The Lies Embedded in MAGA (“Make America Great Again”): America Was Never Great for Everyone

The Lies Embedded in MAGA (“Make America Great Again”): America Was Never Great for Everyone


image from https://andelino.wordpress.com/2016/06/08/america-was-never-great/

Please, could anyone tell me: when was America (the United States of America) “great,” and for whom?

This country’s roots are in repeated and ongoing genocidal elimination, unfair and homicidal immigration policies, stealing children from parents who are powerless to prevent these thefts, and forced involuntary incarceration of those in many groups:
—the indigenous peoples who already occupied these territories
—the Africans stolen from their home countries, imported like material goods, to be slaves and servants
—the poor and homeless people and orphans
—the disabled people, especially those with mental disabilities
—the Japanese who lived in the USA during World War II.


image from http://Historyplex.com

This country has a long and checkered history of unfairly treating women, those who do not own property (even males), anyone without sufficient financial and other resources via a prejudicial criminal justice system.


image from http://Vox.com

People from all backgrounds suffer (but not equally) in the USA by:

  • being excluded from voting by various means;
  • not being paid a “living wage”;
  • not having fair and equal opportunities for education;
  • not having sufficient shelter;
  • not having paid work available;
  • not having access to nutritious, sufficient food;
  • not being able to pursue their passions and dreams due to insufficient resources, advantages, connections and other unequally distributed privileges;
  • having more people, especially children, living in poverty than in many third-world nations;


    image from http://FollowTheMoney.com

  • not having access to adequate or any health care (preventive or treatment-focused);
  • failing to prevent or treat addictions of all types, with rising numbers of opioid addicts;
  • not being treated fairly within our policing and justice system, to the point of premature death and lengthy incarcerations for minor infractions, and having far too many wrongful convictions;
  • not having access to affordable housing;
  • being forced to drink, wash with and use polluted water and breathe polluted air;
  • becoming ill and dying—with little or no recourse or legal protection, once it is known to be needed—from industrial and military pollution of land, water and air;


    image from https://environmentalstudiesblog.wordpress.com/tag/environmental-racism/

  • having pensions, life savings, much or all personal wealth put at risk or eliminated by the still-unpunished and insufficiently regulated financial entities;
  • being at risk because of the USA’s very high rates of infant and maternal mortality;
  • being underserved veterans, with very high rates of suicide;
  • not having access to abortions;
  • being lied to about the “need” for USA’s involvement and not keeping promises made for those who enlist, and sometimes conscripted individuals into almost constant wars, causing many to lose loved ones, their own lives, their limbs, to incur brain damage and psychological trauma, for no apparent purpose except to enrich those who profit from military actions;
  • being lied to, misled, mistreated, abused, exploited, harassed and/or disrespected by almost every major and minor politician, business owner/leader, employer/manager;
  • being targeted unduly by those with authority and/or power in all types of businesses, institutions and police forces/sheriff’s departments


“If we lie to the government, it’s a felony. If the government lies to us, it’s politics.” —Bill Murray

So, please: at what point in the history or current configuration of this country was it “great” for EVERYONE?

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Advocacy, Entitlement and Knowing When to Complain: The Rights of Poor People

Advocacy, Entitlement and Knowing When to Complain: The Rights of Poor People

If you are new to this blog, you may not know that I was in an accident about two years ago that resulted in a broken nose and concussion as well as other injuries. The concussion was not one of the “good” kind, meaning, I have still not completely recovered.

This deterioration in my health caused me to run through my savings and unemployment benefits in California and have to rely on others. Finally, I am privileged to benefit from my mother’s having space and a generous heart, allowing me to move in with her in St. Louis about 18 months ago.

Missouri, however, is not a great place to live if you are indigent. This post is the third in a series about my experiences here. This third one is on poor people’s rights. The second was on food for indigent people in Missouri (published February 16, 2016, http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1BL). The first one was on health care (published February 9, 2016, http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1By).

This post is important because it looks at the underlying issues that make a difficult situation (being poor) worse or better for each person. The intersections of perceived or claimed race/ethnicity, perceived or claimed gender, perceived or claimed social class, perceived or claimed age, home/best language, physical and mental health and (dis)abilities, perceived or claimed religion, perceived or claimed sexual orientation, and economic status in the city of St. Louis, Missouri, USA, in the mid-20teens, can adversely influence, improve or neutrally affect one’s experiences every moment.

“Intersectionality” is an important part of understanding how poverty impacts each person and family differently. Therefore, in this series, I need to bring in the politics of social identity. We all have to learn to address these overlapping oppressions and unfair treatments to help ourselves understand how everything is NOT actually “equal” regardless of the similarities in two people’s incomes.

intersectionality
Intersectionality includes all of these components of one’s social identity.

It’s not “all good.”

It doesn’t have to be this way.

It ISN’T what it IS “naturally”: people and then institutions run by people make things this way and create/perpetuate systems that keep them this way.

Missouri is one of the worst places to be if you’re poor, but it’s not even the worst by any standards. Your experience all depends on the other components of your social identity. If you’re believed to be a white male, seemingly in good health and able-bodied, perceived to be heterosexual, assumed to be Christian, speaking mid-Western-accented English like a native, have at least some college education and otherwise seeming to be a USA “mainstream” guy between the ages of 25 – 65, you are going to be much better treated and fare better even when you’re poor than if you do not claim or cannot pull off having others believe you have all or any of those social identities.

If you’re also not a felon, have a place to live (a legal address) and (the use of) a car, you’re probably not going to be poor for very long.

Unless you’re obese. Unless you’re smelly. Unless you’re an addict. Unless you’re perceived to be “not one of us” in whatever way “us” is defined: then, you’re in some trouble. But, even with those cards stacked against you, as a poor assumed-to-be-white & -Christian with some education who speaks adequate English and can pass for straight and male and under age 65, you’re still going to be better off than anyone who isn’t.

no isms allowed

Change one aspect—gender—and things automatically get much worse. Change two—ethnicity/race and gender—and you’re doomed.

Check this out, from Everyday Feminism, June 20, 2015 by Carmen Rios “These 5 Statistics Prove That We’re Feminizing Poverty (And Keeping Women Down in the Process)” http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/06/feminizing-poverty/
— “Despite the overall poverty rate declining in America, 18 million women remain below the poverty line.”
—“Women are poorer than men in every state, regardless of education or geographic location. And for women of color, elderly women, and LGBTQIA+ women, it’s even worse.”
—“The poverty rate for Native American, Black, and Latina women is almost double the poverty rate for white women.”
—“For women, and especially women of color, the fight to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 or $15 is very personal—and could be the difference, for them, between barely surviving and finally thriving.”
—“…over a lifetime, women lose an average of $434,000 to the wage gap.”
—“One of the most important aspects of intersectional feminism is the understanding that when we fight for the most marginalized women, we liberate all women along with them.”

And, from other sources (see below) that add in education and other factors to race/ethnicity and gender with income levels:
—“White households take home between $10,000 to $20,000 more per year than their Black counterparts in every age bracket”
—“Enrollment in ‘high poverty’ schools for Black children is 41 percent, 38 percent for Hispanic children, 31 percent for American Indian/Alaska Native and a mere six percent for Whites.”
—“Even when Black and minority children attend mixed schools, they are more likely to be tracked into remedial or basic classes while their White counterparts take advanced, honors level courses.”
—“70 percent of students arrested or referred to law enforcement for school-related infractions were Black or Latino.”
—“While people of color only comprise about 30 percent of the US population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned.”
—“There is no such thing as unbiased, unpolitical education.”
—“People with ‘Black’ or ‘ethnic-sounding’ names are less likely to get callbacks for interviews.”
—“Blacks are more likely to be born into poverty and are less likely to escape it.”
—“Whites are 2-3 times more likely to make it into the middle class in their lifetimes compared to their black counterparts.”

poverty-is-violence
from http://iamarevolutionary.wordpress.com
Poverty IS violence. It has to stop.

Find a well-vetted nonprofit that advocates and works to end poverty and understands intersectionality and contribute, volunteer, blog about their work! Here is one: http://www.results.org/

Good news! We made this mess; we can clean it up.

Mandela quote about poverty
Nelson Mandela, Audre Lorde, Martin Luther King, Jr., Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem and so many more have spoken out about the nature of the human-made elements of our social and political systems and the oppressions they systematize.

WE are the ones who must advocate, complain, recognize that we are entitled to better and that so is everyone else, and ACT!

—Do not sit by and watch passively when others are mistreated, disrespected, unfairly scheduled or managed, especially when you are in any position of better privilege: it is your DUTY to advocate whenever you are able.
—Write letters, blog, make phone calls, picket, march, show up and let those in power know you are not satisfied with the “status quo.” Be specific.
—VOTE! It is your DUTY and responsibility as a USA citizen who can vote (if you are one) to use that right in EVERY election. It is the LOCAL elections that most affect people who live near you, and regional and state office holders who make laws that affect us all. Federal elections matter, too, but not as obviously or as immediately.

WIN_20141104_095753 I VOTE! And, as of early March, I am working as a election-day supervisor at a local polling place!

—THEREFORE, do not ignore bond issues, council and mayoral elections, county positions, state office holders’ elections and only vote on presidential ballots. ALL VOTES MATTER!

Want to know more? Have a read:

From October, 2015, inGenere.it: “Intersectionality. Putting together
things that are often kept apart” by Jeff Hearn
http://www.ingenere.it/en/articles/intersectionality-putting-together-things-are-often-kept-apart

From February, 2015, NPR: “Study: Black Girls Are Being Pushed Out of School” by Karen Grigsby Bates
http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/02/13/384005652/study-black-girls-are-being-pushed-out-of-school

From February, 2015, the the Frisky: “18 Things White America Needs To Reconcile To Truly Become Colorblind” by Tiffanie Drayton
http://www.thefrisky.com/2015-02-26/18-things-white-america-needs-to-reconcile-to-truly-become-colorblind/

If you appreciated this series, please reblog/share it, comment, ask to be a guest blogger and contribute your own point of view or write on a related topic: http://www.sallyember.com

This third post was on advocacy and intersectionality (published on February 23, 2016, http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1C2).
The second was on food for indigent people in Missouri (published February 16, 2016, http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1BL).
The first one was on health care (published February 9, 2016, http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1By).

Food Stamps and Food Issues for Poor People in St. Louis

Food Stamps (SNAP, EBT) and Food Issues for Poor People in St. Louis

If you are new to this blog, you may not know that I was in an accident about two years ago that resulted in a broken nose and concussion as well as other injuries. The concussion was not one of the “good” kind, meaning, I have still not completely recovered.

This deterioration in my health caused me to run through my savings and unemployment benefits in California and have to rely on others. Finally, I am privileged to benefit from my mother’s having space and a generous heart, allowing me to move in with her in St. Louis about 18 months ago.

Missouri, however, is not a great place to live if you are indigent. This post is the second in a series about my experiences here. This one is on food for indigent people in Missouri. The first one was on health care (published February 9, 2016, http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1By).

This post is about the government-subsidized “food support,” formerly called “Food Stamps,” now called “SNAP” for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

snaplogo

What makes Missouri so bad for poor people? For one thing, this state is very Republican-dominated. Despite many of the speeches given by congressional and senatorial representatives from this party, their votes speak loudly: they keep lowering the amounts poor people can receive in all types of assistance and have repeatedly voted to reduce food support. This state also still calls its program “Food Stamps,” but adds “SNAP” so people will know what it is. http://dss.mo.gov/fsd/fstamp/

Missouri’s unfortunate and lethal combination of machismo, arrogance, obstinacy and ignorance have caused millions of Missourians who cannot afford to buy sufficient amounts or types of food for themselves and/or their children to go without food, especially near the end of each month’s benefits period (the food money runs out). Not only are the benefits woefully and abysmally low, even at their highest levels, they arrive in one lump at the beginning of each monthly period. Even the best budgeters can’t make insufficient funds last throughout a month.

“Missouri is among states where legislators this year have considered bills that would curb welfare benefits” and continues to demonstrate its disdain for the poor, blaming the victims and putting economic pressure on the weakest of us to try to shore up the state’s failing budget. The Democratic Governor, Jay Nixon, vetoes these bills, but then the “representatives” usually have the votes to override his vetoes. On it goes, this heinous battle for who can sink the lowest first. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/04/missouri-welfare-restrict_n_7209458.html

Missouri and other state SNAP programs are now in the computer age. SNAP currently issues a debit-type card to recipients which is an EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) unit that looks a lot like any other debit card. I’m sure this has alleviated a lot of the embarrassment many users had previously felt when producing their pink paper food stamps at the grocery check-out line. Now, we kind of “blend in,” putting our card through the same reader everyone who uses credit or debit cards uses to make our payments.

SNAP to health
from http://www.snaptohealth.org

Except when we don’t. Most times, even when I tell the register operator that I am using an EBT for SNAP, they punch in the wrong codes and it doesn’t work. Or, they do it correctly, but neither of us knows exactly how much the receipt total will be for until the card is used (SNAP card users get to avoid paying the tax on food that others pay). Worse, there is no way prior to being in the check-out process for a user to know exactly how much is left on the EBT to use.

Here is a typical process for me.
—I get in line (can’t use the self-service machines for EBT/SNAP)
—I put my food on the conveyor
—I get to the card reader while the register operator is still scanning my food so that I am sure to mention to him/her that I am using SNAP
—S/he nods or otherwise acknowledges that I told him/her this (important to get confirmation: they often do not hear me or don’t know what I mean)
—I put my EBT card through the reader.
Hopefully, it reads my card correctly (doesn’t always) and
—I press the right buttons (always confusing, since the buttons are arranged differently in every card reader I’ve seen, so far: not always using the same colors designating the choices or putting the choices in the same position)
—We get to the end of the food scanning
—S/he presses whatever buttons (not always correctly) to accept my EBT card as payment
—I either do or do not have sufficient funds on the card to pay for this amount of food (which I only know at this point)
—If so, we proceed and I am done
—If not, we have to start over with the reader, putting only the amount I actually have into the register operator’s process to take only that amount from my EBT
—Then I have a choice: pay in cash or use a debit card (if I have the funds) for the rest, or put the rest of the food back/don’t take it home.

I think it’s obvious that this process is not quick, or at least, not as quick as using cash or a debit/ credit card. When the lines are long, I dread getting into one because these “delays” cause impatience to arise in those in line behind me. I have a fairly thick skin, so to speak, so I don’t care about how impatient people are. We all have to wait, sometimes.

However, others do care about others’ opinions, so it makes many SNAP users anxious to go through the check-out process, as you can well imagine. Many times, when I was more flush, I gave the SNAP users in lines ahead of me some money when their EBT cards were shown to carry insufficient amounts for the entire purchase and the users clearly didn’t have any cash or funds to cover the rest of the food.

Confession: I was less likely to offer money when the purchases of the SNAP user seemed “frivolous” or “junky” to me. Awful judgment call on my part and really, none of my business. But, at the time, I felt quite high-and-mighty, telling myself I was “doing them and their kids a favor” if they didn’t get to bring home that sugary or salty treat. Why, I wonder now, does anyone believe we suddenly have the right or ethical duty to pass judgment on someone’s food purchases simply because they’re poor? We leave all the horrible choices of the middle- and upper-class to themselves, so why do we believe we are entitled to assess those of the poorest among us?

News flash; poor people are not stupider, less informed, less competent or any other judgment the better-off can levy just by being currently without enough money. Money does NOT make anyone smarter, more informed, competent or anything else, automatically. We all know plenty of wealthier people without a clue, don’t we?

In other horrible news, SNAP makes us “re-qualify” every year even if our benefits are for a two-year period. This means recipients are able to be—and, in my case, I was—penalized if we earn even a little bit of money. My SNAP benefits were reduced by half (and were insufficient to begin with) when I reported that I had earned some income from freelance proofreading/editing and doing occasional childcare, even though the total earned was less than $1000/month and more often, not even half that. Look at the chart below for how low these monthly benefits are for an entire month and picture this: you have ONLY this amount to pay for all food for 4.3 weeks (30 – 31 days):

Family size: 1 2 3 4

Maximum benefit level: $155 $284 $408 $518

So, if you’re math-impaired, consider these actual figures:
—the individual SNAP allotment comes to about $36/week, or $5.14/day per individual.
—For a family of two, it comes to $33/week/person, not even $4.70/day, which is LESS per week than if you’re on your own.
—For a family of three, usually one parent and two children, they get only $32/week/person, which is $4.53/day per person!
The larger the family, the less the family gets per person.

What is the logic, here? That kids eat less than adults? Incorrect, unless they’re under 7 years old.

Or, maybe they live in a fairy-tale land, in which they believe larger families can buy “in bulk.” Well, that only works if a family has enough money in hand to purchase the larger amount of chicken or rice or beans, which they often would not have, since the total amount provided by SNAP and workers’ wages is insufficient. When a family doesn’t have enough money to buy food, how can anyone buy MORE food per grocery visit?

Doesn’t work.

Over the last 2 years of my own experiences as a poorer person but one who has many resources others do not have (a great and safe place to live, family members to help me, a car, higher education and advocacy skills, among the best) and seeing these SNAP figures, above, I understand the motivation that spurs poorer people to become criminals just to make ends meet. Why the hell not?

I’m not advocating a life of crime, but I certainly can empathize the reasoning better, now.

When our government fails to support those in the most need, what are the needy supposed to do?

Meanwhile, some help is better than none. How can people get fed, then?
—If a family has young children or the mother is pregnant, that mom and kids can also get further food support (very restricted, but food and juice, nonetheless) from WIC (Women and Infant Care) and (minimal) cash from TANF (Temporary Aid to Need Families, formerly known as “welfare”).
—If one is disabled and/or a senior, one can get Social Security disability and/or retirement benefits to supplement these paltry SNAP monthly allotments.

For basic SNAP information and links to your state’s SNAP website: http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap

Good news! Many health food stores, farmers’ markets and alternative grocery stores now accept SNAP.

we accept SNAP

However, the poorer among us face an entirely different problem that I personally don’t experience (that good fortune is due to my being able to live with my mom). Those who live in “high-poverty” areas now often inhabit regions that have become what are known as “food deserts”: because the larger chains and independent grocery stores refuse to locate or stay in these neighborhoods, there is literally nowhere to go grocery shopping. If you live in a “food desert,” you are screwed. Bad enough that you already have less means (no car, no money for gas), horribly skimpy SNAP funds and little time (those who do have jobs work hourly and must show up on time and leave when they’re scheduled to leave, period). You now are somehow also supposed to travel great distances (often when there is no viable public or any public transportation, so how are you going to accomplish that?) to get to a decent, fairly priced grocery store or to get anywhere that sells any fresh food at all.

People who live in “food deserts” can sometimes purchase food that is close to where they live, but it is usually from “convenience” stores or gas stations’ stores. Their “food shelves” and “hot bars” are typically stocked with low-nutrition, high-fat, high-sodium, high-sugar, deep-fried or microwavable, high in “empty” (simple) carbs, over-priced options only: no fresh fruit, no fresh vegetables, not much good protein, almost no complex carbs and very few choices that are even close to being healthy.

YOU might be able to help change this! https://www.dosomething.org/facts/11-facts-about-food-deserts Help populate “food deserts” with good food sources and/or bring better public transportation to these areas.

And, just when you thought things couldn’t get much worse, now it’s 2016. SNAP recipients between ages 18 – 49 stand to lose what little SNAP benefits we do get if we aren’t working “sufficiently,” but more of us than ever still need SNAP and many cannot work or work “sufficiently.”

Want to know more? Have a read:

From January, 2016, Cleveland.com: “Over 1 million face loss of food stamps over work requirements”
http://www.cleveland.com/nation/index.ssf/2016/01/over_1_million_face_loss_of_fo.html

From January, 2016, American Enterprise Institute: “Are SNAP benefits really too low?” by Angela Rachidi
https://www.aei.org/publication/are-snap-benefits-really-too-low/

From February, 2016, the Times-Picayune of Greater New Orleans: “Despite ‘recovery,’ more Americans using food stamps, at a higher cost”
http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/02/despite_recovery_more_american.html

Next in this series, February 23, 2016: Advocacy, Entitlement and Knowing When to Complain: The Rights of Poor People http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1C2

This second is on food for indigent people in Missouri, published on February 16, 2016, http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1BL.
The first one is on health care, published on February 9, 2016, http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1By.
The third post is/was on advocacy and intersectionality, (to be) published on February 23, 2016, http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1C2.

Bisexual, Female, Western and Buddhist: There are a lot more of us than you might think!

Bisexual, Female, Western and Buddhist: There are a lot more of us than you might think!, by Sally Ember, Ed.D.: written in response to Black, Bisexual, and Buddhist: Zenju Earthlyn Manuel is not afraid to embrace who she is. by Kimberly Winston, August 05, 2015
http://www.tricycle.com/blog/black-bisexual-and-buddhist

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel relates that she “often sees surprise in the faces of the students as she is introduced.” She believes this is due to the fact that “she doesn’t look like many of them expect. She isn’t Asian. She isn’t a man. And she isn’t white.”

ZenjuPic4
Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, photo from TRICYCLE article in online Buddhist magazine, http://www.tricycle.com/blog/black-bisexual-and-buddhist

She recently published: The Way of Tenderness: Awakening Through Race, Sexuality, and Gender, known here as “her second book of dharma, or Buddhist teachings, published in February by Wisdom Publications. In it, Manuel, who follows the Zen tradition, calls on Buddhists not to ignore those ways they may be different, whether it’s because of their color, gender, or sexual orientation.”

She and others call this idea a “‘multiplicity of oneness’—–[which] is somewhat controversial within Buddhism, where the teachings have tended to focus on moving beyond the physical to find the spiritual. But Manuel and a handful of other Western Buddhists—–including a number of African-American teachers–—are embracing the idea as crucial to enlightenment, a state free from anxiety that is the ultimate goal of Buddhism.”

Manuel and I have a lot in common, so I felt moved to respond to this article about her and her teaching, her writing and her spiritual life. I resonate with some aspects; others are quite different for me.

Manuel is 62; I am about to be 61. That means we are contemporaries who are natives of the same country.

She reports that she “has had a multiplicity of lives, all of which inform her work.” My C.V.—my academic and total resume—is over seven pages long. I have also moved over thirty times, having lived in states on both coasts, the midwest and the southwest of the USA. These varied aspects of my professional and personal lives must constitute a “multiplicity,” don’t you think?

Her personal history includes “violence, poverty and prejudice,” which my life contains, also. Heavier on the violence and prejudice than the poverty, for me, but all were there.

Manuel states that she has “been an activist since the tumultuous 1970s”; I started being a vocal, active feminist activist while still in grade school, moved into anti-war and anti-nuclear power activism, continued with feminism and got into reproductive rights activism and other issues as well. I started earlier by about 10 years, but then we both kept on keeping on.

Manuel says that she “has also known fear and rejection because she is bisexual,” but I mostly do not have that experience, perhaps because I didn’t “come out” publicly as bisexual until the 1990s, when it seemed almost no one cared anymore and I was a confident adult with a supportive community and family. I did lose a female friend in college in the early 1970s when I clumsily invited her to be my lover, but usually I did not experience either rejection or fear due to my sexual orientation. Not everyone I approached agreed to be my lover, but their rejections had nothing to do with my being attracted to both genders. So, our lives diverged there significantly.

She “was raised a Christian but discovered Buddhism in 1988,” whereas I was raised Jewish and discovered Buddhist in the early 1980s. However, I had already been meditating in the Transcendental Meditation (T.M.) tradition since 1972. Similar, but not the same, here.

Mostly, though, we share significant components of our cultural, personal and historical location and background. The major difference is that she is Black and I am White/Anglo. Our other intersecting social identities create affinities that few other commonalities could, especially since our experiences led us both to become immersed seriously and deeply in Buddhist practice.

Appallingly, however, she had the misfortune to have had a couple of Zen teachers who “suggested if she ‘dropped the labels’ of ‘African-American,’ of ‘bisexual,’ of ‘woman,’ she would ‘be liberated.’ That is ridiculous and has nothing to do with authentic Buddhism. I’m sorry she had those teachers or allowed them to affect her. Obviously, by trying to accomplish this (the impossible), she was not “liberated.” Furthermore, these attempts did not ease her suffering; in fact, she reported that she became more unhappy.

Eventually, she discovered on her own what Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism (my tradition) has always taught: embrace everything, cling to nothing. While bushwhacking her own path through Zen traditions that were not friendly to her, she arrived at, in her words: “’complete tenderness’—–the experience of walking through her pain, knowing it, living with it, but not being controlled by it—–by confronting her suffering caused by her upbringing and identity as an African-American bisexual woman.”

I challenge this idea, though, that her suffering was “caused” by her identities at that point. I would conclude instead that her suffering was exacerbated early in her Zen journey by the ignorance and arrogance of those Zen teachers who misdirected her, then aggravated by her willingness to follow their misdirections for too long. It isn’t who she was that was the problem; it’s he ways a few teachers positioned who she was with respect to her spiritual path that caused her pain.

Despite being misled by some teachers, Manuel continued within Zen all the way to becoming ordained as a Zen Priest, when she was “given the name ‘Zenju,’ which means ‘complete tenderness.’” She now leads a small, all-female sangha that meets where she lives, in Oakland, California (near San Francisco), many of whom are also identifying as women of color.

I’m glad she found a way through all that, but it was so unnecessary. There are many USA-based Zen sanghas, some right near her that I am personally aware of, in which she would not have had those experiences. We could say it was her karma to have had those encounters, and we’d be correct, since everything we experience is always due to our karma.

But, it is not inherent to the nature of Zen or Buddhism to treat students in those ways. I need to emphasize this truth, since it appears from this Tricycle article and perhaps her book (I haven’t read it, so I’m not sure) that it is inevitable that students of backgrounds similar to hers will encounter prejudice and extreme difficulties due to their social identities everywhere they go in Buddhist communities. Simply not true.

I have observed, though, that too many Buddhist communities in the USA and Canada are populated by a disproportionate number of middle- and upper-class Whites/Anglos in comparison to the number of participants from other ethnicities and class backgrounds. I’m glad to say that these imbalances have been recognized by most leaders and other members: many sanghas are doing extensive outreach to rectify them.

I don’t know if Manuel’s Oakland Zen sitting group is deliberately all women or intentionally mostly women of color; perhaps it is open to everyone, but her being who she is, as the teacher, attracted more practitioners similar to her. That does happen, that spiritual teachers attract students who see themselves as similar to their teachers.

The only similarity that actually matters, though, is that we are all human and we all need to train our minds, develop more compassionate hearts, and liberate ourselves from delusions that cause suffering. Therefore, I believe deliberately segregating ourselves by gender, class, background or any other social identity is a mistake when it comes to creating and maintaining spiritual community. I know there are specific occasions when such segregation can be useful or necessary, but mostly, let’s not.

Clearly, the Buddhist path works well for Manuel and she believes it can work well for other women of color, bisexual or not. In that, we agree.

The Buddha supposedly taught over 84,000 types of meditation so that each individual who wants to practice will be able to find a path that works. In a large enough community with sufficient numbers of paths and teachers, I’m sure that is possible: everyone who wants to learn to meditate in the Buddhist tradition could do so.

Northern California, USA, is such a locale, with dozens or even hundreds of Buddhist teachers and sangha options scattered throughout the rural, suburban and urban areas, each slightly or very different from the other. I used to live there and I miss it a lot.

St. Louis, Missouri, USA, is not such a locale. It is not bereft entirely of Buddhists or Buddhist communities, but there is none in my exact tradition. I find that I am not so interested in attending the groups that are dissimilar. I enjoy meditating on my own just fine. I do miss my sangha and those important, guiding interactions, but not enough to join some other group, yet.

Meanwhile, this female, bisexual Buddhist who was raised Jewish and is White/Anglo is meditating and attempting to liberate in this lifetime alongside or including, but not despite, my social identities. I am lucky to have occasional conversations with my spiritual teacher, Lama Padma Drimed Norbu, by telephone, and regular contact with geographically distant sangha members via SKYPE, social media and email.

May all beings benefit. I wish you all the best in your practices.

Buddha thinking creates happiness