I wanted to bring this topic up, as it's been something of an area of interest of mine for a while.
There's been a few article's floating around the web regarding what can be done to improve the state of access to the Dharma, and, more importantly, making it welcome to African Americans, and people of color.
Many people have noted, that a lot of Sangha's are overwhelmingly white, middle or upper-middle class people.
Yes, there are exceptions, but in general, Buddhism in the west, with the exception of Asian American and other nationalized Asian groups, is mostly Caucasian.
I've seen some very interesting suggestions, and I think wholly good ideas, about what can be done to improve the state of this.
For one thing, some people have pointed out, that (sadly) most Buddhist African Americans are in prison. This seems to be where they get access to it the most.
I've ID'd (though I am certainly not the first) primarily two causes, and areas that need work, that would help African Americans and people of color to feel more welcome in Sangha's, and make the Buddha and Dharma more welcoming and accessible.
The main two barriers seem to be cultural misunderstandings between middle-class culture in general, and African American and other people of color's culture.
The other thing seems to be economic limitations, and making the Dharma easily accessible to people with low incomes.
I'll start with the first, it's been brought up, in articles elsewhere, that one of the challenges for African Americans is the strong need for African American cultural identity.
This is very important, because for many African Americans, their culture was systematically wiped out by generations of slavery. Their ancestry may be unknown, as well as any vestiges of cultural tradition. And, because this culture was wiped out, by force, many African Americans are very hesitant to adopt what seems to them to be a "foriegn" culture. By this I am meaning say an "asian" aesthetic to things. The "Zen" look, for instance.
Austere, Japanese looking, or very exotic and Tibetan. Pagodas, and black lacquer, bamboo, etc.
One of the solutions to this that has been suggested, is the very simple thing of making some things look more "African" for lack of a better word. The incense burner on an alter for instance does not need to be made of a Japanese or Tibetan look, It could have a more pottery look, for instance.
Bodhidharma, it has been pointed out, was an Indian, and most assuredly had dark skin, thick curly hair, large lips, and a large flat nose. And yet, simply because of tradition, of say Zen passing through China, he is often portrayed in a very pale, Chinese/Japanese way.
A large portrait of a dark skinned Bodhidarma might be a welcome addition to a meditation hall, or Dharma center, and would not only be more accurate historically, but would also help solve the problem of making African Americans and other people of color feel more welcome.
Buddha Statues, as well, there are some historic places where Buddhism passed through cultures and the statues took on a decisively more African facial look. This is very important, as it lets African Americans feel more comfortable with having someone they identify with, who's not Asian or "white" looking.
Small things, but it makes a significant compassion and sensitivity difference. It shows people one cares.
Similarly, on to the second issue, the one of financial accessibility.
This is a big problem with Buddhism in the west, it's still often a "luxury" religion. Not something an average person can often afford, and certainly not a poor person or someone of limited financial means.
More needs to be done, to make retreats free.
It also needs to come into the inner city more, and be more in line with inner city culture. A "Zendo in the Ghetto" would be a welcome thing. You could have urban artists decorate the outside walls with Buddhist themed graffiti and spraypaint art.
Making things accessible for those in less financial ability.
After all, Buddhism has for the longest time, not simply been the religion of the wealthy, or well-to-do, but also the farmer, the fisherman, the weaver, the craftsman, the peasant.
So these are some ideas, should be enough to get us started, what say you?
"Life is full of suffering. AND Life is full of the Eternal
IT IS OUR CHOICE
We can stand in our shadow, and wallow in the darkness,
We can turn around.
It is OUR choice." -Rev. Basil
" ...out of fear, even the good harm one another. " -Rev. Dazui MacPhillamy