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Lions Roar : May 2019
CELEBRATING YEARS Noble Black Manhood: A New Rite of Passage PHOTOBYMIRIAMPHIELDS Pamela Ayo Yetunde is a professor of pastoral care and counseling at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities and a graduate of the Com- munity Dharma Leaders program at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. Diversity is more than just representation. It’s about really meeting the needs of different communities. PAMELA AYO YETUNDE suggests how Buddhism can address the mass incarceration of young black men and its terrible costs. I thank you for my mind I promise to use it Thank you for my eyes In order to constantly see old things anew I gladly reject in this struggle for freedom What was never really mine—society’s lie of the black criminal mind So that I may be born again and again The Hero–Warrior you created me to be. From “The Hero–Warrior Prayer (A Prayer for African American Men),” by Virgil Ray Bailey AS BUDDHISM by and for African Americans continues to develop, it is vital for us to address the crisis of mass imprisonment of black Americans. Buddhism promises liberation. Can Buddhism help liberate young black men from incarcerated slavery? As male African American Buddhist teachers increasingly address themes relevant to being a black man in America, I predict their dharma talks will be about practicing Buddhism as a wholesome rite of passage into what I call noble black manhood. Why is the concept of noble black manhood so necessary? Today, prison is seen by many young black men as a rite of passage into adulthood. Noble black manhood can offer a Buddhist- informed alternative, a path to manhood based not on slavery but on liberation. One need not be an incarcerated slave before one becomes a man. Slavery is traumatizing and distorts growth. Imprisoned people may have to refrain from ethical behavior just to survive. This is suffering at its worst. Black men who are Buddhist leaders can cre- ate a noble black manhood movement to help prevent such imprisonment and enslavement. I believe developing a path to noble black manhood will have four steps: 1. Understanding the threats against healthy black male human development Understanding the threats against healthy black male development means, in part, not denying that the U.S. is a country with systems that have histori- cally pathologized black people’s desire for libera- tion (the wish to escape slavery was once diagnosed as “drapetomania”) and that continues to criminal- ize the desire for liberation from police brutality (or, as the FBI calls it, “black identity extremism” source?). Buddhist communities today would do well to allow space to express the suffering caused by living in a society in which black people are stigmatized, shamed, and punished for wanting to be free and exercising their rights to assemble to create liberatory strategies. 2. Critical reflection on Buddhist texts Critical reflection on what the suttas and sutras say about slav- ery brings ancient spiritual texts into vital conversations about freedom and the consequences of incarceration. 3. Willingness to revive Buddhist humanism This means understanding how human beings best develop from childhood on, then infusing Bud- dhism with this understanding. In creating a rite of passage to noble black manhood, Afri- can American male dharma teachers will have to grapple with a celebrated but destructive nar- rative: that the Buddha abandoned his wife and child, returning to them six years later as their teacher. Zen philosophy (awakening within the con- ditions already present) is a corrective to this Theravada home-leaving narrative. Noble black manhood is not liberation from one’s familial obligations in order to seek enlightenment. It is understanding that raising one’s children to be healthy human beings is a nobility like no other obligation in this world. LION’S ROAR | MAY 2019 71