Mission: White Awake combats white supremacy by focusing on educational resources and spiritual practices designed to facilitate white people’s engagement in the creation of a just and sustainable society.
Our goal is the end of “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” (a term coined by bell hooks). To this end White Awake supports people who’ve been socialized as “white” with the kind of intellectual and spiritual development necessary to:
- reject the toxic social conditioning that comes with membership in a dominant group and connect with life affirming cultural expressions
- see through the use of racism as a manipulative device that materially benefits a small number of powerful elites
- sustain our engagement in cross-racial coalitions to resist current abuses of power and create a truly equitable, life sustaining society.
White Awake emphasizes mindful awareness, spiritual practice, respect for individual experience and wisdom, and the reality that we are all learning. The country of origin of the work is the United States, and the materials in this site deal primarily with the historcal and current conditions of racism and colonization this country.
Eleanor Hancock – Executive Director and Co-founder
Eleanor holds an MFA from the University of Madison-Wisconsin, where she began a study of Whiteness in the context of performance art, identity politics, and critical postmodern theory. She has foundational experience in group facilitation, curriculum and website development, community organizing, and activism. She has trained with Joanna Macy in facilitation of the Work that Reconnects, serves on the Steering and Accountability Team of the DC Chapter of Showing up for Racial Justice, and occasionally contributes to work of the SURJ National Faith Leaders team.
Current board members of the project include: Ruby Grad (former board member of Spirit Rock Meditation Center), Anne Green (administrator with the Insight Meditation Community of Washington/IMCW), and Hugh Byrne (guiding teacher, IMCW).
Advisers include: Tara Brach (guiding teacher and founder, Insight Meditation Community of Washington); Katrina Messenger (founder, Reflections Mystery School); Jack Kornfield (founding teacher, Insight Mediation Society and Spirit Rock); Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Sensei (founder, Center for Transformative Change); Andy Banks (Campaigns Director, International Brotherhood of Teamsters)
We are currently working to expand our board and advisory council, and applying for 501c3 status. At present, the Insight Meditation Community of Washington is our fiscal sponsor.
The starting point for this project is the emergence of the small group self-titled “White Awake” within the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, DC (IMCW). This group of Buddhist practitioners came together with a common desire to increase their racial awareness and sensitivity as white people in sangha with people of color. The group held two six-month sessions exploring white privilege, the second of which was largely self-facilitated. They received the guidance of two social justice/engaged Buddhist teachers, Cheri Maples from the Center for Mindfulness and Justice in Madison, Wisconsion and Arinna Weisman, founding teacher of Insight Meditation Center of the Pioneer Valley, and a dharma instructor with a special focus on “transforming those structures, cultures and relationships which are an unconscious expression of greed hatred and inequity”.
With the Insight meditation tradition of mindfulness, wisdom and compassion as the foundation of their work, the group integrated outside resources, expertise in diversity training and /or racial justice work and their own lived-experience. For many in the group, the results were transformative. Others in the Insight Community, upon learning of this experience, requested that the resources and approach “White Awake” had developed be shared with the larger community.
Meanwhile, a group of environmental and social justice advocates organized a workshop for local activists, educators and community leaders with Joanna Macy in Mebane, NC at the Stone House in the spring of 2012. Joanna Macy, a Buddhist scholar and long time advocate for peace and environmental sustainability, engaged 30 participants in 10 days of intensive practice via the Work that Reconnects (WTR).
The WTR has been in development for several decades, and is a powerful support to emotional release and healing for individuals and communities who are facing the challenges of our time with the intention of building a more life-sustaining society. The organizers of the NC workshop knew that, historically, most of the participants in the WTR have been white. They intentionally created (and outreached for) this workshop as an opportunity for a racially diverse group of participants to engage in the WTR together.
The interchange between these two experiences (IMCW’s “White Awake” and the burgeoning North Carolina WTR community) came about through an exchange between Kristin Barker (one of the co-founders of IMCW’s “White Awake”) and Eleanor Hancock (one of the organizers of the WTR workshop in Mebane). As these two advocates for social and environmental justice began to exchange ideas, it became apparent that the seed contained within the original “White Awake” experience held great potential for a wide audience of participants – and thus the White Awake website was born!
White Awake has grown from humble beginnings. In conjunction with the launch of the website, Eleanor Hancock developed a series of local workshops which are offered here as “sample curriculum” for other communities to draw upon. In conjunction with Buddhists for Racial Justice, our acting board (and other teachers and practitioners) began to promote the offerings incubated locally to a larger network of sanghas and community organizations across the nation.
Over the course of 2015, White Awake has broken new ground, resulting in many of the contributions noted in our Blog: a race-focused, Beloved Community Program at BuddhaFest last summer; seminal talks by IMCW Guiding Teachers Tara Brach and Hugh Byrne; a deepening ability to connect with POC leadership within the Buddhist sanghas, including Insight teacher Ruth King and Zen priest Rev. angel Kyodo williams Sensei, also featured below.
Spiritual communities and nonprofit organizations throughout the country (CA, CO, MI, WI, MA, NY) have contacted us for support in using the curriculum tools offered for free on our website. White Awake is featured in an upcoming article with the Washington Post, a book from Yale Press, and a University of Wisconsin PhD dissertation … and we’ve even been invited to submit a book proposal with a major publisher ourselves!