Clinician's Digest

Clinician's Digest

Making Mindfulness More Racially Sensitive

March/April 2018

In January of 2015, black counterculture activist Angela Davis sat down with American mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn for a sold-out fund-raiser at the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, California. Nearly 1,000 attendees packed the small concert hall for that afternoon’s discussion: “Mindfulness and the Possibility of Freedom.” While the discussion remained cordial, Davis didn’t hold back in her questioning. “In a racially unjust world,” she asked Kabat-Zinn pointedly, “what good is mindfulness?”

It’s a question that hits home for many people of color—especially at a time when mindfulness in the popular culture, as well as in the therapy field, is widely seen as a panacea for whatever ails us, no matter who “us” may be. But for some, Kabat-Zinn’s answer—that it has the potential to bring attention to “the ills of society”—sounded vague and offered little practice direction.

It certainly didn’t stem the racial debate already surrounding mindfulness practice. Just months earlier, articles by Forbes, “On Yoga’s ‘Race Problem,’” and The Atlantic, “Why Your Yoga Class Is So White,” took aim at the overwhelming lack of diversity in mainstream mindfulness practice, the latter noting that although about one in every 15 Americans practices yoga, more than four-fifths of all participants are white. Such accusations followed a widely panned issue of Time, “The Mindful Revolution,” the cover of which featured a blonde-haired white woman…

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