Race, Privilege, & Dependent Origination
Before diving into the subject matter at hand, let me first say how unqualified I am to weigh in on topics regarding race, privilege, and the systemic issues facing American society. I have neither lived experience nor extensive study in such complex matters; however, I do believe in discussing uncomfortable topics and now more than ever, a public dialogue is necessary. We should all be amplifying the voices of color, sharing antiracist resources, and looking for ways to support black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) owned businesses.
Six years ago I began meditating and studying Eastern philosophy. Around that time, I also took a road trip with a friend, fellow Army officer, and now US Congressman. As we were driving from El Paso, Texas to Los Angeles, California, we got on the topics of systemic racism and white privilege -- issues I denied existed. Little did I know, my entire worldview was about to be turned upside down.
I grew up in a small, de facto segregated city in North Carolina and politically, I identified as a libertarian. Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh taught me that people who committed crimes were criminals, people who were homeless made bad decisions, and people who worked hard were guaranteed success. Though I was a mediocre student and had run-ins with the law, I was admitted to West Point. Somehow I was able to reconcile all of this and I failed to realize that I was a walking contradiction.
The meritocratic facade began to crack during our road trip when my friend posed the question, “how many black people were at the last wedding you attended?” Well, there weren’t any people of color at the last wedding I had attended. What about the wedding before that? Maybe one or two. My friend pushed on, “why weren’t there any people of color at the weddings?” My family is white and it just happens that most of my friends are white. "Well, why are most of your friends white?” This line of inquiry continued as though we were peeling layer after layer of an onion. Ultimately, I realized that either I was racist in the traditional, discriminatory sense or that structural, systemic racism exists and that my whole meritocratic fantasy needed to be reconsidered. This led to another difficult realization: my accomplishments were a product of those who came before me.
Pratītyasamutpāda, or dependent origination, states that all phenomena are dependent on other preexisting phenomena. A simple example is that I (Tripp) could not exist without my parents, my parent’s parents, and so forth. My current beliefs are the product of my entire experience up and to this point in time; beliefs are not individual elements of my mind or personality that stand alone as “right” or “true,” rather they are the culmination of past thoughts, emotions, and experiences. The bottomline is simply that nothing exists in a vacuum and all phenomena are dependent on prior causes and conditions.
I am a product of my environment.
We are interconnected.
We are interdependent.
Failure to understand the above causes suffering.
Understanding our interconnectedness allows us to act from wisdom not impulse.
Societally, we’re at an inflection point -- one in which we can unconsciously perpetuate our past conditioning or we can become curious about the present moment and see what learnings are available. My desire to move towards truth and to live consciously in the world is causing me to look at my lot in life and to develop a better understanding of how racism and privilege exist. If I’m honest with myself, I acknowledge that I am the benefactor of privilege on almost every level. As a white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied male from an upper-middle class, two-parent, well-educated family, the deck is stacked in my favor. The confidence I have to take risks and to push the limits is possible because I have a support system and safety net based on generations of privilege.
“We see that the cup of coffee in our hands could not exist without the woman who ordered the bag of beans into her store. Looking deeper, we see the truck the beans arrived on, and its driver. We see the fuel in its tank and the man who pumped it. We see the woman who roasted the beans and packaged them. We see the ship the beans sailed on from Peru, and all of the hands on deck who ensured its safe arrival. We see the farmer who cared for the soil, who planted the crop, and who picked the beans. We see the sunshine that made the plants grow. Furthermore, each and every one of these conditions each had their own complex web of factors that contributed to their unique arising as well. We see the clouds the water fell from that landed on the crop. We see the rivers in which they once flowed. We see all of the decisions in each of the people’s lives that led to their interaction with the coffee bean, and we see all of the things which then influenced each of those decisions too. We can see their parents and we see their parents before them. It infinitely goes on.” - Zen Thinking, All Things are Interdependent
Whatever your lot in life, I urge you to consider how you got to your current position. How have you been a benefactor of oppression? Starting with the social unrest today, try to look backwards and see how our current situation is merely the result of atrocities committed in our not-so-recent past.
What I’m Doing Now
Uncomfortable Conversations: I yearn for authenticity. Whether we agree or disagree, I want to have deep conversations on topics that challenge my thinking and the status quo. In other words, you may not want to invite me to your next dinner party. Fortunately I’ve got friends who allowed me to fumble through conversations about race, racism, and institutional barriers to people of color. At this point in my writing, I realized that I can count on one hand how many consciousness-raising conversations I’ve had with people of color. If I’ve participated in hundreds if not thousands of conversations about politics and religion, but only a few truly vulnerable conversations with people of color -- what does that say about me?
Educating Myself: White folks need to educate themselves because (at least in North Carolina public schools) we were not taught an unbiased history of the United States. It’s not on people of color to educate white folks; we’ve got to take initiative. I like to think I’m a pretty progressive guy, but that doesn’t mean I get a pass on reeducation. This is my reading list for June:
Questioning How I Perpetuate Systemic Racism: In ways large and small, most of us perpetuate systemic racism as we go about our daily lives. While I love my company, we primarily cater to upper-middle and upper class, predominantly white, males. My next venture will provide tailored, community-specific resources to address the social determinants of health primarily through healthcare and education.
I’m going to be proactive in addressing issues related to race and structural inequality. There isn’t a switch we can flip to make things right, but we can do the work to become antiracist. Here are a couple of things I’m doing to take action:
Vote for politicians that will address structural inequalities.
Support BIPOC-owned businesses through direct purchases.
Engage in meaningful conversations around race.
Educate yourself (see above for a few of the books I’m reading).
I’ve never publicly taken a stand when it comes to social justice but I guess this is a start.