Ruth King’s Mindful of Race

Between August and October of 2020, the RZC Uprooting Racism group sponsored a series of Zoom discussions around Ruth King’s Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism From the Inside Out (Sounds True, 2018). We chose this book because it’s a rare combination of a Black Buddhist teacher writing about both meditation and anti-racist activism with expertise, compassion, and practicality.

To quote Amala Sensei:

The subtitle … “Transforming racism from the inside out,” sums it up. King, who is both an insight meditation teacher and a diversity trainer, skillfully leads us in an exploration of our racial distress, both personal and collective, both as black bodies and as white bodies, and offers useful practices to help alleviate our racial suffering at its roots. She says, “Racism is a heart disease, and it’s curable.”

~ Sensei Amala Wrightson

In addition to being a Buddhist teacher and diversity trainer, King is a Black lesbian who is professionally trained in clinical psychology. To learn more about her work, see her website.

Our Approach

As a Sangha activity, our purpose is to share personal experiences and to develop a common vocabulary for taking individual and collective action that’s integrated into Zen practice.

Zoom discussions were scheduled as follows:

  • Saturday, August 8,  3:30 – 4:30 PM (Eastern). The first meeting focused on the book’s introduction: “Racism Is a Heart Disease, and It’s Curable” (p. 1-10).
  • Saturday, August 22, 3:30-4:30 PM (Eastern). This meeting was on Part 1, “Understanding Habits of Harm — Diagnosis” (p. 15-70).
  • Saturday, September 5, 3:30-4:30 PM (Eastern). This one was on Part 2, “Mindfulness — Heart Surgery”
  • Saturday, September 19, 3:30-4:30 PM (Eastern). This covered chapters 11-14 of Part 3, “Cultivating a Culture of Care — Recovery.”
  • Saturday, October 10, 3:30-4:30 PM (Eastern). This meeting covered chapters 15 to the end of the book.



Break-out Room Discussion Questions for Saturday, August 8:

Introduction to Mindful of Race

Begin with some brief self-introductions, and then use the following questions as a guide. Of course, it’s okay if you don’t get to discuss all of them:

  1. What brought you to this book discussion group, and how are you feeling about it now?
  2. What in the book’s Introduction hit home with you?
  3. King asks that each of us “bring an ancestor” along in our process of racial healing (p. 13). What ancestor are you going to work with? Do you see how you are carrying forward their beliefs? Do you see a connection to attitudes you have but are uncomfortable with? Does working with an ancestor help you to see your own implicit bias?
  4. On p.1 King describes how hearing the word “racism” can be an emotional trigger and how we tend to go to our “weapons of choice”—that is, “aggression, distraction, denial, doubt, worry, depression, or indifference.” What’s your “weapon” and would you be willing to share it with the group?
  5. On page 9, there’s a list of four questions we can ask ourselves:
     “How do I work with my thoughts, fears, and beliefs in ways that nurture the dignity of all races?
    How do I comfort my own raging heart in a sea of racial ignorance and violence?
    How can my actions reflect the world I want to live in and leave to future generations?
    How do I advocate for racial justice without causing harm and hate, internally and externally?” 
    Which of these questions resonates with you the most and why?


Discussion Questions for Saturday, August 22

Part 1 of Mindful of Race (Understanding Habits of Harm: Diagnosis)

Begin with some brief self-introductions, and then use the following questions as a guide. Of course, it’s okay if you don’t get to discuss all of them:

  1. What points made in Part 1 of the book really hit home with you? Explain.
  2. Are you more aware of your subordinate identity(ies) than your dominant? What are some aspects of your racial identity? Does thinking about the ancestor you are bringing with you help you understand your racial identity?
  3. If you are white and you have trouble with this question,
    • Was there a time where you did not feel safe, or felt pressure to act in a way you normally wouldn’t because of being in a subordinated identity?
    • Has not acknowledging your white identity / white privilege benefited you? For instance, has it enabled you to claim something as your individual accomplishment and to discount ways in which it is a result of whiteness and your parents’/ ancestors’ whiteness?
    • Can you think of resources, privileges, or power that most white people have that most people of color don’t?
  4. Do you have any embarrassment or shame around your ancestor’s actions or beliefs? If so, how has that affected you, or your attitudes about race?
  5. Do any of the six hindrances in Chapter 4 help you understand how racial identity impacts interactions across racial lines
  6. What pains you to recall as you reflect on your racial identity and history? What racial traumas were passed down from your parents and ancestors, and how have you dealt with that?
  7. What assumptions, opinions, attitudes, etc. do you have about other racial groups (as opposed to individuals)?
  8. What has your racial experience been at RZC (or in other groups) that brought you to this discussion group?


Discussion Questions for Saturday, September 5

Part 2 of Mindful of Race (Mindfulness—Heart Surgery)

Begin with some brief self-introductions, and then use the following questions as a guide. Of course, it’s okay if you don’t get to discuss all of them.

  1. Have you had the experience of going beyond a racial label you initially put on a person to understand them more fully? If so, are you willing to describe that to your group?
  2. If you tried the metta practice (rather than just reading it), what was your experience?
  3. If you have used mindfulness when something is said that is upsetting to pause and consider how to respond, can you share how that felt? Or how your response was different from what the knee-jerk reaction would have been?
  4. If you have tried using the RAIN method (or a similar technique) to explore and transform uncomfortable feelings (around racial issues or others), can you share that experience?
  5. How might you use the RAIN method to explore any of the six hindrances described in Chapter 4?
  6. What is your racially-conditioned perception of the RZC or another group you participate in? (See Chapter 9)

Discussion Questions for Saturday, September 19

Part 3, Chapters 11-14, of Mindful of Race (Cultivating a Culture of Care — Recovery)

  1. What are some norms of the RZC, or other groups, that are in place with no bad intent that may have the impact of marginalizing Black people or other people of color?
  2. How have the events surrounding the death of Daniel Prude affected you, your understanding of issues of race, or your appreciation of this book?
  3. Drawing from the examples of the Standing Rock resistance to the Dakota Pipeline and Nelson Mandela’s life, in Chapter 11, King points out the connectedness or oneness of the spiritual and political. For you, are those connected or separate?

Discussion Questions for Saturday, October 10

Part 3, Chapters 15-end, of Mindful of Race (Cultivating a Culture of Care — Recovery)

  1. For whites: How did you feel when considering reading the story, The Untold (pp. 198-201) to a child? Were there parts that resonated with you or were challenging for you?
  2. For people of color: Did you imagine processing anger as King mentions on pp.223-4? How did it go? If not, can you imagine doing it and what it might feel like?
  3. Regarding Howard Thurman’s question (p. 242), what makes you come alive?  How can you do more of that?
  4. Understanding equanimity as being “grounded presence in the midst of extremes” (p. 243), can you think of a trigger—i.e., something that will remind you of the possibility of going to that grounded, open, calm place—that you can use in the future when you are buffeted by extremes?
  5. What are your main takeaways from this book or from these discussion sessions?


Ground rules for discussion