Zen 101

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Privilege?

With respect for all, Good Morning Everyone,

What do we think of when we think, “Zen Buddhist Priest?” Many new acquaintances have reacted with great surprise as they discover I am an ordained Zen Buddhist priest, and more than that, the founder of an Order of priests and lay persons. Perhaps it’s my “get-up,” as my wife refers to it, to wit: black leather biker vest with various biker patches, black jeans, do- rag on my head ( a head now covered with silver gray hair), and black boots? Ya wonder?

I am delighted by such responses as they offer an opportunity to help people check their assumptions. And assumptions are a great hindrance in authentic communication, are they not? So often we assume we know something about a person by their dress, car, house, gender, and (let’s face it) the color of their skin. Its this last item that truly bothers me. I detest racial prejudice and its resultant racism. I do so for a variety of reasons not the least of which are the stereotypic assumptions we make when using skin color as a filter through which we understand who is standing before us. While many of us today have taken on “White
privilege” as a cause, I believe it is a contemporary example of the above noted filter in action. I see it as racism, pure and simple. Perhaps understandable racism, but racism nonetheless. Anytime we make a judgement about someone by virtue of the color of their skin it is racism in my opinion.

Now this all said and, while I believe White privilege exists, (as does a certain gender based privilege, class privilege, and so forth, we cannot assume each White person, male or female person, or a person of a certain socio-economic class manifests or abuses that privilege, yet they each may possess it.

Does the possession of “privilege” equate to being an oppressor? I ask this as it seems to me today they are being caste into the same bag. If one possesses a drug are they a user? Or an archery set, a killer? No. Possessing something means very little until it is used.
The argument is, however, that certain folk, White folk, in particular male White folk are perceived to be granted somethings simply because they are White males. This may be true some of the time or even most of the
time, but it is not true all of the time. The assumption that it is true all of the time is the issue itself.

I have a PhD from a rather prestigious university. I once was the CEO of a large system of private mental health centers. I was granted Inka (Dharma Transmission) by my teacher after only five years as abbot of his Temple and Zen Center. Privilege? Right? If you have assumed I accomplished these due to privilege granted by the color of my skin, what are you? I say, you are a racist.

Without being defensive let me paint a picture for you that shreds your stereotypic racist assumptions. First, I was born into a dirt poor and quite violent family. I dropped out of high school. I was from the lowest of economic classes in the United States. My mother, a high school drop out, earned a living waiting tables or getting close to men with money. I applied for jobs out of the newspaper as I had zero “connections” (the true source of privilege in my opinion) and was told quite often to get my “ass” out of the place as “they” didn’t want “my kind.”

As many poor Black folk, I enlisted in the US Army as soon as I could. So I was an Infantry soldier with no skills but to kill and in killing was shot in the head. Privilege, right?

After combat I was “retired” at 19. I was treated as a vagrant. I was homeless for a bit. I had no future. Privilege, right?

At some point someone told me I should go to college. I had taken the GED and passed it despite dropping out in the 9th grade. After college I applied to the CWRU doctoral program and was admitted. To get admitted one had to score in the top two percent on the Millar Analogy Test. Privilege, right? Along side me were people of color and folks from around the world. I was nothing special.

So after graduation with $100.00 I rented an office and opened a counseling practice with zero clients. Ten years later I had seven offices in two states, owned four companies, and was a very popular speaker on PTSD. Privilege, right?

After a few years of driving 90 miles each way each weekend to practice with my teacher I was ordained. Privilege, right?


Of course none of this is on my sleeve. What you see is an old White guy in biker gear and you assume you know me and if I was successful in life it was a result of White privilege. And you dare not to think of yourself as a racist? Privilege, right?

Gassho 
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