From “Health Implications of a Vegetarian Diet” (medscape.com)



    Well-planned vegetarian diets are not only nutritionally adequate but also provide many health benefits, particularly in the prevention and treatment of many chronic diseases. In fact, in Western countries, a vegetarian diet may present a significant advantage over meat-based diets, and a number of studies have shown increased longevity in vegetarians.

    Although potentially lower in some nutrients, careful planning can help ensure that both vegetarian and vegan diets meet all the current recommended intakes for essential nutrients as well as maximize the intake of protective components present widely in plant foods. In fact, a vegetarian diet may well be one of the best ways to meet population dietary guidelines.


  14. Andy
    Andy December 9, 2014 at 3:04 am |
  15. Andy
    Andy December 9, 2014 at 3:14 am |

    Position of the American Dietetic Association (2009 – now renamed Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics)


    (This organisation’s recent promiscuous attitude to sponsorship might lead some to take some of their reports with a pinch of salt, btw, yet regarding the issue of relative health to non-vegetarians this pdf is quite representative of research during the noughties)

  16. Andy
    Andy December 9, 2014 at 3:41 am |

    from The Medical Journal of Australia


    (a number of articles from 2012 that deal with specific issues to do with supplementation, especially)

  17. Andy
    Andy December 9, 2014 at 3:44 am |

    [I posted this above, but put two links in by accident – sorry if this causes confusion)

    From “Health Implications of a Vegetarian Diet” (medscape)


    Well-planned vegetarian diets are not only nutritionally adequate but also provide many health benefits, particularly in the prevention and treatment of many chronic diseases. In fact, in Western countries, a vegetarian diet may present a significant advantage over meat-based diets, and a number of studies have shown increased longevity in vegetarians.

    Although potentially lower in some nutrients, careful planning can help ensure that both vegetarian and vegan diets meet all the current recommended intakes for essential nutrients as well as maximize the intake of protective components present widely in plant foods. In fact, a vegetarian diet may well be one of the best ways to meet population dietary guidelines

    From “Health Implications of a Vegetarian Diet” (medscape.com)


    1. Andy
      Andy December 9, 2014 at 4:32 am |

      Apologies – the link for medscape requires a login – but one is able to get into this quite extensive article by copying and pasting the title “Health Implications of a Vegetarian Diet” into Google – although it might take you to one of the middle pages.

  18. Andy
    Andy December 9, 2014 at 4:21 am |

    I posted the above from my own research to provide support to my assertion to Woken that many people living in the 1st world do not need to eat meat. As Woken suggested that this type of evidence derived from extremist sources, I have provided four about which it would be taking an extreme line to accuse of being so.

    I have sources for specific food items, if anyone is interested, although I wont be re-entering into a debate about it.

    Neither Woken nor I were interested at the time in providing links, and as Woken had already framed his position against lots of linked ‘evidence’, my MO was to substantiate my debate with him through reasoned counter points, in order to provide some leveling to some of his claims.

    I thank Grand Canyon’s narcissism for prodding me into proving some links, even though it does hurt to be at the end of of someone’s impulse for their daily supply. The ‘problem’ at heart really isn’t racism.

    1. Andy
      Andy December 9, 2014 at 4:22 am |

      providing – not ‘proving’

      1. Fred
        Fred December 9, 2014 at 4:33 am |

        Andy, what does your diet have to do with dropping the self?

        Focus man.

        1. Andy
          Andy December 9, 2014 at 5:18 am |

          Taking care has much to do with the concept of dropping the self. Whether that be in respect to one’s own diet, debating issues, or dealing with some narc targeting and one’s reasons for further posting.

          You typed in a sentence that was in the form of a question, but functioned as statement that set up the assumptive imperative for me to focus.

          Take care, Fred.

  19. Fred
    Fred December 9, 2014 at 4:57 am |

    OK, that is a contraction, Fred, bouncing a thought off another contraction.

    Opening to another.

    As I laid in a bed in the emergency ward a few weeks ago, surrounded by suffering, I contemplated how easy it would be to die at that moment, and that
    this life needs to be simplified.

    The necessity of simplification ( borrowed from Mark ).

    When I got home, I went to the grocery store and bought seeds, plants and B12.


  20. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon December 9, 2014 at 9:12 am |
  21. SamsaricHelicoid
    SamsaricHelicoid December 9, 2014 at 10:03 am |

    Netanyahu is a bigger Hitler than Hitler is himself.

    1. Alan Sailer
      Alan Sailer December 9, 2014 at 10:55 am |

      “Netanyahu is a bigger Hitler than Hitler is himself.”

      That is an absolutely grotesque statement.


      1. SamsaricHelicoid
        SamsaricHelicoid December 9, 2014 at 11:26 am |

        How? They’re both genocidal maniacs.

  22. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote December 9, 2014 at 10:43 am |

    Andy, looks like the conclusion is that vegans must supplement with B12. I currently supplement with D3, so I guess I’m not against supplementation. Maybe it’s a state of mind that I’m too attached too, but the way I feel eating meat and the way I feel on a vegetarian diet with B12 from a pill is very different, especially in my energy. I kinda figured someday zazen would leave me wanting less meat in my diet, but so far that hasn’t happened. I continue to be optimistic that someday I will be satisfied with less meat in my diet, and I continue to try options. A brewer’s yeast that tastes good is a step in the right direction, I think, but mushrooms and tofu didn’t get it, and as I said supplementing with B12 doesn’t make me feel like I have everything I need.

    Fred, are you ok– all the best, buddy!

    Some cosmology for y’all:

    ‘In 1949, (Kurt Godel) demonstrated the existence of solutions involving closed time-like curves, to Albert Einstein’s field equations in general relativity. He is said to have given this elaboration to Einstein as a present for his 70th birthday. His “rotating universes” would allow time travel to the past and caused Einstein to have doubts about his own theory.’ (from Wikipedia, “Kurt Godel”).

    ‘The many-worlds interpretation (of quantum mechanics) could be one possible way to resolve the paradoxes that one would expect to arise if time travel turns out to be permitted by physics (permitting closed timelike curves and thus violating causality). Entering the past would itself be a quantum event causing branching, and therefore the timeline accessed by the time traveller simply would be another timeline of many. (from Wikipedia, “Many-worlds interpretation”)


  23. Mumbles
    Mumbles December 13, 2014 at 8:49 am |

    Mark (and other interested parties) I’ve been a Pescetarian for about ten years or so http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pescetarianism and use B 12 and also sometimes a hemp protein superfood, and I make sure I get a multivitamin w/extra iron. I only actually eat fish about once a month if that often, and otherwise use some dairy, cheese primarily, and eggs maybe once a week. Tempe, and other tofu is good, and of course lots and lots of veggies and fruits, nuts, and seeds. Other than helping to control my weight, the benefit I have noticed is great dental check ups. I have a theory, developed during the same time our youngest child was fascinated with them, that red meats stick in your teeth much like they did w/the dinosaurs, creating a whole bunch of problems for the gums, etc. As I understand it, dinos like T-Rex had so much deadly bacteria in their mouth that that would kill you if their teeth didn’t get the job done. Much like a bite from a monitor lizard nowadays I suppose…

  24. woken
    woken August 29, 2015 at 9:05 pm |

    Wow, this thread popped up again. I had forgotten about it. Anyway, the gist of the veggie/vegan argument seems to be that it is better to be malnourished than eat meat. Forcing this on kids is, in my view, unethical( but if adults wish stop eating meat, they are of course free to do so).

Comments are closed.