Review of Rhonda V. Magee’s ‘The Inner Work of Racial Justice’

Rhonda Magee’s new book, The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities through Mindfulness, is an excellent resource for those who are seeking to imbue their work in racial justice and other social justice movements with two qualities which are central to the path of all Buddhist practitioners: mindfulness and compassion.

Magee is a long-time mindfulness practitioner, a law professor, and a facilitator of various workshops and groups which address in a challenging and constructive way the pervasive impact of racism on individuals, communities, and our society as a whole. She brings to this work not only a wealth of experience in meditation and facilitation, but her own personal struggles as an African-American woman in the U.S.

The book skillfully weaves together the personal stories of Magee and other workshop participants, meditative and reflective practices which help us develop mindfulness and compassion in the context of confronting the personal and systemic impacts of racism, and an account of how racism affects all of us – people of color as well as those who our society labels as ‘white.’

One of the most powerful messages of the book is that we cannot avoid dealing with the issue of race, even if we believe in our common humanity and the interdependence of all human beings. As she notes, ‘the temptation to feel we are somehow so evolved that we don’t need to examine race in our lives – a form of what Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist John Wellwood called “spiritual bypassing” – is just one of the many ways that we avoid the pain and personal challenge of dealing with the racism that we know exists.’ (p. 49)

Yet, it is precisely by confronting racism in a mindful and compassionate way – both internally and in relation to others – that we can create the basis for a society in which human flourishing is available to all and we can experience most directly our common humanity.

Magee does not hide her own sense of vulnerability and pain in confronting the racism that she has personally experienced, as well as the complicated interactions which emerge when individuals in workshops and groups take on the issue of racism. Her efforts to respond in a mindful and compassionate way to these challenging experiences is one of the most valuable features of the book.

Socially engaged Buddhists will find particularly useful Magee’s summary of the fundamental attitudes or traits needed to engage in racial justice and other social justice movements in a mindful and compassionate way over the long-term (pp. 31-33).  She argues that seven attitudes are crucial in this regard:

  • An openness to explore without judgment, being able to distinguish judgment from discernment
  • Lovingkindness, a feeling of care and concern for oneself and other
  • Compassion, the will to act to alleviate the suffering of others
  • Patience, the recognition that the solutions to key problems are not revealed all at once and may not be fully revealed in our lifetimes
  • ‘Don’t Know’ mind, the ability to accept our ongoing need to learn and to live with uncertainty
  • Steadfastness, the capacity to stay in the struggle
  • The courage to seek and act for justice, the willingness to take specific actions to make amends to those injured or harmed

For those of us who seek to integrate ‘internal’ transformation with ‘external’ social change, Rhonda Magee has provided us with valuable meditative and reflective practices, as well as important insights on the impact of race in our society, that can help us act mindfully and compassionately to contribute to  the goal of human flourishing for all.

The inner work of racial justice: healing ourselves and transforming our communities through mindfulness, by Rhonda V. Magee, TarcherPerigree, 353 pages, 2019.


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