Uncle Roger is basically All my Chinese Uncles. And my dad, who regularly berated me for not having the heat high enough when I cooked in front of him growing up. “Are you frying that, or stewing it?!” he’d yell over the din of the range hood fan, shaking his head.
Dad recently sent me this article on wok hei (“breath of the wok”), which mentioned Uncle Roger’s now-famous YouTube video from July. This was the first I’d ever heard of Uncle Roger — that’s what being off social media does to a person — and though I don’t love all his videos or everything about him, I love how much Uncle Roger makes me think about my own Chinese heritage, and everything I’ve learned about being Chinese from my dad.
Dad can’t be bothered to watch Uncle Roger’s videos. “They’re too long,” he says. My (white, and very competent cooker of Chinese cuisine) mom, however, is always keen to know what the heck my brother Adam and I area talking about on our family Hangouts. So I told her I’d send her a list of Uncle Roger videos to watch, in order, as the humor definitely builds on itself.
Here’s that list, for Mom and anyone else who hasn’t yet discovered the joy that is Uncle Roger!
Uncle Roger: the videos to watch, in order
This is the one that started it all in July, when comedian Nigel Ng released a video of his character Uncle Roger reacting to an episode of BBC Food:
“Fixed” as in: permanent / unmoving / unchanging;
“Fixed” as in: repaired, made whole.
On this theme I present this timely and provocative conversation between Viveka and Paramananda. So much of what Viveka says (and not just in this podcast!) resonates with my experience, in particular:
Just because we’re physically together doesn’t mean we’re vibing together… Just recognizing that when we’re physically together doesn’t mean that all bodies are able to be there in the same way has been a huge teaching for me.
How can we actually co-create a space that everyone is genuinely able to be welcome with others, to be welcoming others? …There’s something about the beautifulness of our differentiation where we can actually welcome each other fully.
Their conversation takes as its springboard this poem by James Baldwin, which Paramananda recites beautifully (and from memory!) at 4:40:
For Nothing Is Fixed
by James Baldwin
For nothing is fixed,
forever, forever, forever,
it is not fixed;
the earth is always shifting,
the light is always changing,
the sea does not cease to grind down rock.
Generations do not cease to be born,
and we are responsible to them
because we are the only witnesses they have.
The sea rises, the light fails,
lovers cling to each other,
and children cling to us.
The moment we cease to hold each other,
the moment we break faith with one another,
the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.
Here’s another excerpt of a poem, which I heard for the first time this afternoon. Apparently it is stenciled on the streets of Salem, Massachussetts in such a way that it is only visible when it rains, and I wish I could find the poem in its entirety:
All around the globe, Right Now, people are busy filling in the cracks of our world with gold, and I’m deeply inspired.
The world today is very different from that in which Buddhism originated and flourished… The challenge Buddhists face today is to find ways of communicating and practising the Dharma that are truly effective in these new circumstances. The situation seems to call for renewal in the Buddhist world, faithful to the Buddha’s own teaching, yet addressing the circumstances we find ourselves in now.
A problem of the dharma today is that it has become so limited. It has become constricted inside of a kind of fear. We want to maintain control of it, so we resist it evolving as it always has…
…we miss the opportunity before us to liberate ourselves from the obscurations that keep us from knowing who we are, from knowing each other, from knowing that our birthright is exactly love.
Obscuring the path of liberation for us all, simply put, is race. And when I say race, I mean race and ethnicity and heritage and skin color and all of those things that we have conflated into it for hundreds of years.
I am currently training for Ordination in the Triratna Buddhist tradition. After years of of studying with a number of Tibetan Buddhist teachers in India, Sangharakshita, a man who was brilliant and British, insightful and white, brought his unique vision of the Dharma [= teachings of the Buddha] back to England. From there, this vision has spread throughout the so-called “Western” world and beyond.
The Buddhist movement Sangharakshita founded is the Triratna that I first encountered at the Auckland Buddhist Centre, after a decade+ of intermittent Buddhist study and practice. I may just as likely have encountered it at the San Francisco Buddhist Centre, or any of the dozens of Triratna Buddhist Centres located around the world.
I am deeply grateful for the clarity and accessibility of the Triratna teachings, and even more so for the beautiful Sangha [=spiritual community] that makes the Triratna movement so unique amongst all the other Buddhist disciplines.
I struggle daily with several intersectional aspects of Triratna’s culture, as it manifests at the more-distributed-than-centralized global and local levels. The movement’s history stings of appropriation, colonialism, and patriarchy. Formal Dharma study groups and people training for ordination are separated by gender, with no formal support for people who do not identify as “male” or “female.” At my local Centre, it’s a lot easier to join a study group if you identify as a man, but many women wait months, and must make formal commitments, before being assigned to a group.
There doesn’t seem to be an accepted path to Ordination for parents of young children or people who otherwise don’t have the ability to attend retreats for long periods of time. The retreat Centres we use are not accessible for people with limited mobility, which means that many of our older Sangha members, and those who use walkers or wheelchairs, cannot attend.
There is quite an openness to the queer community. On the male side of the gender divide, that openness has bordered on (crossed into?) concerning abuses of power over the course of Triratna’s history. All but one of the authors whose work is disseminated by the publishing company associated with Triratna appear to be male, though it’s possible I’ve missed someone.
There is subtle scorn (or it simple racism?) directed at “cultural” Buddhists, a term used for those who were born into the tradition without having actively chosen to practice its teachings. The one female author I mentioned earlier also happens to be the only person of color I am aware of amongst their list of authors.
Triratna is my spiritual home. The more I learn about Sangharakshita’s history, the lineage of his teachings, and the beautiful and diverse people who are the embodied continuation of that lineage, the more comfortable I become with the late founder of this movement.
I would like to keep my eyes wide open to the suffering that follows from the many issues I mentioned above.
I study, first and foremost, as I am encouraged to do, the Dharma as taught by Triratna teachers. Fortunately for all of us, there are far more recorded talks and videos from Triratna Order members of color than there are written works. I am deeply honored to be able to learn from teachers as insightful and skilled and experienced in the importance of diversity and inclusion work as Vimalasara and Viveka.
To keep my cup full, I regularly seek out diverse Buddhist teachings from people who practice in traditions other than the Triratna community. There is so much amazing anti-racist work happening in the Insight Buddhist Community in North America that Buddhist of any affiliation can learn from, for instance. I share these resources in the hope that we all can benefit from — and see ourselves in — the many facets of the dazzling Dharma jewel.
To the extent that I have the energy — it takes a lot of emotional labor! — I am committed to actively working with my local Sangha to build a more inclusive approach to sharing the Dharma. This includes regularly engaging with my friends and teachers and Order members and fellow students in designing new ways to communicate with and learn from each other. It includes doing my best to stay engaged, even when it seems as though my concerns are being minimized or dismissed. I try to model the inclusive behavior I would like to see.
I regularly slide into anger, into indignation. I skip right over “the gap” [between feeling and wanting something to be different] more often than I can keep track of. I wonder how regularly I break the precepts that pertain to kindness, generosity, and mindfulness. I am overcome with feelings of Hrī [=remorse] when I reflect on the impact of my unskillful actions. I know that my tone has many times resulted in people feeling shut down or minimised themselves. The cycle of samskara [=habitual tendencies] continues.
I try to remember that all things arise based on conditions. I work to include in my compassion all the people who “aren’t racist” but who do not yet fully understand their privilege or the impact of their behavior on others less privileged… which I do not believe is their fault; rather, I see it as a function of their own conditioning.
I say the name of George Floyd aloud, and remind us about the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, lest we carry on with our Dharma activities as if this moment of great suffering were not happening. Yes, all beings experience suffering. And we need to be clear that suffering is happening in a very specific way — murder, often at the hands of police! — for Black people right now. And that this suffering is related to the suffering of Māori at the hands of the NZ police, and the suffering of indigenous people around the world. And that this suffering is related to the climate crisis. And that our liberation is tied up in the liberation of Black people in the US, whether we choose to look at those connections or not.
This represents what is most alive in me today; tomorrow, I might say something completely different. May we all stay open to the possibility of holding multiple perspectives at once. That is, after all, the promise of liberation — of Enlightenment! — that inspires my practice.
Intersectionality. Privilege. Divisive binary thinking. What each of us can control and what we can’t.
Emotional labor… which is what it takes for people of color to educate others about the sources of racism, tools for anti-racism, and how to be a good ally (spoiler: there are many ways!).
That often-invisible spectrum that ranges from being comfortable to feeling uncomfortable to being unsafe to being physically harmed to being killed.
How I can effectively support people in making connections between the things they care about and the things they don’t usually choose to look at, especially when there is agency involved… without becoming jaded, judgmental, or unsafe myself.
People who are not white — myself included — don’t always want to be the ones explaining certain racial concepts or experiences to people privileged enough to never really have to think about race. At the same time, many of us do still want to be part of helping all people understand the wide-reaching impact of this odd construct.
Fortunately for all of us, the National Museum of African American History & Culture has just published an excellent online resource: Talking About Race. This website splits up its various resources by topic for different audiences, and I’m a huge fan!
Now I have a place to direct people when I’m not feeling up for the conversation myself. Maybe Talking About Race will help you, too, whether you’re looking to educate yourself, or looking for a place to send well-meaning people who want to talk to you about race when you’re in a place of prioritising self-care. May we all be free from suffering, and the causes of suffering.
In most of the spaces I inhabited in Northern California, I had the privilege of being surrounded by very well-trained advocates for racial, class, gender, and a number of other forms of diversity and inclusion. The workshops, classes, community, and work events I frequented were excellently facilitated by people adept at leading the group through the setting of shared agreements. Once we had collectively affirmed those agreements, the facilitators and participants could lovingly but firmly call out — or rather, call in — any behavior that breached those agreements.
Even in situations where there were no explicit agreements in place, such as social gatherings, there was always someone more hip than I was to such matters who was willing to say something when anyone’s bias showed. In the rare moments when I did find I wanted to raise my own voice, usually online, I had people who could help me adjust my language before posting anything, and back me up once my words were out there.
These scenarios felt very safe and very comfortable. I benefited from the work of others; I could fully show up because I knew that what I shared would usually be received and held respectfully by the facilitator or the group itself, or that at the very least, someone else would intervene if anyone failed to check their privilege or veered into prejudiced territory, consciously or otherwise. And I trusted that my own missteps would be skillfully reflected back to me, giving me the opportunity to raise my own levels of awareness.
On the 20th of February, I got an email from Immigration New Zealand (INZ) informing me that they’d approved our application to become permanent residents. I’m super relieved as this was kind of hanging over us for a while, even though there was very little chance that it would not work out in our favor.
Our continued existence here is no longer tied to my current job (not that I’m interested in quitting, it’s just nice to know I’m not stuck if it ever ceases to be a good fit);
I can now do jobs on the side (this wasn’t permitted on my specific work visa)
We can get credit cards (not to carry a balance, but to get cash back on all our purchases!);
We can buy a house (not that we can currently afford any houses we’d want to live in, it’s just that the new government here recently passed a law that foreigners cannot buy existing houses, only build new ones… and even before that law changed, banks wouldn’t give us a mortgage unless we were residents anyway);
We can go to school (we weren’t allowed to study for more than 3 months on our work visas before)…
…at local tuition rates (which are ~1/3 of the rates for foreigners, this number varies a lot depending on which program and which university);
Scott very rarely plays songs more than once in a sitting, so the fact that we’ve now listened to Loma‘s Black Willow six times in a row is no small endorsement. I agree: it’s infectiously beautiful, darkly haunting, the lyrics are provocative… definitely worth playing over and over, and there’s something about the album cover art, too.
And the plot thickens! The video’s first comment on YouTube is from (actor, producer, and writer) Daniel Martine, who points out that the song sounds eerily similar to a song called “Mississippi Mud,” a Black Blood and the Chocolate Pickles song with a grim history:
In his comment to the Black Willow video, Daniel continues:
The story is about the death of black students who protesting [sic] at Jackson State in Mississippi in ’70. Not long after Kent State shootings happened. But it didn’t get the press of Kent State, because they were black students.
We were going to be visiting Scott’s family in Maine and I’d never been there before, so I wanted to read something that was set in that state; Scott did a bit of research and suggested Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. Extra points for a Maine novel written by a Maine author!
This book reminded me of:
I kept thinking back to Anne Tyler (Ladder of Years especially, not that I can remember a single detail other than how the book made me feel) and Alice Munro’s Still Life in terms of the female character’s experiences. Alice Munro again because the novel is a collection of short stories that could very well stand on their own. And Wendell Berry because of Strout’s choice to illuminate one small town through the eyes of several very different inhabitants and their very different stories… though to be fair, I think Strout covers a lot more ground in terms of humanizing a wider range of characters and situations.
This book got me thinking about:
…the many different ways aging relationships can go.
Apparently I had unconsciously assumed a very narrow spectrum of feelings and/or options available to people that had been in a relationship for decades, because I was very pleasantly surprised by the number of representations in this book.
In the last coupla weeks I’ve managed to delete my Facebook account, get sick-and-then-better, demonstrate the high-level function of our relationship by making it through a 3-day power outage with minimal food wastage (we ate well!), attend a meditation retreat, and discover dozens of beautiful, brave people who are fighting the good fight(s) with regard to identity politics on Twitter.
I’m working up the nerve to write (but mostly still grokking how to connect the dots, and deciding how much I am actually willing to share) something that somehow weaves together the male gaze, heteronormativity, my own internalized beliefs about fashion and fitting in, representation, aging, model minority stereotypes, growing up bi-racial in a predominantly-white, very privileged community, the tension between building a platform that “scales” and staying 100% committed to my own voice, the dangers women face for expressing any sexuality, one (or more) of my #metoo stories, and what it means for me, as a woman of color who has so often reported to white men (I currently report to a Māori man), to fully step into my power.
It’s probably more like 12 pieces to write over the course of the rest of my life. Every other hour, I convince myself that I just need to keep meditating instead of attempting to make sense of it all, much less write it down for an audience.
In the meantime, I will share this stunning Janelle Monáe video, from which I have stolen the above screenshots:
I really don’t want to ruin it with any more commentary BUT (I can’t help it!) it gives me many of the same magical, tingly, “we got this,” “it ain’t all bad” feelings that this Bomba Estereo video also evokes:
May I one day master my craft to the point where I too can wrap the messages I’d like to convey in packages as powerful as these.