For more than 20 years I’ve coached leaders and
teams in cultivating cultures that were inclusive,
creative, productive, and respectful. I
was trained in clinical psychology,
and diversity consulting. This
background alone, while
it brought awareness
did not transform my
relationship to racial
distress. The best tool
I know of to transform
our relationship to racial
suffering is mindfulness
meditation, which for more
than 20 years has supported
me in experiencing racial
distress without warring against
it. Research shows it improves
neurobiological functioning, stress
reduction, and overall physical and mental
I was attracted to this practice because my habitual ways
of relating to racial distress were not working. Raised with
working-class values in South Central Los Angeles in the
heat of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, I
experienced significant trauma and despair that shaped
my individual racial identity, plunging me into years of
righteous rage. At 27, I had open-heart surgery for a mitral
valve prolapse, a procedure that began a spiritual inquiry
into my habits of harm.
When introduced to mindfulness meditation years later,
I learned how to interrupt the mental war I was inflicting
on others and myself. I learned how to relate with more
compassion, and I opened to a deeper understanding of
my racial conditioning.
I have not reached nirvana, but I do know the freedom
that comes from being able to look at what is really
happening, not what my mind is programmed to believe is
happening, without raging inside. Over time, this practice
has influenced a more healthy response to racial distress
and has shown me the meaning of Nelson Mandela’s quote:
“When we can sit in the face of insanity or dislike and be
free from the need to make it different, then we are free.”
Mindfulness meditation helps us put a crucial pause
between our instinctive and often overwhelming feelings
of being wronged or endangered and our responses. In
that pause, we gain perspective—we find our breath,
our heartbeat, and the ground beneath our feet. This, in
time, supports us in seeing our choices more clearly and
responding more wisely.
We can cultivate more and more moments of
inner freedom. We can respond to racial
suffering with more clarity and wisdom.
We can be more curious and aware
of our impact. We can learn to
forgive others as well as ourselves.
We can live each moment in
continuous prayer for the well-
being of all races.
Talking About Race
Talking about race is messy
because it brings to light our
racial beliefs and values expressed
in ignorance, innocence, and
righteousness. Many of us show up
with good intentions but put our foot in
our mouth, get scared, become frustrated
or belligerent, or just shut down. Our mind
plays habit songs that get in the way of our ability
to connect and be open to what’s right here. For example,
the following comments are common narratives expressed
from participants in the Mindful of Race training.
Whites commonly say:
• I don’t see color. Aren’t we all the same?
• Race is an illusion. Why are People of Color (POC)
so attached to this concept? Let it go!
• I’ll just listen. I know I have a lot to learn. Besides,
if I say too much I’m likely to say something stupid
and get nailed again.
• I don’t know what I don’t know. People of Color
(POC) need to teach me about race; tell me
what to do.
• Why are POC so angry with me? I wasn’t living at
• I don’t know how to have this conversation without
feeling blamed, guilty, frustrated, or angry.
• I’m oppressed in other ways, so I know what it feels
like to be a POC.
• We can’t really talk about race because there aren’t
enough POC in the room.
People of Color commonly say:
• Talking about race means that in addition to
being disturbed by white people’s ignorance,
I’m going to have to teach white folks what they
choose to deny knowing—amnesia of whiteness.
Talking about race
is messy … it brings
to light our racial beliefs
and values expressed in