I Am Not Exempt

This page serves as an all-encompassing disclaimer for all of the content appearing elsewhere on this blog. The things that I say here apply to everything that I might say anywhere else, so it gets its own page.

One of the core tenets of Buddhist doctrine is the pursuit of understanding through constant self-reflection and self-questioning. Siddhartha  Gautama’s final teaching to his acolytes was “Be a light unto your own path”, interpreted to mean that no one should unquestioningly accept the words of an authority, no matter how tempting it may be to do so. By deferring to an authority, we absolve ourselves of any of the consequences that our actions may cause, and of any wrong action that we take in the name of that authority. This authority isn’t necessarily that of an other; indeed, we are only separated from what we perceive to be “others” by our minds. And so it is, then, that we must also question our own authority, and never accept as truth anything given to us, rather than found. Thus, anything that we hold to be “true” must also be examined and questioned, if we have any hope of ever sorting through all the ways in which we are constantly attempting to deceive ourselves.

I have been wrong many times in the past. I have acted wrongly, spoken wrongly, and lived wrongly. I have lived without mindfulness of my action, without concentration of my abilities, and without the fullest of my efforts. Often have I had wrong intentions, fueled by wrong views. And indeed, I expect that my future will be littered with such instances as well. But I do not write these words to retroactively apologize for my past, nor to preemptively excuse my future. I speak only of this moment, here, and now.

I am also guilty.

Like many people occupying my position in society, I was taught at a very young age the evils of racism and sexism, and so it was that I recognized the labels of “sexist” and “racist” as bad things, to be avoided at all costs. This childish understanding of the concepts at work was just that: childish. Which is to say, while they were surely well-intentioned and even admirable in some respects, they were ultimately naive as to the countless nuances of the ideals they represented. As I grew, and as I became aware of more systems of oppression that exist, my understandings of these systems did not grow in proportion. I fell for that sadly common egotistical fallacy, “these things are bad; I am not bad; therefore, I am not these things”. Such sensibilities persisted within my life for much longer than I care to admit.

So what was the problem? Simply put, I denied my participation in the perpetuation these systems, both active and passive. My aversion to the labels that had been ingrained into me so early in life had caused me to falsely believe that I was not complicit in the larger implications of what they represent. In sociological terms, I had not examined my privilege.

When finally my understanding of oppression began to mature, the problem persisted, but in a much more insidious manner. I began to speak of privileged groups to which I belonged, most commonly white people, as an entity separate from myself. The distinction, in my mind, was that while I was aware of the privileges that belonging to such groups afford me, the others in the groups to which I referred did not. And perhaps there are meaningful distinctions to be made there, and perhaps I had falsely believed that I was making those distinctions meaningfully, but in truth it was merely another layer of defense for my precious ego, a need to believe that I was not a bad person. To that end, I positioned myself in such a way as to separate myself from whom I believed to be “bad people”, unquestioningly complicit in the perpetuation of all of the systems of oppression from which they benefit.

But, as any good Zen Buddhist knows, there is no separation. I am them, and they are me.

I Am Not Exempt.

The ways in which I benefit from the kyriarchy are, quite literally, countless. And while I may work to illuminate, understand, and ultimately oppose these privileges afforded to me, so it is that there will always be privileges to which I am completely blind, and thus, completely complicit in their existence. And while it may be tempting to accept this as an inevitable reality of existence and resign myself to it, doing so solves nothing, makes nothing better, and most egregiously of all, implicitly absolves me of responsibility for my actions. As Dogen taught, I can not be deceived, and so when I am made aware of my attempts to deceive myself, I must cease them.

If there is one lesson to be gleaned from the #NotAllMen discussion from earlier in 2014, and indeed from my earlier article I’m Sick Of Allies, it is that while members of a group may not be responsible for the misdeeds of the group as a whole on an individual level, such a distinction is meaningless — utterly, utterly meaningless — so long as those individuals allow such actions to continue without question and without any opposition from within the group. To demand such a distinction is narcissistic, useless, and above all, dishonest.

So, no more.

If ever I speak about a privileged group to which I belong, you can be certain that I in no way am absolving myself of whatever I am speaking of. When I speak of the harmful actions of ignorant white people, know that I consider myself to be an ignorant white person, directly or indirectly responsible for the actions I describe. I will make a concerted effort to use inclusive language in such situations, to make it clear to all who read these words that I do not consider myself above ignorance, above privilege, or above oppression.

In this blog, I speak only for myself. To that end, I must be sure to always remember to speak of myself when the situation warrants.

Now, enjoy the rest of the blog!

 

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