By Duke ”Red Elk” BhuphaiboolThe NWTA was one of the most significant weekends of my life. I discovered a sense of hope for the planet and for humanity. For the first time, I had a sense that I belong to a place and a community. I had returned to humanity. On Sunday, September 7th, 2008, I returned home and began integrating this new paradigm and energy shift.
Over the course of two years, I staffed, MOSed, and pursued various trainings. In a vast majority of these events, I encountered what I’ll call the “racial conditioning” of our society. While I’ve experience overt incidents of racism in my life from verbal to physical assaults, the vast majority of the racism I encounter is the social climate of our society and its implied statements and “unintentional” cuts. This covert flavor of racism is no less destructive and has had a far reaching effect on my life. After a year of bumping into incidents of racism within MKP, the dam finally broke. I have spent close to three decades letting things slide, denying my own perceptions and emotions and distracting myself from the issue of race so that I can survive in a white world. The resulting effects are what brought me to MKP in the first place: an emasculated self, a well of pain and grief and a denial of my own humanity.
The return of my humanity, a sense of self-worth and the experience of my own authenticity and integrity were antagonistic to the climate of racism and its unwitting personal expressions from people I care about and men with whom I strove to have an authentic relationship. I found myself much less willing to let things slide or to ignore incidents. Even then, I could not address many of the occurrences if I hoped to make it through life. Fighting an institution by myself, especially one based on denial, is a futile effort. Accepting that institutionalized racism existed in our circles was difficult for me as I had hoped for a place of refuge from this toxic societal institution.
I imagine that when an average American thinks of racism, he conjures up an image of Hitler or a member of the Ku Klux Klan ranting overt supremacist beliefs. I imagine he thinks of verbal and physical assaults. He doesn’t see the white-centric views and value system of society in media, language and everyday interactions. He doesn’t notice seemingly benign comments that dehumanize and support the structure of institutionalized racism. Even the concept of racism as an institution escapes many. After all, the civil rights movement was 45 years ago, we have an African-(Euro)-American man as President, and racism is a thing of the past, is it not?
The obscure we see eventually. The completely obvious, it seems, takes longer. – Edward R. Murrow
And yet, the social and political events of the past few years have shown that the covert is becoming increasingly overt. Racism appeared to have receded into the shadow of political correctness and fear is driving it back out.
The most destructive aspect of racism today is the misconception that it is overt, heinous, and intentional acts perpetrated by “bad” people. I believe that I am a good person, and, I have racist thoughts just about every day. I believe that all people are good people, and I believe that good people do many things without understanding the impacts and consequences of their words and actions. Some of us have a word for it – shadow. When shadow is shared across the society, it becomes like the air we breathe; it becomes an institution.
“A vision is always ahead of its time and usually unpopular, because mankind resists and fears change.” – Context Presentation
There are men in MKP who share a vision of a Multicultural MKP. “Let’s make our circles look like our country” or “Let’s invite men who look different than you into our circles” are stated in emails and trainings. I haven’t met any man who openly disagrees with this. It appears to be a well received and popular vision.
Why is it then, that there a so few men of color in our circles? How many men of color do you know intimately? How many of those relationships are within MKP and how many are outside MKP? Do you visit their world? Or do you only know them because they live in yours? As a nation, we are still living in divided worlds. As an organization, we are still living in a white (and white-centric) world.
There is a disconnect between the vision of diversity and the reality of where we are and where we seemingly want to go. I say seemingly because the focus of our racial multicultural initiative seems to be on getting men of color into the project with invitations and scholarship funds. I also see a newly instated requirement to have a multicultural training before the tenth staffing. I have seen this training posted as a 4 hour evening session as well as a one-day workshop on –isms in general.
I’ve had numerous men comment on my presence in their circles. Though in two years, I’ve only had one man acknowledge what it might be like for me, as an Asian-American man, to sit in our circles. To date, no one has asked me about my experience as an Asian-American man in MKP. Many men have approached me to state that they want to learn about “race” from me. Thus far, only one man has pursued that request further.
From this, what I see as the first disconnect is the difference between the idea of diversity (the presence of more men of color in our circles) and the reality and implication of true diversity (my experiences in MKP). My fear is that the current vision of diversity is about adding visual color to a white organization rather than doing the real work and relating to me as a person. As an Asian man, my race seems to be either an impediment or a commodity in society. Only Euro-Americans seems to have the privilege of being a person first and a race second (if it’s ever brought up at all).
The second disconnect is our understanding of race. Currently, we require that senior staffmen do a one-day workshop on –isms in general. I can tell you that my path to becoming aware of my cultural conditioning and the subsequent choice that awareness gives me takes vigilance and active effort. It is to go against the force and flow of society and I fall into my acculturation on a daily basis. When I fall asleep to it, I unwittingly support and propagate the structure of institutionalized oppression. It is a lifelong (un)learning that requires far more work than a one-day workshop can possibly offer.
What I have learned from talking to and working with men and women with privilege is that the general belief is that institutionalized oppression is: a) overt and b) something that exists outside themselves. It is something to be learned, if they wish to. I believe many people with privilege miss how they have been affected by it all of their lives. And it seems the common view is that racism is something on the outside to be understood conceptually in order to help the oppressed.
Perhaps the true gold of our multicultural path, like the NWTA, will not be something to be learned or understood but something to be felt and experienced. Racism is not something happening to people of color. It is something that affects us all. Most importantly, there is a cost to having privilege.
“To be afraid is to behave as if the truth were not true.” – Bayard Rustin
When I talk to people about racism, I see much fear. There is also guilt and shame expressed by white men and women when the topic of racism is discussed. To me, this implies a certain level of awareness and also a certain level of denial. Throughout the history of our nation, the majority of Americans have never considered racism to be a problem – not today, not during the civil rights era and not during slavery.
If we continue to ignore the implication of true racial diversity and see that the unheard stories of men of color are directly related to the stories of white America, men of color will not come. If they come, I believe many will not stay. In the past two years, my personal experience (including an incident when I was being facilitated), repeated raising of this topic and numerous conversations with initiated men of all leadership levels tells me that it is not safe for me to talk about or do personal work on racism in our circles.
Mankind Project is an international organization – in Western Europe and its former colonies where the majority of the population are of European descent. This work has travelled around the planet and yet our diversity initiative is in its infancy. Are we willing to step into the name “Mankind Project”?
“You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
-Morpheus, The Matrix
Our cultural shadows pervade our organization. In our nation, there is 500 years of healing waiting for us. Can we wake up to it? Racial diversity is not an “optional” training for those “called” to it. It is the birthright of our human family and who we are as a people. We can ignore its call, but I do not believe it is why we strive to live our mission. My belief is that our humanity and the humanity of our ancestors and our children are at stake.
There is fear, guilt, shame, anger, grief and sadness. The path is full of blood and tears. Are we ready for it? Are we the ones to begin the return to humanity?
“There is no peace because we have forgotten that we belong to each other” – Mother Teresa
To begin to see racism for what it is and how it affects our everyday life and society is to begin to understand the true meaning and implication of diversity in our circles, our life and the world. It is to begin to see our cultural shadows and our part in supporting institutionalized oppression. It is to begin to claim our humanity, release our fears, and truly connect with those who we thought were different than ourselves.
The true meaning of diversity does not lie in recruitment; it lies in our own work on cultural shadows and in making real connections with people who look different than us. Are you willing to form true friendships with men outside your circles? Are you willing to go to where they stand rather than expecting them to come to us? Are you willing to go into your fear about race? Are you willing to look at privilege, the other side of the racism coin?
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. – A Hopi Elder speaks
We are all already on the multiculturalism path. Where are we going to go with it is the question. The path to true diversity and the human family is not about recruitment or head-learning about-isms. It is walking into the darkness of our cultural legacy and the reality of our lives today. It is through making the heart connections that are born of authenticity and honoring where we truly are and where we’ve truly been.
It is from this place that our circles will be safe enough for all men; all women; all of humanity.
It is from this place that we can step fully into the name “The Mankind Project.”